The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche’s first book, was published in 1872, when he was 28 years old and a professor of classical philology at Basel. The book had its defenders but, in general, provoked a hostile reception in the academic community and affected Nietzsche’s academic career for the worse. The work has exerted a very important influence on the history of Western thought, particularly on the interpretations of Greek culture. It is also a vital introduction to the work of the most provocative philosopher of modern times.
The following excerpt is taken from Chapter 15:
Almost every era and cultural stage has at some point sought in an profoundly ill-tempered frame of mind to free itself of the Greeks, because in comparison with the Greeks, all their own achievements, apparently fully original and admired in all sincerity, suddenly appeared to lose their color and life and shrivelled to unsuccessful copies, in fact, to caricatures. And so a heartfelt inner anger always keeps breaking out again against that arrogant little nation which dared to designate for all time everything that was not produced in its own country as “barbaric.” Who were those Greeks, people asked themselves, who, although they had achieved only an ephemeral historical glitter, only ridiculously restricted institutions, only an ambiguous competence in morality, who could even be identified with hateful vices, yet who had nevertheless laid a claim to a dignity and a pre-eminent place among peoples, appropriate to a genius among the masses? Unfortunately people were not lucky enough to find the cup of hemlock which could easily do away with such a being, for all the poisons which envy, slander, and inner rage created were insufficient to destroy that self-satisfied magnificence. Hence, confronted by the Greeks, people have been ashamed and afraid, unless an individual values the truth above everything else and dares to propose this truth: the notion that the Greeks, as the charioteers of our culture and every other one, hold the reins, but that almost always the wagon and horses are inferior material and do not match the glory of their drivers, who then consider it amusing to whip such a team into the abyss, over which they themselves jump with the leap of Achilles.