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The Birth of Tragedy and The Genealogy of…

The Birth of Tragedy and The Genealogy of Morals (1872)

by Friedrich Nietzsche

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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940514,814 (3.93)5
Skillful, sophisticated translations of two of Nietzsche's essential works about the conflict between the moral and aesthetic approaches to life, the impact of Christianity on human values, the meaning of science, the contrast between the Apollonian and Dionysian spirits, and other themes central to his thinking. The Birth of Tragedy (1872) was Nietzsche's first book, The Geneology of Morals  (1887) one of his last.  Though they span the career of this controversial genius, both address the problems such as the conflict between the moral versus aesthetic approaches to life, the effect of Christianity on human values, the meaning of science, and the famous dichotomy between the Apollonian and Dionysian spirits, among many themes which Nietzsche struggled throughout his tortured life.… (more)



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Nietzsche delivered his first major work with The Birth of Tragedy in 1872, a theoretical exploration of Greek tragedy in which he distinguishes between 'Apollonian' (derived from the sun-god Apollo, symbolizing light, form, and clarity) and 'Dionysian' (derived from the god of wine, drunkenness, and ecstasy Dionysus) qualities. The highest Greek art combined the assertive masculine strength and irrational chaos of Dionysus (corresponding with Schopenhauer's world as will; artistically realized in music) with the individuated, gentle feminine grace of Apollo, the foundation for analytic distinctions and rational structure (corresponding with Schopenhauer's world as representation, where reigns the principle of individuation; artistically realized in sculpture). Dionysian conquest of pessimism through art was the profoundest feature of Greek drama. "Tragic optimism” is the mood of the strong man who seeks intensity and extent of experience, even at the cost of woe, delighted to find that strife is the law of life.

Near the end of his literary career (1887), Nietzsche delivered The Genealogy of Morals, an unrestrained and confrontational critique of moral values from a historical perspective in which he asserts a Christian inversion of moral values, in which values once deemed "good" (strength, courage, love of adventure, honor) have come to be considered "evil", and values once considered "bad" (humility, pity, security, peace) have come to be considered "good". Nietzsche calls this new "good" morality a morality for the herd or "slave morality", and the new "bad" morality a "master morality", a morality for the noble and aristocratic.

Nietzsche viewed humans as having tragically lost their natural instinct, or having had their primal instinct retarded or dulled through the process of social development, including the development of language. He advocated a rejection of modern comfort and a return to nature to awaken and sharpen the senses and instinct. This reversion to an original state of instinct would elevate the condition of the cultured man to one of an aristocratic type of self-sufficiency. Nietzsche believed that civilization kills nobility, and promotes laziness and weakness. Humans should strive for independence, not democratic domestication.

Nietzsche referred to humans as the "sickest" animal because they are over-cultured, and have moved far away from their natural state. Humans have become nature's most domesticated animal, and through this process of domestication the human body has become sickeningly denigrated. To cure themselves of this affliction, humans must relearn how to live dangerously. Suffering breeds strength when experienced in the proper perspective; "That which does not kill us makes us stronger."

The large number of domesticated humans has led to the development of what Nietzsche termed 'herd-morality'. Nietzsche viewed nature as "beyond good and evil", and observed that humans are naturally unequal. Morality is an invention of the weak to limit and deter the strong. The true morality is the courage of the powerful.

Master Morality: manhood, courage, enterprise, bravery (Roman virtue); love of danger and power; strength; sternness; initiative; pride of honor (pagan, Roman, feudal, aristocratic); strength and health over reason and conscience; morality of the Superman, beyond good and evil

Herd Morality: humility bred by subjection, altruism bred by helplessness; love of security and peace; cunning aroused by secret revenge; pity; imitation; stings of conscience (Jewish, Christian, bourgeois, democratic); reason and conscience over strength and desire; suppression of natural instincts as “evil”. Nietzsche was not a fan of pity. Pity makes one feel superior to the sick and helpless.
  AMD3075 | Feb 23, 2014 |
Nietzsche seems to have two major themes in this book-- that Greek tragedy was a result of the conflict between opposing ideologies, and that its decline began with the ascendance of one over the other. I think there are several connections/parallels between his description of Greek tragedy and the rise of the novel.

Nietzsche tells of the Dionysian ritual, with its use of music, and makes the claim that tragedy began with this. The music was provided by the chorus, which sang the story. The rituals of Dionysis, we are told, brought about a state like intoxication, in which the sense of individual was lost in the larger community of being; the chorus was the whole audience, and acting out the play provided an intuitive glimpse of the metaphysical belief system. Plays, at this level, were probably no more than current responsive reading rituals.

This changed with the Apollonian influence, which was the power of dream, not intoxication; the power to see clearly, as embodied in the epic, and in sculpture, and to notice, rather than lose, the individual particulars, described, rather than participated in, reality. Dionysis symbolized process, Apollo, the ideal as manifested in forms.

The blending of these two cultures brought mythology to the stage. Instead of just having a drunken camp-fire songfest, as Dionysis would, Apollo told the stories of great beings, who had lived up to the ideal despite great consequences. These stories, however, only held the stage for two generations before losing contact with the orgiastic Dionysian spirit of music which had spawned them. Apollo took over when Socrates denied that Dionysis could provide true wisdom, but suggested that, through the knowledge of particulars, Apollo could. I agree with Nietzsche and Blake, that Socrates was mistaken, as does an entire sect of Hinduism.
  EverettWiggins | Apr 9, 2013 |
Eccentric? Yes. Overrated? No way. I think the key to read Nietzsche is not to take him too seriously. He provides excellent conversation starters. My copy is full of underlines, highlights, margin notes, and exclamations. ( )
  amandacb | Mar 17, 2010 |
Nietzsche is overrated and eccentric. ( )
  Anagarika | Nov 3, 2009 |
analysis of what tragedy provides for humans and also a model for appolonian and dyonisus critcal approach--reason and irrational. ( )
  Rosinbow | Aug 16, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Friedrich Nietzscheprimary authorall editionscalculated
Chen, Chi KwanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Golffing, FrancisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Much will have been gained for esthetics once we have succeeded in apprehending directly - rather than merely ascertaining - that art owes its continuous evolution to the Apollonian-Dionysiac duality, even as the propagation of the species depends on the duality of the sexes, their constant conflicts and periodic acts of reconciliation.
"An artist worth his salt is permanently separated from ordinary reality."
The person who is responsive to the stimuli of art behaves toward the reality of dream much the way the philosopher behaves toward the reality of existence: he observes exactly and enjoys his observations, for it is by these images that he interprets life, by these processes that he rehearses it.
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