Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Apollo, Dionysos, and the Ganymede model

Leonid Ilyukhin, Apollo and Dionysus (click to enlarge)

In "Scattered thoughts on the Ganymede model," I wrote:

The Birth of Tragedy . . . made me realize that another famous Nietzschean dichotomy may also be relevant: Apollinisch vs. Dionysisch. Isn't it obvious that Apollo is Devic/Ahrimanic in nature, while Dionysos is Ahuric/Luciferic?

Well, no, maybe it isn't obvious at all. Yesterday, I read this on the Junior Ganymede:

A few days ago we were talking about how the cool earthly virtues seemed chthonic and the hot heavenly virtues seemed apollonic.

G and I had been searching for suitable terminology for the two basic types of traits -- the one embracing the Devic virtues and Ahrimanic vice; and the other, the Ahuric virtues and Luciferic vices. G at first used the placeholder labels Type 1 and Type 2., typified as "virtues of control and discipline" vs. "virtues of passion and strength."  I proposed Cool and Hot. Other possibilities suggested on the Junior Ganymede included Yin and Yang, Lunar and Solar, Chthonic and Heavenly.

We can see now that these labels matter, that different labels cause us to categorize things differently. When I was using my original labels, it seemed obvious that Apollo was Devic and Dionysos was Ahuric. When G introduces his Type 1 and Type 2, it still seemed obvious that Apollo belonged on the "control and discipline" side of the ledger and Dionysos on the "passion and strength" side.

Introduce some of the other proposed labels, though, and the opposite classification becomes more intuitive. Obviously, Apollo is yang (sunlight) and Dionysos is yin (shadow). As a sun-god, Apollo is quite literally "solar" and "heavenly"; and Dionysos, while not literally one of the "chthonic" (underworld) gods, is clearly more "of the earth, earthy" than Apollo.

Did I put Apollo and Dionysos in the wrong columns, then? But how could I possibly put Dionysos -- Liber, Eleutherios, god of intoxication and frenzy -- under the heading "control and discipline"?


G said...


maybe you and I understand the terms differently. I would probably say that both Apollo and Dionysus are 'hot' gods, just in different keys. To my mind both passion (Dionysus) and intuition/revelation (Apollo) are hot virtues.

There is a lot of cultural baggage associated with both of those figures, but Apollo isn't really a god of reason and logic. And almost certainly classifying the opposition to chthonic as 'apollonic' was too narrow, and maybe using chthonic at all was a mistake because there is a long tradition of using that to refer to passions.

(The cool counterparts to those two figures might be, inexactly, Hermes and Hades.)

Otto said...

The sons of Hermes love to play,
And only do their best when they
Are told they oughtn't;
Apollo's children never shrink
From boring jobs but have to think
Their work important.

– W. H. Auden, Under Which Lyre

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...


Perhaps my understanding of these gods owes too much to Nietzsche, while yours is closer to historical Greek religion. Nietzsche’s Apollo is perhaps best summed up in the common but somewhat paradoxical expression “the cold light of day,” in contrast to the Dionysian “heat of the night.”

The perils of using terms that have baggage! Perhaps “Type 1” and “Type 2” are the best labels after all.

G said...

With that definition of what Apollo and Dionysus mean, then I would agree with where you assign them.

By the way, thinking of the two major archetypes for christ, The Lion and the lamb.

Would you agree that the lion is hot and the lamb is cool?

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