Apollo Vs Dionysus? The Secret Power Artists & Engineers Are Ignoring
How To Empower Yourself With Emotion & Rationality
You’ve heard of the Greek god Apollo. You know he’s the son of Zeus. But you’re probably not as familiar with Zeus’s forgotten son – Dionysus. Apollo’s brother.
Apollo is the god of music, truth, prophecy, and light. He is associated with order, control and rationality. Dionysus is the god of wine, ritual madness, and ecstasy. He is associated with chaos, emotions, and spontaneity. As gods we know them as Apollo and Dionysus. As abstract ideas we know them as Apollonian and Dionysian. They’re simplified as reason vs emotion.
To explore the relationship between the Apollonian and Dionysian let’s venture back in time to the summer of 1969. The moon landing, coincidently but appropriately named Apollo 11, is a celebration of the rational, the apollonian. Woodstock is celebrated as hippies revolt against the establishment, a drug fuelled party, the dionysian. As Ayn Rand wrote, “The issue in this case is the alleged dichotomy of reason versus emotion.”
The Apollo moon landing is indeed an incredible feat of humanity. The best rational minds worked together to conquer nature. But to view this event as only apollonian is a mistake. Why? You know what fuelled the space race. A cold war. An existential threat. The dionysian.
Woodstock has a parallel side. It was a festival of drug-fueled, sex-crazed hippies. They claimed individuality while wearing the same ugly garments as the other 299,999 attendees. They claimed they reached higher state of reality, but in really they were just high. Yet Woodstock is embedded in America’s folklore. It’s revered. Even respected. Why? Remember how Apollo is the god of music? Music may evoke emotion, but it is built on rational effort and understanding. And Woodstock was the greatest gathering of musicians. Janis Joplin. Jefferson Airplane. Jimi Hendrix.
Many people identify as rational or emotional and forget the other. They focus on what they’re good at and ignore the other. Computer programmers dress in jeans, a hoodie, and Cheeto stained T-shirt. Artists in Gucci jackets gleefully brag that they don’t know how to send an invoice. We think we’re one or the other.
Elon Musk is the Founder and CEO of SpaceX whose mission is to populate Mars. Why isn’t NASA populating Mars? Well, since the cold war ended, funding nosedived like a failed rocket launch. Once the emotional fuel of the nuclear threat cooled, so did the Space Race.
Musk is an engineer’s engineer. He is hyper-rational. Apollo’s apollonian. Yet he didn’t start SpaceX out for the thrill of solving technical challenges or making billions (you start rocket companies to lose billions not make them). Sure, his rationalist side wanted to populate Mars to ensure humanity’s survival. But he also thought venturing to Mars would make life more exciting – a dionysian motivation.
Now consider Jimmi Hendrix. At Woodstock he did a now infamous improvised version of the Star Spangled Banner. It was beautiful. Pure emotion. Dionysian. But the dionysian view ignores the decade he spend practicing 9 hours a day – the apollonian.
Whether at a society level or individually, it is not only our emotional or rational self we must use to succeed, but both. Our emotional desires fuel our rational goals. And inversely, our intellect gives direction to our passion.
It is not the Apollo versus his brother Dionysus. It is the brothers working together.