Apollonian and Dionysian

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The Apollonian and Dionysian man complete each other in the sense that these two

terms create our society. The Apollonian man was given its name from Apollo, the sun-

god. He represents light, clarity, and form. The Dionysian man was given its name from

the Greek god Dionysus. As the wine-god, he represents drunkenness and ecstasy. The

Dionysian was the primal aspect of reality, as well as raw nature, life and death, pleasure

and pain, desire, passion, sex, and aggression. It is the source of primal instincts. "The

Dionysian with its primal pleasure-experienced even in pain- is the common womb of

music and tragic myth...the Apolline is the realm of dreams and ideal forms."("The Birth of

Tragedy" Nietzsche, 1871) The Apollonian is the humanized aspect of reality, civilization,

harmony, and balance. It follows order, form, status, peace, moderation, permanence,

symbolism, language, and reason. In modern psychological terms it is the Ego and

Superego. The complexities of the Dionysian person verses the Apollonian person will be

explored using Robert Johnson's Ecstasy.

The Dionysian name emphazing the irrational element of frenzy was found in the

rites of Dionysus. This book explores the nature of ecstasy through the myth of Dionysus.

In ancient Greece, Dionysus was the god of wine and ecstasy. "The myth of Dionysus is a

picture of the forces, behaviors, and instincts that shape our inner world. He is a complex

figure who symbolizes the irrational world of our senses as it interacts with the rational

world of rules and limitations."(Johnson, 11)

Zeus, in disguise, traveled on earth and came upon the city of Thebes. He fell

hopelessly in love with Semele, the daughter of King Cadmus. She became pregnant and

wanted to look into the eyes of her lover. She asked Zeus to grant her a boon. He made

an oath with the River of Styx. This oath exclaimed she could have anything. She asked to

see the god of the thunderbolt in his true splendor. She persisted and sadly he kept his

word. This meant her death. She was immediately incinerated. Only her womb, wrapped

in ivy, escaped the flame. Zeus was furious, therefore he cut an incision in his thigh, and

tucked the child into it. The baby continued to grow in Zeus's thigh. When gestation was

complete, Zeus gave birth to the infant god, Dionysus.(Johnson, 15)

The Titans feared the infant god so they tore him to pieces. A pomegranate tree

sprouted from the earth, where a drop of his blood had fallen. Zeus's mother, Rhea, made

him whole again. Semele's sister, Ino, and her husband Athamas, raised Dionysus as a

girl so Hera would not recognize him. Hera was not deceived. Her rage drove Ino and

Athamas mad. Zeus ordered Hermes, the divine messenger, to transform Dionysus into a

young goat. He wanted them to bring him to Mt. Nysa where he would be secretly raised

by nymphs, the joyous female spirits of the forests and mountains.(Johnson, 20)

Dionysus spent his childhood gamboling over the mountainside, surrounded by

nature, learning the sensuous pleasures of the earth. The muses, one of his teachers,

inspired him with poetry and music. The saturs(half-men, half-goat) taught him wonders of

dance and exuberant sexuality. The sileni(part-man, part-horse),spirits of the springs and

rivers, taught him wisdom. Silenus, the intoxicated old man was Dionysus's predecessor.

He taught the young god virtue.(Johnson, 23)

Years passed, Dionysus learned many things. The grapevine can only grow in the

sun's intense heat and moisture of the spring rain. Dionysus had been born of fire and

nourished by the rains of the mountain. He understood the power of the vine perfectly, and

marked his passage from childhood by inventing the art of wine-making. This would bring

humanity so much potential joy...
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