Thomas Mann alludes to Greek mythology throughout his novella Death in Venice. One
of the Greek mythological themes alluded to in Death in Venice is the struggle known as
Apollonian vs. Dionysion. Thomas Mann was strongly influenced by the philosopher Friedrich
Nietzsche and his teachings on the Apollonian vs. Dionysion struggle. According to Nietzsche’s
teachings every individual contains characteristics from both Greek gods and the two are forever
in an internal struggle to dominate said individual’s personality. Without striking an appropriate
balance between the two sides, truly great art can never be mastered (Keis). The readers of
Death in Venice are witnesses to the Apollonian vs. Dionysion struggle that takes place inside of
the novella’s protagonist, Gustav von Aschenbach.
Apollo is known as the Greek god of light and order. Apollonian characteristics include
reason, control, and clarity. (Taylor). These characteristics are often associated with 19th century
philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer’s, principal of individuation in that “all types of form or
structure are Apollonian, since form serves to define or individualize that which is formed”
(Keis). Sculpture is the most Apollonian of art since it relies on form for its effect. Apollonian
characteristics are used to minimize needless suffering caused by natural desires of the body
Gustav von Aschenbach is introduced to us as the protagonist of Death in Venice. As we
read, it becomes very clear that Aschenbach is a very disciplined and rational man, possessing a
majority of Apollonian characteristics: “At forty, at fifty, even at an age when others squander
and stray, content to put their great plans aside for the time...
... middle of paper ...
...nted by Tadzio, his moral
standards break down and he is a slave to beauty and desire. Because Aschenbach has never had
a balance between the Apollonian and Dionysion characteristics, he undergoes a complete
transformation from one extreme to the other. It is this transformation that ultimately leads
Aschenbach to his unfortunate death.
Kreis, Steven. “Nietzsche, Dionysus, and Apollo.” The History Guide. 13 May 2004. 18 March
Mann, Thomas . Death in Venice. Trans. Clayton Koelb. New York: W.W. Norton, 1994.
Taylor, Nancy. “Apollonian Vs. Dionysian.” California State University. 18 March 2009.
Thro, Michael. “Apollo vs. Dionysus.” 2 Nov. 1996. 19 March 2009.
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