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Apollo and Dionysus in Our Lives Today and in the Beginning of The Iliad: Analytical Essay

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The term mythology refers to the body of myths originally told by the ancient Greeks. While we recognize elements of ancient mythology as an essential component to Greek history, myths are perennial, as myth presides in everyday art and human function, and the various archetypes might be used as mirrors for identity and self-discovery. While there are many gods and goddesses of ancient Greece, we learn that two gods define Greek culture. This essay will discuss the inevitable presence and role of Apollo and Dionysus in our lives, and in The Iliad.

Both sons of Zeus, and different mothers, Olympian gods Apollo and Dionysus help define Greek culture. The allegorical relationship between the two is some of the elementary experiences of each individual, as their influence begins long ago. Today, symbols are present in everyday life and function. We see them in theater, literature, film, etc. As the god of many things, Apollo personified the perfect man. An essential component to ancient mythology, he is one of the most complex archetypes, and arguably the most important. Apollo is represented by light, rational thinking, and order, and appeals to logic, purity, and prudence. However, his brother Dionysus (whose Roman equivalent is Bacchus), also referred to as the “God of the Vine,” is the god of wine and dance, fertility, irrationality, and disorder, and he appeals to emotion and instinct. Born of fire, Dionysus’ existence began. Early versions of the origin of Dionysus suggest that Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, seduced and impregnated Semele, a mortal woman and the princess of Thebes. When Semele demanded that Zeus reveal his true form to her, she burned, leaving only a pile of ash from which Dionysus was formed. According to ancient, Greek myth, of the twelve Olympian gods, and the only god with a mortal mother, Dionysus was the last to arrive, and his unusual birth marked him as an outsider. (Arguably, this might relate to his association with chaos). Apollo, however, was a twin, born on an island to the goddess Leto. While the two gods represent nearly opposing orientations and values, they are entwined by nature, and we recognize them as essential, complementary aspects of human personality and identity; and they enable the world to endure well-balanced entities.

Today, Apollo’s presence is principal in health. He is often referred to as “The Healer”. But while healing and medicine are associated with him, Apollo can also bring ill health and a deadly plague. This relates to his presence in Homer’s account of the Trojan War, The Iliad. The Iliad tells the story of the final year of the Trojan War fought between the Greeks and Troy. According to ancient myth, Apollo is essential to the Trojan War, as he plagued the Greek encampment, and aided Paris by guiding his arrow to kill Achilles. In reference to Dionysus, while is his near absence is well-known in this story, his element is latently present in the Iliad. One might even argue that Dionysus is (subliminally) at the center of The Iliad, as the Trojan war embodied chaos (not to be mistaken for Ares, the god of war). Nevertheless, the myth of Lycurgus tells about a young Dionysus, whose foster mothers were attacked and chased by Lycurgus. Dionysus appears again in the second episode of The Iliad in the deception of Zeus.

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As two extreme forces of nature, Apollo and Dionysus are exhibited in the lives of human beings. While their most well-known iteration is as pillars of Greek culture, Greek gods and goddesses are widely considered to be the foundation of modern Western culture, as these archetypes appear in historical events (e.g., disease plagues, festivals, eras of chaos), and as forces and drives within us. Both Apollo and Dionysus are useful conventions for depicting inner conflict, influencing decision-making and rationale-an essential quality to everyday action. For example, Apollo is recognized as conscience, just as a shoulder angel accompanied by a shoulder devil, who in this case represents Dionysus. Other forms of the two are depicted in human behavior like drunkenness. But though the two represent opposing drives, Can these forces be combined?

According to German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, the opposition of Apollo and Dionysus is distinct in Greek culture. Uniquely, the Greeks were able to blend the two within their culture, allowing them to function harmoniously. As mentioned, Apollo’s and Dionysus’ presence is not only prevalent in Greek culture, but also in modern life. In fact, as humans, we are all a tantalizing mix of Dionysus and Apollo. In his book, The Birth of Tragedy, Friedrich Nietzsche discusses Apollo and Dionysus as representing dualism, giving rise to one another. Nietzsche explores themes of fate, healing, destruction, chaos, etc., describing them as Dionysian or Apollonian. He concludes that human life is divided into the ‘Apollonian’ (embodying the spirit of Apollo) and the ‘Dionysian’ (representing fleeting pleasure, madness, and passion). While we seek to practice and understand the wisdom and rational behavior, we also lack discipline and are drawn to chaos and frenzy. The Apollonian-Dionysian dichotomy helps us to understand the incredibly complex nature of being human. The influence of these archetypes can also be recognized universally, as they preside in several cultures and belief systems (e.g., the principle of Yin and Yang in Chinese philosophy, or the doctrine of sin and virtue in Christianity). Nietzsche’s theory explains the essentialism of equilibrium, and from this, we can conclude that the two forces are inseparable and that the loss of either can result in disparity.

The absence of the Apollo principle leads to chaos and universal destruction, and without Dionysus, we lack the proper balance to keep a stable universe. In fact, Nietzsche believed that Greek culture began to fade as the Greeks started to forget about Dionysus, embracing only Apollonian attitudes. (Much of this relates to the practice of philosophy and man’s ever-burning desire to learn). While overly Dionysian individuals act without reason, Apollonians reason too much, and act too little. However, Nietzsche proposed that adopting both an Apollonian, and a Dionysian perspective makes for a more healthy and well-balanced society, and while knowledge and wisdom is desirable, true wisdom begins with acknowledging and accepting the Dionysian characteristics we possess. One must also understand that Dionysian characteristics can be pure or positive. For example, while Apollo is recognized as the god of music, some argue that music is a Dionysian artform, as it appeals to emotion. Drunkenness is also suggested as a pure Dionysian state, as this too produces expression. In this sense the two might intertwine, acting as influences upon one another (e.g., drunkenness from Dionysus might help to produce art that is influenced by Apollo). In other words, we need both.

In conclusion, men and women embody these archetypes, and elements can be used as metaphors for the past and will be experienced so in the future. As the god of light or illumination, Apollo can be seen in positive aspects of life and influence, and the same with Dionysus. Both gods have deeply influenced modern thinking and behavior, and without them, the universe would lack balance, and humans would not have a proper perspective and a balanced way of living.

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Apollo and Dionysus in Our Lives Today and in the Beginning of The Iliad: Analytical Essay. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/apollo-and-dionysus-in-our-lives-today-and-in-the-beginning-of-the-iliad-analytical-essay/
“Apollo and Dionysus in Our Lives Today and in the Beginning of The Iliad: Analytical Essay.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/apollo-and-dionysus-in-our-lives-today-and-in-the-beginning-of-the-iliad-analytical-essay/
Apollo and Dionysus in Our Lives Today and in the Beginning of The Iliad: Analytical Essay. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/apollo-and-dionysus-in-our-lives-today-and-in-the-beginning-of-the-iliad-analytical-essay/> [Accessed 8 Feb. 2023].
Apollo and Dionysus in Our Lives Today and in the Beginning of The Iliad: Analytical Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2023 Feb 8]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/apollo-and-dionysus-in-our-lives-today-and-in-the-beginning-of-the-iliad-analytical-essay/
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