Epithet of the Day: Nietzsche’s Charioteers

Wading through another strange item from Greek Reporter (Australia Urged To Promote Greek

English: Charioteer of Delphi Русский: Дельфий...

English: Charioteer of Delphi Русский: Дельфийский Возничий (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Language) I was about to hit the ‘delete’ button when my caerulean gaze landed upon this sentence:

Australians need to once more think of themselves as Nietzsche’s charioteers, because Greek really matters.

… a little poking around located the origin of this phrase in Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy … here it is in translation (translation by Ian Johnston … section 15):

Before we could recognize this fact, before we convincingly established the innermost dependence of every art on the Greeks, from Homer right up to Socrates, we had to treat these Greeks as the Athenians treated Socrates. Almost every era and cultural stage has at some point sought in an profoundly ill-tempered frame of mind to free itself of the Greeks, because in comparison with the Greeks, all their own achievements, apparently fully original and admired in all sincerity, suddenly appeared to lose their colour and life and shrivelled to unsuccessful copies, in fact, to caricatures. And so a heartfelt inner anger always keeps breaking out again against that arrogant little nation which dared to designate for all time everything that was not produced in its own country as “barbaric.” Who were those Greeks, people asked themselves, who, although they had achieved only an ephemeral historical glitter, only ridiculously restricted institutions, only an ambiguous competence in morality, who could even be identified with hateful vices, yet who had nevertheless laid a claim to a dignity and a pre-eminent place among peoples, appropriate to a genius among the masses? Unfortunately people were not lucky enough to find the cup of hemlock which could easily do away with such a being, for all the poisons which envy, slander, and inner rage created were insufficient to destroy that self-satisfied magnificence. Hence, confronted by the Greeks, people have been ashamed and afraid, unless an individual values the truth above everything else and dares to propose this truth: the notion that the Greeks, as the charioteers of our culture and every other one, hold the reins, but that almost always the wagon and horses are inferior material and do not match the glory of their drivers, who then consider it amusing to whip such a team into the abyss, over which they themselves jump with the leap of Achilles.

… perhaps this is an image we should promote … Classicists as charioteers of our culture … maybe even as Nietzsche’s Charioteers, although that would likely be just as lost on most folks as ‘Classics major’ … [speaking of which, was the Delphi Charioteer ever attached to horses?]

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2 thoughts on “Epithet of the Day: Nietzsche’s Charioteers

    • thanks … i either didn’t notice that when we saw it on our honeymoon a few decades ago, or it wasn’t there yet …

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