Father, interrupted Manfred, I pay due reverence to your holy profession; but I am sovereign here, and will allow no meddling priest to interfere in the affairs of my domestic. If you have aught to say, attend me to my chamber – I do not use to let my Wife be acquainted with the secret affairs of my state; they are not within a woman’s province. My lord; said the holy man, I am no intruder into the secrets of families. My office is to promote peace, to heal divisions, to preach repentance, and teach mankind to curb their headstrong passions.
Dionysos-Dithyramben is a set of nine poems revised, written, and collected by Nietzsche during and after the composition of Thus Spake Zarathustra, and they are thus one of the “Werke des Zusammenbruchs” from the close of his writing career. They were dismissed by Aaron Ridley from his edition of all the other “Werke des Zusammenbruchs” (i.e. The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols, The Case of Wagner, and Nietzsche contra Wagner) as “a collection of poems whose absence is not to be regretted.” It’s just as well that snotty editor forced me to acquire the Dithyrambs in a separate volume, since the bilingual presentation here — while at odds with the larger project of the Cambridge University Press series of Nietzsche’s works in English translation, in which Ridley’s edition stands — is essential for full appreciation of the poetry.
In the role of translator, R.J. Hollingdale is impressively accurate, but he is more intent on the semantic content of the verse than its poetic form. For example, he sacrifices meter, line emphasis, and some end-rhyme in this penultimate stanza of “Die Wüste wächst: weh dem, der Wüsten birgt . . .”:
Die Wüste wächst: weh dem, der Wüsten birgt!
Stein knirscht an Stein, die Wüste schlingt und würgt.
Der ungeheure Tod blickt glühend braun
und kaut –, sein Leben ist sein Kaun . . . (38)
It is rendered thus by Hollingdale:
“The desert grows: woe to him who harbours deserts!
Stone grates on stone, the desert swallows down.
And death that chews, whose life is chewing,
gazes upon it, monstrous, glowing brown . . .” (39)
Hollingdale was one of the great 20th-century anglophone champions of Nietzsche, and I take his notes to reflect a conservative, establishment strain in Nietzsche scholarship. The introduction is a helpful, if brief, overview of Nietzsche’s work as a poet and its relationship to his philosophical output.
Hollingdale’s remarks on the individual poems emphasize the autobiographical dimensions of the poems, somewhat to the exclusion (I thought) of their literary value to readers. On the biographical front, he insists (in 1984) that the syphilitic genesis of Nietzsche’s madness is a fully established fact (87-8), although I have read persuasive arguments by Siegfried Mandel (1988) and Geoff Waite (1996) questioning that allegation, and in the case of the latter challenging its supporting narrative assumption of Nietzsche’s heterosexuality.
The nine poems are really gorgeous. Although three of them, with slight alterations, also appear in Thus Spake Zarathustra, I found them more powerful here, and thus I was inclined to agree with Hollingdale that “they were inserted [in Thus Spake Zarathustra] capriciously and by force” (85). The significance of “Klage der Ariadne,” for example is almost inverted in the context of the Dithyrambs, and it was so affecting for me, that it may serve as the touchstone of a new ceremony in my private canon of ritual. This slender volume is a treasure.
Blood-eyed wretches faint in spectacles of rank worship, their blue bodies reeling, the obscene ceremony nothing but formless candle fat. Shadows fall over the dark flowers, trumpets sound in the deserted cloisters, and projected mysteries die in a storm of little words and dancing willows flushed of heaven.
Books on true occultism are on the whole very useless things; because those who are in possession of occult knowledge will not require them; while those who have no such knowledge will not understand them; neither will they receive much benefit from such literature; because real spiritual knowledge must be found within one’s own soul; it cannot be learned from books. The scientist, rationalist, and speculative philosopher deals only with, so to say, the candlesticks bearing the candles from which is emanating the light which they cannot see, neither can they see the candle; for the latter is representing the soul, whose light is the spirit.
Franz Hartmann, In The Pronaos of The Temple of Wisdom
Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume I: The Old and Middle Kingdoms by Miriam Lichtheim, from University of California Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.
“The aim of the present volume is to provide, in up-to-date translations, a representative selection of ancient Egyptian literature in a chronological arrangement designed to bring out the evolution of literary forms; and to do this in a convenient and inexpensive format. It is meant to serve several kinds of readers: those who pursue studies within the broad spectrum of ancient Near Eastern civilizations; scholars in other humanistic fields and other readers for whom an acquaintance with ancient Egyptian literature is meaningful; and those who read ancient Egyptian. Translations serve two purposes. They substitute—inadequately—for the original works; and they aid in the study of the originals. It is my hope that this book of readings will be useful on both counts.”
“In preparing the translations I have of course made full use of existing translations and studies, especially the more recent ones, which are scattered throughout the scholarly literature. Evidently a book of readings is up to date only if it reflects the present state of the discipline. Those who are familiar with the texts, however, are aware of the limitations of our understanding, of the conjectural nature of much that is passed off as translation, and of the considerable differences between several translations of one and the same text. Hanec the ‘present state’ of the discipline is an intricate web of consensus and controversy. Agreeing sometimes with one, sometimes with another, interpretation of a difficult passage, I have frequently agreed with none and sought my own solutions. Only in certain cases are these departures from existing translations discussed in the annotations, for to discuss them all would have resulted in an all too heavy philological apparatus, which would not have been in keeping with the major aims of the work. […] If this calls for an apology, I offer the observation that the present state of academic learning is characterized by a vast expansion in the numbers of those participating in it, and hence calls for publications that attempt to reach beyond the confines of professional specialization while at the same time making a contribution to the specialized discipline.” — From the Preface
The Portal of Initiation: A Rosicrucian Mystery Drama & The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily, by Rudolf Steiner and Johann W von Goethe, respectively, the 1981 second revised edition from Spiritual Literature Library (Garber Communications), is part of the collection at the Reading Room.
“The Portal of Initiation: A Rosicrucian Mystery Drama, can best be described in Rudolf Steiner’s own words:
‘When one has worked one’s way through to an understanding perception of the world, the living need is felt to form ideas no longer, but to create artistically, that is, plastically, or in color, or musically, or poetically. In my Mystery Dramas I myself tried to give what cannot be expressed in ideas about the nature of the human being. … This leads us to enjoy, to seek out, to contemplate what one cannot possibly experience in thoughts, but in living figures, as they appear in the dramatic pictures; then we let the figures of the drama really work upon us. … Art must be added to what is abstractly known if true knowledge of the world is to be attained. Further, when such perception is attained and presses toward creative form, this experience penetrates so deeply into the human soul that this union of art with science produces a religious experience.’
‘Today, humanity may not yet be inclined to absorb into external culture what can spring from the spiritual life. however, at least in artistic pictures we can show how life may develop, and what in the form of thoughts and feelings flows into our souls and permeates them. The result can be the kindling of the presentiment that out of its present, humanity must go toward a future in which it will be able to experience the streaming down of spiritual life into man on earth. For humanity is approaching an age when man will perceive himself as the intermediary between the spiritual world and the physical world. These performances were given in order that this presentiment might be awakened.’
Steiner spoke repeatedly about the importance of Goethe’s Fairy Tale, not only in relation to the spiritual striving of our time in a general sense, but in his first Mystery Drama, The Portal of Initiation, he drew upon many of the basic themes of the Fairy Tale. Steiner also indicated that the way the pictures in Goethe’s Fairy Tale ‘unfold themselves’ shows that they possess the power ‘to transform the human soul’ which opens itself to them. He also once characterized the Goethe Fairy Tale as the ‘archetypal seed’ which offers the possibility of a new order of social life amongst humanity as a whole, and described it as the foundation upon which he based his teaching concerning the modern Science of Spirit, Anthroposophy.
Although they are surrounded by the remarkable conveniences modern technology has placed at our command and the degree of ‘freedom’ this has made possible, many people today would agree with Goethe’s observation, made long ago: “Whatever sets the human spirit free without giving us mastery over ourselves is harmful.’—ANd with this awareness goes the recognition that despite the marvels of technology, designed to set men free to an ever-increasing degree, there nevertheless prevails a widespread feeling, a longing to return ‘home’, to experience the unique guidance of the star of one’s individual destiny. … Goethe’s Fairy Tale offers, in form of artistic images, the first steps on the path which at length will enable a man to come to know himself as a being of body, soul and spirit, with all this implies. Thus the Fairy Tale of Goethe may become ‘everything’ or ‘nothing’ for the reader—and it is left entirely to his own individual freedom to let it ‘speak’ its significance to him.” — back cover