Date of Award


Document Type

Union College Only

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

James Walker




book, nietzsche's, understanding, later, tragedy


The purpose of this thesis is to come to an understanding of Friedrich Nietzsche's first book, The Birth of Tragedy. The Birth of Tragedy is often considered unrepresentative of Nietzsche's philosophy because of its philological Greek themes, metaphysical language, and application to Richard Wagner. In particular, the renowned Nietzsche scholar Walter Kaufmann evaluates the book in these terms, and focuses only on what is called the "surface narrative" of the rise and fall of Greek tragedy. Nietzsche, on the other hand, later wrote in the "Attempt at a Self-Criticism" added as a preface to the book and in Ecce Homo that this understanding misses key elements of the book: the nature of the Dionysian phenomenon and the extent the book should be read as a youthful attempt to promote a doctrine of life at odds with Christian morality; in other words, that it should be read as more continuous with his later thought. In order to resolve this opposition, this piece analyzes all three of Nietzsche's works in question, as well as Walter Kaufmann's pertinent writing on the matter. In the end, Nietzsche's assertions are validated by the text: the Dionysian phenomenon is conceptually the same as in his later work, and an understanding of this leads one to see Nietzsche's anti-Christian instinct at work throughout the book. As such, this thesis attempts to refute Kaufmann's claims, prove the validity Nietzsche's, and in doing so to explicate as complete an understanding of Nietzsche's controversial first book as possible.