The birth of tragedy

Out of the Spirit of Music

It is important to note that he wrote this book at the time when his friendship with Wagner was still at its highest. It is a tribute to the power of music in our daily lives and the role art, and by extension music, plays in our lives especially with regard to belief. He hopes that through this analysis we will be able to finally be able to connect again to the Greek high art that was disrupted by the RCC or generally through the development of christianity. I think the book is a good read.

Nietzsche however doesn’t think highly of the book and in the version I read, it starts with self-criticism he wrote a few years after publishing the book  from which this is extracted,

Let me say again: today for me it is an impossible book — I call it something poorly written, ponderous, embarrassing, with fantastic and confused imagery, sentimental, here and there so saccharine it is effeminate, uneven in tempo, without any impulse for logical clarity, extremely self-confident and thus dispensing with evidence, even distrustful of the relevance of evidence, like a book for the initiated, like “Music” for those baptized with music, those who are bound together from the start in secret and esoteric aesthetic experiences as a secret sign recognized among blood relations in artibus [in the arts] — an arrogant and rhapsodic book, which right from the start hermetically sealed itself off from the
profanum vulgus [profane rabble] of the “educated,” even more than from the “people,” but a book which, as its effect proved and continues to prove, must also understand this issue well enough to search out its fellow rhapsodists and to tempt them to new secret pathways and dancing grounds.

I think one is beholden to read the book to come to their own conclusions about the book regardless of what he or his contemporaries thought of and how they received the book.

Dear friends, before we look at what Nietzsche has to say in this book,I would like to start with a digression to introduce you to a little bit of Greek architecture and what we living today thank them for. This post is not about architecture, it is about music. The Greek civilization didn’t last for so long  as compared to lets say the Roman Empire[ high Hellenistic culture was around for about 400 years compared to the Roman which dominated the world for almost 800 years].

The wikipedia entry on Greek Architecture has this to say

Ancient Greek architecture is best known from its temples, many of which are found throughout the region, mostly as ruins but many substantially intact. The second important type of building that survives all over the Hellenic world is the open-air theatre, with the earliest dating from around 350 BC. Other architectural forms that are still in evidence are the processional gateway, the public square surrounded by storied colonnade, the town council building, the public monument, the monumental tomb and the stadium.

The only reason I introduced Greek architecture is because in our current book our philosopher friend deals with Greek art. I think it is important that while we are looking at music and tragedy we also have a brief idea of other aspects of art among the Greeks and architecture falls rightly in place. The Greeks were so much ahead of their time. They had conceived of public squares where they had  public discourses, stadiums where they had games and plays and they developed the classical orders in architecture that are still employed today in many buildings around the world and which also influenced Roman Architecture. When in Greece please find time and visit the Parthenon.

In art [music] and drama, the Greek gave us tragedy, and it is from their art as Nietzsche ably demonstrates in the book,  which has a direct relationship to myth and by extension the belief in the metaphysical. In the Greek theatre, the spectator is part of the chorus and in this way their experience of music and drama was so much different from ours. In this book again you discover Nietzsche the music genius/ critique. He brings music criticism to a level all lovers of music can understand and combines it with philosophy which takes it to a deeper level of understanding.

In this book he demonstrates that the death of tragedy in music is also the death of myth. There are two experiences in music, that is the Apollonian drama[devoid of tragedy] and the Dionysian drama[full of tragedy].

He then introduces us to one of the greatest[at least according to yours truly] philosopher of all time, Socrates. It is in the hands or should I say through the actions of Socrates that the Dionysian art died. We learn from Plato through Nietzsche that he[Socrates] did not attend theatre during the performance of Greek tragedy and we must thank him for the development of science. It is through his actions that science has developed. He sounded the death-bed of myth[tragedy] and proposed that nature could be understood through logic.

He says of Socrates, that when he consulted the Delphic Oracles [you can find this in Apology] they[the Oracles] agreed that Socrates was the wisest man alive and second was Euripides. I think I agree with the Oracles’ assessment.

He poses the question whether the theoretical man can prevent the rebirth of tragedy and by extent, the belief in the metaphysical. In his words,

At this point we are concerned with the question whether the power whose opposition broke tragedy has sufficient force  for all time to hinder the artistic reawakening of tragedy and the tragic world view. If the old tragedy was derailed by the dialectical drive for knowledge and for the optimism of science, we might have to infer from this fact an eternal struggle between the theoretical and the tragic world view, and only after the spirit of science is taken right to its limits and its claim to universal validity destroyed by the proof of those limits would it be possible to hope for a re-birth of tragedy. For a symbol of such a cultural form, we would have to set up Socrates the player of music, in the sense talked about earlier.

And here we have Socrates as the first true scientist and rationalist.

By this confrontation I understand with respect to the spirit of science that belief, which first came to light in the person of Socrates, that nature can be rationally understood and that knowledge has a universal healing power.

As I have said of the other books, there is a great deal in this book making it such an interesting read for anyone with an interest in understanding the Greek culture as it has been revealed to us through the works of Homer, Euripides and other great Greek poets and musicians.

About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

3 thoughts on “The birth of tragedy

  1. emmylgant says:

    only after the spirit of science is taken right to its limits and its claim to universal validity destroyed by the proof of those limits would it be possible to hope for a re-birth of tragedy. …

    The limits of science are showing up in cognitive science. See this article.
    It has interesting implications in the context of tragedy I believe.


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