“Die dionysische Weltanschauung” is an 1870 essay by Nietzsche, here translated by Ira J. Allen on the basis of the text published in 1928. Portions of it were incorporated wholesale into Nietzsche’s 1872 first book The Birth of Tragedy, and there are elements in it that foreshadow his later works such as Thus Spoke Zarathustra. I had expected that it might be more conventionally philological, a work of mere classicist erudition, but it already shows Nietzsche attempting to break with mainstream notions of language and psychology, and responding to Hegel and Schopenhauer regarding the nature of the Will and its relationship to things evident and existent.
The essay develops into a tight orbit around the notion of Ton (“tone,” tonos, etc.), carefully kept in view by the translator in his translation and notes alike. This edition uses s p a c i n g for emphasis, rather than bold or italics, as did the original text, and Allen relates this feature to the sense of “stretching” in tonos. The emphasis on the “Dionysian demand” of music (50) was doubtless related to Nietzsche’s involvement at the time with Richard and Cosima Wagner, and was further developed in The Birth of Tragedy.
Nietzsche’s strident philhellenism in this essay made an interesting contrast with another text I happened to read during the same interval: the prologue to Blake’s Milton, which conspicuously sides with Jerusalem over Athens. Of course, Blake was championing the spirit of prophecy in creative originality over against the derivative neo-classicism of his contemporaries. One might legitimately ascribe to Nietzsche a participation in the prophetic spirit as well, although not so plainly here as it came to be in his later works.
In addition to the translator’s forward and notes, this edition includes an interpretive introduction by Friedrich Ulfers that highlights Nietzsche’s engagement with Heraclitus, tacit in this essay but explicit in Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks. It also traces other important themes in the essay, any of which might be helpful to novice readers of Nietzsche.