Apollo and Dionysus: Gods of Art and Will
In Nietzsche’s first book, The Birth of Tragedy, he introduces two principles with which he drives his discourse on the nature of art: the Apollonian dream, and the Dionysian intoxication. He states his purpose in writing the book, saying that “we will have achieved much for scientific study of aesthetics when we come, not merely to a logical understanding, but also to the certain and immediate apprehension of the fact that the further development of art is bound up with the duality of the Apollonian and the Dionysian” (BOT, 11). While the two Greek principles are a means through which Nietzsche creates a specific aesthetic of art, in later books, specifically Beyond Good and Evil and On The Genealogy of Morals, these principles subtly involve themselves in Nietzsche’s discussion on the will. In the intersection of the Apollonian dream and the Dionysian intoxication, there exists both the truest development of art, and the truest development of the will. The crux of Nietzsche’s argument in The Birth of Tragedy is that art is created in the intersection of two principles that he calls the Apollonian and the Dionysian. Those drives combined create the truest art. Nietzsche believes that Greek society mastered those principles, and that they characterized those principles in the god Apollo and the god Dionysus. Whether or not Nietzsche is successful in connecting Greek mythology to these principles, the principles themselves are relatable through the human experience. He says that “In order to bring those two drives closer to us, let us think of them first as the separate artistic worlds of dream and of intoxication, physiological phenomena between which we can observe an opposition corresponding to the one between the Apollonian and the Dionysian” (BOT, 11). Nietzsche begins by describing the Apollonian principle through the analogy of the dream. He says that “we enjoy dreams with an immediate understanding; every shape speaks to us; nothing is indifferent and unnecessary.” Dreams, while being realities in themselves, nevertheless carry “the thoroughly unpleasant sense of their illusory quality.” In dreams, man plays out “the entire ‘divine comedy’ of life, including the Inferno —all this moves past him, not just like a shadow play — for he lives and suffers in the midst of these scenes — and yet also not without that fleeting sense of illusion” (BOT, 12). In dreams, the truth that is presented is accepted with certainty and “immediate understanding,” such that they serve as spaces to explore truth that lies outside of rational thought. Dreams are, however, by their nature mere appearances and cannot carry the same weight that experiences in waking reality can. In his attempt to connect this dream principle to the god Apollo, Nietzsche takes this characteristic of the dream, the certainty of truth and the “immediate understanding” of it, and applies it to Apollo. Nietzsche describes Apollo as the god of “the higher truth, the perfection of this condition in contrast to the sketchy understanding of our daily reality.” Apollo represents the dreaming state, that is a “deep consciousness of a healing and helping nature in sleep and dreaming, is at the same time the symbolic analogy to the capacity to prophesy the truth, as well as to art in general, through which life is made possible and worth living” (BOT, 12). The shadowy metaphors of dreams prophesy truth—their intangible tendrils stretch out to grasp the bits of truth that rational thought cannot. Yet, although the dream-state allows the dreamer to explore truth beyond conscious thought, dream-state thinking is contained within the boundaries of the dream itself. Nietzsche says that there exists a “delicate line which the dream image may not cross so that it does not work its effect pathologically—otherwise the illusion would deceive us as a crude reality.” If the truth of the dream presses into reality, it’s pristine...
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