Craig White's Literature Courses

Critical Sources

Glossary to
Friedrich Nietzsche,
The Birth of Tragedy
(1872, 1886)

(Whiteside trans., Penguin Classics ed.)

Apollo / Dionysus (Apolline / Dionysiac)

Wikipedia article: "Apollonian & Dionysian"

Attempt at a Self-Criticism
(retrospective critique of The Birth of Tragedy, written by Nietzsche 12 years after original publication)

Attempt at a Self-Criticism [part 1]

p. 3 Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 = The Kingdom of Prussia with other German states defeated France, with the following results:

  • Unification of German states into nation of Germany (Deutschland)

  • Fall of Napoleon III & the 2nd Empire in France, succession of Third Empire

  • Germany annexes French territories of Alsace and part of Lorraine, which are returned to France after World War 1

p. 3 As once it was with the Hindus . . . = For 19c Europeans, the ancient civilization of India often served as a type for fatalism and resignation to fate, in contrast to the apparently youthful willpower exerted by imperial European states.

p. 4 the Dionysiac: see Apollo / Dionysus (Apolline / Dionysiac)

4 the Socratism of morality . . . Socrates, Socrates . . . : though Socrates (c. 469-399 BC) is honored as the founder of Western philosophy, ethics, and rational discourse, Nietzsche characterizes him negatively for distracting humanity from instinctive union with nature. The morality deriving from the Socratic tradition makes humanity cautious and self-absorbed rather than heroic and ecstatic.

Attempt at a Self-Criticism [part 2]

5 Richard Wagner (1813-83), German Romantic operatic composer, with whom Nietzsche as a young man made friends and to whom he originally dedicated Birth of Tragedy.

Though Nietzsche later broke with Wagner over what he perceived as the composer’s indulgence of Christian morality, at the time he wrote BT Nietzsche regarded Wagner’s music as a Dionysiac revival that would overturn the Apolline decadence of 19c European art.

Attempt at a Self-Criticism [3]

5 shibboleth = custom, belief, or password of a particular cultural group

5 in artibus = in the arts

6 “unknown god”: see Acts

6 maenadic: maenads were female followers of Dionysus, often portrayed as ecstatic from dancing and drinking;

a. k. a. Bassarids, Bacchae, or Bacchantes

see Euripides, The Bacchae.

Greek drinking vessel depicting a maenad and two satyrs

6 philologist: philology = study of language in historical sources; thus literary studies, history, and linguistics.

Attempt at a Self-Criticism [4]

6 craving for beauty . . . craving for ugliness: As an aesthetic concept ugliness is the opposite of beauty or pleasure, the usual goals of aesthetic pursuits like dramas or festivals. Tragedy, however, compels pursuit or contemplation of something beyond normal beauty or pleasure, i.e. the sublime—a combined feeling of pleasure and pain, or beauty mixed with terror.

6 Pericles (or Thucydides)

  • Pericles = leader of Golden Age of Athens who promoted art, architecture, literature

  • Thucydides = historian contemporary with Pericles

7 that synthesis of god and goat, the satyr . . .

A satyr was one of a troop of male companions to the Greek gods Pan and Dionysus.

Satyrs, who lived in forests and mountains, often appeared as hairy, sexually active men of nature with animal features such as horses' tails or, in later times, horns or legs of goats.

7 If it was madness itself, to use a phrase of Plato’s . . . : In Plato’s dialogue Phaedrus (370 BC), Socrates argues that madness or insanity is not always bad but may be a gift from the gods, as in prophecy, mystical ecstasy, poetry, and love.

7 utilitarianism = system of ethics or governance in which success is measured by outcomes in terms of the highest common good

Attempt at a Self-Criticism [5]

7 Richard Wagner (1813-83), German Romantic operatic composer, with whom Nietzsche as a young man made friends and to whom he originally dedicated Birth of Tragedy.

Though Nietzsche later broke with Wagner over what he perceived as the composer’s indulgence of Christian morality, at the time he wrote BT Nietzsche regarded Wagner’s music as a Dionysiac revival that would overturn the Apolline decadence of 19c European art.

7 the properly metaphysical activity of man . . . : here metaphysics indicates the branch of philosophy dealing with first principles, categories, or origins of reality or nature. (Oxford English Dictionary: The branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things or reality, including questions about being, substance, time and space, causation, change, and identity (which are presupposed in the special sciences but do not belong to any one of them); theoretical philosophy as the ultimate science of being and knowing.)

8 redemption and deliverance only in illusion: the final, italicized word indicates the Apolline dream-world of art as a mediation of the raw Dionysiac world of nature.

9 anti-Christian . . . Antichrist: Typical Nietzsche not only in its opposition to Christian morality, which Nietzsche considered a slave’s rather than a hero’s morality, but also in its play on words. Nietzsche playfully extends “anti-Christian” to the figure of the “Antichrist” from the New Testament’s First & Second Letters of John. Nietzsche’s application of the Antichrist figure to his depiction of the Greek God Dionysus may also play on the possible depiction of the Antichrist as “the Beast” in the Book of Revelation (chapters 13, 17), especially since Dionysus stands for the “man of nature” rather than art or civilization.

Attempt at a Self-Criticism [6]

9 Schopenhauerian and Kantian . . . Kant and Schopenhauer . . . World as Will and Representation . . .

  • Immanuel Kant (1724-1804): German philosopher of the Enlightenment and Romantic periods whose Critique of Pure Reason (1788) sought to extend Enlightenment epistemologies (e.g. reason, empiricism) to metaphysics, ethics, and religion.

  • Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860): pessimistic German philosopher, whose World as Will and Representation (1818, 1844) described will or desire as the source of human suffering; only denial of desire (as in Buddhism, Hinduism, or early Christian asceticism) can bring peace; on p. 10 Nietzsche refers to Schopenhauerian “resignationism.” “Representation” is the idea or perception of objects outside the mind, beginning with the subject’s body.

10 romantic = Romanticism

Attempt at a Self-Criticism [7]

11 1830 . . . 1850

11 anti-Hellenism: “Hellenism” = study of classical Greek civilization or cultivation of its noble values of order, balance, symmetry, restraint; “anti-Hellenism” as “romanticism” would violate this aspect of classical Greece by its common values of disorder, wildness, and extravagance.

12 Zarathustra = Zoroaster, ancient Persian prophet of Zoroastrianism, a widely-held world religion beginning app. 6c BCE that prefigures Judeo-Christianity in its dualistic worldview of good and evil forces or deities in conflict. (Communities of Zoroastrians still survive in the modern world, most notably the Parsi of India.)

12 Thus Spoke Zarathustra: Philosophical novel by Nietzsche, written 1883-85, a dozen years after Birth of Tragedy.


Preface to Richard Wagner
(written for original edition of Birth of Tragedy, 1872)

13 the Prometheus Unbound on the title page . . . : “Prometheus Unbound” = Nietzsche himself; the allusion is to a lost tragedy by the classical Greek dramatist Aeschylus (whose Prometheus Bound survives) or perhaps to the lyrical drama Prometheus Unbound (1820) by the English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822).

13 when your magnificent Beethoven Festschrift was published . . . : Festschrift on Beethoven (1871) by Richard Wagner; a festschrift is a book celebrating or honoring a fellow artist, writer, or scholar.



The Birth

of Tragedy


The Birth of Tragedy
chapter 1

14 aesthetics

14 the Apolline and Dionysiac

14 Hellenic: Having to do with Greek culture or the national character or nature of the Greeks, esp. the ancient Greeks

14 Attic tragedy: “Attic” = Athenian or Attican; having to do with the region of Attica in Greece, of which Athens is the major city and capital

14 Lucretius: Lucretius (99-55BCE), Roman poet and Epicurean philosopher, author of De Rerum Natura (The Nature of Things)

14-15 as Hans Sachs instructs us in Die Meistersinger . . . : Die Meistersinger von Nurnburg (1868), an opera by Richard Wagner (see above, p.7) takes place during the Renaissance in the German city of Nuremburg, where a guild of “Master-Singers”—amateur poets and musicians—includes Hans Sachs, a shoe-cobbler based on a historical master-singer. Wagner wrote the opera under the influence of Schopenhauer (see p. 9 above), especially the latter's idea of art and music as an escape from the suffering of the world.

The quoted verse at top of p. 15 is from the opera.

15 philosopher: here meaning scientist or empirical observer

16 Apollo, the deity of all plastic forces . . . : “plastic” here means artistic or creative; more precisely, perhaps sculptural

16 the veil of Maya (World as Will and Representation . . . : In Hindu / Buddhist metaphysics, “Maya” [< Sanskrit “not that”] is the phenomenal or objective world as an illusion or “veil” that obscures reality’s spiritual reality, a concept adapted by Schopenhauer in his World as Will and Representation (see p. 9 above).

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860): pessimistic German philosopher, whose World as Will and Representation (1818, 1844) described will or desire as the source of human suffering; only denial of desire (as in Buddhism, Hinduism, or early Christian asceticism) can bring peace.

16 principium individuationis: Schopenhauer thus describes how, in the illusory realm of Maya or surface appearances, all objects appear to have an individual status or separate existence (a vision that conforms to the Apolline dream-illusion of art), while in reality no one thing is differentiated from another (conforming to the Dionysiac experience of ecstatic union with nature)—subsequently referred to as “the mysterious primal Oneness” (BT 17).

16-17 tremendous dread . . . blissful ecstasy . . . : this combination of pain and pleasure corresponds to the sublime catharsis of tragic art

17 Dancers of Saint John and Saint Vitus: Saint Vitus Dance, clinically known as Sydenham's Chorea, is a physical disorder characterized by rapid, uncoordinated jerking movements.

17 Beethoven’s “Hymn of Joy”: sometimes translated as “Ode to Joy,” a choral passage in the final movement of Beethoven’s final or 9th Symphony (1824). The lyrics were adapted from an ode (1785) by the German Poet Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805). Since 1972 this hymn or ode has been the “Anthem of Europe” for the Council of Europe, subsequently the European Union. The tune from Beethoven’s chorus also serves as the melody for the Christian hymn, “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee.”

Performance of Beethoven's Ode to Joy on YouTube

18 Eleusinian Mysteries: In ancient Greece, initiation rituals or ceremonies into the cult of Demeter and Persephone at Eleusis, a town near Athens and coincidentally the birthplace of Aeschylus. As a religious concept, “mysteries” refers to sacraments (e.g. rituals or ceremonies like communion or baptism) or to religious objects, a.k.a. “sacramentals” like medals or votive objects. More broadly, religious mysteries may also refer to paradoxes or supernatural concepts such as the Christian Trinity or the Eucharist in which bread and wine become in some sense the body and blood of Christ.

The Birth of Tragedy
chapter 2

19 archetype: a (more or less) universal symbol, pattern or relation recurring in literature, mythology, religion, philosophy, psychology; e.g., the father-figure at the head or source of a social model or institution; “Mother Earth”; “as above, so below”; tricksters.

19 febrile = feverish

19 Doric art: the earliest classical form of Greek architecture, such as that of the Parthenon in Athens . . . .

In Nietzsche’s usage, “Doric art” symbolizes Apolline order, balance, and restraint, as distinct from the “febrile” or feverish, agitated, and disordered Dionysiac state.

Doric Temple

20 the Delphic god . . . : Apollo, the patron god of prophecy; the Oracle at Delphi was a priestess in the Temple of Apollo

20 the Babylonian Sacaea: a festival or carnival of rebirth or renewal honoring the sun in ancient Babylon, modern-day Iraq

20 Doric architecture: see p. 19 above.

20 cithara (a.k.a. kithara): lyre-like instrument of ancient Greece; the word kithara is the source for modern-English "guitar"

21 dithyramb

21 the veil of Maya . . . : In Hindu / Buddhist metaphysics, “Maya” [< Sanskrit “not that”] is the phenomenal or objective world as an illusion or “veil” that obscures reality’s spiritual reality, a concept adapted by Schopenhauer in his World as Will and Representation (see pp. 9, 16 above).

21 the dithyrambic votary of Dionysus: votary = devotee, devoted worshipper, priest or priestess

The Birth of Tragedy
chapter 3

21 the glorious Olympian figures of the gods: For the Greeks, the twelve major gods who lived on Mount Olympus gained power by overthrowing the previous set of Gods, the Titans. Zeus, the chief of the Greek deities, was joined on Olympus by Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Hestia, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, & Hermes. Later Dionysus replaced Hestia.

22 King Midas had long hunted wise Silenus

  • King Midas: Now famous mostly for his "golden touch," King Midas often appeared in diverse and sometimes contradictory legends.

  • Silenus: Tutor and companion to Dionysus, god of wine; Silenus was originally depicted as a man of the forest, often riding on a donkey. When drunk (almost always), Silenus had the gift of prophecy.

  • a pop-culture appearance of Silenus is in Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony #5 as depicted in Disney's Fantasia at approximately the 55-second mark.

sculpted head of Silenus

22 the daemon: here referring to Silenus, the Latin spelling daemon is sometimes used to distinguish the figure from later definitions as a spirit of evil. In ancient mythology a demon or daemon was a spirit midway between humanity and the gods.

22 the Moira: one of the three Moirai or Fates who determine the fate of every human from birth to death.

22 the vultures that tormented the great friend to man, Prometheus: For stealing fire from the Olympian gods and giving it to humanity, Zeus chained Prometheus to a mountain, where vultures daily feasted on his liver.

22 the terrible destiny of wise Oedipus: depicted in Sophocles's Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus and many other legends, Oedipus was born a prince of Thebes and cursed to kill his father and marry his mother after solving the riddle of the Sphinx

23 art . . . the complement and apotheosis of existence: a "complement" (not compliment) is what completes, fulfills, or balances something else; "apotheosis" = glorification or exaltation of a principle or practice

23 theodicy (OED): "The, or a, vindication of the divine attributes, esp. justice and holiness, in respect to the existence of evil; a writing, doctrine, or theory intended to ‘justify the ways of God to men.'"

24 sublime

24 Homer: nominal author of the Greek epics Iliad and Odyssey.

The Birth of Tragedy
chapter 4


25 Raphael . . . his Transfiguration: Raphael (1483-1520), masterful Renaissance painter


26 hubris (sometimes spelled “hybris”): Greek word for extreme pride or arrogance, for which tragic heroes were sometimes punished; e.g., Agamemnon walking on the tapestry; Creon in Antigone for refusing to bury the slain Polyneices. Aristotle does not directly discuss hubris in Poetics but his description of hamartia or error may include hubris.


27 sublime


27 Attic tragedy:


The Birth of Tragedy
chapter 5

 28 the forefathers and torch-bearers of Greek poetry, Homer and Archilocus . . .

Homer: legendary author of the Greek epics Iliad and Odyssey

Archilochus: early Greek poet (7c BC), remembered as creator of the elegy (poem in commemoration of the dead) and as the first Greek lyric poet. His works survive only in fragments, but the ancient Greeks ranked him with Homer and Hesiod. See also BT 29.

28 Schiller: German poet and critic Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805). See also note to BT 19.


30-31 Schopenhauer . . . World as Will and Representation:  Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860): pessimistic German philosopher, whose World as Will and Representation (1818, 1844) described will or desire as the source of human suffering; only denial of desire (as in Buddhism, Hinduism, or early Christian asceticism) can bring peace; on p. 10 Nietzsche refers to Schopenhauerian “resignationism.” “Representation” is the idea or perception of objects outside the mind, beginning with the subject’s body. See also note to BT 9.

The Birth of Tragedy
chapter 6

32 Archilochus: early Greek poet (7c BC), remembered as creator of the elegy (poem in commemoration of the dead) and as the first Greek lyric poet. His works survive only in fragments, but the ancient Greeks ranked him with Homer and Hesiod. See also BT 28, 29, 33.

33 Des KnabenWunderhorn: [endnote from text:] “’Youth’s Magic Horn,’ a collection of German folk songs edited . . . early in the nineteenth century.”

33 Pindar: ancient Greek lyric poet (ca. 522-443 BC) from Thebes


The Birth of Tragedy
chapter 7

35 labyrinth

36 A. W. Schlegel: (1767-1845), German Romantic poet, critic, and translator of Shakespeare. [Endnote from text:] “a leading thinker and writer of the early German Romantic movement, who together with Ludwig Tieck translated a large number of Shakespeare’s plays into German in editions which have classic status."

37 The chorus of the Oceanides really believes that it is seeing the Titan Prometheus . . . : In Greek mythology, the Oceanids were 3000 daughters of the Titans Oceanus and Tethys. The Oceanids serve as chorus in Prometheus Bound, attributed to Aeschylus.

37 Schiller in the famous preface to the Bride of Messina . . . : German poet and critic Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805; see also notes to BT 19, 28) wrote the tragedy The Bride of Messina in 1803; it combined elements of Greek and modern drama.

40 the sublime

40 comedy

The Birth of Tragedy
chapter 8

40 The satyr, like the idyllic shepherd of our own more recent age . . . :

41 Dionysiac votaries: devotees, worshippers, or priests of Dionysus, the god of wine and revelry

41 reconstituted geniuses of nature, as satyrs: “geniuses” here means spirits or embodiments; for “satyrs” see above, BT p. 7.

41 the audience of the Attic tragedy discovered itself in the chorus of the orchestra: “orchestra” = in front of the stage, the round area where the chorus sings and dances in ancient Greek theaters. As Greek theater developed, the orchestra became a circular area in front of the skene (scene) or stage where actors stood. In later western theater, this area in front of the stage held musicians, which were called the orchestra after the place where they sat or stood.

Oxford English Dictionary. Orchestra etymology: < classical Latin orchēstra ( > French orchestre) area in front of the stage in the ancient Greek theatre where the chorus performed

43 dithyramb: A Greek choric hymn, originally in honour of Dionysus or Bacchus, vehement and wild in character; a Bacchanalian song. (The dithyramb was an important element contributing to the constitution of tragedy as drama.)

44 operatic chorus: the chorus of singers accompanying the lead roles in a musical opera

45 weft = woof or threads drawn through warp-threads to create cloth

The Birth of Tragedy
chapter 9

 46 an image of the Hellene:

46 Sophoclean heroes: heroes or protagonists of tragedies by Sophocles; e.g. Oedipus the King, Antigone

46 what we might call remedies:

46 the Apolline mask:

48 Memnon’s Column: two colossal statues of Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep III near Luxor, Egypt

48 Aeschylus’ Prometheus:  

48 Young Goethe . . . his Prometheus: assumedly the quotation that follows is from Goethe’s Faust.

48 Moira:

49 an unshakeable substratum of metaphysical thought: “substratum” = foundation, underlying bedrock to the background of physical and spiritual reality (“metaphysical thought”). For the Greek artist, that is, the Olympian gods had such a substantial presence that the artist would feel a creative power similar to that of the gods. This “substratum” also underlies the Greek audience’s ability to see the actor on stage as a god or god-like being.

49 Prometheus is the indigenous property of all Aryan peoples: “Aryan,” a borrowing from the Sanskrit term for “noble,” originally described a large body of languages pervading Europe and Asia. In 19th & 20th century racialist thought, “Aryan” became a term for an original heroic race of Europeans. This ideology climaxed in the German Nazis “Master Race” theories and continues in “Aryan race” movements in Europe and North America. As a German in the century preceding these developments, Nietzsche shared early forms of such racialism, as did Wagner, and the Nazis claimed both as inspirations. These aspects of Nietzsche and Wagner are distasteful for later audiences, but most recent historians dissociate these artists from the ugliness of Aryanism’s later developments.

49 the myth of the Fall for the Semitic:

49 the supreme value that primitive man places on fire as the true palladium of any rising culture:

palladium: Oxford English Dictionary 1. Classical Mythol. An image of the goddess Pallas (Athene) in the citadel of Troy, whose presence was believed to guarantee the safety of the city.

49-50 the Semitic myth of the / Fall:

50 a whole series of predominantly feminine attributes:

50 the witches chorus: [Endnote to text:] “The quotation is from Goethe’s Faust, Part 1, lines 3980-83.”

50 an Egyptian rigidity and coldness: Egyptology popular in 19c

51 Hellenism:

51 Prometheus’ brother, the Titan Atlas:

The Birth of Tragedy
chapter 10

51 Prometheus, Oedipus, and so on—are merely masks of that original hero, Dionysus: All tragic drama, that is, replays the ritual sacrifice of Dionysus, the god of our inner, undifferentiated nature.

52 dismembered by the Titans and . . . worshipped as Zagreus: Originally a separate god associated with the hunt and capture of living animals, Zagreus became identified with Dionysus. In ancient rituals associated with Zagreus, living animals may have been torn from limb to limb. In Euripides’s The Bacchae, the Bacchae (or Bacchante; women ecstatically devoted to Dionysus) are reported to tear cattle limb from limb. When the women discover Pentheus, the new king of Thebes, spying on their rituals, the Bacchic women (who include his mother Agave) rip the young king’s body apart piece by piece.

52 epopts: devotees who have completed the initiation rituals (epopteia) of the Eleusinian Mysteries; see above, BT p. 18.

52 Demeter: Greek goddess of fertility, mother to Persephone who, after being abducted by Hades, spends half the year (i.e. winter) with him in the underworld, and half the year (growing season) with her mother.

52 the mystery doctrine of tragedy: “mystery” here connotes two meanings distinct from mystery as a crime to be solved:

mystery as initiation:

mystery as paradox:

52 the battle with the Titans: referring to the battle by which the Olympians, led by Zeus, overthrew the previous pantheon of gods, the Titans, whose own two generations included such mythological figures as Saturn, Cronus, Atlas, Gaea, Oceanus, Prometheus, Phoebe, and Themis.

52 metempsychosis: transmigration of the soul, especially its reincarnation after death.

53 In Aeschylus we see Zeus, terrified and fearful of his end, forging an alliance with the Titan: Reference to Prometheus Bound, a tragedy attributed to Aeschylus; similar action occurs in Shelley’s lyric drama, Prometheus Unbound (1820).

53 Tartarus: In Greek mythology, an underworld place of torment and suffering for the dead.

53 this goddess: nature?

53 Dionysiac truth . . . gives it [myth] voice partly in the public cult of tragedy: Dionysiac rituals like the Eleusinian Mysteries or those mentioned in the Bacchae are private, excluding non-initiates; tragedy, however, is performed in a public space that all citizens can attend.

54 whet and hone a sophistical dialectic:

54 Greek sailors hear, “the god Pan is dead”: Acc. to Gk historian Plutarch (c. 46-120AD), during the reign of Roman Emperor Tiberius (14-37 AD), a sailor named Thamus passing the island of Paxi heard a divine voice say, "Thamus, are you there? When you reach [your port], take care to proclaim that the great god Pan is dead."



The Birth of Tragedy
chapter 11

55 New Attic Comedy: In Athens (“Attic”), “Old Comedy” was political and social satire featuring low physical humor (sexual pranks and scatology), as in The Clouds (423 BC) and Lysistrata (411 BC) by Aristophanes (ca. 446–ca. 386 BC). Contemporary analogs: Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Saturday Night Live. The New Comedy (lasting from death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC till 260 BC) is more like situation comedies (a.k.a. sitcoms; e.g., Two and a Half Men, 30 Rock, How I Met Your Mother) in being more realistic and domestic, less controversial. Nietzsche compares this change to the change in tragedy from the heroic and mythical Aeschylus and Sophocles to the realistic and rational Euripides.

55 Philemon (ca. 362-262 BC), Athenian poet and playwright of New Comedy.

55 Menander (342–291 BC), popular Athenian poet and playwright of New Comedy

55 pre-Euripidean Promethean dramatists: effectively, Aeschylus and Oedipus, following Nietzsche’s description of tragedy before Euripides as heroic, titanic, or mythical, until Euripides replaces myth with humanistic realism or naturalism.

55 the mirror: cf. mimesis

55 Graeculus . . . good-natured, cunning slave: Graeculus = “little Greek” as a stock character in New Comedy; a comparable modern figure in a sitcom might be an apparently insignificant character (a servant, child, or underling) who repeatedly turns events in his or her own favor, showing cleverness that surprises more prestigious characters.

55 the Frogs of Aristophanes: a comedy (405BCE) by Aristophanes (446-386BCE) in which Dionysus, complaining of the decline of tragedy in Athens, goes to Hades to retrieve Euripides. Dionysus’s slave Xanthias, who goes along on the journey to the underworld, is an example of “the good-natured, cunning slave” cited above. In Hades, Euripides and Aeschylus have a debate over who was the greater tragedian, which Aeschylus eventually wins. The Frogs won first place in the Dionysian festival of Lenaia in 405 BCE.

55 nostrum: an ineffective but favorite remedy for some problem

56 sophistries: misleading arguments or deceptive speech or writing

56 bourgeois: middle-class; conformist, conservative, and materialistic

57 Pythagoras . . . Heraclitus

  • Pythagoras (ca. 570-495 BC), Greek philosopher, mathematician, and founder of religion called Pythagoreanism

  • Heraclitus (c. 535–475 BC), pre-Socratic Greek philosopher who described the universe as a process of constant change.

58 Lessing: Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781), prominent German writer, dramatist, and critic during the Enlightenment

The Birth of Tragedy
chapter 12

60 Pentheus in the Bacchae: In Euripides’s The Bacchae (405BC) Pentheus is the new king of Thebes. He denounces and prohibits by law participation of women in Dionysian rituals but himself becomes fascinated: when the celebrating women catch Pentheus spying on them, in their drunken ecstasy they tear him limb from limb.

60 two aged men, Cadmus and Tiresias: At the opening of The Bacchae, Pentheus sees and denounces these two venerable men, who are dressed to participate in the Dionysian rituals and defend them to Pentheus.

  • Cadmus or Kadmos: ancient Phoenician prince and founder of Thebes. He killed a dragon and sewed its teeth in the soil, from which sprang up fierce warriors, with whom he built Thebes. He is also credited with bringing the Phoenician alphabet to the Greek language.

  • Teiresias: blind prophet of Thebes who appears in several tragedies set in that city.

60 daemonic power, daemon: [earlier note on daemon]

60 the Socratic intention: Nietzsche argues that Socrates, founder of Western philosophy, believes that intellectual analysis generates and disseminates goodness in the leadership and citizenry, and that Euripides’s tragedies imitate this process when their protagonists explicate and defend their motivations in a context of rational humanistic comprehension and an everyday world they share with the average citizen. In contrast, according to Nietzsche, the earlier Greek tragedians (Aeschylus and Sophocles) did not rely on a rationally enlightened world but brought spectators into contact with a deeper, irrational, ecstatic existence embodied in myth and mystery (or, following Dionysus, intoxication or altered mental states).

61 a dramatized epic; an Apolline sphere of art in which tragic effects were impossible: Differentiating the genres of Greek classic literature, Nietzsche earlier distinguished b/w Homer’s epics as the expression of the Apolline illusion of clarity, individualism and redemption, in contrast to tragedy’s Dionysiac death of the individual existence by ecstatic union with undifferentiated communal nature.

61 in his projected Nausicaa Goethe:   

  • Goethe: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), principal German Romantic poet, author of Faust (parts 1 & 2; 1808, 1828-29; 1832), Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (1795-96), and The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774, 1787). Goethe planned many more literary projects than he ever completed.

  • Nausicaa appears in Homer’s Odyssey: When Odysseus is shipwrecked on the island of Scheria, he first meets the beautiful Nausicaa, who arranges for Odysseus’s reception at the island’s court and, at length, the court’s provision of ships with which to continue his voyages.

61 rhapsodist (a.k.a. rhapsode): classical Greek singer of epics

62 highly realistic counterfeits: Nietzsche uses “realistic” in two meanings to condemn the changes Euripides introduced to tragedy under the influence of Socrates:

  • “realistic” as conforming to everyday reality; see also BT pp. 55-6.

  • “realistic” in that Euripides’s tragedies may look and sound like earlier tragedies, but by forsaking Dionysiac myth and ecstasy in favor of the Apolline realms of reason and everyday life encouraged by Socrates, such effects are “counterfeit” or bogus, contrary to the proper spirit of tragedy.

62 inartistic naturalism: naturalism = realism, mimesis of everyday life and nature. Nietzsche condemns this type of mimesis as less noble and more bourgeois than Dionysiac myth and ecstasy.

62 the Euripidean prologue: Prologues that set a tragedy’s scene and provided background information, provided by the chorus or a character, appeared in some tragedies before Euripides—e.g., Aeschylus’s Agamemnon. Euripides’s prologues attempt more than scene-setting, however: they often describe events about to unfold on stage and give a moral rationale for what will happen.

62 Everything provided for pathos rather than plot: Nietzsche’s criticism of Euripides follows from Aristotle’s provision that an excellent plot, the first standard for tragedy, is necessary for generating “pathos” or a sense of suffering shared by the audience with the subjects of an artistic work. Essentially, Nietzsche’s criticism is that Euripides sentimentally exploits his audience’s shared identity with his realistic characters rather than building feeling through the mythic ritual of the plot.

63 just as Descartes could only prove the reality of the empirical world by appealing to the veracity of God and His inability to lie: Rene Descartes (1596-1650), French philosopher and mathematician, “the father of modern philosophy” and a key figure in the Scientific Revolution. His Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One's Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences (1637; a.k.a. Discourse on Method) argues that reason establishes the truth of God, Who guarantees that reason is not misguided.

63 the notorious deus ex machina: deus ex machina (Latin “God out of the machine”) is a plot device whereby an insoluble problem is rapidly resolved by a force outside the normal characters or agents of the literary narrative. Aristotle in Poetics (15a) criticized Euripides for relying too much on the deus ex machina, a violation of Aristotle’s dictum that a well-made plot is the first requirement of excellent tragedy.

63 Anaxagoras (ca. 500-428BC), pre-Socratic Greek philosopher

63 [Greek script] = “Nous” or mind, understanding, intellect. For Anaxogoras, “nous” is the entity or force that establishes order among the chaotic elements and forces of nature. “Nous” may thus be attributed to either the human mind or the mind of God. The term appears several times in the New Testament of the Bible and later became an important concept in Neo-Platonism and Christian theology.

63 Sophocles’s dictum about Aeschylus, that he did the right thing but unconsciously:

64 poet’s creative power . . . on  a par with the gift of the soothsayer and oneiromancer:

  • soothsayer: [sooth = truth] one who predicts the future via magic, intuition, or other means

  • oneiromancer: an interpreter of dreams, especially to foretell fate or divine will

64 call Socrates the opponent of Dionysus, the new Orpheus who rose up against Dionysus and, although destined to be torn to pieces by the Maenads of the Athenian court, pu the powerful god to flight:

64 The god, as when he fled Lycurgus, king of the Edoni: Lycurgus, king of the Edones (Thrace, central Greece), attacked Dionysus when the god was traveling through his territory instructing its inhabitants in winemaking. Dionysus leaped into the sea, where he was comforted by Thetis, a sea nymph. Lycurgus was punished with death (reported in diverse forms), a fate he shared for opposing Dionysus with Pentheus, Orpheus, the Proitades and Minyades.


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64 the old robust Marathon soundness . . . a progressive atrophy of physical and mental forces: the modern race of 26.2 miles called a “Marathon” commemorates how Pheidippides, after the Greek victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon (490BC), ran 40 kilometers to Athens, exclaiming with his last breath, “We have won!” Broadly, Nietzsche contrasts “the old robust Marathon soundness” with the supposedly superior physical vigor (“robustness”) of the classical world, as in the Latin quotation Mens sana in corpore sano or “sound mind, sound body” (Juvenal, Satire X).

65 Aristophanes . . . Socrates appeared in the plays of Aristophanes as the chief of the Sophists: In The Clouds (423 BC) the comic playwright Aristophanes (ca. 446–ca. 386 BC) depicted Socrates as a petty thief, a fraud, and a sophist. The Greek word “sophoi”—the word behind “sophomore,” philosophy, and woman’s name “Sophia”—indicated a person wise in a skill or tradition. In classical philosopy the Sophists were a school of itinerant intellectuals who speculated on language and culture and cultivated excellence through courses in various subjects such as politics, ethics, or household management. “Sophist” today means someone pretending to wisdom through deceptive language or logic. Sophists’ bad reputation stems partly from the loss of their own writings and surviving attacks on them by rival schools. Socrates and Plato denounced Sophists for sometimes charging fees for instruction.

66 Pindar (ca. 522-443 BC), ancient Greek lyric poet from Thebes

66 Phidias (ca. 480 BC – 430 BC), leading sculptor, painter, and architect of Athenian Golden Age

66 Pericles (ca. 495 – 429 BC), leader of Golden Age of Athens who promoted art, architecture, literature

66 Pythia = the Oracle at Delphi

66 “Alas! With mighty fist . . . “: [BT endnote: “Quotation from Goethe’s Faust, Part 1 . . . “

66 that curious phenomenon known as Socrates’s daimonion: “daimonion” = another name for Gk daemon <= “a god, goddess, divine power, genius, guardian spirit”

66 a monstrosity per defectum . . . a monster defectus:

66 superfetation: an excessive accumulation; a redundant addition

67 the dying Socrates: The trial and death of Socrates at the age of 70 in 399 BC resulted from accusations of impiety and of corrupting youth. The chief surviving records are four dialogues by his student Plato, and Xenophon’s Apology of Socrates to the Jury. Socrates’s behavior at his trial seemed to invite his conviction, and Socrates calmly drank poison while his students mourned.

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 67 the great Cyclops eye of Socrates: if tragedy requires an artist to see the world with two eyes of Apolline reason and Dionysiac passion, Socrates had only one eye that saw the world strictly in terms of Apolline reason. “Cyclops” In classical mythology was one of a race of giants with a single eye in the center of the forehead.

67 what Plato called the “divine and praiseworthy” art of tragedy: In The Republic (c. 380BCE), Plato acknowledged the power and pleasure of poetry and tragedy but nonetheless banished them from his ideal state because they depend on irrational impulses, teach the wrong lessons, and arouse improper emotions.

67 Aesopian fable: a tradition of fables (moral or wisdom stories with animal characters) are collected around the name of the Greek storyteller Aesop (ca. 620-564 BC)

67 Gellert: Christian Fürchtegott Gellert (1715–1769) was a pre-Romantic German poet and author of fables.

68 Plato . . . his condemnation of tragedy, and art in general:

68 the Platonic dialogue:

68 The Cynic writers: Seeking a life of virtue, the post-Socratic Cynic philosophers cultivated a life of voluntary simplicity that forsook conventional motivations of wealth, power, sex, and fame. This asceticism may have influenced early Christians. In modern usage, cynicism is an extreme skepticism or mistrust of others’ motives and goals.

69 ancilla: an auxiliary or accessory unit or sub-division

69 the daemonic Socrates: Earlier (p.66) Nietzsche characterized Socrates’s daemon (or spirit) as a voice that commanded him to write music but here characterizes Socrates as a daemon who has possessed literature, turning it from its noble, tragic purposes to bourgeois optimism.

69 Socrates, the dialectical hero of the Platonic drama: Plato’s chief writings are “dialogues” in which different characters, taking different philosophical positions, speak as though in a stage drama. See also dialectic.

69 its [tragedy’s] death-leap into bourgeois theater:  again, Euripides under the influence of Socrates’s rationalism transforms tragedy from Dionysiac ecstasy to everyday realism in the Apolline realm.

70 the annihilation of the chorus, the phases of which were to succeed one another with frightening speed in Euripides: In earlier tragedies, the collective body of the chorus represented the conjoint Dionysian ritual and the citizenry of the Athenian city-state. Euripides tends to locate the chorus more among everyday people or special groups, like the Maenads in The Bacchae.

70 Where art was concerned, the despotic logician [Socrates] had the sense of a lacuna, a void, something of a reproach, of a possibly neglected duty:

  • despotic = tyrannical

  • lacuna = blank space; hiatus; a missing piece

71 risked blaspheming that deity:

  • blasphemy = irreverence or insult toward God or a god

  • that deity = Apollo, god of music

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72 pessimism with its eyes of Lynceus that glow only in the dark: Lynceus, an Argonaut, could see through walls, trees and underground, and distinguish objects miles away

72 naked goddess: nature (as the subject of scientific study) characterized as a female goddess whose secrets are revealed to scientific examination

72 adepts = experts, practitioners

72 the antipodes: from any given spot on the spherical Earth, its antipode is the spot diametrically opposite on the other side of the globe; thus “the antipodes” figuratively indicates the farthest possible distance.

73 Lessing, the most honest of theoretical men: Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781), prominent German writer, dramatist, and critic during the Enlightenment

73 mystagogue = a person who prepares an initiate for entry into a mystery cult (see Eleusinian Mysteries above), or who teaches mystical doctrines.

74 archetype = a (more or less) universal symbol, pattern or relation recurring in literature, mythology, religion, philosophy, psychology; e.g., the father-figure at the head or source of a social model or institution; “Mother Earth”; “as above, so below”; tricksters.

74 panacea = a cure-all; a medicine that cures any disease, thus figuratively a remedy to all problems

74 Sophrosyne: self-control, temperance, soundness of mind

74 maieutic: a figure of speech from midwifery used to describe the Socratic dialogue: as a midwife helps a woman deliver a child, a Socratic questioner helps a student deliver and shape a thought or its expression.






Peculiarities of Euripidean Drama at



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