Nietzsche’s Theory of Tragedy
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (October 15, 1844 – August 25, 1900) was a 19th-century
German philosopher, poet, composer. He wrote critical texts on religion, morality,
contemporary culture, philosophy and science. .
Nietzsche's influence remains substantial within and beyond philosophy. , notably in
existentialism, nihilism and postmodernism.
His key ideas include the death of God, the Übermensch, and the will to power.
Central to his philosophy is the idea of "life-affirmation", which involves an honest
questioning of all doctrines that drain life's expansive energies, however socially prevalent
those views might be
The Birth of Tragedy
For Nietzsche the collision between the needs of primal
beings and civilization is reflected in classical Greek art and
dramatic tragedy in particular
Nietzsche felt that our primal needs were instinctual forces
and part of the essential human experience.
He named these Dionysian, after the Greek god Dionysus,
the god of wine, ritual, sex / orgy, song, dance, passion,
creativity and irrationality. These forces are those of our
Its opposition [yes, Hegelian], are the forces of the god Apollo that
represent rationality, order, control, ideal form, dreams and
appearances. Greek classical architecture is an excellent example of the
These opposing forces find their “collision and synthesis” in tragedy in
The original form of the Greek columns is the marble mined mined from
the earth itself. It is rough and wild and beautiful but without form.
This is the Dionysian; art in its primal state
The Apollonian is the “civilized” form of the marble
that has been sculpted into the form of columns. It
represent rationality and control of the rough marble
that has been transformed into an ordered form that
now is its beauty.
Nietzsche and the Dionysian
In our personalities the Dionysian impulse to give free rein to the
passions without restrictions or rules. It is the uncivilized part of us
that defies all rules. Artist and athletes follow their instincts to
create. We sometimes say we “go with our gut,” meaning our
feelings or intuition
The Dionysian is the source of our myths, our passions, and our
instincts, none of which are bounded by reason. It is the sources of
creativity, yet is irrational in its manifestations.
The civilizing force of the Apollonian is an essential counterbalance
to the Dionysian and a complete abandonment of reason and
civilization. It represents order and rules and laws that keeps society
from self destructing.
However, Nietzsche warns that we lose the deepest and richest
aspects of our nature if we reject the Dionysian forces within us.
Ways to View The Birth of Tragedy
In essence Nietzsche is asking us to see where
irrationality [Dionysian energy], absent in the modern
world, is in collision with rationality / reason, which
dominates the modern mind.
The collision of the Dionysian and Apollonian is in
Nietzsche’s view is in tragedy, where passion and
irrationality collides with order and irrationality.
In drama in a play or film: where is the collision between
irrationality and rationality?
Ways to View The Birth of Tragedy cont.
Within tragedy the Dionysian spirit may be
embodied within one character who acts on or
is ruled by his or her instincts or passions.
Often this character collides with another
character who represents the Apollonian spirit
that tries to control the Dionysian, to force into
into order, to demand that it follow the rules
Ways to View The Birth of Tragedy cont.
Often in tragedy the collision represents an internal conflict for
one character. One side of the character represents the
Dionysian that compels a person to break out civilizations rules
and morality and follow the urges of instincts and passions.
Within the same character is an Apollonian side that pressures
the Dionysian to conform to the demands civilization.
Such a character is pulled one way or another; the Dionysian
and Apollonian collide.
If the Dionysian rules, the character will become irrational and
suffer the tragic consequences. If the Apollonian rules, the
character will relinquish his or her passions and lead an empty
and tragic life.
Nietzsche: Tragedy in the Modern World
In Nietzsche’s view since the Age of the Enlightenment in
the 18th century, reason (the Apollonian) has come to
dominate belief, myth, passion (the Dionysian).
Advances in science and technology and trust in reason led
to almost, ironically, a religious belief in reason. Where did
this lead as as a civilization – too greater irrationality
disguised as reason?
The cult of reason, according to Nietzsche shields of from
the reality of the human condition: that within our nature
lies vital drives that make make us alive and vital and often
lead to collisions with the forces of order and control in
Where does tragedy teach us about this collision? That
there is essential darkness in our lives as well as light? And
how do we deal with that? How can facing this truth, this
essential suffering release us from the illusory dream of
Purchase answer to see full