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THE REBIRTH OF MYTH?: NIETZSCHE'S ETERNAL RECURRENCE AND ITS ROMANTIC ANTECEDENTS

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There is increasing evidence of the influence of various Romantic thinkers on Nietzsche's early philosophy, especially on The Birth of Tragedy, with its announcement or prediction of a rebirth of myth. The prophetic Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which Nietzsche introduced with the words "tragedy begins," expresses his later philosophy, particularly his central doctrine of the Eternal Recurrence, in symbols, parables, and riddles, suggesting an attempt at mythopoeia. However, the critical, ironic, and parodying elements in Nietzsche's later philosophy have led to its characterization as "antimyth." This essay demonstrates that Nietzsche's idea and symbolism of the Eternal Recurrence as a temporal cycle of opposites represented by various forms of the circle, especially the ouroborus or serpent biting its own tail, and associated with Zoroaster, Heraclitus, and Dionysus, was influenced by the tradition of Romantic mythology. Before the publication of The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche encountered the writings of Johann Jakob Bachofen and Friedrich Creuzer, where the cycle of opposites is identified as a specifically mythic idea, which developed later into a philosophy, as metonymically represented in the relationship between the myth-maker Zoroaster and the philosopher Heraclitus. In The Birth of Tragedy, the cycle of opposites became for Nietzsche a symbol of the unity of myth and philosophy, and the rebirth of the former from the self-overcoming of the latter. This symbol continued to serve Nietzsche throughout his career as a model for his own development as a philosopher. The Eternal Recurrence appears to have been his own attempt to unite myth and philosophy, through the transformation of an originally Romantic mythological idea into its opposite, and the adoption of a symbolic and "mythic" style of expression.

Affiliations: 1: The Divinity School, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 6637, USA

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