The Dionysian Aesthetics of Rock Music and the Limitation of Corporal Ekstasis 

“Without music, life would be a mistake”, as Friedrich Nietzsche very aptly stated.  Music is a highly existential art, which, through sound and melody, expresses different emotions each time. Rhythm and melody stretch the most mysterious,  unexplored and raw instincts of human existence. More specifically, rock music is identified with primordial, impetuous and ecstatic physical states, which can already be found since ancient times in the cult mysteries held in honor of the god Dionysus, the god of wine, drunkenness and pleasures.  

  Nietzsche in his work “The Birth of Tragedy” (Die Geburt der Tragӧdie) penetrates the relationship of the  Dionysian element with both music and the tragic of human existence. Ancient Greek   tragedy embodies the chiasm of the Dionysian (Dionysischen) and Apollonian elements. Apollonian ( Apollinisch) ,   as its name testifies, is related to the beauty, light and plastic art of the god Apollo, while the Dionysian element, named after the god Dionysus, is intertwined with  ecstasy and primordial impetuosity. These two existential components, although at first sight they seem to be in conflict with each other, come together shaping the Attic tragedy. 

  These two exalting elements extend through two bodily states, the Apollonian with the state of reverie sculpting the imaginary forms, and the Dionysian with the state of  intoxication. Dreaming as a sculpture of imaginary forms gives birth to the plasticity  of the arts, such as poetry. On the other hand, drunkenness is a characteristic state of  the Dionysian spirit. Dionysian flushes manifest in the body as a result of intoxication, like an overwhelming mental euphoria that bring the person to a state of ecstasy.  As the very word ekstasis ( έκστασις- εκ- ίσταμαι) testifies, the individual becomes forgetful of his present physical state, comes out of an ordinary condition of himself  and enters into a more primal and anarchic side of himself. Ekstasis for Nietzsche, as for other philosophers of Existentialism, is an existential state, in which, the individual does not experience the loss of himself, on the contrary, he encounters his deeper side, as he leaves his trivial dimension and he penetrates an occult side of himself experiencing a  mystical feeling 

 Ecstasy, as a mental phenomenon related to the cognitive subject of Psychology, may be accompanied by hallucinations as a common result of the use of psychotropic  substances. As a more severe form, ecstasy may also imply psychopathological  conditions, such as epilepsy or schizophrenia. 

 The individual’s need to overcome the pity and fear   (referring to the Aristotelian definition of tragedy ) that his body experiences, especially when he is sick, is strongly shown by the fact that he decides to face himself by sculpting through  artistic creation the rage, fear, mercy and the frenzied situations he may be experiencing. A typical example of such artistic creation is the dance of Tarantella Pizzica. The traditional dance of Puglia in South Italy had a therapeutic character. It  is, in fact, connected to the phenomenon of Tarantism, i.e. the rage, which, as they  believed, was due to the bite of a spider, hence the name pizzica (sting).  Pizzica is considered a dance that has its origins in the Dionysian Mysteries, with a psycho-physical healing character, especially for women, who, through the bodily Dionysian vibrations, released the oppression, pity and fear that confined their corporality, finally reaching , in the purification through the Apollonian sculpting of Dionysian rage.  

 Tragedy expresses transparency and plasticity on the one hand, and on the other the  drama, impetuosity and liminality of the Dionysian element. Apollonius sculpts and gives form to the Dionysian urge, just as corporeal matter is sculpted and given form  through human existence.  

 Tragedy shapes the tragic of human existence, the finitude of its physicality, which  while affirming man’s vitality, at the same time declares his transience. The Dionysian  and the Apollonian are inherent in the pity (έλεο) and fear (φόβο) caused to the spectator while watching the tragedy, until at the end there is catharsis  (κάθαρσις) (according to Aristotle’s definition of Tragedy) , that is, purification. Pity and fear are inherent in human life  throughout its duration, for just as the spectator fears, suffers, anguishes, rages, and seeks justice, so man throughout his life strives to come purification in the tragedy of his own life. The drive of vitality and the constant tendency of man to overcome his mortal nature push him to artistic elevation through the form of tragedy. 

 The vital impetus, as defined by Henri Bergson in his work “Creative Evolution” (L’Evolution Creatrice, 1907), is that indomitable, liberating force, which transcends all purposefulness, and  is the cause of creation and evolution. The vital impetus inherent in man manifests itself  both in the intellect, which is identified with the harmony and sculpting of the  Apollonian, and in the instinct, which is identified with the Dionysian intensity.

 The tragic myth and music are an expression of the Dionysian-Apollonian chiasm, sculpting man’s tendency for self-transcendence, leading him to artistic creation,  through which purification occurs. According to Nietzsche, music gives birth to myth  and its dramatic representation, which reveals Dionysian ecstatic wisdom. Dionysian ecstatic wisdom runs deep in tragedy and music, and is refined through the  Apollonian element. The Apollonian element is identified with sophistication and light, lending transparency to the Dionysian through tragedy and music. Nietzsche himself, in fact, had a very special relationship with music, as can be seen from his work “The Birth of Tragedy”: music is something sublime, transcending history, culture and scientific reason, in the vortex of an ecstasy that reveals the secret powers of life and the meaning of myth, beyond good and evil, beyond logic and irrationality, beyond the beautiful and the ugly. 

 Music, then, is the art that emanates from the depths of the human entity, constituting  a purely existential art. In particular, rock music, whose nature is Dionysian, shapes  emotions strongly and impetuously from the recesses of human existence. The contradiction of human physicality, i.e. the contradiction of life/death, resonates  through the intense, psychedelic, heartbreaking sound and rhythm of rock music. The existential heartbreak of human physicality radiates through the sound of the electric guitar, through the vibrations of the drums, and of course through the dancing  movements of the body itself – intense movements convulsive, expressing openness and readiness for transcendence, as if the body is shaking off its shackles, expressly expressing that it is not being manipulated, and that it is moving exclusively towards  the demon self ( ΚΑΤΑ ΤΟΝ ΔΑΙΜΟΝΑ ΕΑΥΤΟΥ). This Socratic saying states that man has a demon (deity) within him,  which urges or prevents him, every time, to perform an act. This phrase, which exists as an inscription on the grave of the great rock performer, Jim Morrison, actively states that all of man’s actions are his own choices, which arise from his own, free will, without being directed by anyone, but only by himself. 

 Even the tonality of the performers’ voices extend this revolutionary tendency of the individual to break the establishment and transcend the contingency that governs his  transitory nature. The sharp tone, the intense burr in the voice, the sharp, sobbing cries, shape the innate tendency of the individual for life and creation, beyond oppression and shackles. Rock music as a Dionysian-Apollonian pair is the ultimate  existential moment of meeting finitude with infinity. Human physicality as a form of   matter, as leib-kӧrper it has the inherent tendency to sculpt the drive of life, that contradictory drive, which can lead to absolute creation, but also to absolute chaos, if it remains raw, without form, especially in times of social, political and economic  crisis.  In such extremely difficult periods there is a flowering of rock music. This  is due to the fact that through rock artists attempt to express themselves, break the establishment, overturn bad texts and awaken other people. 

  A timeless rock band inspired by political current affairs and social issues, is Pink  Floyd. In fact, one of their songs, which left its mark on world rock music, is “Hey  you”, which was included on the album “The Wall” (1979). The song, like the entire work, refers to the modern man, who lives in isolation, undergoing painful mental transitions, and struggles to regain contact with society. However, it is very difficult  to overcome the social barriers (the wall), remaining in isolation. The same album included the song “Another brick in the wall”, which refers to the students’ reaction to a conformist, anachronistic and anti-pedagogical education system, demonstrating this  pressing issue of the modern era. 

  Rock music artists such as: Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and of course, bands such as: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and the Scorpions, were inspired by the modern complex problems that run through human life, existence and are inscribed in its corporality, but also by the vital force of the individual, his will to fight, his courage to shape the invisible that exists in life. 

  The existential forces of the Dionysian and the Apollonian demonstrate the limitation of human corporality, i.e. the primordial impetus that man has, and at the same time his tendency to sculpt the tragedy of his journey from life to death, through  artistic creation. The existential anguish of the human body echoes in the sobbing sound of rock music, at the moment when the individual himself gives form to pity  and fear, turning the scream of bodily finitude into a rhythmic scream of rock music.   



  • Αριστοτέλης Αναγνώστου, Έργα και ποιητές του Αρχαίου Ελληνικού Θεάτρου, εκδόσεις: Αρμονία, 2008, Αθήνα. 
  • Σωκράτης Δεληβογιατζής, Ζητήματα Διαλεκτικής, εκδόσεις: Ερωδιός, 2010, Θεσσαλονίκη. 

Translated into Greek

  • Edmund Husserl, Για τη Φαινομενολογία της συνείδησης του εσωτερικού χρόνου, (μτφρ. Νίκος  Σουελτζής), εκδ. Πανεπιστημιακές Εκδόσεις  Κρήτης, Ηράκλειο 2020, Τίτλοι πρωτότυπων κειμένων: Husserliana 10, σ. 3-134, «ZurPhänomenologie des inneren Zeitbewusstesensins (1893- 1917). [« The Phenomenology of  internal time-consciousness (1893-1917)»], επιμ. Rudolf  Boehm. Χάγη, Ολλανδία: Martinus Nijhoff, 1969.  Husserliana 33, σ. 3-49, «Die ‘Bernauer Manuskripte’ über das Zeitbewußtsein (1917/1918)» [ The ‘Bernauer Manuscripts’ on Time – Consciousness], επιμ. Rudolf Bernet & Dieter Lohmar , Ντόρντρεχτ , Ολλανδία: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2001.
  • Maurice- Merleau Ponty, Φαινομενολογία της Αντίληψης, ( Phenomenologie de la perception), (μτφρ. Κική Καψαμπέλη),εκδ. Νήσος, 2016, Αθήνα ( Gallimard, 1945).  
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, Η Γέννηση της Τραγωδίας [ Die Geburt der Tragӧdie], ( μετάφραση: Χρήστος Μαρσέλλος, επίμετρο: Μάρκος Τσέτσος- Πιερ Όσμο), εκδόσεις: Εστία,  2009, Θεσσαλονίκη.

Thomae Ragia

Thomae Ragia was born in Thessaloniki. She completed her undergraduate studies in the department of Education and Literature of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. She also holds a MA degree in Systematic Philosophy. Since 2019 She is a PhD candidate at the same university focusing on the field of Philosophical Anthropology, Dialectics and Phenomenology. She is also engaged in Poetry and has published three poetry collections.

One Comment

  1. Congratulations other time for all the group of course the music wake up feelings where want the heart ❤️

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