Friedrich Nietzsche Full Text EBook
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1In conclusion, a word about that world to which I sought interpretations, for which I have perhaps found a new interpretation — the ancient world. My taste, which may be the opposite of a tolerant taste, is in this case very far from saying Yes indiscriminately: it does not like to say Yes; better to say No, but best of all to say nothing. That applies to whole cultures, it applies to books — also to places and landscapes. In the end there are very few ancient books that count in my life: the most famous are not among them. My sense of style, of the epigram as a style, was awakened almost instantly when I came into contact with Sallust. Compact, severe, with as much substance as possible, a cold sarcasm toward "beautiful words" and "beautiful sentiments" — here I found myself. And even in my Zarathustra one will recognize my very serious effort to achieve a Roman style, for the aere perennius [more enduring than bronze] in style. Nor was my experience any different in my first contact with Horace. To this day, no other poet has given me the same artistic delight that a Horatian ode gave me from the first. In certain languages that which Horace has achieved could not even be attempted. This mosaic of words, in which every word — as sound, as place, as concept — pours out its strength right and left and over the whole, this minimum in the extent and number of the signs, and the maximum thereby attained in the energy of the signs — all that is Roman and, if you will believe me, noble par excellence. All the rest of poetry becomes, in contrast, something too popular — mere sentimental blather.
2From the Greeks I have not at all felt similarly strong impressions, and to be blunt, they cannot mean as much to me us the Romans. We do not learn from the Greeks — their manner is too foreign and too fluid to create a commanding, "classical" effect. Who could ever have learned to write from a Greek? Who could ever have learned to write without the Romans? Please do not throw Plato at me. I am a complete skeptic about Plato, and I have never been able to join in the customary scholarly admiration for Plato the artist. The subtlest judges of taste among the ancients themselves are here on my side. Plato, it seems to me, throws all stylistic forms together and is thus a first-rate decadent in style: his responsibility is thus comparable to that of the Cynics, who invented the satura Menippea. To be attracted to the Platonic dialogue, this horribly self-satisfied and childish kind of dialectic, one must never have read good French writers — Fontenelle, for example. Plato is boring. In the end, my mistrust of Plato goes deep: he represents such an aberration from all the basic Greek instincts, is so moralistic, so pseudo-Christian (he already takes the concept of "the good" as the highest concept) that I would prefer the harsh phrase "higher swindle" or, if it sounds better, "idealism" for the whole phenomenon of Plato. We have paid dearly for the fact that this Athenian got his schooling from the Egyptians (or from the Jews in Egypt?) In that great calamity called Christianity, Plato represents that ambiguity and fascination, called an "ideal," which made it possible for the nobler spirits of antiquity to misunderstand themselves and to set foot on the bridge leading to the Cross. And how much Plato there still is in the concept "church," in the construction, system, and practice of the church! My recreation, my preference, my cure from all Platonism has always been Thucydides. Thucydides and, perhaps, Machiavelli's Il Principe are most closely related to me by the unconditional will not to delude oneself, but to see reason in reality — not in "reason," still less in "morality." For that wretched distortion of the Greeks into a cultural ideal, which the "classically educated" youth carries into life as a reward for all his classroom lessons, there is no more complete cure than Thucydides. One must follow him line by line and read no less clearly between the lines: there are few thinkers who say so much between the lines. With him the culture of the Sophists, by which I mean the culture of the realists, reaches its perfect expression — this inestimable movement amid the moralistic and idealistic swindle set loose on all sides by the Socratic schools. Greek philosophy: the decadence of the Greek instinct. Thucydides: the great sum, the last revelation of that strong, severe, hard factuality which was instinctive with the older Greeks. In the end, it is courage in the face of reality that distinguishes a man like Thucydides from a man like Plato: Plato is a coward before reality, consequently he flees into the ideal; Thucydides has control of himself, consequently he also maintains control of things.
3To sniff out "beautiful souls," "golden means," and other perfections in the Greeks, or to admire their triumphant calm, their ideal cast of mind, their noble simplicity — my psychological skills protected me against such "noble simplicity," a niaiserie allemande in any case. I saw their strongest instinct, the will to power: I saw them tremble before the indomitable force of this drive — I saw how all their institutions developed as protections against this inner impulsion. The tremendous inward tension that resulted discharged itself in terrible and ruthless hostility toward the outside world: the city-states tore each other apart as the citizens tried to find resolution to this will to power they all felt. One needed to be strong: danger was near, it lurked everywhere. The magnificent physical suppleness, the audacious realism and immoralism which distinguished the Greek constituted a need, not "nature." It was an outcome, it was not there from the start. And with festivals and the arts they also aimed at nothing other than to feel on top, to show themselves on top. These are means of glorifying oneself, and in certain cases, of inspiring fear of oneself. How could one possibly judge the Greeks by their philosophers, as the Germans have done, or use the Philistine moralism of the Socratic schools as a clue to what was basically Hellenic! After all, the philosophers are the decadents of Greek culture, the counter-movement against the ancient, noble taste (against the agonistic instinct, against the polis, against the value of race, against the authority of descent). The Socratic virtues were preached because the Greeks had lost them: excitable, timid, fickle comedians every one of them, they had a few reasons too many for having morals preached to them. Not that it did any good — but big words and attitudes suit decadents so well.
4As the key to understanding the older, inexhaustibly rich and even overflowing Greek instinct, I was the first to take seriously that wonderful phenomenon which bears the name of Dionysus, which is only explicable in terms of an excess of force. Whoever followed the Greeks, like that most profound student of their culture in our time, Jacob Burckhardt in Basel, knew immediately that something had been achieved thereby; and Burckhardt added a special section on this phenomenon to his Civilization of the Greeks. To see the counter example, one should look at the almost amusing poverty of instinct among the German philologists when they approach the Dionysian. The famous Lobeck, above all, crawled into this world of mysterious states with all the venerable sureness of a worm dried up between books, and persuaded himself that it was scientific of him to be glib and childish to the point of nausea — and with the utmost erudition, Lobeck gave us to understand that all these curiosities really did not amount to anything. In fact, the priests could have told the participants in such orgies some not altogether worthless things; for example, that wine excites lust, that men can sometimes live on fruit, that plants bloom in the spring and wither in the fall. And the astonishing wealth of rites, symbols, and myths of orgiastic origin, with which the ancient world is literally overrun, gave Lobeck an opportunity to become still more ingenious. "The Greeks," he said (Aglaophamus I, 672), "when they had nothing else to do, laughed, jumped, and ran around; or, since man sometimes feels that urge too, they sat down, cried, and lamented. Others came later on and sought some reason for this spectacular behavior; and thus there originated, as explanations for these customs, countless traditions concerning feasts and myths. On the other hand, it was believed that this droll ado, which took place on the feast days after all, must also form a necessary part of the festival and therefore it was maintained as an indispensable feature of the religious service." This is contemptible prattle; a Lobeck simply cannot be taken seriously for a moment. I have quite a different feeling toward the concept "Greek" that was developed by Winckelmann and Goethe; to me it is incompatible with the orgiastic element out of which Dionysian art grows. In fact I believe that Goethe excluded as a matter of principle any orgiastic feelings from his concept of the Greek spirit. Consequently Goethe did not understand the Greeks. For it is only in the Dionysian mysteries, in the psychology of the Dionysian state, that the basic fact of the Hellenic instinct finds expression — its "will to life." What was it that the Hellene guaranteed himself by means of these mysteries? Eternal life, the eternal return of life, the future promised and hallowed in the past; the triumphant Yes to life beyond all death and change; true life as the continuation of life through procreation, through the mysteries of sex. For the Greeks a sexual symbol was therefore the most sacred symbol, the real profundity in the whole of ancient piety. Every single element in the act of procreation, of pregnancy, and of birth aroused the highest and most solemn feelings. In the doctrine of the mysteries, pain is pronounced holy: the pangs of the woman giving birth consecrate all pain; and conversely all becoming and growing — all that guarantees a future — involves pain. That there may be the eternal joy of creating, that the will to life may eternally affirm itself, the agony of the woman giving birth must also be there eternally. All this is meant by the word Dionysus: I know no higher symbolism than this Greek symbolism of the Dionysian festivals. Here the most profound instinct of life, that directed toward the future of life, the eternity of life, is experienced religiously — and the way to life, procreation, as the holy way. It was Christianity, with its heartfelt resentment against life, that first made something unclean of sexuality: it threw filth on the origin, on the essential fact of our life.
5The psychology of the orgiastic as an overflowing feeling of life and strength, where even pain still has the effect of a stimulus, gave me the key to the concept of tragic feeling, which had been misunderstood both by Aristotle and even more by modern pessimists. Tragedy is so far from being a proof of the pessimism (in Schopenhauer's sense) of the Greeks that it may, on the contrary, be considered a decisive rebuttal and counterexample. Saying Yes to life even in its strangest and most painful episodes, the will to life rejoicing in its own inexhaustible vitality even as it witnesses the destruction of its greatest heros — that is what I called Dionysian, that is what I guessed to be the bridge to the psychology of the tragic poet. Not in order to be liberated from terror and pity, not in order to purge oneself of a dangerous affect by its vehement discharge — which is how Aristotle understood tragedy — but in order to celebrate oneself the eternal joy of becoming, beyond all terror and pity — that tragic joy included even joy in destruction. And with that I again touch on my earliest point of departure: The Birth of Tragedy was my first revaluation of all values. And on that point I again stand on the earth out of which my intention, my ability grows — I, the last disciple of the philosopher Dionysus — I, the teacher of the eternal recurrence.