Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion

Living Edition
| Editors: David A. Leeming

Apollonian and Dionysian

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-27771-9_41-5

Since Friedrich Nietzsche discussed the Apollonian-Dionysian dichotomy in his The Birth of Tragedy, the dichotomy has been extensively applied by philosophers, by theologians, and especially by literary critics to discussions of an essential conflict between two human impulses or ideals symbolized by Apollo and Dionysus in Greek mythology.

Terms generally applied to Apollo are reason, order, intellect, form, moderation, and consciousness. It was Apollo, the god of light, who defeated the primordial goddess-empowered Python and installed himself as the source of oracles at the sacred precinct of Delphi. The defeat of the Python represents the classical Greek patriarchal culture’s defeat of the old chthonic and chaotic goddess power of Gaia, the firstborn of Chaos in the Greek creation myth.

Dionysus was associated with the Earth and the world rather than the sky and the heavens. He was, like Apollo, a son of Zeus but only a marginal Olympian. He was the “Mad God,” associated with...


Religious Study Literary Critic Human Psychology Greek Mythology Patriarchal Culture 
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  1. Nietzsche, F. (1937). The birth of tragedy from the spirit of music. In C. Fadiman (Trans.), The philosophy of Nietzsche. New York: Modern Library.Google Scholar
  2. Otto, W. (1965). Dionysus: Myth and cult. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of ConnecticutStorrsUSA