German philosophyAlthough the use of the concepts of the Apollonian and Dionysian is famously linked to Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy, the terms were used before him in German culture. The poet Hölderlin spoke of them, while Winckelmann talked of Bacchus, the god of wine.
Nietzsche's aesthetic usage of the concepts, which was later developed philosophically, first appeared in his book The Birth of Tragedy, which was published in 1872. His major premise here was that the fusion of Dionysian and Apollonian "Kunsttriebe" ("artistic impulses") form dramatic arts, or tragedies. He goes on to argue that this fusion has not been achieved since the ancient Greek tragedians. Nietzsche is adamant that the works of Aeschylus and Sophocles represent the apex of artistic creation, the true realization of tragedy; it is with Euripides that tragedy begins its downfall ("Untergang"). Nietzsche objects to Euripides's use of Socratic rationalism (the dialectic) in his tragedies, claiming that the infusion of ethics and reason robs tragedy of its foundation, namely the fragile balance of the Dionysian and Apollonian.
To further the split, Nietzsche diagnoses the Socratic Dialectic as being diseased in the manner that it deals with looking at life. The scholarly dialectic is directly opposed to the concept of the Dionysian because it only seeks to negate life; it uses reason to always deflect, but never to create. Socrates rejects the intrinsic value of the senses and life for "higher" ideals. Nietzsche claims in The Gay Science that when Socrates drinks the hemlock, he sees the hemlock as the cure for life, proclaiming that he has been sick a long time. (Section 340.) In contrast, the Dionysian existence constantly seeks to affirm life, whether in pain or pleasure, suffering or joy, the intoxicating revelry that Dionysus has for life itself overcomes the Socratic sickness and perpetuates the growth and flourishing of visceral life force. A great Dionysian 'Yes', to a Socratic 'No'.
The interplay between the Apollonian and Dionysian is apparent, Nietzsche claimed in The Birth of Tragedy, from their use in Greek tragedy: the tragic hero of the drama, the main protagonist, struggles to make order of his unjust fate, though he dies unfulfilled in the end. For the audience of such a drama, Nietzsche claimed, this tragedy allows us to sense an underlying essence, what he called the "Primordial Unity", which revives our Dionysian nature — which is almost indescribably pleasurable. Though he later dropped this concept saying it was "...burdened with all the errors of youth" (Attempt at Self-Criticism, §2), the overarching theme was a sort of metaphysical solace or connection with the heart of creation.
Different from Kant's idea of the sublime, the Dionysian is all-inclusive rather than alienating to the viewer as a sublimating experience. The sublime needs critical distance, while the Dionysian demands a closeness of experience. According to Nietzsche, the critical distance, which separates man from his closest emotions, originates in Apollonian ideals, which in turn separate him from his essential connection with self. The Dionysian embraces the chaotic nature of such experience as all-important; not just on its own, but as it is intimately connected with the Apollonian. The Dionysian magnifies man, but only so far as he realizes that he is one and the same with all ordered human experience. The godlike unity of the Dionysian experience is of utmost importance in viewing the Dionysian as it is related to the Apollonian because it emphasizes the harmony that can be found within one's chaotic experience.