Many of these courses were audio recorded and are available for purchase. If you're interesting in gaining access to a past MSCP course please email

Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy: Music, Science and Philosophy

Lecturer: Paul Daniels

Originally Taught: Summer School 2008

For Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy occupied a special place among his works: at times he repudiated its conclusions, at other times he claimed that it was his first revaluation of values, and still again the themes of tragedy, music, Socrates and the Dionysian would reappear in varying manifestations throughout his philosophy. This course will delve into the detail of The Birth of Tragedy, and relate its year of publication, 1872, to the themes of a failed cultural revolution in the spirit of the Greeks.

The Birth of Tragedy represents one of Nietzsche's most ambitious philosophical projects. Through a combination of philology/history and philosophy, he endeavoured to investigate the pre-Socratic culture of tragedy, the account of which he thought would reinvigorate Europe past the scientific paradigm of reason into Dionysian ecstasy. Of particular interest is his transformation of the Will as understood by Schopenhauer (laying the groundwork for the later theme of will to power), his contrast of intuition with concept and the all important worldview of music and tragedy as the vehicle whereby the terrors and horrors of existence could be simultaneously known and affirmed.

This is an introductory course. Some knowledge of Nietzsche's philosophy or of the history of philosophy is preferable, but not assumed. Students should bring a copy of The Birth of Tragedy (Cambridge edition preferred) and a course reader with secondary materials will be provided.

Monday: The Year 1872 — Europe, history and philosophy at the time of The Birth of Tragedy
Tuesday: Myth, Madness and Music — the Dionysian and the Apollonian in dialectic
Wednesday: Tragedy and the Affirmation of Existence — the "miracle of the Hellenic Will"
Thursday: The Decline of Tragedy — the daemon called Socrates
Friday: Science, Art and Other Illusions — overcoming Schopenhauer toward a new tragic age

Recommended Readings:
Knox, Bernard, "Introduction", in Sophocles, The Three Theban Plays, trans. Robert Fagles (New York: Viking Press, 1982)