Living with Apollo and Dionysus

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One of my favorite themes of mythology that I remember from my graduate studies was the dichotomy of Apollo and Dionysus. Both sons of Zeus, Apollo is the god of logic, reason and music, Dionysus the god of wine, intoxication and ecstasy. Although they don’t have much do to with each other in the ancient myths, they become famously linked in Friedrich Nietzsche’s seminal work The Birth of Tragedy. In it, Nietzche argues for an Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy, in which order (represented by Apollo) is in tension with chaos (represented by Dionysus), particularly in art.

According to horror writer Stephen King in his book Danse Macabre, “I used the terms Apollonian (to suggest reason and the power of the mind) and Dionysian (to suggest emotion, sensuality, and chaotic action).” (p. 181)

Once I became aware of this dichotomy, it became natural to notice the times and places in my life in which I was living in the tension of these two opposites. It has became especially noticeable to my husband and me with our two sons.

The older boy, age 6, is Apollonian by nature. He is interested in science, math and logic, and he his quick to reject fantastic notions or explanations for natural phenomena (some of which are much beloved of his mythologist mother ;)). This natural inclination often sends him into conflict with his younger brother, age 4, who is clearly Dionysian by nature. Our young Dionysus is passionate, a bit chaotic, and a lover of the arts.

It has been interesting watching this tension play out in our household. The boys love each other very much, but the inevitable conflicts that come up between brothers seem to constellate around their different natures.

One thought on “Living with Apollo and Dionysus

  1. I wonder how often children take on these opposing attributes? Is it partly to distinguish themselves as “other”? In my family I was the Apollonian daughter and my younger sister was Dionysian. As adults I’ve learned to loosen up and she’s become more disciplined.

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