The Twilight of the Idols - The Antichrist

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To rout up cases of "beautiful souls," "golden means" and other perfections among the Greeks, to admire, say, their calm grandeur, their ideal attitude of mind, their exalted simplicity—from this "exalted simplicity," which after all is a piece of niaiserie allemande, I was preserved by the psychologist within me. I saw their strongest instinct, the Will to Power, I saw them quivering with the fierce violence of this instinct,—I saw all their institutions grow out of measures of security calculated to preserve[Pg 116] each member of their society from the inner explosive material that lay in his neighbour's breast. This enormous internal tension thus discharged itself in terrible and reckless hostility outside the state: the various states mutually tore each other to bits, in order that each individual state could remain at peace with itself. It was then necessary to be strong; for danger lay close at hand,—it lurked in ambush everywhere. The superb suppleness of their bodies, the daring realism and immorality which is peculiar to the Hellenes, was a necessity not an inherent quality. It was a result, it had not been there from the beginning. Even their festivals and their arts were but means in producing a feeling of superiority, and of showing it: they are measures of self-glorification; and in certain circumstances of making one's self terrible.... Fancy judging the Greeks in the German style, from their philosophers; fancy using the suburban respectability of the Socratic schools as a key to what is fundamentally Hellenic!... The philosophers are of course the decadents of Hellas, the counter-movement directed against the old and noble taste(—against the agonal instinct, against the Polls, against the value of the race, against the authority of tradition), Socratic virtues were preached to the Greeks, because the Greeks had lost virtue: irritable, cowardly, unsteady, and all turned to play-actors, they had more than sufficient reason to submit to having morality preached to them. Not that it helped them in any way; but great words and attitudes are so becoming to decadents.

[Pg 117]


I was the first who, in order to understand the ancient, still rich and even superabundant Hellenic instinct, took that marvellous phenomenon, which bears the name of Dionysus, seriously: it can be explained only as a manifestation of excessive energy. Whoever had studied the Greeks, as that most profound of modern connoisseurs of their culture, Jakob Burckhardt of Ble, had done, knew at once that something had been achieved by means of this interpretation. And in his "Cultur der Griechen" Burckhardt inserted a special chapter on the phenomenon in question. If you would like a glimpse of the other side, you have only to refer to the almost laughable poverty of instinct among German philologists when they approach the Dionysian question. The celebrated Lobeck, especially, who with the venerable assurance of a worm dried up between books, crawled into this world of mysterious states, succeeded inconvincing himself that he was scientific, whereas he was simply revoltingly superficial and childish,—Lobeck, with all the pomp of profound erudition, gave us to understand that, as a matter of fact, there was nothing at all in all these curiosities. Truth to tell, the priests may well have communicated not a few things of value to the participators in such orgies; for instance, the fact that wine provokes desire, that man in certain circumstances lives on fruit, that plants bloom in the spring and fade in the autumn. As regards the astounding wealth of rites, symbols and myths which take their origin in the orgy, and with which the world of antiquity[Pg 118] is literally smothered, Lobeck finds that it prompts him to a feat of even greater ingenuity than the foregoing phenomenon did. "The Greeks," he says, (Aglaophamus, I. p. 672), "when they had nothing better to do, laughed, sprang and romped about, or, inasmuch as men also like a change at times, they would sit down, weep and bewail their lot. Others then came up who tried to discover some reason for this strange behaviour; and thus, as an explanation of these habits, there arose an incalculable number of festivals, legends, and myths. On the other hand it was believed that the farcical performances which then perchance began to take place on festival days, necessarily formed part of the celebrations, and they were retained as an indispensable part of the ritual."—This is contemptible nonsense, and no one will take a man like Lobeck seriously for a moment We are very differently affected when we examine the notion "Hellenic," as Winckelmann and Goethe conceived it, and find it incompatible with that element out of which Dionysian art springs—I speak of orgiasm. In reality I do not doubt that Goethe would have completely excluded any such thing from the potentialities of the Greek soul. Consequently Goethe did not understand the Greeks. For it is only in the Dionysian mysteries, in the psychology of the Dionysian state, that the fundamental fact of the Hellenic instinct—its "will to life"—is expressed. What did the Hellene secure himself with these mysteries? Eternal life, the eternal recurrence of life; the future promised and hallowed in the past; the triumphant Yea to life despite death and change; real life conceived as the collective prolongation of[Pg 119] life through procreation, through the mysteries of sexuality. To the Greeks, the symbol of sex was the most venerated of symbols, the really deep significance of all the piety of antiquity. All the details of the act of procreation, pregnancy and birth gave rise to the loftiest and most solemn feelings. In the doctrine of mysteries, pain was pronounced holy: the "pains of childbirth" sanctify pain in general,—all becoming and all growth, everything that guarantees the future involves pain.... In order that there may be eternal joy in creating, in order that the will to life may say Yea to itself in all eternity, the "pains of childbirth" must also be eternal. All this is what the word Dionysus signifies: I know of no higher symbolism than this Greek symbolism, this symbolism of the Dionysian phenomenon. In it the profoundest instinct of life, the instinct that guarantees the future of life and life eternal, is understood religiously,—the road to life itself, procreation, is pronounced holy, ... It was only Christianity which, with its fundamental resentment against life, made something impure out of sexuality: it flung filth at the very basis, the very first condition of our life.


The psychology of orgiasm conceived as the feeling of a superabundance of vitality and strength, within the scope of which even pain acts as a stimulus, gave me the key to the concept tragic feeling, which has been misunderstood not only by Aristotle, but also even more by our pessimists. Tragedy is so far from proving anything in regard to the pessimism of[Pg 120] the Greeks, as Schopenhauer maintains, that it ought rather to be considered as the categorical repudiation and condemnation thereof. The saying of Yea to life, including even its most strange and most terrible problems, the will to life rejoicing over its own inexhaustibleness in the sacrifice of its highest types—this is what I called Dionysian, this is what I divined as the bridge leading to the psychology of the tragic poet Not in order to escape from terror and pity, not to purify one's self of a dangerous passion by discharging it with vehemence—this is how Aristotle understood it—but to be far beyond terror and pity and to be the eternal lust of Becoming itself—that lust which also involves the lust of destruction. And with this I once more come into touch with the spot from which I once set out—-the "Birth of Tragedy" was my first transvaluation of all values: with this I again take my stand upon the soil from out of which my will and my capacity spring—I, the last disciple of the philosopher Dionysus,—I, the prophet of eternal recurrence.


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