Twilight of the Idols

by

Friedrich Nietzsche

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Twilight of the Idols can help.

Twilight of the Idols: What I Owe to the Ancients Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
1. Nietzsche hopes his new ideas will lead society to “the ancient world[.]” In his writing, readers might recognize “a very serious ambition for Roman style,” and Nietzsche himself experienced this the first time he read Horace.
Nietzsche wants his ideas about embracing life and the senses to encourage people to return to a time in antiquity before Socrates made philosophy center around rationality. He thinks ancient Roman philosophers and poets like Horace offer a better alternative model around which to design a new set of values.
Themes
History and the Decline of Civilization  Theme Icon
The Ideal vs. The Real  Theme Icon
Christianity and the “Revaluation of All Values”  Theme Icon
2. For Nietzsche, the Greeks simply can’t compete with the Romans. We can’t “learn from the Greeks,” for their ways are “too strange,” and they don’t know how to write. Nietzsche can’t bring himself to admire Plato the way most scholars do, and he calls Platonic dialogue a “frightfully self-satisfied and childish kind of dialectics.” Nietzsche also thinks Plato has strayed so far from Hellenic instinct that he became a precursor to Christianity. Nietzsche blames Plato’s focus on “the good” for western philosophy’s destructive fixation on the “‘ideal.’” 
Nietzsche reinforces his disdain for the ancient Greeks and their fixation on reason. He insults and demeans Platonic dialogue by calling it “frightfully-self-satisfied and childish,” both for comedic effect and to drive home his point. Formally, he’s also tying up loose ends here by bringing the focus back to the breakdown of ancient Greek philosophy he began with.
Themes
History and the Decline of Civilization  Theme Icon
The Ideal vs. The Real  Theme Icon
Christianity and the “Revaluation of All Values”  Theme Icon
Quotes
3. Nietzsche sees Greek philosophy as consumed by the desire to protect the self from “the explosive material within them.” But this “internal tension” exploded nonetheless, resulting in warring city states. People needed to be physically fit to protect themselves—they weren’t that way naturally—and so, explains Nietzsche, “It was produced, it was not there from the beginning.” And this necessity to be strong shifted art’s purpose—the Greeks began to use art to “feel […] dominant,” and, this led to cultural decline. They then turned to Socratic philosophy to regain their lost virtue. 
Nietzsche thinks that the desire to repress human instinct (“the explosive material within”) is the foundation of ancient Greek philosophy. In this way, Greek philosophy (and the moral frameworks it inspired) is based on a desire to control and subdue human vitality. When philosophy/morality couldn’t subdue human instinct and violence broke out nonetheless, people’s concerns shifted away from art and toward self-preservation. So in this way, ancient Greek philosophy is both the cause and the consequence of cultural decline.
Themes
History and the Decline of Civilization  Theme Icon
The Will to Power   Theme Icon
The Ideal vs. The Real  Theme Icon
Christianity and the “Revaluation of All Values”  Theme Icon
4. Nietzsche was the first person to suggest that Dionysus could explain “the older Hellenic instinct,” which is today conceivable only as an “excess of energy.” Any serious scholar of the Greeks will know that Dionysus is a figure who deserves serious scholarship. Lesser scholars dismiss Dionysus as a foolish character associated with orgies, drunkenness, and pagan spring festivals. Lobeck claims the Greeks worshipped him because they had nothing better to do. Nietzsche sees things differently, recognizing in Dionysus “the fundamental fact of the Hellenic instinct,” which is its “will to life.” Dionysus celebrates the sensuality that Christianity rejects. 
Nietzsche examines the Dionysian “Hellenic instinct” in his The Birth of Tragedy. The book explores how classical Athenian tragedy transcends life’s meaninglessness. With the Greek tragic form as a starting point, Nietzsche examines an intellectual binary between the Dionysian and the Apollonian forces (Dionysian represents abstract forces while Apollonian represents ordered forces). In the context of Twilight of the Idols, the Dionysian force represents natural, unordered human instinct. This is why Nietzsche thinks that the “Hellenic instinct” (Greek culture prior to Socrates) captures a “will to life” that the culture has since lost (and which modern Christianity rejects).
Themes
History and the Decline of Civilization  Theme Icon
The Will to Power   Theme Icon
The Ideal vs. The Real  Theme Icon
Christianity and the “Revaluation of All Values”  Theme Icon
Get the entire Twilight of the Idols LitChart as a printable PDF.
Twilight of the Idols PDF
5. Understanding the orgy as “an overflowing feeling of life and energy” (even negative types of energy like “pain”) that is central to “the concept of the tragic feeling” is something Aristotle could not grasp. Unlike the Hellenes (as Schopenhauer sees them), who see tragedy pessimistically, Nietzsche sees all intense feeling (even suffering) as an affirmation of life. For Nietzsche, the Dionysian is all about recognizing "in oneself the external joy of becoming—that joy which also encompasses joy in destruction.”
Nietzsche praises Greek tragedy for the way it saw “tragic feeling” (suffering and passion)—as life-affirming rather than evidence of life’s meaninglessness. Where the ancient Greeks beautified passion and suffering, modern moralists, philosophers, and theologians reject passion and suffering.
Themes
History and the Decline of Civilization  Theme Icon
The Will to Power   Theme Icon
The Ideal vs. The Real  Theme Icon
Christianity and the “Revaluation of All Values”  Theme Icon
Quotes