Notes and Quotes – The Birth of Tragedy Chapter 8

April 13, 2012 — Leave a comment

Reflection on the nature and artificiality of culture with regards to the satyr:

“…what he saw in the satyr was the original image (Urbild) of mankind, the expression of man’s highest and strongest stirrings, an enthusiastic celebrant, ecstatic at the closeness of his god, a sympathetic companion in whom the sufferings of the god are repeated, a proclaimer of wisdom from the deepest heart of nature, an emblem of the sexual omnipotence of nature which the Greek habitually regards with reverent astonishment.” (BoT, p41)

“…here the illusion of culture was wiped away by the primal image of man; here, in this bearded satyr shouting up to his god in jubilation man’s true nature was revealed. Faced with the satyr, cultured man shriveled to a mendacious caricature.” (BoT, p41)

An example of Nietzsche being highly critical and disregarding of the state of cultured man.Culture being a product of the Apolline, and of post-Socratic, post-Platonic rationalism.

“The sphere of poetry does not lie outside the world, like some fantastical impossibility contrived in a poet’s head; poetry aims to be the very opposite, the unvarnished expression of truth, and for this very reason it must cast off the deceitful finery of the so-called reality of cultured man.” (BoT, p41)

He continues into an illuminating metaphysical and hermeneutical (almost) account about the core nature of things and truth:

“The contrast between this genuine truth of nature and the cultural lie which pretends to be the only reality is like the contrast between the eternal core of things, the thing-in-itself, and the entire world of phenomena; and just as tragedy, with its metaphysical solace, points to the eternal life of that core of being despite the constant destruction of the phenomenal world, the symbolism of the chorus of satyrs is in itself a metaphorical expression of that original relationship between the thing-in-itself and phenomenon.” (BoT, p42)

Through the Dionysian we are connected to the eternal core, the thing-in-itself. Through tragedy the Dionysian connection to the eternal core is expressed.


We have established the eternal core (sort of). There are two opposing and complimenting drivers of human expression through which we connect with the world (two drivers that make up our lived experience): Dionysos and Apollo. Dionysos to the eternal core, Apollo to the veneer of image, reason and cultural boundaries and constructs.

What is the root of the objection to the image-built world of cultural constructs? (i.e. are they such a bad thing, what is the disadvantage vs. the advantage)

What benefit do we get from this primordial world where we are in close contact with the ‘eternal core’ (which in the framework of this question needs more explaining)?

“…the Dionysian Greek wants truth and nature at full strength…” (BoT, p42) (a good definition/description for tragedy??? or the purpose of tragedy??)

The event and experience of Attic Tragedy:

“…it must always be remembered that the audience of Attic tragedy identified itself with the chorus on the orchestra, so that there was fundamentally no opposition between public and chorus; the whole is just one sublime chorus, either of dancing and singing satyrs, or of those who allow themselves to be represented by these satyrs.” (BoT, p42)

The experience in the Greek theatre was interactive. There were not spectators as such, but partakers. The audience member identified and imagined that he was part of the chorus.

“The chorus of satyrs is first and foremost a vision of the Dionysiac mass, just as the world of the stage is in turn a vision of this chorus of satyrs; the strength of this vision is great enough to render the spectators gaze insensitive and unresponsive to the impression of ‘reality’ and to the cultured people occupying the rows of seats around him.” (BoT, p42)

Nietzsche’s conception of the poet:

“what makes a poet a poet is the fact that he sees himslef surrounded by figures who live and act before him, and into whose innermost essence he gazes.” He goes on: “We talk so abstractly about poetry because we are usually all bad poets. Fundamentally the aesthetic phenomenon is simple; one only has to have the ability to watch a living play (Spiel) continuously and to live constantly surrounded by crowds of spirits, then one is a poet; if one feels the impulse to transform oneself and to speak out of other bodies and souls, then one is a dramatist.” (BoT, p43)

Drama, and so tragedy, is originally an act of metamorphosis and transformation. Individuality is surrendered, in the sense that one does not merge with the music or image but sees it outside himself (by merging the idea of the physiological affect of music/tragedy) to this transformation whereby “the dithyrambic chorus is a chorus of transformed beings who have completely forgotten their civic past and their social position..” (BoT, p43)

A summary and definition for Nietzsche’s conception of drama:

“Enchantment is the precondition of all dramatic art. In this enchanted state the Dionysiac enthusiast sees himself as a satyr, and as a satyr he in turn sees the god, i.e. in his transformed state he sees a new vision outside himslef which is the Apolline perfection of his state. With this new vision the drama is complete.”

He continues:

“This insight leads us to understand Greek tragedy as a Dionusian chorus which discharges itself over and over again in an Apolline world of images […] Thus drama is the Apolline embodiment of Dionysiac insights and effects, and is thereby separated by a vast gulf from the epic.” (BoT, p44)

More on the experience of the theatre:

“Despite its entirely subservient position in relation to the god, however, the chorus is nevertheless the highest, which is to say Dionysiac, expression of nature, and therefore speaks in its enthusiasm, as does nature herself, oracular and wise words; the chorus which shares in suffering is also the wise chorus which proclaims the truth from the heart of the world.” (BoT, p45)

“Now the dithyrambic chorus is given the task of infecting the mood of the spectators with Dionysiac excitement to such a pitch that, when the tragic hero appears on the stage, they see, not some grotesquely masked human being, but rather a visionary figure, born, as it were, of their own ecstasy.” (BoT, p44)

This is the start of the discussion around the importance of the Dionysian element. It is starting to be described as a way of healing to the human condition, or even more so a celebration of the brutal nature of the world. In true nature of the world, as harsh and violent as it may be, there is cause to celebrate life, without abstractions of Apolline conception of image-driven beauty, or even religious concepts of higher being.


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