The Case of Wagner

Page 32 of 36


Greek morality is not based on religion, but on the polis.[Pg 166] There were only priests of the individual gods; not representatives of the whole religion: i.e., no guild of priests. Likewise no Holy Writ.


The "lighthearted" gods: this is the highest adornment which has ever been bestowed upon the world—with the feeling, How difficult it is to live!


If the Greeks let their "reason" speak, their life seems to them bitter and terrible. They are not deceived. But they play round life with lies: Simonides advises them to treat life as they would a play; earnestness was only too well known to them in the form of pain. The misery of men is a pleasure to the gods when they hear the poets singing of it. Well did the Greeks know that only through art could even misery itself become a source of pleasure; vide tragdiam.


It is quite untrue to say that the Greeks only took this life into their consideration—they suffered also from thoughts of death and Hell. But no "repentance" or contrition.


The incarnate appearance of gods, as in Sappho's invocation to Aphrodite, must not be taken as poetic licence: they are frequently hallucinations. We conceive of a great many things, including the will to die, too superficially as rhetorical.

[Pg 167]


The "martyr" is Hellenic: Prometheus, Hercules. The hero-myth became pan-Hellenic: a poet must have had a hand in that!


How realistic the Greeks were even in the domain of pure inventions! They poetised reality, not yearning to lift themselves out of it. The raising of the present into the colossal and eternal, e.g., by Pindar.


What condition do the Greeks premise as the model of their life in Hades? Anmic, dreamlike, weak: it is the continuous accentuation of old age, when the memory gradually becomes weaker and weaker, and the body still more so. The senility of senility: this would be our state of life in the eyes of the Hellenes.


The nave character of the Greeks observed by the Egyptians.


The truly scientific people, the literary people, were the Egyptians and not the Greeks. That which has the appearance of science among the Greeks, originated among the Egyptians and later on returned to them to mingle again with the old current. Alexandrian culture is an amalgamation of Hellenic and Egyptian: and when our world again founds its culture upon the Alexandrian culture, then ...[13]

[13] "We shall once again be shipwrecked." The omission is in the original.—TR.

[Pg 168]


The Egyptians are far more of a literary people than the Greeks. I maintain this against Wolf. The first grain in Eleusis, the first vine in Thebes, the first olive-tree and fig-tree. The Egyptians had lost a great part of their mythology.


The unmathematical undulation of the column in Paestum is analogous to the modification of the tempo: animation in place of a mechanical movement.


The desire to find something certain and fixed in sthetic led to the worship of Aristotle: I think, however, that we may gradually come to see from his works that he understood nothing about art; and that it is merely the intellectual conversations of the Athenians, echoing in his pages, which we admire.


In Socrates we have as it were lying open before us a specimen of the consciousness out of which, later on, the instincts of the theoretic man originated: that one would rather die than grow old and weak in mind.


At the twilight of antiquity there were still wholly unchristian figures, which were more beautiful, harmonious, and pure than those of any Christians: e.g., Proclus. His mysticism and syncretism were things that precisely Christianity cannot reproach him with. In any case, it would be my desire to live together[Pg 169] with such people. In comparison with them Christianity looks like some crude brutalisation, organised for the benefit of the mob and the criminal classes.

Proclus, who solemnly invokes the rising moon.


With the advent of Christianity a religion attained the mastery which corresponded to a pre-Greek condition of mankind: belief in witchcraft in connection with all and everything, bloody sacrifices, superstitious fear of demoniacal punishments, despair in one's self, ecstatic brooding and hallucination; man's self become the arena of good and evil spirits and their struggles.


All branches of history have experimented with antiquity: critical consideration alone remains. By this term I do not mean conjectural and literary-historical criticism.


Antiquity has been treated by all kinds of historians and their methods. We have now had enough experience, however, to turn the history of antiquity to account without being shipwrecked on antiquity itself.


We can now look back over a fairly long period of human existence: what will the humanity be like which is able to look back at us from an equally long distance? which finds us lying intoxicated among the debris of old culture! which finds its only consolation in "being good" and in holding[Pg 170] out the "helping hand," and turns away from all other consolations!—Does beauty, too, grow out of the ancient culture? I think that our ugliness arises from our metaphysical remnants: our confused morals, the worthlessness of our marriages, and so on, are the cause. The beautiful man, the healthy, moderate, and enterprising man, moulds the objects around him into beautiful shapes after his own image.


Up to the present time all history has been written from the standpoint of success, and, indeed, with the assumption of a certain reason in this success. This remark applies also to Greek history: so far we do not possess any. It is the same all round, however: where are the historians who can survey things and events without being hum-bugged by stupid theories? I know of only one, Burckhardt. Everywhere the widest possible optimism prevails in science. The question: "What would have been the consequence if so and so had not happened?" is almost unanimously thrust aside, and yet it is the cardinal question. Thus everything becomes ironical. Let us only consider our own lives. If we examine history in accordance with a preconceived plan, let this plan be sought in the purposes of a great man, or perhaps in those of a sex, or of a party. Everything else is a chaos.—Even in natural science we find this deification of the necessary.

Germany has become the breeding-place of this historical optimism; Hegel is perhaps to blame for this. Nothing, however, is more responsible for[Pg 171] the fatal influence of German culture. Everything that has been kept down by success gradually rears itself up: history as the scorn of the conqueror; a servile sentiment and a kneeling down before the actual fact—"a sense for the State," they now call it, as if that had still to be propagated! He who does not understand how brutal and unintelligent history is will never understand the stimulus to make it intelligent. Just think how rare it is to find a man with as great an intelligent knowledge of his own life as Goethe had: what amount of rationality can we expect to find arising out of these other veiled and blind existences as they work chaotically with and in opposition to each other?

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