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This review is taken from PN Review 142, Volume 28 Number 2, November - December 2001.

A DIONYSIAN JOKE FRIEDRICH NIETZCHE, Dithyrambs of Dionysus (Anvil Press) £7.95

In this bilingual edition, Nietzsche scholar R.J. Hollingdale translates, with an introduction and detailed notes, nine poems which Nietzsche wrote during the last five years of his working life, and was himself engaged in collecting for publication in the months leading up to his mental collapse at the beginning of 1889.

The quality of the translations, insofar as I am competent to judge, seems high. There are some elegant and resourceful touches, for example the coinage 'preflecting' for 'vordenklich' ('Last Will'); the repetition 'net to net all virtue' for 'das Fangnetz aller Tugend' ('Amid Birds of Prey'); and the conservation of a compound-rhyming pattern: 'it pays chatter of virtue / with clatter of fame' for 'zahlt sie Tugend-Geplapper / mit Rhum-Geklapper' ('Fame and Eternity').

Hollingdale's notes explain the poems in the context of Nietzsche's life and philosophical writings, Zarathustra particularly, in Part 4 of which, versions of three of the poems were included. It seems that Nietzsche had second thoughts about their belonging there, and that the poems had originally been composed independently - hence his plans for their separate publication. One's taste for Zarathustra may go some way towards determining one's attitude to the dithyrambs: the word 'dithyramb' means a song or hymn to the god Dionysus.

The question of the title (eventually) chosen and the decision to separate the poems from the corpus of the philosophy (when most of his other poems had been printed as appendices to the philosophical works) ...


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