**** Kaufmann, following the precedent of Crane Brinton’s Nietzsche (1965), George A. Morgan, Jr.’s What Nietzsche Means (1941) and the English version of Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West (1926-28), translates “Apollinisch” as “Apollinian”—rather than “Apollonian.” Accordingly, here, Golffing’s “Apollonian” has been changed to “Apollinian.” ****
Everything that rises to the surface in the Apollinian portion of Greek tragedy (in the dialogue) looks simple, transparent, beautiful. In this sense the dialogue is a mirror of the Greek mind, whose nature manifests itself in dance, since in dance the maximum power is only potentially present, betraying itself in the suppleness and opulence of movement. The language of the Sophoclean heroes surprises us by its Apollinian determinacy and lucidity. It seems to us that we can fathom their innermost being, and we are somewhat surprised that we had such a short way to go. However, once we abstract from the character of the hero as it rises to the surface and becomes visible (a character at bottom no more than a luminous shape projected onto a dark wall, that is to say, appearance through and through) and instead penetrate into the myth which is projected in these luminous reflections, we suddenly come up against a phenomenon which is the exact opposite of a familiar optical one. After an energetic attempt to focus on the sun we have, by way of remedy almost, dark spots before our eyes when we turn away. Conversely, the luminous images of the Sophoclean heroes—those Apollinian masks—are the necessary productions of a deep look into the horror of nature; luminous spots, as it were, designed to cure an eye hurt by the ghastly night. Only in this way can we form an adequate notion of the seriousness of “Greek cheerfulness”; whereas we find that cheerfulness generally misinterpreted nowadays as a condition of undisturbed complacence.
Sophocles conceived doomed Oedipus the greatest sufferer of the Greek stage, as a pattern of nobility, destined to error and misery despite his wisdom, yet exercising a beneficent influence upon his environment in virtue of his boundless grief. The profound poet tells us that a man who is truly noble is incapable of sin; though every law, every natural order, indeed the entire canon of ethics, perish by his actions, those very actions will create a circle of higher consequences able to found a new world on the ruins of the old. This is the poet’s message, insofar as he is at the same time a religious thinker. In his capacity as poet he presents us in the beginning with a complicated legal knot in the slow unraveling of which the judge brings about his own destruction. The typically Greek delight in this dialectical solution is so great that it imparts an element of triumphant cheerfulness to the work, and thus removes the sting lurking in the ghastly premises of the plot. In “Oedipus at Colonus” we meet this same cheerfulness, but utterly transfigured. In contrast to the aged hero, stricken with excessive suffering and passively undergoing his many misfortunes, we have here a transcendent cheerfulness issuing from above and hinting that by his passive endurance the hero may yet gain a consummate energy of action. This activity (so different from his earlier conscious striving, which had resulted in pure passivity) will extend far beyond the limited experience of his own life. Thus the legal knot of the Oedipus fable, which had seemed to mortal eyes incapable of being disentangled, is slowly loosened. And we experience the most profound human joy as we witness this divine counterpart of dialectics. If this explanation has done the poet justice, it may yet be asked whether it has exhausted the implications of the myth; and now we see that the poet’s entire conception was nothing more nor less than the luminous afterimage which kind nature provides our eyes after a look into the abyss. Oedipus, his father’s murderer, his mother’s lover, solver of the Sphinx’s riddle! What is the meaning of this triple fate? An ancient popular belief, especially strong in Persia, holds that a wise magus must be incestuously begotten. If we examine Oedipus, the solver of riddles and liberator of his mother, in the light of this Parsee belief, we may conclude that wherever soothsaying and magical powers have broken the spell of present and future, the rigid law of individuation, the magic circle of nature, extreme unnaturalness—in this case incest—is the necessary antecedent; for how should man force nature to yield up her secrets but by successfully resisting her, that is to say, by unnatural acts? This is the recognition I find expressed in the terrible triad of Oedipean fates: the same man who solved the riddle of nature (the ambiguous Sphinx) must also, as murderer of his father and husband of his mother, break the consecrated tables of the natural order. It is as though the myth whispered to us that wisdom, and especially Dionysian wisdom, is an unnatural crime, and that whoever, in pride of knowledge, hurls nature into the abyss of destruction, must himself experience nature’s disintegration. “The edge of wisdom is turned against the wise man; wisdom is a crime committed on nature” [see Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, 316–17]: such are the terrible words addressed to us by myth. Yet the Greek poet, like a sunbeam, touches the terrible and austere Memnon’s Column of myth, which proceeds to give forth Sophoclean melodies!
Now I wish to contrast to the glory of passivity the glory of action, as it irradiates the Prometheus of Aeschylus. Young Goethe has revealed to us, in the bold words his Prometheus addresses to Zeus, what the thinker Aeschylus meant to say, but what, as poet, he merely gave us to divine in symbol:
“Here I sit, forming men
in my own image,
a race to be like me,
to suffer, to weep,
to delight and to rejoice,
and to defy you,
as I do!”
Man, raised to titanic proportions, conquers his own civilization and compels the gods to join forces with him, since by his autonomous wisdom he commands both their existence and the limitations of their sway. What appears most wonderful, however, in the Prometheus poem—ostensibly a hymn in praise of impiety—is its profound Aeschylean longing for justice. The immense suffering of the bold “individual,” on the one hand, and on the other the extreme jeopardy of the gods, prefiguring a twilight of the gods—the two together pointing to a reconciliation, a merger of their universes of suffering—all this reminds one vividly of the central tenet of Aeschylean speculation in which Moira [fate], as eternal justice, is seen enthroned above men and gods alike. In considering the extraordinary boldness with which Aeschylus places the Olympian world on his scales of justice, we must remember that the profound Greek had an absolutely stable basis of metaphysical thought in his mystery cults and that he was free to discharge all his skeptical velleities on the Olympians. The Greek artist, especially, experienced in respect of these divinities an obscure sense of mutual dependency, a feeling which has been perfectly symbolized in the Prometheus of Aeschylus. The titanic artist was strong in his defiant belief that he could create men and, at the least, destroy Olympian gods; this he was able to do by virtue of his superior wisdom, which, to be sure, he must atone for by eternal suffering. The glorious power “to do,” which is possessed by great genius, and for which even eternal suffering is not too high a price to pay—the artist’s austere pride—is of the very essence of Aeschylean poetry, while Sophocles in his Oedipus intones a paean to the saint. But even Aeschylus’ interpretation of the myth fails to exhaust its extraordinary depth of terror. Once again, we may see the artist’s buoyancy and creative joy as a luminous cloud shape reflected upon the dark surface of a lake of sorrow. The legend of Prometheus is indigenous to the entire community of Aryan races and attests to their prevailing talent for profound and tragic vision. In fact, it is not improbable that this myth has the same characteristic importance for the Aryan mind as the myth of the Fall has for the Semitic, and that the two myths are related as brother and sister. The presupposition of the Prometheus myth is primitive man’s belief in the supreme value of fire as the true palladium of every rising civilization. But for man to dispose of fire freely, and not receive it as a gift from heaven in the kindling thunderbolt and the warming sunlight, seemed a crime to thoughtful primitive man, a despoiling of divine nature. Thus this original philosophical problem poses at once an insoluble conflict between men and the gods, which lies like a huge boulder at the gateway to every culture. Man’s highest good must be bought with a crime and paid for by the flood of grief and suffering which the offended divinities visit upon the human race in its noble ambition. An austere notion, this, which by the dignity it confers on crime presents a strange contrast to the Semitic myth of the Fall—a myth that exhibits curiosity, deception, suggestibility, concupiscence, in short a whole series of principally feminine frailties, as the root of all evil. What distinguishes the Aryan conception is an exalted notion of active sin as the properly Promethean virtue; this notion provides us with the ethical substratum of pessimistic tragedy, which comes to be seen as a justification of human ills, that is to say of human guilt as well as the suffering purchased by that guilt. The tragedy at the heart of things, which the thoughtful Aryan is not disposed to quibble away, the contrariety at the center of the universe, is seen by him as an interpenetration of several worlds, as for instance a divine and a human, each individually in the right but each, as it encroaches upon the other, having to suffer for its individuality. The individual, in the course of his heroic striving towards universality, de-individuation, and wishing himself to be the world being, comes up against that primordial contradiction and learns both to sin and to suffer. The Aryan nations assign to crime the male, the Semites to sin the female gender; and it is quite consistent with these notions that the original act of hubris should be attributed to a man, original sin to a woman. Incidentally, the chorus of wizards says:
“If that is so, we do not mind it:
With a thousand steps the women find it;
But though they rush, we do not care:
With one big jump the men get there.”
[Goethe’s Faust, I, 3982-85]
Once we have comprehended the substance of the Prometheus myth—the imperative necessity of hubris for the titanic individual—we must realize the non-Apollinian character of this pessimistic idea. It is Apollo who tranquilizes the individual by drawing boundary lines, and who, by enjoining again and again the practice of self-knowledge, reminds him of the holy, universal norms. But lest the Apollinian tendency freeze all form into Egyptian rigidity, and in attempting to prescribe its orbit to each particular wave inhibit the movement of the lake, the Dionysian flood tide periodically destroys all the little circles in which the Apollinian will would confine Hellenism. The swiftly rising Dionysian tide then shoulders all the small individual wave crests, even as Prometheus’ brother, the Titan Atlas, shouldered the world. This titanic urge to be the Atlas of all individuals, to bear them on broad shoulders ever farther and higher, is the common bond between the Promethean and the Dionysian forces. In this respect the Aeschylean Prometheus appears as a Dionysian mask, while in his deep hunger for justice Aeschylus reveals his paternal descent from Apollo, god of individuation and just boundaries. We may express the Janus face, at once Dionysian and Apollinian, of the Aeschylean Prometheus in the following formula: “All that exists is just and unjust and equally justified in both.”
That is your world! A world indeed! — [Goethe’s Faust, I, 409]
It is an unimpeachable tradition that in its earliest form Greek tragedy records only the sufferings of Dionysus, and that he was the only actor. But it may be claimed with equal justice that, up to Euripides, Dionysus remains the sole dramatic protagonist and that all the famous characters of the Greek stage, Prometheus, Oedipus, etc., are only masks of that original hero. The fact that a god hides behind all these masks accounts for the much-admired “ideal” character of those celebrated figures. Someone, I can’t recall who [Aristotle: Poetics, v, 1448a], has claimed that all individuals, as individuals, are comic, and therefore untragic; which seems to suggest that the Greeks could not tolerate individuals at all on the tragic stage. And in fact they must have felt this way. The Platonic distinction between the “idea” and the “idol” is deemed rooted in the Greek temperament. If we wished to use Plato’s terminology we might speak of the tragic characters of the Greek stage somewhat as follows: the one true Dionysus appears in a multiplicity of characters, in the mask of warrior hero, and enmeshed in the web of individual will. The god ascends the stage in the likeness of a striving and suffering individual. That he can appear at all with this clarity and precision is due to dream interpreter Apollo, who projects before the chorus its Dionysian condition in this analogical figure [gleichnissartige Erscheinung]. Yet in truth that hero is the suffering Dionysus of the mysteries. He of whom the wonderful myth relates that as a child he was dismembered by Titans now experiences in his own person the pains of individuation, and in this condition is worshipped as Zagreus [alternative name for Dionysus in the Orphic myths]. We have here an indication that dismemberment—the truly Dionysian suffering—was like a separation into air, water, earth, and fire, and that individuation should be regarded as the source of all suffering, and rejected. The smile of this Dionysus has given birth to the Olympian gods, his tears have given birth to men. In his existence as a dismembered god, Dionysus shows the double nature of a cruel, savage daemon and a mild, gentle ruler. Every hope of the Eleusinian initiates pointed to a rebirth of Dionysus, which we can now interpret as meaning the end of individuation; the thundering paean of the adepts addressed itself to the coming of the third Dionysus. This hope alone sheds a beam of joy on a ravaged and fragmented world—as is shown by the myth of sorrowing Demeter, who rejoiced only when she was told that she might once again bear Dionysus. In these notions we already find all the components of a profound and mystic philosophy and, by the same token, of the mysterious doctrine of tragedy; a recognition that whatever exists is of a piece, and that individuation is the root of all evil; a conception of art as the sanguine hope that the spell of individuation may yet be broken. as an augury of eventual reintegration. —
I have said earlier that the Homeric epic was the poetic expression of Olympian culture, its victory song over the terrors of the battle with the Titans. Now, under the overmastering influence of tragic poetry, the Homeric myths were once more transformed and by this metempsychosis proved that in the interim Olympian culture too had been superseded by an even deeper philosophy. The contumacious Titan, Prometheus, now announced to his Olympian tormentor that unless the latter promptly joined forces with him, his reign would be in supreme danger. In the work of Aeschylus we recognize the alliance of the Titan with a frightened Zeus in terror of his end. Thus we find the earlier age of Titans brought back from Tartarus and restored to the light of day. A philosophy of wild, naked nature looks with the bold countenance of truth upon the flitting myths of the Homeric world: they pale and tremble before the lightning eye of this goddess, until the mighty fist of the Dionysian artist forces them into the service of a new divinity. The Dionysian truth appropriates the entire realm of myth as symbolic language for its own insights, which it expresses partly in the public rite of tragedy and partly in the secret celebrations of dramatic mysteries, but always under the old mythic veil. What was the power that rescued Prometheus from his vultures and transformed myth into a vehicle of Dionysian wisdom? It was the Heraclean power of music, which reached its highest form in tragedy and endowed myth with a new and profound significance. Such, as we have said earlier, is the mighty prerogative of music. For it is the lot of every myth to creep gradually into the narrows of supposititious historical fact and to be treated by some later time as a unique event of history. And the Greeks at that time were already well on their way to reinterpreting their childhood dream, cleverly and arbitrarily, into pragmatic childhood history. It is the sure sign of the death of a religion when its mythic presuppositions become systematized, under the severe, rational eyes of an orthodox dogmatism, into a ready sum of historical events, and when people begin timidly defending the veracity of myth but at the same time resist its natural continuance—when the feeling for myth withers and its place is taken by a religion claiming historical foundations. This decaying myth was now seized by the newborn genius of Dionysian music, in whose hands it flowered once more, with new colors and a fragrance that aroused a wistful longing for a metaphysical world. After this last florescence myth declined, its leaves withered, and before long all the ironic Lucians of antiquity caught at the faded blossoms whirled away by the wind. It was through tragedy that myth achieved its profoundest content, its most expressive form; it arose once again like a wounded warrior, its eyes alight with unspent power and the calm wisdom of the dying.
What were you thinking of, overweening Euripides, when you hoped to press myth, then in its last agony, into your service? It died under your violent hands; but you could easily put in its place an imitation that, like Heracles’ monkey, would trick itself out in the master’s robes. And even as myth, music too died under your hands; though you plundered greedily all the gardens of music, you could achieve no more than a counterfeit. And because you had deserted Dionysus, you were in turn deserted by Apollo. Though you hunted all the passions up from their couch and conjured them into your circle, though you pointed and burnished a sophistic dialectic for the speeches of your heroes, they have only counterfeit passions and speak counterfeit speeches.
Greek tragedy perished in a manner quite different from the older sister arts: it died by suicide, in consequence of an insoluble conflict, while the others died serene and natural deaths at advanced ages. If it is the sign of a happy natural condition to die painlessly, leaving behind a fair progeny, then the decease of those older genres exhibits such a condition; they sank slowly, and their children, fairer than they, stood before their dying eyes, lifting up their heads in eagerness. The death of Greek tragedy, on the other hand, created a tremendous vacuum that was felt far and wide. As the Greek sailors in the time of Tiberius heard from a lonely island the agonizing cry “Great Pan is dead!” so could be heard ringing now through the entire Greek world these painful cries: “Tragedy is dead! And poetry has perished with it! Away with you, puny, spiritless imitators! Away with you to Hades, where you may eat your fill of the crumbs thrown you by former masters!”
When after all a new genre sprang into being which honored tragedy as its parent, the child was seen with dismay to bear indeed the features of its mother, but of its mother during her long death struggle. The death struggle of tragedy had been fought by Euripides, while the later art is known as the New Attic Comedy. Tragedy lived on there in a degenerate form, a monument to its painful and laborious death.
In this context we can understand the passionate fondness of the writers of the new comedy for Euripides. Now the wish of Philemon—who was willing to be hanged for the pleasure of visiting Euripides in Hades, providing he could be sure that the dead man was still in possession of his senses—no longer seems strange to us. If one were to attempt to say briefly and merely by way of suggestion what Menander and Philemon had in common with Euripides, and what they found so exemplary and exciting in him, one might say that Euripides succeeded in transporting the spectator onto the stage. Once we realize out of what substance the Promethean dramatists before Euripides had formed their heroes and how far it had been from their thoughts to bring onto the stage a true replica of actuality, we shall see clearly how utterly different were Euripides’ intentions. Through him the common man found his way from the auditorium onto the stage. That mirror, which previously had shown only the great and bold features, now took on the kind of accuracy that reflects also the paltry traits of nature. Odysseus, the typical Greek of older art, declined under the hands of the new poets to the character of Graeculus, who henceforth held the center of the stage as the good humored, cunning slave. The merit which Euripides, in Aristophanes’ “Frogs,” attributes to himself, of having by his nostrum rid tragic art of its pompous stoutness, is apparent in every one of his tragic heroes. Now every spectator could behold his exact counterpart on the Euripidean stage and was delighted to find him so eloquent. But that was not the only pleasure. People themselves learned to speak from Euripides—don’t we hear him boast, in his contest with Aeschylus, that through him the populace had learned to observe, make transactions and form conclusions according to all the rules of art, with the utmost cleverness? It was through this revolution in public discourse that the new comedy became possible. From now on the stock phrases to represent everyday affairs were ready to hand. While hitherto the character of dramatic speech had been determined by the demigod in tragedy and the drunken satyr in comedy, that bourgeois mediocrity in which Euripides placed all his political hopes now came to the fore. And so the Aristophanic Euripides could pride himself on having portrayed life “as it really is” and shown men how to attack it: if now all members of the populace were able to philosophize, plead their cases in court and make their business deals with incredible shrewdness, the merit was really his, the result of that wisdom he had inculcated in them.
The new comedy could now address itself to a prepared, enlightened crowd, for whom Euripides had served as choirmaster—only in this case it was the chorus of spectators who had to be trained. As soon as this chorus had acquired a competence in the Euripidean key, the new comedy—that chesslike species of play—with its constant triumphs of cleverness and cunning, arose. Meanwhile choirmaster Euripides was the object of fulsome praise; in fact, people would have killed themselves in order to learn more from him had they not known that the tragic poets were quite as dead as tragedy itself. With tragedy the Greeks had given up the belief in immortality: not only the belief in an ideal past, but also the belief in an ideal future. The words of the famous epitaph “Inconstant and frivolous in old age” [from Goethe’s poem Epigrammatische Grabschrift 2 (Epigrammatic Inscription 2)] apply equally well to the last phase of Hellenism. Its supreme deities are wit, whim, caprice, the pleasure of the moment. The fifth estate, that of the slaves, comes into its own, at least in point of attitude, and if it is possible at all now to speak of “Greek cheerfulness,” then it must refer to the cheerfulness of the slave, who has no difficult responsibilities, no high aims, and to whom nothing, past or future, is of greater value than the present. It was this semblance of “Greek cheerfulness” that so outraged the profound and powerful minds of the first four centuries after Christ. This womanish escape from all seriousness and awe, this smug embracing of easy pleasure, seemed to them not only contemptible but the truly anti-Christian frame of mind. It was they who handed on to later generations a picture of Greek antiquity painted entirely in the pale rose hues of cheerfulness—as though there had never been a sixth century with its birth of tragedy, its Mysteries, its Pythagoras and Heracleitus, indeed as though the art works of the great period did not exist at all. And yet none of the latter could, of course, have sprung from the soil of such a trivial ignoble cheer, pointing as they do to an entirely different worldview as their raison d’etre [Existenzgrund].
When I said earlier that Euripides had brought the spectator on the stage in order to enable him to judge the play, I may have created the impression that the older drama had all along stood in a false relation to the spectator; and one might then be tempted to praise Euripides’ radical tendency to establish a proper relationship between art work and audience as an advance upon Sophocles. But, after all, “audience” is but a word, not a constant unchanging value. Why should an author feel obliged to accommodate himself to a power whose strength is merely in numbers? If he considers himself superior in his talent and intentions to every single spectator, why should he show respect for the collective expression of all those mediocre capacities rather than for the few members of the audience who seem relatively the most gifted? The truth of the matter is that no Greek artist ever treated his audience with greater audacity and self-sufficiency than Euripides; who at a time when the multitude lay prostrate before him disavowed in noble defiance and publicly his own tendencies—those very tendencies by which he had previously conquered the masses. Had this genius had the slightest reverence for that band of Bedlamites called the public, he would have been struck down long before the mid point of his career by the bludgeon blows of his unsuccess. We come to realize now that our statement, “Euripides brought the spectator on the stage”—implying that the spectator would be able henceforth to exercise competent judgment —was merely provisional and that we must look for a sounder explanation of his intentions. It is also generally recognized that Aeschylus and Sophocles enjoyed all through their lives and longer the full benefit of popular favor, and that for this reason it would be absurd to speak in either case of a disproportion between art work and public reception. What was it, then, that drove the highly talented and incessantly creative Euripides from a path bathed in the light of those twin luminaries—his great predecessors—and of popular acclaim as well? What peculiar consideration for the spectator made him defy that very same spectator? How did it happen that his great respect for his audience made him treat that audience with utter disrespect?
Euripides—and this may be the solution of our riddle— considered himself quite superior to the crowd as a whole; not, however, to two of his spectators. He would translate the crowd onto the stage but insist, all the same, on revering the two members as the sole judges of his art; on following all their directions and admonitions, and on instilling in the very hearts of his dramatic characters those emotions, passions and recognitions which had heretofore seconded the stage action, like an invisible chorus, from the serried ranks of the amphitheater. It was in deference to these judges that he gave his new characters a new voice, too, and a new music. Their votes, and no others, determined for him the worth of his efforts. And whenever the public rejected his labors it was their encouragement, their faith in his final triumph, which sustained him.
One of the two spectators I just spoke of was Euripides himself—the thinker Euripides, not the poet. Of him it may be said that the extraordinary richness of his critical gift had helped to produce, as in the case of Lessing, an authentic creative offshoot. Endowed with such talent, such remarkable intellectual lucidity and versatility, Euripides watched the performances of his predecessors’ plays and tried to rediscover in them those fine lineaments which age, as happens in the case of old paintings, had darkened and almost obliterated. And now something occurred which cannot surprise those among us who are familiar with the deeper secrets of Aeschylean tragedy. Euripides perceived in every line, in every trait, something quite incommensurable: a certain deceptive clarity and, together with it, a mysterious depth, an infinite background. The clearest figure trailed after it a comet’s tail which seemed to point to something uncertain, something that could not be wholly elucidated. A similar twilight seemed to invest the very structure of drama, especially the function of the chorus. Then again, how ambiguous did the solutions of all moral problems seem! how problematical the way in which the myths were treated! how irregular the distribution of fortune and misfortune! There was also much in the language of older tragedy that he took exception to, or to say the least, found puzzling: why all this pomp in the representation of simple relationships? why all those tropes and hyperboles, where the characters themselves were simple and straightforward? Euripides sat in the theater pondering, a troubled spectator. In the end he had to admit to himself that he did not understand his great predecessors. But since he looked upon reason as the fountainhead of all doing and enjoying, he had to find out whether anybody shared these notions of his, or whether he was alone in facing up to such incommensurable features. But the multitude, including some of the best individuals, gave him only a smile of distrust; none of them would tell him why, notwithstanding his misgivings and reservations, the great masters were right nonetheless. In this tormented state of mind, Euripides discovered the other spectator—one who did not understand tragedy and for that reason spurned it. Allied with him he could risk coming out of his isolation to fight that tremendous battle against the works of Aeschylus and Sophocles—not by means of polemics, but as a tragic poet determined to make his notion of tragedy prevail over the traditional notions. —
Before giving a name to that other spectator, let us stop a moment and call to mind what we have said earlier of the incommensurable and discrepant elements in Aeschylean tragedy. Let us recollect how strangely we were affected by the chorus and by the tragic hero of a kind of tragedy which refused to conform to either our habits or our tradition—until, that is, we discovered that the discrepancy was closely bound up with the very origin and essence of Greek tragedy, as the expression of two interacting artistic impulses, the Apollinian and the Dionysian.
Euripides’ basic intention now becomes as clear as day to us: it is to eliminate from tragedy the primitive and pervasive Dionysian element, and to rebuild the drama on a foundation of non-Dionysian art, custom and philosophy.
Euripides himself, towards the end of his life, propounded the question of the value and significance of this tendency to his contemporaries in a myth. Has the Dionysian spirit any right at all to exist? Should it not, rather, be brutally uprooted from the Hellenic soil? Yes, it should, the poet tells us, if only it were possible, but the god Dionysus is too powerful: even the most intelligent opponent, like Pentheus in the “Bacchae,” is unexpectedly enchanted by him, and in his enchantment runs headlong to destruction. The opinion of the two old men in the play—Cadmus and Tiresias—seems to echo the opinion of the aged poet himself: that the cleverest individual cannot by his reasoning overturn an ancient popular tradition like the worship of Dionysus, and that it is the proper part of diplomacy in the face of miraculous powers to make at least a prudent show of sympathy; that it is even possible that the god may still take exception to such tepid interest and—as happened in the case of Cadmus—turn the diplomat into a dragon. We are told this by a poet who all his life had resisted Dionysus heroically, only to end his career with a glorification of his opponent and with suicide—like a man who throws himself from a tower in order to put an end to the unbearable sensation of vertigo. The Bacchae acknowledges the failure of Euripides’ dramatic intentions when, in fact, these had already succeeded: Dionysus had already been driven from the tragic stage by a daemonic power speaking through Euripides. For in a certain sense Euripides was but a mask, while the divinity which spoke through him was neither Dionysus nor Apollo but a brand new daemon called Socrates. Thenceforward the real antagonism was to be between Dionysian spirit and the Socratic, and tragedy was to perish in the conflict. Try as he may to comfort us with his recantation, Euripides fails. The marvelous temple lies in ruins; of what avail is the destroyer’s lament that it was the most beautiful of all temples? And though, by way of punishment, Euripides has been turned into a dragon by all later critics—who can really regard this as adequate compensation?
Let us now look more closely at the Socratic tendency by means of which Euripides fought and conquered Aeschylean tragedy.
What, under the most auspicious conditions, could Euripides have hoped to effect in founding his tragedy on purely un-Dionysian elements? Once it was no longer begotten by music, in the mysterious Dionysian twilight, what form could drama conceivably take? Only that of the dramatized epic, an Apollinian form which precluded tragic effect. It is not a question here of the events represented. I submit that it would have been impossible for Goethe, in the fifth act of his projected “Nausicäa,” to render tragic the suicide of that idyllic being: the power of the epic Apollinian spirit is such that it transfigures the most horrible deeds before our eyes by the charm of illusion, and redemption through illusion. The poet who writes dramatized narrative can no more become one with his images than can the epic rhapsodist. He too represents serene, wide-eyed contemplation gazing upon its images. The actor in such dramatized epic remains essentially a rhapsodist; the consecration of dream lies upon all his actions and prevents him from ever becoming in the full sense an actor.
But what relationship can be said to obtain between such an ideal Apollinian drama and the plays of Euripides? The same as obtains between the early solemn rhapsodist and that more recent variety described in Plato’s “Ion”: “When I say something sad my eyes fill with tears; if, however, what I say is terrible and ghastly, then my hair stands on end and my heart beats loudly.” [Plato: Ion, 535c] Here there is no longer any trace of epic self forgetfulness, of the true rhapsodist’s cool detachment, who at the highest pitch of action, and especially then, becomes wholly illusion and delight in illusion. Euripides is the actor of the beating heart, with hair standing on end. He lays his dramatic plan as Socratic thinker and carries it out as passionate actor. So it happens that the Euripidean drama is at the same time cool and fiery, able alike to freeze and consume us. It cannot possibly achieve the Apollinian effects of the epic, while on the other hand it has severed all connection with the Dionysian mode; so that in order to have any impact at all it must seek out novel stimulants which are to be found neither in the Apollinian nor in the Dionysian realm. Those stimulants are, on the one hand, cold paradoxical ideas put in the place of Apollinian contemplation, and on the other fiery emotions [Affecte] put in the place of Dionysian transports. These last are splendidly realistic counterfeits, but neither ideas nor affects are infused with the spirit of true art.
Having now recognized that Euripides failed in founding the drama solely on Apollinian elements and that, instead, his un-Dionysian tendency led him towards inartistic naturalism, we are ready to deal with the phenomenon of aesthetic Socratism. Its supreme law may be stated as follows: “Whatever is to be beautiful must also be sensible” —a parallel to the Socratic notion that “knowledge alone makes men virtuous.” Armed with this canon, Euripides examined every aspect of drama—diction, character, dramatic structure, choral music—and made them fit his specifications. What in Euripidean, as compared with Sophoclean tragedy, has been so frequently censured as poetic lack and retrogression is actually the straight result of the poet’s incisive critical gifts, his audacious personality. The Euripidean prologue may seen to illustrate the efficacy of that rationalistic method. Nothing could be more at odds with our dramaturgic notions than the prologue in the drama of Euripides. To have a character appear at the beginning of the play, tell us who he is, what preceded the action, what has happened so far, even what is about to happen in the course of the play—a modern writer for the theater would reject all this as a wanton and unpardonable dismissal of the element of suspense. Now that everyone knows what is going to happen, who will wait to see it happen? Especially since, in this case, the relation is by no means that of a prophetic dream to a later event. But Euripides reasoned quite otherwise. According to him, the effect of tragedy never resided in epic suspense, in a teasing uncertainty as to what was going to happen next. It resided, rather, in those great scenes of lyrical rhetoric in which the passion and dialectic of the protagonist reached heights of eloquence. Everything portended pathos, not action. Whatever did not portend pathos was seen as objectionable. The greatest obstacle to the spectator’s most intimate participation in those scenes would be any missing link in the antecedent action: so long as the spectator had to conjecture what this or that figure represented, from whence arose this or that conflict of inclinations and intentions, he could not fully participate in the doings and sufferings of the protagonists, feel with them and fear with them. The tragedy of Aeschylus and Sophocles had used the subtlest devices to furnish the spectator in the early scenes, and as if by chance, with all the necessary information. They had shown an admirable skill in disguising the necessary structural features [Formelle] and making them seem accidental. All the same, Euripides thought he noticed chat during those early scenes the spectators were in a peculiar state of unrest—so concerned with figuring out the antecedents of the story chat the beauty and pathos of the exposition were lost on them. For this reason he introduced a prologue even before the exposition, and put it into the mouth of a speaker who would command absolute trust. Very often it was a god who had to guarantee to the public the course of the tragedy and so remove any possible doubt as to the reality of the myth; exactly as Descartes could only demonstrate the reality of the empirical world by appealing to God’s veracity, his inability to tell a lie. At the end of his drama Euripides required the same divine truthfulness to act as security, so to speak, for the future of his protagonists. This was the function of the ill-famed deus ex machina. Between the epic prologue and epilogue stretched the dramatic-lyrical present, the actual “drama.”
As a poet, then, Euripides was principally concerned with rendering his conscious perceptions, and it is this which gives him his position of importance in the history of Greek art.
With regard to his poetic procedure, which was both critical and creative, he must often have felt that he was applying to drama the opening words of Anaxagoras’ treatise: “In the beginning all things were mixed together; then reason came and introduced order.” [A saying attributed to Anaxagoras by Diogenes Laertius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, ii. 6.] And even as Anaxagoras, with his concept of “Nous,” [“mind,” “reason”] seems like the first sober philosopher in a company of drunkards, so Euripides may have appeared to himself as the first rational maker of tragedy. Everything was mixed together in a chaotic stew so long as Nous, the sole principle of universal order, remained excluded from the creative act. That’s how Euripides must have thought about it; that’s how he, the first “sober” poet must have passed sentence on the “drunken” poets. Euripides would never have endorsed Sophocles’ statement about Aeschylus—that this poet was doing the right thing, but unconsciously; instead he would have claimed that because Aeschylus created unconsciously he couldn’t help doing the wrong thing. Even the divine Plato speaks of the creative power of the poet for the most part ironically and as being on a level with the gifts of the soothsayer and interpreter of dreams [see Plato’s: Ion, 533e–534d; Phaedrus, 244a–245a; Laws, 719c], since according to the traditional conception the poet is unable to write until reason and conscious control have deserted him. Euripides set out, as Plato was to do, to show the world the opposite of the “irrational” poet; his aesthetic axiom, “whatever is to be beautiful must be conscious” is strictly parallel to the Socratic “whatever is to be good must be conscious.” We can hardly go wrong then in calling Euripides the poet of aesthetic Socratism. But Socrates was precisely that other spectator, incapable of understanding the older tragedy and therefore scorning it, and it was in his company that Euripides dared to usher in a new era of poetic activity. If the old tragedy was wrecked’ aesthetic Socratism is to blame, and to the extent that the target of the innovators was the Dionysian principle of the older art we may call Socrates the god’s chief opponent, the new Orpheus who, though destined to be torn to pieces by the maenads of Athenian judgment, succeeded in putting the overmastering god to flight. The latter, as before, when he fled from Lycurgus, king of the Edoni, took refuge in the depths of the sea; that is to say, in the flood of a mystery cult that was soon to encompass the world.
The fact that the aims of Socrates and Euripides were closely allied did not escape the attention of their contemporaries. We have an eloquent illustration of this in the rumor, current at the time in Athens, that Socrates was helping Euripides with his writing [see Diogenes Laertius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, ii. 18]. The two names were bracketed by the partisans of the “good old days’? whenever it was a question of castigating the upstart demagogues of the present. It was they who were blamed for the disappearance of the Marathonian soundness of body and mind in favor of a dubious enlightenment tending toward a progressive atrophy of the traditional virtues. In the comedy of Aristophanes both men are treated in this vein—half indignant, half contemptuous—to the dismay of the rising generation, who, while they were willing enough to sacrifice Euripides, could not forgive the picture of Socrates as the arch Sophist. Their only recourse was to pillory Aristophanes in his turn as a dissolute, Lying Alcibiades of poetry. I won’t pause here to defend the profound instincts of Aristophanes against such attacks but shall proceed to demonstrate the close affinity between Socrates and Euripides, as their contemporaries saw them. It is certainly significant in this connection that Socrates, being a sworn enemy of the tragic art, is said never to have attended the theater except when a new play of Euripides was mounted. The most famous instance of the conjunction of the two names, however, is found in the Delphic oracle which pronounced Socrates the wisest of men yet allowed that Euripides merited the second place.
The third place went to Sophocles, who had boasted that, in contrast to Aeschylus, he not only did the right thing but knew why he did it. Evidently it was the degree of clarity of their knowledge that designated them as the three “wise men” of their age.
It was Socrates who expressed most clearly this radically new prestige of knowledge and conscious intelligence when he claimed to be the only one who acknowledged to himself that he knew nothing. He roamed all over Athens, visiting the most distinguished statesmen, orators, poets and artists, and found everywhere merely the presumption of knowledge. He was amazed to discover that all these celebrities lacked true and certain knowledge of their callings and pursued those callings only from instinct. The expression “only from instinct” [Plato’s Apology, 22b] seems to focus perfectly the Socratic attitude. From this point of view Socrates was forced to condemn both the prevailing art and the prevailing ethics. Wherever his penetrating gaze fell he saw nothing but lack of understanding, fictions rampant, and so was led to deduce a state of affairs wholly discreditable and perverse. Socrates believed it was his mission to correct the situation: a solitary man, arrogantly superior and herald of a radically dissimilar culture, art, and ethics, he stepped into a world whose least hem we should have counted it an honor to have touched. This is the reason why the figure of Socrates disturbs us so profoundly whenever we approach it, and why we are tempted again and again to plumb the meaning and intentions of the most problematical character among the ancients. Who was this man who dared, single-handed, to challenge the entire world of Hellenism—embodied in Homer, Pindar, and Aeschylus, in Phidias, Pericles, Pythia, and Dionysus—which commands our highest reverence? Who was this daemon daring to pour out the magic philter in the dust? this demigod to whom the noblest spirits of mankind must call out: “Alas! Alas! You have shattered the beautiful world with brazen fist; It falls, it is scattered!” [Goethe’s Faust, I, 1607-11.]
We are offered a key to the mind of Socrates in that remarkable phenomenon known as the “daemonium of Socrates.” In certain critical situations, when even his massive intellect faltered, he was able to regain his balance through the agency of a divine voice, which he heard only at such moments. The voice always spoke to dissuade [mahnt]. The instinctual wisdom of this anomalous character manifests itself from time to time as a hindrance, ready to defy his rational judgment. Whereas in all truly productive men instinct is the strong, affirmative force and reason the dissuader and critic, in the case of Socrates the roles are reversed: instinct is the critic, consciousness the creator—truly a monstrosity per defectum [from weakness, infirmity]! Because of this monstrous defectus of every mystical talent Socrates emerges as the perfect pattern of the non-mystic, in whom the logical side has become, through superfetation, as overdeveloped as has the instinctual side in the mystic. Yet it was entirely impossible for Socrates’ logical impetus to turn against itself. In its unrestrained onrush it exhibited an elemental power such as is commonly found only in men of violent instincts, where we view it with awed surprise. Whoever in reading Plato has experienced the divine directness and sureness of Socrates’ whole way of proceeding must have a sense of the gigantic driving wheel of logical Socratism, turning, as it were, behind Socrates, which we see through Socrates as through a shadow. That he himself was by no means unaware of this relationship appears from the grave dignity with which he stressed, even at the end and before his judges, his divine mission. It is as impossible to controvert him in this as it is to approve of his corrosive influence upon instinctual life. In this dilemma his accusers, when he was brought before the Athenian forum, could think of one appropriate form of punishment only, namely exile: to turn this wholly unclassifiable, mysterious phenomenon out of the state would have given posterity no cause to charge the Athenians with a disgraceful act. When finally death, not banishment, was pronounced against him, it seems to have been Socrates himself who, with complete lucidity of mind and in the absence of every natural fear of death, insisted on it. He went to his death with the same calm Plato describes [Plato: Symposium, 223c–d] when he has him leave the symposium in the early dawn, the last reveler, to begin a new day; while behind him on the benches and on the floor his sleepy companions go on dreaming of Socrates, the true eroticist. The dying Socrates became the idol of the young Athenian elite. The typical Hellenic youth, Plato, prostrated himself before that image with all the fervent devotion of his enthusiastic mind.
Let us now imagine Socrates’ great Cyclops’ eye—that eye which never glowed with the artist’s divine frenzy—turned upon tragedy. Bearing in mind that he was unable to look with any pleasure into the Dionysian abysses, what could Socrates see in that tragic art which to Plato [Gorgias, 502b] seemed “noble and meritorious”? Something quite abstruse and irrational, full of causes without effects and effects seemingly without causes, the whole texture so checkered that it must be repugnant to a sober disposition, while it might act as dangerous tinder to a sensitive and impressionable mind. We are told that the only genre of poetry Socrates really appreciated was the Aesopian fable. This he did with the same smiling complaisance with which honest Gellert sings the praise of poetry in his fable of the bee and the hen:
“Poems are useful: they can tell
The truth by means of parable
To those who are not very bright.”
[Die Biene und die Henne (The Bee and the Hen) (1744) by Christian Fiirchtegott Gellert (1715–69)]
The fact is that for Socrates tragic art failed even “to speak the truth,” although it did address itself to those who were “a bit backward,” which is to say to non-philosophers: a double reason for leaving it alone. Like Plato, he reckoned it among the beguiling arts which represent the agreeable, not the useful, and in consequence exhorted his followers to abstain from such unphilosophical stimulants. His success was such that the young tragic poet Plato burned all his writings in order to qualify as a student of Socrates [see Diogenes Laertius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, iii. 5]. And while strong native genius might now and again manage to withstand the Socratic injunction, the power of the latter was still great enough to force poetry into entirely new channels.
A good example of this is Plato himself. Although he did not lag behind the naive cynicism of his master in the condemnation of tragedy and of art in general, nevertheless his creative gifts forced him to develop an art form deeply akin to the existing forms which he had repudiated. The main objection raised by Plato to the older art (that it was the imitation of an imitation and hence belonged to an even lower order of empiric reality) must not, at all costs, apply to the new genre; and so we see Plato intent on moving beyond reality and on rendering the idea which underlies it. By a detour Plato the thinker reached the very spot where Plato the poet had all along been at home, and from which Sophocles, and with him the whole poetic tradition of the past, protested such a charge. Tragedy had assimilated to itself all the older poetic genres. In a somewhat eccentric sense the same thing can be claimed for the Platonic dialogue, which was a mixture of all the available styles and forms and hovered between narrative, lyric, drama, between prose and poetry, once again breaking through the old law of stylistic unity. The Cynic philosophers went even farther in that direction, seeking, by their utterly promiscuous style and constant alternation between verse and prose, to project their image of the “raving Socrates” in literature, as they sought to enact it in life. The Platonic dialogue was the lifeboat in which the shipwrecked older poetry saved itself, together with its numerous offspring. Crowded together in a narrow space, and timidly obeying their helmsman Socrates, they moved forward into a new era which never tired of looking at this fantastic spectacle. Plato has furnished for all posterity the image of a new art form, the image of the novel, viewed as the Aesopian fable raised to its highest power; a form in which poetry played the same subordinate role with regard to dialectic philosophy as that same philosophy was to play for many centuries with regard to theology: namely, as ancilla [maidservant]. This, then, was the new status of poetry, and it was Plato who, under the pressure of daemonic Socrates, had brought it about.
It is at this point that philosophical ideas begin to entwine themselves about art, forcing the latter to cling closely to the trunk of dialectic. The Apollinian tendency now appears disguised as logical schematism, just as we found in the case of Euripides a corresponding translation of the Dionysian affect into a naturalistic one. Socrates, the dialectical hero of the Platonic drama, shows a close affinity to the Euripidean hero, who is compelled to justify his actions by proof and counterproof, and for that reason is often in danger of forfeiting our tragic compassion. For who among us can close his eyes to the optimistic element in the nature of dialectics, which sees a triumph in every syllogism and can breathe only in an atmosphere of cool, conscious clarity? Once that optimistic element had entered tragedy, it overgrew its Dionysian regions and brought about their annihilation and, finally, the leap into genteel domestic drama Consider the consequences of the Socratic maxims: “virtue is knowledge; all sins arise from ignorance; only the virtuous are happy”—these three basic formulations of optimism spell the death of tragedy. The virtuous hero must henceforth be a dialectician; virtue and knowledge, belief and ethics, be necessarily and demonstrably connected; Aeschylus’ transcendental concept of justice be reduced to the brash and shallow principle of “poetic justice” with its regular deus ex machina.
What is the view taken of the chorus in this new Socratic optimistic stage world, and of the entire musical and Dionysian foundation of tragedy? They are seen as accidental features, as reminders of the origin of tragedy, which can well be dispensed with—while we have in fact come to understand that the chorus is the cause of tragedy and the tragic spirit. Already in Sophocles we find some embarrassment with regard to the chorus, which suggests that the Dionysian floor of tragedy is beginning to give way. Sophocles no longer dares to give the chorus the major role in the tragedy but treats it as almost on the same footing as the actors, as though it had been raised from the orchestra onto the scene. By so doing he necessarily destroyed its meaning, despite Aristotle’s endorsement of this conception of the chorus [Aristotle: Poetics xviii, 1455b]. This shift in attitude, which Sophocles displayed not only in practice but also, we are told, in theory, was the first step toward the destruction of the chorus: a process whose rapid phases we can follow in Euripides, Agathon, and the New Comedy. Optimistic dialectics took up the whip of its syllogisms and drove music out of tragedy. It entirely destroyed the meaning of tragedy—which can be interpreted only as a concrete manifestation of Dionysian conditions, music made visible, an ecstatic dream world.
Since we have discovered an anti-Dionysian tendency antedating Socrates, its most brilliant exponent, now we must not shrink back from posing the question where such a figure like Socrates points. Faced with the evidence of the Platonic dialogues, we are certainly not entitled to see in Socrates merely an agent of destruction. While it is clear that the immediate result of the Socratic strategy was the destruction of Dionysian drama, we are forced, nevertheless, by the profundity of the Socratic experience to ask ourselves whether, necessarily, art and Socratism are diametrically opposed to one another, whether there is really something of an inherent contradiction in the idea of an “artistic Socrates.”
It appears that this despotic logician had from time to time a sense of void, loss, unfulfilled duty with regard to art. In prison he told his friends how, on several occasions, a voice had spoken to him in a dream, saying “Practice music, Socrates!” [Plato: Phaedo, 60e.] Almost to the end he remained confident that his philosophy represented the highest art of the muses, and would not fully believe that a divinity meant to remind him of “common, popular music.” Yet in order to unburden his conscience he finally agreed, in prison, to undertake that music which hitherto he had held in low esteem. In this frame of mind he composed a Proömium [proem] on Apollo and rendered several Aesopian fables in verse. What prompted him to these exercises was something very similar to that warning voice of his daemon: an Apollinian perception that, like a barbarian king, he had failed to comprehend the nature of a divine effigy, and was in danger of offending his own god through ignorance. These words heard by Socrates in his dream are the only indication that he ever experienced any uneasiness about the limits of his logical universe. He may have asked himself: Have I been too ready to view what was unintelligible to me as being devoid of meaning? Perhaps there is a realm of wisdom, after all, from which the logician is excluded? Perhaps art must be seen as the necessary complement of rational discourse?
In the spirit of these last suggestive questions it must now be said how the influence of Socrates, down to the present moment and even into all future time, has spread over posterity like a shadow that keeps growing in the evening sun, and how it again and again prompts a regeneration of art—of art in the metaphysical, broadest and profoundest sense—and how its own infinity also guarantees the infinity of art.
Before this could be recognized, before the innermost dependence of every art on the Greeks, from Homer to Socrates, was demonstrated conclusively, we had to feel about these Greeks as the Athenians felt about Socrates. Nearly every age and stage of culture has at some time or other sought with profound irritation to free itself from the Greeks, because in their presence everything one has achieved oneself, though apparently quite original and sincerely admired, suddenly seemed to lose life and color and shriveled into a poor copy, even a caricature. And so time after time cordial anger erupts against this presumptuous little people that made bold for all time to designate everything not native as “barbaric.” Who are they, one asks, who, though they display only an ephemeral historical splendor, ridiculously restricted institutions, dubious excellence in their mores, and are marked by ugly vices, yet lay claim to that dignity and pre-eminence among peoples which characterize genius among the masses? Unfortunately, no one was lucky enough to find the cup of hemlock with which one could simply dispose of such a character; for all the poison that envy, calumny, and rancor created did not suffice to destroy that self-sufficient splendor. And so one feels ashamed and afraid in the presence of the Greeks, unless one prizes truth above all things and dares acknowledge even this truth: that the Greeks, as charioteers, hold in their hands the reins of our own and every other culture, but that almost always chariot and horses are of inferior quality and not up to the glory of their leaders, who consider it sport to run such a team into an abyss which they themselves clear with the leap of Achilles.
In order to vindicate the dignity of such a leader’s position for Socrates, too, it is enough to recognize in him a type of existence unheard of before him: the type of the theoretical man whose significance and aim it is our next task to try to understand. Like the artist, the theoretical man finds an infinite delight in whatever exists, and this satisfaction protects him against the practical ethics of pessimism with its Lyncaeus eyes that shine only in the dark. Whenever the truth is uncovered, the artist will always cling with rapt gaze to what still remains covering even after such uncovering; but the theoretical man enjoys and finds satisfaction in the discarded covering and finds the highest object of his pleasure in the process of an ever happy uncovering that succeeds through his own efforts. There would be no science if it were concerned only with that one nude goddess and with nothing else. For in that case her devotees would have to feel like men who wanted to dig a hole straight through the earth, assuming that each of them realized that even if he tried his utmost, his whole life long, he would only be able to dig a very small portion of this enormous depth, and even that would be filled in again before his own eyes by the labors of the next in line, so a third person would seem to do well if he picked a new spot for his drilling efforts. Now suppose someone proved convincingly that the goal of the antipodes cannot be reached in this direct manner: who would still wish to go on working in these old depths, unless he had learned meanwhile to be satisfied with finding precious stones or discovering laws of nature? Therefore Lessing, the most honest theoretical man, dared to announce that he cared more for the search after truth than for truth itself—and thus revealed the fundamental secret of science, to the astonishment, and indeed the anger, of the scientific community. [“If God had locked up all truth in his right hand, and in his left the unique, ever-live striving for truth, albeit with the addition that I should always and eternally err, and he said to me, ‘Choose!’—I should humbly clasp his left hand, saying: ‘Father, give! Pure truth is after all for thee alone!'”—Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-81), Eine Duplik (1778).] Beside this isolated insight, born of an excess of honesty if not of exuberance, there is, to be sure, a profound illusion that first saw the light of the world in the person of Socrates: the unshakable faith that thought, using the thread of logic, can penetrate the deepest abysses of being, and that thought is capable not only of knowing being but even of correcting it. This sublime metaphysical illusion accompanies science as an instinct and leads science again and again to its limits at which it must turn into art: which is really the aim of this mechanism.
With the torch of this thought in our hands, let us now look at Socrates: he appears to us as the first who could not only live, guided by the instinct of science, but also—and this is far more—die that way. Hence the image of the dying Socrates, as the human being whom knowledge and reasons have liberated from the fear of death, is the emblem that, above the entrance gate of science, reminds all of its mission—namely, to make existence appear comprehensible and thus justified; and if reasons do not suffice, myth had to come to their aid in the end—myth which I have just called the necessary consequence, indeed the purpose, of science.
Once we see clearly how after Socrates, the mystagogue of science, one philosophical school succeeds another, wave upon wave; how the hunger for knowledge reached a never-suspected universality in the widest domain of the educated world, became the real task for every person of higher gifts, and led science onto the high seas from which it has never again been driven altogether; how this universality first spread a common net of thought over the whole globe, actually holding out the prospect of the lawfulness of an entire solar system; once we see all this clearly, along with the amazingly high pyramid of knowledge in our own time—we cannot fail to see in Socrates the one turning point and vortex of so-called world history. For if we imagine that the whole incalculable sum of energy used up for this world tendency had been used not in the service of knowledge but for the practical, i.e., egoistic aims of individuals and peoples, then we realize that in that case universal wars of annihilation and continual migrations of peoples would probably have weakened the instinctive lust for life to such an extent that suicide would have become a general custom and individuals might have experienced the final remnant of a sense of duty when, like the inhabitants of the Fiji islands, they had strangled their parents and friends—a practical pessimism that might even have generated a gruesome ethic of genocide [Völkermord] motivated by pity, and which incidentally is, and was, present in the world wherever art did not appear in some form—especially as religion and science—as a remedy and a preventive for this breath of pestilence.
By contrast with this practical pessimism, Socrates is the prototype of the theoretical optimist who, with his faith that the nature of things can be fathomed, ascribes to knowledge and insight the power of a panacea, while understanding evil in itself as the error. To fathom the depths and to separate true knowledge from appearance and error, seemed to Socratic man the noblest, even the only truly human vocation. And since Socrates, this mechanism of concepts, judgments, and inferences has been esteemed as the highest occupation and the most admirable gift of nature, above all other capacities. Even the most sublime ethical deeds, the stirrings of pity, self-sacrifice, heroism, and that calm sea of the soul, so difficult to attain, which the Apollinian Greek called sophrosyne, were derived from the dialectic knowledge by Socrates and his like-minded successors, down to the present, and accordingly designated as teachable. Anyone who has ever experienced the pleasure of Socratic insight and felt how, spreading in ever-widening circles, it seeks to embrace the whole world of appearances, will never again find any stimulus toward existence more violent than the craving to complete this conquest and to weave the net impenetrably tight. To one who feels that way, the Platonic Socrates will appear as the teacher of an altogether new form of “Greek cheerfulness” and blissful affirmation of existence that seeks to discharge itself in actions—most often in maieutic and educational influences on noble youths, with a view to eventually producing a genius.
But science, spurred by its powerful illusion, speeds irresistibly towards its limits where its optimism, concealed in the essence of logic, suffers shipwreck. For the periphery of the circle of science has an infinite number of points; and while there is no telling how this circle could ever be surveyed completely, noble and gifted men nevertheless reach, e’er half their time and inevitably, such boundary points on the periphery from which one gazes into what defies illumination. When they see to their horror how logic coils up at these boundaries and finally bites its own tail—suddenly the new form of insight breaks through, tragic insight which, merely to be endured, needs art as a protection and remedy.
Our eyes strengthened and refreshed by our contemplation of the Greeks, let us look at the highest spheres of the world around us; then we shall see how the hunger for insatiable and optimistic knowledge that in Socrates appears exemplary has turned into tragic resignation and destitute need for art—while, to be sure, the same hunger on its lower levels can express itself in hostility to art and must particularly detest Dionysian-tragic art, as was illustrated earlier with the fight of Socratism against Aeschylean tragedy.
Here we knock, deeply moved, at the gates of present and future: will this “turning-over” lead to ever-new configurations of genius and especially of the Socrates who practices music? Will the net of art, even if it is called religion or science, that is spread over existence be woven even more tightly and delicately, or is it destined to be torn to shreds in the restless, barbarous, chaotic whirl that now calls itself “the present”? — Concerned but not disconsolate, we stand aside a little while, contemplative men to whom it has been granted to be witnesses of these tremendous struggles and transitions. Alas, it is the magic of these struggles that those who behold them must also take part and fight!