16 June 2014

Friedrich Nietzsche: The Dionysiac World View

Nature expresses itself with its highest energy in Dionysiac intoxication, in the tumultuous, wild chase across all the scales of the soul under the influence of narcotic stimulants or when the drives of spring are unleashed; it binds individual creatures together again, and it makes them feel that they are one with each other, so that the principium individuationis appears, so to speak, to be a perpetual state of weakness of the Will. The more degenerate the Will is, the more everything fragments into individual elements; the more selfish and arbitrary the development of the individual, the weaker is the organism which it serves. This is why there erupts in those states what one might call a sentimental (sentimentalisch) tendency in the Will, a 'sigh of the creature' for what is lost; out of highest joy there comes a cry of horror, the yearning sounds of lament at some irredeemable loss. 

 Abundant nature celebrates its saturnalian festivals and its rites of death at one and the same time. The affects of its priests are most wondrously mixed, pain awakens delight, rejoicing wrings sounds of agony from the breast. The god holysios [Cult name of Dionysos, 'he who gives release'.] has transformed everything, redeemed and released everything from itself. 

The singing and the expressive gestures of a mass stimulated in this manner, and in whom nature acquired a voice and movement, was something new and unheard-of in the Homeric-Greek world; it struck the Greeks as something Oriental which they first had to tame with their enormous rhythmic and image-making energy, and which they did indeed tame, just as they tamed the Egyptian temple-style at the same time. 

It was the Apolline people who laid the chains of beauty on over-mighty instinct, who yoked and harnessed nature's most dangerous elements, her wildest beasts. The idealistic power of the Hellenic character is seen at its most admirable when one compares its spiritualization of the festival of Dionysos with what emerged from the same origin amongst other peoples. Similar festivals are very ancient and their existence is demonstrable everywhere, most notably in Babylon where they are known as the sacaea. Here, during five-day-long festivals, every political and social bond was torn apart; but the centre of the cult lay in the absence of all sexual discipline, in the destruction of all family life by unrestrained hetaerism. 

The very antithesis of this is to be found in the image of the Greek festivals of Dionysos, as drawn by Euripides in his Bacchae, an image which radiates the same loveliness, the same transfiguring musical intoxication as Skopas and Praxiteles embodied in their statues. 

A messenger describes how he had withdrawn with his herds to the very peaks of the mountains during the midday heat; this is the right moment and the right place to see the unseen; Pan is now asleep, the sky is now the unmoving background of a glory, the day now blossoms. On an alpine meadow the messenger notices three choruses of women lying in scattered groups on the ground and in decorous pose; many women stand leaning against pine trees; all slumber. 

Suddenly the mother of Pentheus breaks out in jubilation, sleep is banished, all leap to their feet, a model of noble comportment; the young girls and the women let their locks fall to their shoulders, the doe-skin is put in order if its ribbons and bows have become loosened during sleep. They gird themselves about with snakes which lick their cheeks confidingly, some women take young wolves and deer in their arms and suckle them. All adorn themselves with garlands of ivy; when the thyrsus is struck against a rock water bubbles forth, and when the earth is struck with a staff a fountain of wine rises up. Sweet honey drops from the twigs, and when someone touches the earth with just the tips of their fingers snow-white milk springs forth. 

This is an utterly enchanted world, nature celebrates its festival of reconciliation with mankind. The myth recounts that Apollo joined Dionysos together again after he had been dismembered. This is the image of Dionysos created anew by Apollo and saved from his Asiatic dismemberment.

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