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Dionysos in Thomas Mann's Death in Venice

Dionysos in Thomas Mann's Death in Venice

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Published by: Paul Sid Wren on Mar 03, 2012
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Journal of Analytical


1990, 35, 59-78

GARY ASTRACHAN, Portland, Maille THIS paper attempts to discuss what is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable epiphanies of a Greek god in twentieth-century art and literature: the powerful explosive appearance of the god Dionysos in Thomas Mann's novella, Death in Vet/ice. What continues to make this a vital and psychologically important manifestation of this god for our own time is not only the fact that this prophetically brilliant and jewellike piece ofliterature encapsulated the entire Romantic tradition which preceded its publication, while at the same time foreshadowing two world wars and the fate of Germany and Europe for the twentieth century, but even more significantly for our purposes, that it reveals in its manifold archetypal resonances, the eternal fate of the individual attempting to come to terms with both the ideal and demonic poles of human existence. Death in Venice is, in fact, the unsettling story of deeply disturbed Western culture, portrayed by the main protagonist, caught in its soul-rending conflict, torn between the opposites and consequently falling prey to the extreme poles of non-human or inhuman behaviour, brutality and the denigration of all values. What originally impressed me so much in my initial encounter with the novella, and what still continues to be the subterranean centre-piece of the story for depth psychology, is the dream of the novel's main character, a man named Gustav von Aschenbach. It is this dream, which shatteringly and finally emerges only seven pages before the story hurtles to its gruesome though inevitable finale, that provides us with the novella's climactic peripeteia. The conflict is exposed in the nightmare, and the horror laid bare. This deranging dream, as we shall see, is in its own way frighteningly apparent in its sense and symbolic foreshadowings and serves to make disturbingly manifest, in the archetypal images of classical mythology, what had been lurking and gathering strength throughout the entire preceding novella. The unsurpassingly artful and suspenseful way the scene is laid for this culminating dream experience, however, makes it necessary that we follow Mann's example, at least to a certain extent, in our own
0021-H774/90/01005Y+ 17 S02.oo/o



The Society of Analytical Psychology


C. D. Astrachan

interpretative work. That is, we must try to provide the essential context and situation into which the dream itself bursts forth from the depths of the unconscious. Let us, however, first satisfy our basic analytical psychological curiosity and quote the dream for the first time as it is recalled by the dreamer, a fifty-year-old man, a German, a writer, on holiday in plague-stricken Venice, and fatefully in love with a young boy:
The beginning was fear; fear and desire, with a shuddering curiosity. Night reigned, and his senses were on the alert; he heard loud, confusing noises from far away, clamour and hubbub. There was a rattling, a crashing, a low dull thunder; shrill halloos and a kind of howl with a long-drawn u-sound at the end. And with all these, dominating them all, flute notes of the cruellest sweetness, deep and cooing, keeping shamelessly on until the listener felt his very entrails bewitched. He heard a voice, naming though darkly, that which was to come: The stranger God!' A glow lighted up the surrounding mist and by it he recognized a mountain scene like that about his country home. From the wooded heights, from among the tree-trunks and crumbling moss-covered rocks. a troop came tumbling and raging down, a whirling rout of men and animals. and overflowed the hillside with flames and human forms, . with clamour and the reeling dance. The females stumbled over the long. hairy pelts that dangled from their girdles; with heads flung back they uttered loud hoarse cries and shook their tambourines high in the air; brandished naked daggers or torches vomiting trails of sparks. They shrieked, holding their breasts in both hands coiling snakes with quivering tongues they clutched about their naked waists. Horned and hairy males, girt about the loins with hides. drooped heads and lifted arms and thighs in unison, as they beat on brazen vessels that gave out droning thunder, or thumped madly on drums. There were troops of beardless youths armed with garlanded staves; these ran after goats and thrust their staves against the creatures' flanks, then clung to the plunging horns and let themselves be borne off with triumphant shouts. And one and all the mad rout yelled that cry, composed of soft consonants with a long-drawn u-sound at the end, so sweet and wild it was together, and like nothing ever heard before! It would ring through the air like the bellow of a challenging stag, and be given back many-tongued; or they would use it to goad each other on to dance with wild excess of tossing limbs - they never let it die. But the deep, beguiling notes of the flute wove in and out and over all. Beguiling too it was to him who struggled in the grip of these sights and sounds, shamelessly awaiting the coming feast and the uttermost surrender. He trembled, he shrank. his will was steadfast to preserve and uphold his own God against this stranger who was sworn enemy to dignity and self-control. But the mountain wall took up the noise and howling and gave it back manifold; it rose high, swelled to a madness that carried him away. His senses reeled in the steam of panting bodies. the acrid stench from the goats, the odour as of stagnant waters-and another, too familiar smell-of wounds, uncleanness and disease. His heart throbbed to the drums, his brain reeled, a blind rage seized him, a whirling lust, he craved with all his soul to join the ring that formed about the obscene symbol of the Godhead, which they were unveiling and elevating, monstrous and wooden, while from full throats they drove each other on with lewd gesturings and beckoning hands. They laughed, they howled. they thrust their pointed staves into each other's flesh and licked the blood as it ran down. But now the dreamer was in them and of them. the stranger God was his own. Yes, it was he who was flinging himself upon the animals. who bit and tore and swallowed smoking gobbets of flesh-while on the trampled moss there now began the rites in

taking a break from his work. he is an acknowledged master of form and prose style and his creative . it is just that brutally tearing aspect and psycho-physical annihilation which delineates the nature of the Dionysian experience as it has degenerated and become corrupted. Dionysos. in this case Gustav von Aschenbach. So now then. through the life of an individual. moral and mental degradation and disintegration of the ritual participant. as our cultural heritage and destiny. an orgy of promiscuous embraces-and the bestial degradation of his fall. Afterwards. powerless in the demon's grip' (Ibid. His entire life and creative writing work has been up until this point. tells incomparably. The story begins with the main character. to the plot and structure of Death in Venice itself.Dionysos in Death in Venice honour of the God. Dionysos. consecrated upon the altar of the god Apollo. And this powerful short novel. If the dream sounds familiar in many ways to those of you acquainted with the rites of this god. let us turn our attention to the actual story. 74-76). is the bloody twist and the ultimate physical. 76). in that event. Thomas Mann writes that the 'unhappy man woke from this dream shattered. taking an afternoon walk in his native city of Munich. (MANN 14. due to centuries of harsh repression-the systematic denial of his epiphany as brought about especially through the repressive codes and formulas of the Christian world-view. the final dissolution in the tragically fated life of this dreamer. 61 in his very soul he tasted This incredible dream experience spells out in the images of the savage ritual of the stranger god. That is. sickened and diseased for and by twentiethcentury man. unlike any other form of modern art. It is the harrowing harbinger of his own ultimate disintegration and death. titled since the age of fifty for his outstanding contributions to German literary culture. it is because the dream portrays in gripping and terrible images what we know from the more generous and leisurely contexts of Greek and Roman myth as 'the wild rout of God Dionysos' (ASTRACHAN2). we would hope to be in a position to see how the prediction is or is not borne out by the events of our own time. 14. pp. He is an ageing. What remains outstandingly different in this dream from the broad classically Greek canvas of the Dionysian entourage and ritual celebration painted throughout classical mythology and even up through the Renaissance and Romantic periods. p. unhinged. which consists mainly of formal German prose history and biography. And that fall from the good graces of this basically gladdening God occurs. so that we may unravel the profound diagnosis and the surgically accurate prognosis of the Dionysian experience that the tale reveals for the contemporary psyche. Gustav von Aschenbach. at least in part. As we shall see. vigorously diligent writer. how that happened to us.

melodies. This constant physical and mental austerity and conscientiousness has. and scenes. The effect is almost musical in the artful way the themes. made especially malevolent by his lips which seemed to curve back laying bare the long. all of which echo. . eminently suited to psychological literature since it devolves upon associations. all of which recur later in the novel in four separate later characters in detail. His entire unremitting effort has been both in his life and in his art. can be seen just at this point in the story. As the patterned leitmotif of the messenger of death himself. this character heralds the major dark theme of the tale as it unfolds. which become increasingly complicated and worked out on different levels. of his extremely tensed and overstrained mental state as of late. One example of this layering technique. this recurring series of spectral characters provides the inexorable rhythmical pulse of Aschenbach's paced journey towards death. as we see from early on in the tale. ramified. and tired lately from his straining intellectual exertions. there is no substitute for reading or re-reading this amazing little story. Because. foreshadow. and leitmotifs. The passion of this experience. white. he compares to a seizure. would not have had any especially unusual effect on Aschenbach. D. is distinctly exotic and foreign. in an ardent thirst for distant scenes. He is obviously not Bavarian and. has a prominent Adam's apple and a domineering and ruthless air. and unfold all through the tale into ever-reverberating meanings which get picked up. when Aschenbach turns away from the man's hostile gaze and finds himself totally immersed. almost an hallucination.G. images. _ are laid out. The man he glimpses for the first time is strikingly snub-nosed. He is immediately beset by a sudden desire to travel. In fact. already begun to take its toll and he has been feeling more overwrought. glistening teeth to the gums. he suddenly catches sight of a stranger standing in the doorway of a graveyard. however. For a full appreciation of Mann's masterly writing technique. even of an albeit peculiar stranger. overtaxed. This peculiar man reveals several particular features. suddenly and precipitously. What he sees and senses in his imagination is a teeming tropical landscape-a primeval wilderness world of marshes. and deepened as the story progresses. It would be impossible and probably unfruitful for me to relate at every point of the story how Mann has meticulously laid out small details. however. In ordinary circumstances this brief sight. in fact. this quick glance of a mildly frightening foreigner sets off in him an extraordinary and exotic fantasy. Astrachan wntmg work itself proceeds only through severely disciplined concentration and purifyingly hard daily labour. triggered by the stranger. to escape. While waiting for a tram to take him back home. bent towards attaining a classically formal style.

he encounters the next herald of his impending fate. Aschenbach has his first penetrating glimpse of the frightening and enticing world of the unconscious to which he will eventually succumb. and yet conceals in that green and living landscape the lurking terror of sexual and aggressive instinctual urges. The man. literature and film. The slow descent and immersion into the cauldron of his inner primitive archetypal drives is facilitated at each step of the way by one of these demonic guides to death. leopard and lynx (DETIENNE4. luxuriant foliage. OTTO 15). reminding . art. one often sees Dionysos recumbent upon a tiger surrounded by his triumphant retinue of followers. The primitive and archaic depths of his own collective psyche into which he now peers is rich in its overgrown. and sensual and dangerous delights. and so he heads for Venice.Dionysos in Death in Venice 63 channels. in a cavernous sooty cabin. beauty and splendour-and just as much with disease. on a street in central Munich. the gleaming eyes of a crouching tiger. the tarnished glittering European whore. The tiger. the inspiration of so much of western culture's creativity in music. an obsolete. And there below decks. is what culminates. lush thickets. Aschenbach must buy his ticket. the tiger. The first of these frightening emissaries we have met at the Byzantine mortuary chapel in Munich. of course. Thus. especially as lion. is one of the most common theriomorphic representations and symbols of the god Dionysos. Both Otto and Detienne provide interesting discussions of the combined sexual and aggressive implications found in the classical imagery of Dionysos as a beast of prey. decadence and death. Once the abyss has yawned wide in his inner world. drives and frenzied wishes for release. dingy hulk. On the boat to Venice. panther. hairy trunks. This hallucination of jungle. even to the recurrence of specific images and metaphors mingling in each case both sexual and aggressive impulses. thick steaming lush vegetation and deep in a thicket of bamboo. becomes an inevitable movement ever down and away into the bottomless recesses of his soul. nourishing and destructive. besides being portrayed in such a jungle landscape by Henri Rousseau in several of his famous tropical paintings done at the time of Mann's writing. Thus Aschenbach begins his descent into the teeming world of the unconscious which he has for so long denied. in the climactic dream. hairy palm trunks. Aschenbach's first sidelong look into that unknown realm within him. Aschenbach realises his need for a holiday: perhaps three or four weeks at one of the sunny playgrounds of the south would do. His rigid selfcontrol slowly begins to crumble and becomes undermined by his own suppressed yearnings. Especially in Hellenistic art. Venice: for centuries a soul journey within the European topos associated with creativity. He leaves Munich but his first stop at an Adriatic island does not really suit him.

has a beard like a goat's.. the waves . The goatee is also sported. Aschenbach notices that this grotesque old man's cheeks are rouged. it was a world possessed by Pan' (MANN 14. contour and features of the Dionysian satyr. acknowledging his longing for the dense underworld of passion so sorely absent from his earlier life. Aschenbach. though from a distance. p. as if he were one of them. D. Known for its licentious. with elaborate flourishing gestures and empty grandiloquent phrases of praise and charm for Venice. we can recognise that the features of satyr and goat and all of their associations are carried on most formidably in the image of the Devil or Satan. and underworldly connections. Mann himself comments again on the image of goats much later in the novel describing the sea 'like prancing goats. Upon continued inspection. His own impulses. now increasingly unrestrained begin to release associations of sexuality and death. is an ageing dandy. his brown hair a wig. Aschenbach sees the snub nose and prominent teeth. among a group of noisy youths where this obviously aged man is playing. 56). Returning to the strange man with the goatee. nocturnal. ithyphallic . Aschenbach picks him out on the boat. The . his moustache dyed and his yellow teeth a cheap false set. by Dionysos's fellow revellers. begin to assume frightening form. dismembered and eaten raw at his cult festivities. The next character in this ambiguous line. which Mann notes in passing. This uncanny perception creates a dream-like distortion of perspective for Aschenbach. and cavorting noisily with the group of young clerks. Astrachan him of an old-fashioned circus director. an obvious suggestion of the grinning skeleton. The next and penultimate apparition of a dissolute death for Aschenbach is the gondolier who takes him from Venice to the Lido where he is staying. Reverberating still from this one image of the strange man with a goatee. Again. made even more unforgettable by Visconti's lush film. and the . He puts it off to giddiness and a lack of sleep. The primary theriomorphic representation of Dionysos is also the goat. a goat was often sacrificed. the satyrs. and even more a yearning for the dissolution of his own conscious. The gliding gondola facilitates his fantasies of the many nocturnal amorous and murderous adventures carried out in them. . along with the devilish Adam's apple and colourless red-lashed eyes.C. jesting. and soon of death itself as the culmination of lawless sensuality. half-human. as if the world is somehow undergoing an unreal and weird transformation. half-animal beings. followers of the mad god. rational self (FEDER 7). themselves goat-like. gives in to the pleasant physical sensation of the gondola-and his soothing fantasies rock him towards his ultimate destination. the lascivious. he issues the ticket to Aschenbach. of course.. dressed foppishly and outrageously with a red tie and rakish Panama hat.

a foreigner. half comedian. Leering. And precisely because public news of this fatal epidemic would ruin the tourist trade. overbearing gondolier refuses to take Aschenbach where he expressly wishes to go and Aschenbach fears he is a criminal. let us look at this last. and the elderly coxcomb drunk on the deck. In his vigorous efforts at the oar. as he relaxes back in his seat. He is the last in the line of death's messengers for Aschenbach and this last one even gives off an unmistakable odour of disinfectant and disease. This gruff. rowing the soul of Aschenbach to its final resting place in Hades. Aschenbach wishes that the trip might last for ever. gilded coffin. his song becomes more than suggestive. is watching the evening's light entertainment at his hotel at the Lido. The man has an unpleasing brutish face. the scene for the entire drama. the goat-bearded man from the bowels of the ship. he feels that even ifhe were to be killed the gondolier has rowed him well. transporting him to the other world. First there is the image of the southern capital of decadence itself. are reinforced in a variety of ways. the whole dangerous affair is kept insidiously hushed up . Their leader is a Neapolitan jester. disease and death to which all of these five characters point Aschenbach. Nevertheless. it is actually offensive yet irresistibly funny. his reason tottering under the onslaught of a hopeless love for a young boy. and his facial structure as well as the blonde moustache under the short snub nose again show him to be of non-Italian stock. half bully. terrifying herald of his own demise. a quartet of strolling singers. and thoroughly entertaining. Venice. Aschenbach. snubnosed face. as well as of the tourists like himself. all of which also mirror Aschenbach's gradual decline and submergence into psychic chaos. The images of disintegration. with a blow from his oar may send him to Hades. This is the tapas. here pass into Aschenbach's experience of the gondolier as Charon himself.Dianysas in Death in Venice luxurious relaxing gondola itself becomes the final vehicle. red hair and a facial expression furrowed with vice and selfwill. unbridled. a pale. a black. his white teeth are bared to the gums. and wagging his tongue. It is in the same night that he has his dream. who. In the story it is beginning to take a heavy toll of the native population. He thus gives in to the uncontrollable forces directing his fate. Asiatic cholera. Jumping ahead in Aschenbach's dissolving world of idealised values. He has a prominent Adam's apple. blustering. winking. Then there is the concrete disease which Aschenbach slowly and horrifyingly learns is creeping over Venice while he is there-an actual plague. brutal. another variant of the promiscuous drunken satyr figure who beckons him towards a bestial realm of danger and instinctual permissiveness. beautiful and romantic yet rotting and corrupted at its very foundation. The malevolent stranger at the cemetery.

is identical to the transforming vision precipitated by . D. Thomas Mann. Aschenbach's hallucinatory image of the plague ravaging Venice. published in 1912. we have forgotten how to honour him. and a charged archetypal symbol. The disease. contagiously infecting all those in his path with ritual madnessDionysos. has found its way to Venice from a primeval exotic island jungle. The Magic Mountain. after all. The disease in our language. and the price of this neglect is his vengeful wrath. we find the powerful image of disease as both an actual medical fact. thus springs from the remote depths of the collective unconsciousthe same source whence is derived Aschenbach's total psychic disintegration-the lush green untrodden and unlived wilderness of his inner nature. repeatedly confronted with a world primarily in the grip of the demonic pole of human existence. chaos and conflagration which actually overcame Germany twice in one century. the Asiatic cholera. Dionysos. as a German through both world wars and was. to the syphilitically sick protagonist of Dr Faustus. among whose bamboo thickets the tiger crouches. Dionysos appeared to the Greeks like a strange and foreign . Astrachan and secret by the Venetian officials. He lived. So we can see how Death in Venice. was. as well as hypochondriacally concerned with his own health. returns as the long-repressed. obsessed in his own lifetime with the need to resolve the opposites. The cholera epidemic from Asia. the most prominent German artist to leave Nazi Germany as a response to Nazism well before the outbreak of World War II when he settled in Switzerland in 1933. unleashed energies of dissolution. perhaps. Clearly. forced into exile for 2000 years. as he imaginatively reconstructs it. symptoms. Throughout the writings of Thomas Mann we find this recurring and prominent image of disease to have decidely ambivalent aspects. Throughout his life. which occurs late in the novella. During his many wanderings away from his native country. He considered the twin diseases of power and ignorance to be the tempting altar on which humanity could immolate itself due to its own intrinsic self-destructive tendencies. And while in the life of Gustav von Aschenbach the disease becomes destructive. he considered his life and his art as upholding and representing the true ideals and values of German European culture in contrast to the stark brutality. is thus also assimilated to the god who came victorious from Asia with his raving retinue. Europe had been a prey for the dark forces of the unconscious. at the same time. for many of the characters in The Magic Mountain and Dr Faustus the disease serves a force eminently creative. From Death in Venice to the masterpiece of rumination on disease. and illnesses. takes up this notion of a destructive disease and turns it into a metaphor which he lays at the very doorstep of the Western psyche.66 C. _the uncanny stranger at the Munich mortuary at the very beginning of the story.

wherein he would rave that he was Dionysos. even with that first inspection in the easeful lounge of the hotel. As with the real character and figure of Friedrich Nietzsche. of the birth of form. infinite. 39). is himself the product of the finest and ennobling aspects of European culture and education. is named Tadziu. In these days spent at the Venetian hotel. Tadziu seen at the beach seems to 'emerge from the depths of sea and sky . as a primeval legend. and receding image of static perfection. 14. of apparently Polish descent. Tadziu comes to be for him the perfect representation of Apollonian harmony.Dionysos in Death in Venice epidemic which had the uncanny power of invading and overwhelming their values of rational sobriety. of the origin of the Gods' (Ibid. GUTHRIE8). and especially from Plato. and raw emotion. what. as we already know. Aschenbach's trancelike fantasies and thoughts begin to assume more and more a passionately inflated archetypal longing for an absolute. his aesthetic and romantic theories of the artist pursuing the spiritual ideal. Tadziu comes to epitomise for Aschenbach. p. 3I) he has been seeking his entire life. we now ask. in both body and soul. with the yellowish bloom of Parian marble' (Ibid. in fact later in the very same day he arrives and gets settled. Besides the actual concrete disease. temperance and modesty (DODDS 6. p. . 14. the old ageing writer. his head that of 'Eros. p. we see how Tadziu enables Aschenbach to relive and formulate all of his classical ideals of perfect form and harmony. the symbolic disease and irruption of the unconscious which leads so inexorably to his madness and death in the novel? What fascinating diseased perils of the unconscious lead him to his ultimate surrender to the forces of dissolution in psychic death? Shortly after Aschenbach's arrival at the Lido hotel. His thoughts and aesthetic and philosophical theorising are coloured by passages and adaptations from Homer. . Aschenbach. he catches sight of and becomes absolutely entranced by a beautiful long-haired boy who is about fourteen years old. 'the pure and God-like serenity' (Ibid. the Asiatic cholera to which Aschenbach finally succumbs. Increasingly. of Dionysos. whose last twelve years were spent in a psychotic and syphilitic delirium. is the psychological situation. ambiguity. He appears from the very first to Aschenbach as the embodiment of perfect beauty-his face recalling 'the noblest moment of Greek sculpture' (MANN 14. p. handed down from the beginning of time. 35). so too does Aschenbach fall from his exaggeratedly lofty and spiritually one-sided heights of Apollonian distance and detachment. to become the torn and dismembered victim. 56). 14. As the story continues and Aschenbach's fascination and ardour for this adored and beautiful young boy with the honey-coloured ringlets increases. overlaid with all the nostalgic and romanticised longings of a time nineteen centuries away from the actual . the god of formlessness. The boy.

Socrates's intellectual seduction of Phaedrus with a lofty discourse on beauty. precision and strong will characteristic of the artist. He has indeed returned to a narcissistic absorption and preoccupation with his own idealised fantasies. the essence of beauty. Slowly he begins to separate Tadziu. intellectual monologues he reconstructs passages from Plato's dialogues. p. since in Aschenbach's own diseased imagination. a smile from Tadziu elicits from Aschenbach the association of Narcissus smiling at his own loving reflection and only then Aschenbach finally admits to himself the sacred . sees Tadziu as the vehicle for all his elevated theories of art and the spiritual function of the artist. Tadziu's figure comes to represent for Aschenbach. 50). Tadziu becomes the image of Amor or Eros himself. delusions. convey.and ridiculous truth he is feeling: 'I love you!' The world for him thus mirrors only his own psychotic infatuation. and his own discipline. the Phaedrus and the Symposium. will and precision crumble in the face of his increasing erotic passion.68 C. as ideals and objectifying sublimations for his own concretely erotic passions and impulses. Emotionally intoxicated and intellectually deluded. Aschenbach now prolongs his stay in Venice indefinitely. In his interior. Finally. He is now enclosed. D. Astrachan Greek experience. Tadziu will be cut down in this first blush of his manhood by the plague. 14. . Tadziu takes on all the archetypal qualities and features of a myth for Aschenbach. and disguise his intense homo-erotic desires. but a submersion in and a possession by his passions. from what another whispering part of him knows is the frenzy of erotic drive at the source of creation. the single and pure perfection which resides in the mind' (Ibid. attraction and fantasies surrounding the boy. Thomas Mann allows us here an insight into a human psyche in the process of disintegration and slow reversion to its own archetypal roots and sources. as Hyacinthus is destroyed in the Greek myth. By the fourth week of his stay. In fact. cut off and lost in the inner reflections of his shattered psyche. dissociate. It is no longer a brief holiday for the busy working scholar. for example. the lover's way to the spirit as the rationale of his passion for Tadziu. even when Aschenbach himself abandons all attempts at creative writing while in Venice. the 'form as divine thought. and unrealisable longings. using. who in projecting and idealising his fiercely repressed homo-erotic drives. he makes Tadziu's beauty a model for a philosophical essay he is writing on the erotic as intrinsic to the creative impulse. We would be hard-pressed to find in the literature of any period a more accurate or harrowing description of a mind so brilliantly able to perceive its own gradual destruction. Aschenbach increasingly calls up classical and literary models to contain. and then he becomes the beautiful but doomed Hyacinthus. Aschenbach realises and records how completely he is in the . the discipline.

violently overcoming the profound resistance of his spirit. the absence of a dream ego. the dream ego. an exhaustive survey of the contemporary literature on dreams and dreaming. not being present in the dream. his longsuppressed urges and images of fear and desire rise now in an uncontrollable flow to the surface of his mind. dreams of the most regressed and disintegrated psychotic patients. records remarkably few instances of the dreamer. What we can observe even in this dream experience then. however. 'dream be the right word for a mental and physical experience which did indeed befall him in deep sleep. and the events burst in from outside. It is as if the self keeps dreaming us. and destroyed' (Ibid. Rather its theatre seemed to be his own soul. That is. he initially attempts to maintain distance. p. 74). In the by now extensive annals of dream research (ASTRACHAN it is "nearly impossible to find. The dissolution of his personality and the failure of his intellectual defences and sublimations against the flood of his instincts. the entwined impulses and mysteries of sexuality and death. that is. due here to its archaic force and its alienating and horrible primitivism. long-repressed and forbidden emotions. unreasoning hopes and visions of a monstrous sweetness' (Ibid. rather than leading as it so fruitfully can to renewal. shape or other in the dream. In this regard. only comes fully before his eyes in the dream. following Tadziu and his family around the city to catch a glimpse of his beloved. utterly and hopelessly lost. left the whole cultural structure of a life-time trampled on. As Aschenbach's dream progresses. even in the I). that great capital of art and pleasure. 14. he is not in the dream. p. overwhelms Aschenbach's defences and integrative capacities. the dreamer's own personality or identity is nearly always present in some form. as he says. outside and watching it. Venice. His intuition and experience of the erotic and sexual as the source of art. ravaged. as Mann writes. no matter how disturbed or chaotic we may be in the conscious life situation. yet without his seeing himself as present in it. he is distant from it. abbreviated recapitulation of his entire degeneration into the bestial impulses and behaviour of his increasingly full-blown psychosis.Dionysos in Death in Venice grip of his mania. mad. . passed him through and left him. if only split into an omniscient perceiving and an acting representation or image of the dreamer. Intoxicated with the forces of chaos and despair and 'giddy with fugitive. His tightly controlled Romantic ideals come crashing down into the mire under the onslaught of abhorred. 74). is the microcosmic. revelling in his monstrously sweet and perverse fantasies. 14. Fallen prey to the primeval sources of creativity. however. becomes the reeking and contaminated theatre for Aschenbach's unleashed erotic and aggressive drives. Even in the dream. 'If'. that night he has the fearful dream. At first. as a thing quite apart and real to his senses.

dominating them all. ROHDE 16. the Maenads. from among the tree-trunks and crumbling moss-covered rocks. flute-notes of the cruellest sweetness. a low dull thunder. There was a rattling. Astrachan we shall see that his ability to maintain distance from the horrible and bloody spectacle he witnesses. day residue as it were. OTTO 15. is destroyed also. 75).~. triumphal onslaught of ' the stranger God' and his impersonal retinue of collective impulses. 14. collapses completely. and his senses were on the alert. he hears the 'lad's' name. untrammelled nature. the women calling out his name with the exotic shrill syllables. a whirling rout of men and animals. the actual dream: The beginning was fear. Throughout his mythologem. the observer. with its softened consonants and long drawn u-sound. Dionysos remains the quintessential unknown factor. deep and cooing. the uncanny intruder. Bromios. come ringing and clanging through the centuries to pull and drown Aschenbach. SEGAL17)· From the wooded heights. are transplanted from beach and sea to woods and mountain wilderness. a troop came tumbling and raging down. here is a personal reference. with clamour and the . a crashing. a barbarian or foreigner. p. Night reigned. possess the beach like a rallying-cry. as Carl Kerenyi tells us this raving God was actually called in the most ancient Greek times (KERENYI13). though darkly that which was to come: The stranger God!' A glow lighted up the surrounding mist and by it he recognised a mountain scene like that about his country home (MANN 14. and overflowed the hillside with flames and human forms. and it is the last shred of familiar or individual identity in the dream before the . the 'roarer' (HARRISON10). The noise of Dionysos. confused noises from far away. naming. the strange visitor from the alien and uncivilised realms of pure. It is of course the name of the beautiful and beloved Tadziu and just before the dream. appearances and disappearances. fear and desire with a shuddering curiosity. Throughout the preceding novel. he heard loud. in his many comings and goings. the cadence had something sweet and wild: "Tadziu! Tadziu!" (Ibid. keeping shamelessly on until the listener felt his very entrails bewitched. The boy's foreignness. Aschenbach has had several occasions to rhapsodise on the long-drawn u-sound. clamour and hubbub. He heard a voice. 74). and with it. shrill halloos and a kind of howl with a long drawn u-sound at the end (MANN 14. Dionysou-Dionysou. into their call with their sweet persuasive urge to lose himself. D. 'the stranger God' par excellence (DODDS 5. Again. The dream continues: And with all these.70 C. p. the last vestiges of the individual personality of Gustav von Aschenbach. Once again. the cries of his attendant nurses. p. 39).

. rank . he shrank. the wooden phallus represented the fertilising. his brain reeled. his visionary hallucinatory fantasy precipitated by the stranger in Munich: 'a tropical marshland. naked roots . and be given back manytongued. swollen. his will was steadfast to preserve and uphold his own God against· this stranger who was sworn enemy to dignity and self-control. This is. They laughed. In many of his rites and celebrations.. the odour as of stagnant watersand another. or they would use it to goad each other on to dance with wild excess of tossing limbs-they never let it die. His senses reeled in the steam of panting bodies. the phallus carved out of fig-wood. We turn back to the women in the dream: with heads flung back they uttered loud hoarse cries and shook their tambourines high in air. even in the larger cities at a later stage of his worship. and while appearing shameful to some was venerated as sacred by most others (OTTO 15). then clung to the plunging horns and let themselves be borne off with triumphant shouts. a whirling lust. p. Homed and hairy males. 14. And one and all the mad rout yelled that cry. brandished naked daggers or torches vomiting trails of sparks. 71 over the long. . the acrid stench from the goats. Hairy palm-trunks . monstrous.. composed of soft consonants with a long-drawn u-sound at the end. 75-76). They shrieked. of course. so sweet and wild it was together. the primordial steaming fantasy made rank and completely wild by the cold northern imagination of repressed desire and distorted instinct. coiling snakes with quivering tongues they clutched about their naked waists. uncleanness. shamelessly awaiting the coming feast and the uttermost surrender. procreative and potent fluidity of the god. . His heart throbbed to the drums. crass vegetation.. He trembled. Plutarch and other of their contemporaries record. . as they beat on brazen vessels that gave out droning thunder. holding their breasts in both hands. which they were unveiling and elevating. and disease. swelled to a madness that carried him away. Beguiling too it was to him who struggled in the grip of these sights and sounds. while from full throats they drove each other on with lewd gesturings and beckoning hands.. he craved with all his soul to join the ring that formed about the obscene symbol of the Godhead. fat. beguiling notes of the flute wove in and out and over all. which was the centre-piece and symbol in the processions and festivities of Dionysos. thick . The dream continues: '.Dionysos in Death in Venice reeling dance. or thumped madly on drums. a reeking sky. as Heraclitus. 14. p. There were troops of beardless youths armed with garlanded staves. a blind rage seized him. The females stumbled their girdles (MANN 14. girt about the loins with hides. it rose high. But the deep. too familiar smell-of wounds. these ran after goats and thrust their staves against the creatures' flanks. monstrous and wooden (Ibid. 10). stagnant water' (Ibid. pp. drooped heads and lifted arms and thighs in unison. 75). hairy pelts that dangled from Here we can recall Aschenbach's very first and still mild intimation of these elemental erotic depths.. Thus we find already at the beginning of the novel. But the mountain wall took up the noise and howling and gave it back manifold. steaming. and like nothing ever heard before! It would ring through the air like the bellow of a challenging stag.

This dream. amorphous. first published in 1893 (ROHDE 16). the stranger god was his own. that the entire populace of ancient Athens allowed and acknowledged this deep level of their own humanity to be purged and . But now the dreamer was in them and of them. as well as giving numerous illuminating insights and interpretations of Death in Venice. a peeping Tom like Pentheus in the Bacchae. Feder. Yes. of course. or formless. The pride and personality of the intellectual artist. also lays bare the entire collective psyche and swirling abyss upon which Western civilisation has constructed its house. And here. p. it was he who was flinging himself upon the animals. which so beautifully captures so much of what was in fact the actual experiential content an imagery of early Dionysiac religion. p. when Nietzsche was a mere twenty-eight years old. D. artistic and social achievements of Western civilisation. 76).72 G. no matter how diluted those spiritual fluids have become over the past two or three millennia. is swallowed in the embrace of his own 'blind rage' and 'whirling lust' (Ibid. Dionysos Mainomenos. Falling. as Nietzsche revealed and Freud furthered in Civilization and its Discontents. 14. bloody rites. active supporters of what remains. Aschenbach's disintegration is complete-he has fallen into the bottomless pit. ritual and worship. his friend Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy. unable any longer to resist the demon call. rest upon the Dionysiac foundation of raw instinctual stirrings and they still draw from that source their living spirit. Astrachan they howled they thrust their pointed staves into each other's flesh and licked the blood as it ran down' (MANN 14. who bit and tore and swallowed smoking gobbets of flesh-while on the trampled moss there now began the rites in honour of the god. Aschenbach. once so scornful of all that was ambiguous. Rohde was also one of the very few original. an orgy of promiscuous embraces-and in his very soul he tasted the bestial degradation of his fall (Ibid. 76). the classical statement on the instinctual Dionysian at the base of Western civilisation. It is widely acknowledged that Mann borrowed heavily for this dream sequence from the account of the Thracian worship of Dionysos found in Rohde's Psyche. and it was at these celebrations of the 'mad god'. he merges with the melee of his innermost animalistic desires and terrors. the abyss he so loathed and rejected in his lifetime ends as his home in madness and disease. also provides an interesting account of Rohde's influence on Mann (FEDER7). It was from these same ancient erotic and even earlier. discards the last shred of his identity. that tragic drama evolved. The great cultural. p. that of a pathetic and tragic voyeur. This groundbreaking work influenced and still continues to influence all reflections on this topic since it was originally published in 1872. thrilling to the sexual and unbridled blood lust and violence he observes. 14. 76).

Aschenbach. the opposites lie in promiscuous eternal embrace: creation and destruction. And then he filmed his operatic fable on the incest. prefigures a once noble and lofty European culture dissolving into its own dark and degenerate shadow. his meditation on AschenbachNietzsche as . the great and rending cataclysms which were to befall and possess Europe twice in the twentieth century. naturally healthy. in his vengeful nihilistic aggression. in this. revealing in all three films the contamination of the Dionysian life principle as it is subverted by repressed desire. through his fall becomes the sacrificial victim. becomes the destroyer. homosexuality and total psychotic disintegration. represented for example in the proliferation of nuclear weapons. into paranoia. Tragic drama became the collective participatory religious ritual for an entire civilisation-to renew the roots of their own life in the communally experienced remembrance of their psychic heritage. polymorphously perverse and contradictory drives. and thus all the more powerful urges within himself. enthusiasmous and ekstasis. in shutting Dionysos out of his life. Pentheus and Orpheus for example. in feeling. denied. becomes released and backlashes in primitive. sexuality and death. There at the centre of the god.Dionysos in Death in Venice 73 relieved. rejuvenating. which are his . seeks his revenge through the dark side of his own godhead. grotesque and doomed. Aschenbach. leads insidiously to the coldly sadistic outbursts which characterised Mann's German homeland. the forests and seas. unbridled sexuality and bloodlust. (The Twilight of the Gods) and released in English as The Damned. Aschenbach. like Essenbeck in The Damned. the tale of the mad Bavarian king's descent from refined aesthetic distance and grandiose ideals. Dionysos Mainomenos. Aschenbach's lifelong denial and repression of his own instinctual bases. Dionysos. This brutal violation and distorted denial of both inner and outer nature which parades as collective culture continues forcefully into our own time where we are now faced with confronting the dark side of the 'mad god'. 'Lysios'. decadence and disease within both the German aristocracy and the Nazi rise to power. life-bringing and enhancing. falls prey to those same repressed. Mann thus foreshadows. that is. Zagreus. Like many other tragic figures. the detached observer. intoxication. It is interesting to note that Visconti followed up his cinematic version of Death in Venice with Ludwig. denied for so long. the 'render of men'. originally titled Die Gotterdammerung. once triggered by homo-erotic impulses. thus ritually re-experienced and renewed (OTTO 15).a representative of the tortured German spirit split off from its own dark side. and in the destruction of the wilderness. The god who is the 'liberator'. the 'great hunger'. especially in the atrocities of the Second World War. The harsh and disciplined repression of the Dionysian life instinct as it appears in Eros. perversion.

wanders out of the barber's delighted and dazed as if in a dream. seeing a young man in the mirror at the conclusion of this transforming treatment. primitiveness and inner chaos. Aschenbach's enantiodromia (HANNUM9) reveals the twin poles that the god Dionysos contains within his own image. We call for a new vessel with new rituals for this old wine. wandering through the plague-ridden streets of Venice. rouges his cheeks and turns his dry anaemic lips 'the colour of ripe strawberries' (MANN 14. and firm hold on reality is now all in ruins. it seems in order to ensure the survival of the human species against its perpetuation of new daily atrocities we must find a way to honour our own psychic wilderness. he dresses in bright ties. As a 'moral fable' of the individuation process (ZINKIN 18). handkerchiefs. and makes the eyes brilliant. as well as the splitting between the fraternal archetypes of Apollo and Dionysos that occurs with dissociation and regressive disintegration (JUNG 1I). The one. spending hours to array and finally present himself in the dining room. through the use of cosmetics. p. Coming now towards the end of our discussion of Death in Venice. the shadow of our inferior feeling (JUNG 12). the barber dyes Aschenbach's hair jet-black. Aschenbach. The result is grotesque. naturally belongs to him.. the talkative barber convinces him that he must restore his youth which. express or integrate the divinely raging Dionysiac core we all bear. Here cool rationality and civilisation have run their course. Finally. D. That . The modern ego of Christian moralism. sidedness that Jung saw in the prowling 'blonde beast' of the Aryan race which exploded in war twice during his lifetime. What we see here in this episode is a classical example of an attempt to restore the persona. and hopeless fear of being unable to please and appeal to Tadziu. alienated from its own powerdriven and sexual impulses.74 G. and tragically absurd. perverse. we note one more interesting variation on the myth ofDionysos which appears before the tragic finale of the story. Aschenbach frequently visits the hotel barber. the mask of the personality regressively and literally. he claims. Only the monstrous and perverse offers him any hope. owes its deathly force to just this dissociation from the chthonic roots at its source (JUNG 12). grey hair. Disgusted with his own ageing body. and now. The edifice of his personality. Shattered and dissociated beyond recall. 78). and follows him. perfumes and jewelry. his morality. does not appear to be an adequate vehicle to contain. The dream is the final precipitant of Aschenbach's descent into acute psychosis (ASTRACHAN I). In a scene which is wonderfully conveyed in Visconti's film version of the story. Astrachan home. applies make-up to his eyebrows arching them. Aschenbach spends the following days and nights shamelessly obsessed with Tadziu. curls it in waves. In his deluded wishes to please his fantasy lover.

this ghastly. is the victim. Through the presentation of a facade. a dress on. a formal farewell. whom he sees in his hallucinatory dissociation as a bull.Dionysos in Death in Venice 75 is. a stranger. heavily made-up man aboard the boat taking them both to Venice. the stranger god. a persona. finds one of its most archetypal expressions in the tragic drama most concerned and expressive of Dionysian rite and religion. Pentheus is led through the streets of his own kingdom of Thebes by Dionysos. They arrive finally at the woods where Pentheus. shaken out of a tree by the god-possessed women. stutters. 24). p. with the insistence of the God Dionysos disguised as an ordinary mortal. the Bacchae of Euripides. false teeth. brown wig. the grotesque old man repulses Aschenbach who watches him. including his own mother. in his arrogant pride. which we see in Aschenbach and in his unsettling predecessor. Pentheus dresses up as a woman in order the better to spy on the raving female followers of the God enacting their rites. literally the mask of a character in a tragic drama wherein he. fatuously shakes his old beringed finger and his tongue keeps 'seeking the corner of his mouth in a suggestive motion ugly to behold' (Ibid. This image of a grotesque. transsexual persona made up in the effort to hide or restore an actually dissolved masculine personality. Going there pruriently to witness their orgies. As a final parting shot. swaying. bright red tie. he babbles inanities to Aschenbach who escapes from the boat absolutely horrified. as if in a retrospective fun-house mirror. Aschenbach. The young-old man buttonholes anyone within reach. he pathetically attempts to repair the crumbled structure of his dedifferentiated self. and the other raving women of Thebes. consistently denied Dionysos. their orgia in the woods. drunk. pathetically disguised old man pays Aschenbach. his face besmirched with make up. Aschenbach makes one last effort. Pentheus. wateryeyed and barely able to stand upright. Pentheus ends up as the bloody victim of his own . became terribly drunk and loud in his efforts to cavort with the young men around him. There. is the scene earlier in the story where Aschenbach encounters the second messenger of his own tragic fate. As a prophetic image of the depths to which Aschenbach would himself despairingly sink. leers. the young and foolish King of Thebes who. giggles. Drooling. aunt. is then dismembered and devoured by them. With a wig askew on his head. What is also recapitulated in this bizarre event and grotesquely distorted. in the climactic penultimate scene. 14. rouged cheeks. Reduced to hallucinatory madness. and absurd Panama hat. in fact. is then compelled by the god to participate in his rites in their most violent and self-destructive form. There the pitiable old man with the dyed hair. blinking and gurgling. who must pass him to leave the boat. with the final dissolution of the inner true personality. the virtual bible of Dionysian religion. the old.

in the Museum of Greek Art. mid-winter. In the very beginnings of tragic drama in Greece. He stands in a glass cabinet in Berlin.G. that the destructive and murderous reprisals are avoided. drunkenness. if not part of their actual role. gently . a persona. has Tadziu etched in beauty against the infinite horizon. Erotic permissiveness and licentiousness. putting on a mask. Tadziu walks out into the shallow water. who meets Tadziu's eyes before his own close for ever as in deep slumber. has a long and venerable tradition (COOK. reaps the punishment of an elemental force of nature scorned and revengeful. Hermes the 'guide of souls'. raise his free arm and make a particular sign: his arm outstretched straight but relaxed from the shoulder.' to Aschenbach. p. looking out peacefully through all of time. has Aschenbach sitting at the beach. he pointed outward as he hovered on before into an immensity of richest expectations' (MANN 14. intoxicated and inspired acceptance of the god. DOLIN 3). That is. was quite definitely an essential part of the Dionysian rituals and satyr plays which came both before and after the tragic drama centrepiece. In thousands of images of Greek and Roman gods. We find then. from about the 7th to the yth centuries B. its lysis. D. like Pentheus. his hand palm down. the other gesturing of infinity-a small bronze state of Hermes Psychopompos. that this notion of dressing up. turns back to gaze towards Aschenbach. was an integral part of the Dionysian ritual-as it still is in carnival. the director. integrate or assimilate the God's good and positive graces and gifts: pleasure. Aschenbach. with the thumb and first finger joined to form a circle. as though with the hand he lifted from his hip. ancient and modern. in his chair. C. one hand on his hip. the watcher. watching Tadziu play and then walk from his young friends.. Visconti. Astrachan lascivious desires. Fastnacht. the raving god himself. As doubles of Dionysos. 83). and masquerading as the opposite sex. his last bit of strength ebbing away. 'the pale and lovely summoner out there smiled at him and beckoned. his hunted sacrificial victims suffer either physical dismemberment or irremediable psychic tearing and disintegration. of course. mardi gras. outlined against the immensity of sea and sky. the summoner. exquisitely. all the actors were. the Dionysian celebrations par excellence that occur at the same time as they always have throughout the world. Mann writes 'It seemed. men and transvestism. and shifting and temporarily changing sexual identity. drunken. through an inability to accept. The last scene of the novel. it is through the erotic. fundamentally loosened. In this excruciatingly prolonged final scene in the cinematic version of this tale. and then once more with his hand on his hip. sexuality and intoxicated release. the final loosening of the knot. there seems to be only one who makes that particular oriental-like gesture.

8. 10. -(1951). -(1918). HARRISON.D. Methuen (1968). London. Princeton. . Gustav von Aschenbach. Oxford. HANNUM. New York University. Dionysos. to its eternal home. Dionysos Slain. R. D. SUMMARY 77 and Dionysos. prophetically illustrates the Dionysian impulse as it appears in our lives. Psychological Types. II. 6. The Greeks and Their Gods. 4. University of California Press. G. G. (Eds. an awareness of the need for new rituals and new vessels to honour and contain the god. Perspectives. KERENYI. K. 6. FEDER. Through the novella's main protagonist. An Anthology of Greek Tragedy. E. Dallas. Thomas Mann. (1974).f?Y· Cambridge. Dionysos: archetypal image of indestructible life. JUNG. Princeton University Press. -(1983). c. 5. 'Archetypal echoes in Mann's Death in Venice'. C. H. (1921). 3. Psych. I. G. 5. DETIENNE. the 'loosener'. 13. Wks. (1978). Prolegomena to the study of Greek mytho[o. Oxford University Press (1960). ASTRACHAN. Indiana University Press (1979). W. Lectures on 'Dionysos' given at the C. DODDS. Bloomington. in his brilliant novella Death in Venice. (1977). 'The structure of dreams in schizophrenia'.Ph. 10. dissertation. (1922). GUTHRIE. Coli. Coli.). (1950). (1980). Cambridge University Press. Jung Institute. 'The role of the unconscious'. This naturally liberating god has been forced through centuries of harsh repression to seek release through the darker sides of human nature. Berkeley.Dionysos in Death in Venice accompanying and leading the soul of Gustav von Aschenbach. in order to avert his horrors and ensure his blessings. 7. written around 1912. E. Princeton University Press. REFERENCES I. Spring Publications. Introduction and commentary. Euripides' Bacchae. (1976).) (1944). Wks.J. (awaiting publication). (1972). . we witness the gradual disintegration of an individual soul caught in the twentieth century man. E. G. eventually all of us. (Ed. has become corrupted and deceased for our time. A.. 9. L. Zurich. 12. COOK. DOLIN. Princeton. . C. M. The Greeks and the Irrational. 2. Madness in Literature. the enlivening and invigorating god of classical Greek culture.

MANN. OTTO.G. 16. E. 22. C. Psyche. 15. T. Dionysian poetics and Euripides' Baahae. (1925). Tubner. (1977).. Astrachan 14. 17. 18. Kegan Paul. (1933). D. Analyt.' Death in Venice. Princeton University Press. Harrnondsworth. (1912). W. . Trench. Penguin (1977). J. 'Death in Venice-a Jungian view'. Indiana University Press (1965). London. L. ROHDE. (1982). Princeton. Dionysos: myth and cult. 4. (1983). SEGAL. ZINKIN. F. Psychol. Bloomington.

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