Thursday, June 15, 2017

Becoming Dionysus: October 1888 - January 1889

“On his 44th birthday (the 15th October) he wrote the short passage ’An diesem vollkommnen Tage’ which he placed between the Forward and the first chapter of Ecce Homo and which is in its exalted cheerfulness the most pathetic in his works: 

‘”On this perfect day, when everything has become ripe and not only the grapes are growing brown, a ray of sunlight has fallen on to my life: I looked behind me, I looked before me, and never have I seen so many and such good things together.  Not in vain have I buried my forty-fourth year today, I was entitled to bury it – what there was of life in it is rescued, is immortal.’” (Hollingdale, page 194)

Without question, while there are flashes of brilliance, the major works of 1888 are collectively of a different taste than his writings up through the Genealogy. One great controversy about Nietzsche pertains to exactly when his mental capacities were affected by his approaching insanity.  Was it a completely sudden occurrence?  Was it there all along throughout 1888 and did all his later works bear witness to an increasingly unstable mind?

Certainly Ecce Homo contains sections which exhibit megalomania as we have touched on previously. One can safely say that the first clear manifestation of his mental instability was his elevated view of himself that emerged throughout 1888 but particularly in the last few weeks of the year.

“At the same time the tendency to megalomania, flashes of which, recall, go back to the Zarathustra period, becomes more and more pronounced.  The theme that his work will explode the history of the world into two halves since he is 'more dynamite than man' becomes more and more strident, as does the claim that he is the 'first man' of 'the century'...

“Of course, the more megalomania took over, the weaker became his grasp of reality.  The tentative contacts with Brandes had made on his behalf with, save for Strindberg, quite average people – people, moreover, who were generally interested in, but hardly converts to, his philosophy – were transformed into 'a discipleship' composed solely of 'the most elevated natures: of exclusively high-placed and influential people in St. Petersburg, in Paris, in Stockholm, in Vienna, in New York'. In his mind he had become 'incredibly famous', a superstar: 'there is no name that is treated with such reverence as mine'.” (Young, page 526)

“He achieved an extraordinary measure of physical self-mastery, in contemporary and later medical views.  A strong physis, carefully nurturing with food and exercise, resisted the onset of general paralysis and made his case of syphilis bewilderingly atypical. That he had an unusual body perhaps explains why he lost neither concentration nor artistic feeling almost until the end.  Into December he was revising Ecce Homo, the transcript traveling back and forth between him and Naumann the printer, and he was also assembling Nietzsche contra Wagner.

“The handwriting slipped before the mental grip. Already in June, because of his trembling, the manuscript of The Wagner Case was illegible, with the Latin characters indistinguishable from Greek.” (Chamberlain, page 204)

“Nietzsche seems to have been aware of the encroaching madness but, to avoid the pathos of an acknowledged struggle, would not state it directly. He wore the operetta mask, telling Koselitz: 'You'll also find in my cheerful and wicked 'present state' perhaps more inspiration for 'operetta' than anywhere else: I enjoy so many silly jokes with myself and leave so many clownish private insights that now and again I'm grinning for half an hour in the street, I know no other word for it...'

“Another attack of uncontrollable grimacing and weeping happened at a concert of 2 December.  As he insisted, the outburst could be interpreted as extreme joy in the program of Beethoven, Liszt and Goldmark...”(page 205)

“In his room at least he was safe.  He enjoyed the idea of it as a temple as he had before in Nice.  That he did for once envision it as a temple and not the usual 'cave' augured well for his spirits.  He felt exalted.  On one occasion, while he was working, the jolly melodies of The Barber of Seville wafted gloriously up from the weekly concert in the Galleria Subalpina.  He signed himself 'phoenix'.  He extemporized for hours at the piano.  Out buying fruit, he engaged in cheery conversation with the proverbially unforthcoming citizens of Turin.” (page 206) 

“The first time the Finos noticed that all was not well with their tenant...was the beginning of December, 1888. Nietzsche asked them to remove all the hangings from the walls of his room since he was expecting a visit from the king and queen of Italy, and the room needed to look like a temple to receive them.” (Young, page 528)

“The megalomania...took him increasingly into the realm of political fantasy....On December 31 he writes Strindberg that he has ordered a public holiday to celebrate the execution of the young Emperor, signing the letter 'Nietzsche Caesar'.  Strindberg, who himself only narrowly escaped confinement in a psychiatric institution, replied that 'It sometimes helps to be mad.'

“By January 3 victory has been achieved and world peace established: 'Do you not see how the heavens rejoice?' he writes Meta von Salis.  'I have entered into possession of my realm. I am throwing the Pope in jail and having Wilhelm [the Emperor], Bismarck and Stoecker [the anti-Semite] shot'.  The following day (his own kind of 'final solution') he is 'just now having all anti-Semites shot'.

“All this is, of course, madness.  Yet there is method in it, a vein of fragmented sanity that runs back to the best of his writings.  There remains, first of all, a vein of political sanity, generated by his experience of the Franco-Prussian battlefields.  His remarks in the closing pages of the notebooks on the 'madness' of the dynastic squabbles which 'place the flower of youth and energy and power in the cannon's mouth', and on the madness of spending twelve billion marks a year on preserving the 'armed peace' of the Triple Alliance, a peace which is no peace at all but merely a recipe for a future war, are models of sanity.” (page 529)

“On December 31 he wrote Koselitz that he could no longer remember his street address, but added, 'Let's assume it's the Palazzo del Qurinale' (the residence, in Rome, of the King of Italy).  Many letters were signed 'The Crucified', and even more 'Dionysus'.  (One link between Jesus and Dionysus is that both overcame death.  Both were killed – Dionysus was torn to pieces by the Titans – and were then resurrected to eternal life.)

“As 1888 turned into 1889, then, Nietzsche in a confused way, 'becomes' the god Dionysus.  And with this new identity comes the intensification of the mood of holy joy that he has inhabited since his arrival in Turin at the end of September.  'Sing me a new song: the world is transfigured and all the heavens rejoice', he commands Koselitz, reverting to the New Testament language of his upbringing.” (page 530)

“As he was leaving his lodgings on the morning of the 3rd January 1889 Nietzsche saw a cabman beating his horse at the cab rank in the Piazza Carlo Alberto. With a cry he flung himself across the square and threw his arms about the animal's neck.  Then he lost consciousness and slid to the ground, still clasping the tormented horse.  A crowd gathered, and his landlord, attracted to the scene, recognized his lodger and had him carried back to his room. For a long time he lay unconscious. When he awoke he was no longer himself: at first he sang and shouted and thumped on the piano, so that the landlord, who had already called a doctor, threatened to call a policeman too; then he quieted down, and began writing the famous series of epistles to the courts of Europe and to his friends announcing his arrival as Dionysus and the Crucified.” (Hollingdale, page 237)

Julian Young believes Nietzsche's famous horse hug is more myth than fact.  Regardless, the “doctor” to which Hollingdale previously refers was a psychiatrist. Nietzsche refused to see the shrink, but was fooled by the Finos into thinking the doctor was just a friend of the family. Nietzsche was given bromide to tranquilize him.

“Meanwhile, in Basel, Burckhardt, much perturbed by the 'I'd rather be a Basel professor than God' letter, visited Overbeck on January 6.  The latter, who had been worried about Nietzsche's mental condition for several weeks, consulted with his colleague Ludwig Wille, professor of psychiatry at the university and director of the local psychiatric clinic.  The latter advised him to bring Nietzsche back to Basel immediately, lest he find himself incarcerated in some dubious Italian institution.  

“On the afternoon of January 7, Overbeck arrived at Nietzsche's lodgings, to the great relief of Davide Fino, who, soft-hearted but desperate, had been on the point of calling the police.  Overbeck found his old friend, a shadow of his former self, sitting in the corner of a sofa,” (Young, page 532)

Richard Schain quotes a letter by Overbeck at length: “'I saw Nietzsche in a sofa corner, crouched down and reading – as it turned out, the last proof reading of N. contra Wagner – he looked horribly decrepit; recognizing me, he threw himself upon me and embraced me strongly, breaking into a torrent of tears, then sinking back into the sofa.  I too could hardly stand upright from the shock.  Had he at this moment recognized the abyss opening in front of him or in which he was actually plunged?  In any case, the moment did not return.  The whole Fino family was present. Scarcely had he started moaning an quivering again when he was given some bromine water that stood on the table. In a moment, he was calm again and smiling, he began to speak of a great reception that was preparing for the evening.  So he was in the grip of delusional ideas which never left while I was with him.  He broke forth in loud singing and frenzied piano playing, fragments out of the mental world in which he had been recently living and interspersed and indescribably uttered expressions, sublime, wonderfully insightful and unspeakably horrible things about himself as the successor to a dead God, all punctuated by chords from the piano after which convulsions and outbursts of unspeakable suffering followed – yet as I said, these occurred for only brief moments when I was there; in general, they were outweighed by the profession of his vocation to be the comic character of the new eternity, although he, the incomparable master of expression, was incapable of expressing the rapture of his happiness other than trivial expressions or comical dancing and jumping.  At the same time, the childish inoffensiveness never left him even during the three nights during which his outbursts kept the whole house awake.'

“It appears that Nietzsche danced naked, evoking the antique conception of holy sexual frenzies.  Overbeck might not have read The Gay Science, or if he had, he might have forgotten s. 381 where Nietzsche says, 'I don't know what the spirit of the philosopher would wish for more than to be a good dancer.  The dance is really his ideal, also his art, and in the end, his unique piety, his 'service to God.'” (Schain, pp. 44-45)

“On January 11, 1889, Franz Overbeck informed Nietzsche's only other remaining human contact, Heinrich Koselitz, that the previous day he had delivered Nietzsche, 'or more exactly the rubble of what only a friend would recognize as him, to the psychiatric clinic [in Basel].  He suffers from delusions of infinite grandeur, but also from much else - it's hopeless.  I have never seen such a horrific picture of destruction.' He delivered him to the care of Dr. Ludwig Wille...” (Young, page 550)

“In this crisis Overbeck was aided by the German consul, who recommended a German dentist named Bettmann, well known for his talent in calming hysterical patients. Bettmann, who turned out to be Jewish - as though Fate or Fortune had intervened to help the vehemently anti-antisemitic Nietzsche in this moment of distress – lived up to his reputation.  While Overbeck spent a hectic Wednesday morning cramming many of his friend's manuscripts, letters and notebooks into several trunks, Nietzsche obstinately refused to leave his bed.  But when Bettmann told him that he had to get up to take part in the festivities that were being prepared in Torino, Nietzsche, as docile as a child, obeyed him and got dressed.  There was a tearful farewell with Davide Fino, to whom Nietzsche he become most attached, but also a comic moment when the departing tenant insisted on 'borrowing' his landlord's paplina - the Italian word for 'nightcap' probably suggesting something ludicrously 'papal'.

“There was further trouble at the Turin railway station, where Nietzsche wanted to embrace every passer-by. Bettmann again rose to the occasion, pointing out that such behavior was unseemly on the part of a grand seigneur.  As the train pulled out of the station, the now totally uninhibited professor broke into a Venetian gondoliers' song.  During the all-night trip to Basel Overbeck and Bettmann kept feeding Nietzsche sedatives to calm him. Here again the astute dentist proved his extraordinary competence by explaining to need for this nerve-racking trip: a festive crowd had gathered in Basel to offer the 'returning hero' a triumphant welcome.” (Cate, page 553)    

“Nietzsche's little party was greeted by Dr. Wille at the entry area of Friematt, the mental institution directed by Dr. Wille.  Overbeck thought that Nietzsche had no idea where he was and was fearful what might happen when Nietzsche learned the truth of his circumstances.  However, Nietzsche in his most urbane manner approached Wille directly saying he knew he had seen him before  but could not recollect his name.  'I am Wille' was the response.  In the calmest of tones, Nietzsche responded, 'Wille?  You are an asylum doctor.  I had a conversation with you some years ago about religious delusions.  The occasion was an insane person, Adolf Vischer who lived here or in Basel at the time.'  Wille listened silently and nodded in agreement. Overbeck was amazed at Nietzsche's detailed recollection of events occurring seven years ago but also his complete denial that he himself was now a patient of the Irrenarzt. It was another example, as Overbeck himself put it, 'of the annihilating split in his personality.'” (Schain, page 49)

“Nietzsche's eight days in Friedmatt were characterized by alternating manic excitement and sleeping as a consequence of sulfonal administration. At times he would converse quite normally but then lapse into confused delusional thoughts or singing and joking.  According to a later communication by Wille to Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche, there was considerable erotic ideation in his flight of ideas.  He continued to express a euphoric state of mind in which he felt strong, healthy, lucky, and capable of anything.  It was noted that he would be calm while he was confined to his bed, but upon rising, the wild excitement would return.  However, on balance, it was thought that the manic behavior was gradually decreasing during his stay at Friedmatt." (Schain, page 50)

“On the 14th Nietzsche's mother visited him.  He recognized her conducted a perfectly rational conversation about family matters until he suddenly cried: 'Behond in me the tyrant of Turin!. And the interview had to be cut short.” (Hollingdale, page 239)

“Nietzsche's mother wanted to take her son home to Naumburg.  She was convinced that under her ministrations, he could become well again.  However, Wille believed this to be inadvisable and would not agree to discharge Nietzsche to his mother's care. Finally, a compromise was worked out; Nietzsche would be transferred to the state psychiatric institution at Jena, which was only a short distance from Naumburg.” (Schain, pp. 50 – 51)

“On January 17, he left Basel in the company of his mother, an attendant from the Basel institution, and a young doctor named Ernst Mahly who had been a former student of Nietzsche's.  He is described as leaving the institution at night, 'closely flanked by both escorts, silent, his face like a mask, and in an unnaturally stiff posture, Nietzsche climbed into the train.'  He was quiet during the first part of the trip, eating rolls his mother provided and reading newspapers with interest.  However, shortly before arriving in Frankfurt where a change of trains was required, Nietzsche fell into a rage, apparently directed at his mother.  It was necessary for her to complete the trip in another compartment.” (page 51) 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

"Dionysus Comes To The River Po"

Note: The following excerpts are taken from Chapter 10 of Leslie Chamberlain's Nietzsche in Turin, which I have referenced before.  In this chapter, Chamberlain addresses the onset of Nietzsche's madness and specifically his Dionysus Dithyrambs - the final poems of his life. It affords us a glimpse into the intimate state of Nietzsche's mental decline with appropriate emphasis upon the neurotic obsession for all things associated with Richard Wagner that haunted Nietzsche's final semi-lucid days. It also serves to illuminate Nietzsche's (self-denied) mediocrity as a poet, his intensely felt isolation, his personal affinity (elevated valuation) for ancient Greek culture, and is additionally a reflection of Nietzsche's continuing undercurrent of eroticism.

"Nietzsche's art, which had become the art of life, fought a tremendous battle with sickness.  He was like the outcast Trojan priest Laocoon, resisting the punishing sea serpents to the last breath.  Thinking of the meaning of that classical statue, depicting terror and resignation, Nietzsche considered Laocoon's fate showed the Apollonian forces yielding to Dionysus. The statue could have worn his face. No wonder he called it pathetic.  His mental health late in 1888 was giving way; he was sinking into some putative collective unconscious.  His last resistance was to use his Apollonian gift to depict the chaotic material of an individual life ending.

"The terrifying mythical figure known as Dionysus Zagreus specifically betokened disintegration. Nietzsche gave Zagreus form, so that he could to the last see his fate beyond himself.  He went out to meet that fate as if he finally met his Platonic other half, ideally loved.  This was his last demonstration of amor fati, to shape his final destiny in the mould of the Orphic god who was destroyed and reborn.

"It was a last artistic interpretation of himself, and we understand from it the limits of his artistic impulse, that a sense of 'not-self' was hard won.  He wrote even as a young man that other people were as shadows in his Platonic cave.  He alone was real.  Artistic interpretation was the only way he could conceive of an 'other', a not-I.  Thus a Turin Zagreus was born." (page 182)

"Ecce Homo was a self-portrait in this tragic vein.  Yet it still had the limitations of a literary work.  Using mostly the colors of the contemporary world, Nietzsche framed his autopicture with such philosophy and politics as furnished his unique self-justifications a cultural revolutionary.  He began that process of turning himself into a modern myth, which proceeded apace after his death.  If the myth which then took shape was more violent, less subtle, and ignorant of his religious sensibility, the fault was partly Nietzsche's. Having associated 'the pictorial man' with fanaticism, he denied in Ecce Homo that he was a fanatic, though nothing was more true of his mode of operation in the last days. With pictures of himself as a warrior, an iconoclast and an inexhaustible ego he chased an image and won an idolatrous following. These were his projections in life and he needed to sustain his self-belief.

"But he needed pictures of a different order to depict his life's conclusion.  His greatest moment, sinking into eternal night, was going to be his Dionysian answer to Socrates' irony.  The truly Dionysian pictures abound in the poetry. There the symbolic images are still autobiographical, but removed from historical time. They portray Nietzsche's emotional relationships and his will to Greek religion.  They embody the history of a soul never fully unveiled to us. Nietzsche, like an imagined category of women he despised, was coy. The poems contain riddles to which willfully he never supplied the key.

"'Dionysus Zagreus come to the River Po', however, which Nietzsche set down on a few sheets of grey-edged Turin paper around Christmas, was a picture in prose, and all too clear.  It showed Dionysus wandering amongst a valedictory assembly of friends and family.  It could have been Nietzsche's parting arrow shot into posterity, a scene echoing Odysseus's descent to the Underworld, and one which might have been painted by Claude.  Only to this creation Elisabeth threw away the lock and the door as well as the key.  She took exception to Dionysus's view of the family and, pretending the deed was done by her mother, destroyed those sheets of handmade paper. It was another demonstration of family willfulness, manifesting itself differently in brother and sister." (page 185)

"Elisabeth wrote: 'At this period [surmised to be the last days on 1888] ...he covered some sheets of paper with the wildest fantasies, mingling the legend of Dionysus Zagreus with the story of the Passion and with the history of people whom he knew.  The god, torn to pieces by his enemies, rises again and walks along the banks of the Po, seeing all that he has ever loved, his ideals, the ideals of the present age, far beneath them.  His nearest and dearest have become enemies, who have torn him to pieces.  These sheets of paper, which were addressed to my husband in Paraguay, and to our mother, contain attacks on Wagner, Schopenhauer, Bismarck, the Emperor, Professor Overbeck, Peter Gast, Frau Cosima Wagner, my husband, my mother and myself.  He signed all his letters at the time 'Dionysus' or 'The Crucified One'." (page 186)

"In Ecce Homo Nietzsche has witnessed his death and invented his ancestors; in Turin recently he has seen his own funeral.  There is nothing to stop him being present at his own conception, growing up rapidly and now wandering the banks of the Po.  This jungle of imagery from picture book to picture book is I think just a prelude to understanding Nietzsche's rabid Dionysian imagination in the last six years of his life.

"The fertility of that jungle affected Nietzsche's general view of his style.  He believed he was the master in verbal expression of a myriad of inner states and moods and tensions, for which he had found signs and gestures.  He referred to his exemplary style in 'The Seven Seals', 'Every style is good which actually communicates an inner state, which makes no mistake as to the signs, the tempo of the signs, the gestures - all rules of phrasing are an art of gesture.  My instinct here is infallible.'  We do not have to accept the claim to find its valuable testimony.  The wording is musical and closely resembles what Nietzsche had praised in Wagner. 'Dionysus comes to the river Po' may have some musical quality in the words and the general conception. The garden element and the theme of a non-Christian redemption suggest a faint parallel and challenge to Parsifal , Wagner's last work.  I am aware of the absurdity of comparing three fragmentary lost pages with a grand music drama setting Christianity against Paganism.  But the obscure, forceful, often ugly dithyrambs written at the same time as Zagreus were certainly strikingly Wagnerian, which implies no qualitative comparison with Wagner.  They were mythical and would-be musical, poised between rebellion and inner retreat, and shot through with the sweetness of sleep - and eternal sleep." (page 190)

"The dithyramb also bore, in its modern meaning of a poetic tone more than a form, however, a much closer personal significance for Nietzsche.  It betokened wild howling, vehement expression.  Nothing could have been more apt for a poet in love with the masks of self-intoxication and madness.  What a way to rebel against being made chaste and virtuous by misfortune! The medium itself expressed a desire to be sensually out of control.  Had Nietzsche used the form to greater artistic effect his poems might have become iconic for the modern condition, like Munch's The Scream, because they are a kind of howling after lost community.  All Nietzsche's writing where the pictorial and the musical dominate over the discursive could be called Dionysian and dithyrambic.  They sing, they laugh, they flash color, they luxuriate in texture. That style has been hailed as exemplary of the modern, because it is essentially a lament for fragmentation.

"Of the nine Dionysus Dithyrambs of December 1888, 'The Fire Signal' is a recent creation, drawing on Nietzsche's love of water imagery to make his soul a bonfire on a small island amid an ocean, signaling to every kind of solitude, past and future, for the last and deepest confirmation of his own being alone.  It recalls Brunnhilde before she is awakened to save the world.  Another new poem, 'The Sun Sets', tends towards the ecstasy of inertia, of a hopeless, wish-free motionlessness which is a calm sea, skimmed by the lightest of boats floating into the distance. Nietzsche drafts a letter to an unknown correspondent on 27 November, introducing these minor works.  In general their themes were drawn from the landscape of elemental forces with which Nietzsche was obsessed: earth and sun, desert, fire, mountains.  They were peopled by Dionysus and Ariadne, with a few extra walk-on parts."  (pp. 191-192)

"The dithyrambs are certainly cold in an intense, declamatory fashion.  The rich alliteration once again recalls Wagner's imitations of medieval German Stabreime. The lines seem oddly dead on the page, as if they did come from a faraway, unreachable culture carried into the modern world in fragments.  In particular Nietzsche's imagining of love, which mostly amounts to lust, is often strained and peculiar, because of the introduction of the gastric process.  In a deliberate transvaluation of idealistic love he places biting, chewing, digesting, self-nourishing, self-perpetuation - and excreting understood - at the center of his real love, which is yet a quite unreal one.  In his (pro)creative satisfaction he is fruit cooked in its own juice. Or he wants to be a sweet, gleaming date full of golden promise, chewed in a young girl's mouth and bitten into by her by sharp, ice-cold, snow-white teeth.  To be swallowed like Jonah would also be sweet, conducive to arrival in the ultimate oasis-belly.  There is a memory of a rare real sexual encounter. 'Among Daughters of the Desert' is peopled by dancers, creatures flitting about in gauze, who closely resemble the women he encountered as a bewildered young man in that Cologne brothel.  The picture is of lust buried under so many layers of fantasy that a cursory reading might leave only a sense of frustrated impotence." (page 192)

"The dithyrambs...return Nietzsche to Wagner, revealing themselves as another taking up of the invitation to the young professor to take from Wagner whatever might be useful.  Nietzsche having asked his mother to search out that Wagner earlier in the year, now answered it in 'On the Poverty of the Richest'. That dithyramb repeated word for word also brought Nietzsche contra Wagner to a close, while the title page of that essay set the scene for the last act of his tragedy: 'Turin Christmas 1888'.

"The music to which the tragedy plays out is, by Nietzsche's choice, Wagner's Tristan.  At Christmas 1888 he cannot think beyond Tristan as a fascinating, capital work, peerless among all the arts.  The Dionysus Dithyrambs are replete with Tristan's characteristic imagery of fire, light and dark, ships, breath (air), mouth and lips and its Buddhistic spirit. In the language of the Liebestod, an ecstatic sinking of two lovers into willed darkness, Nietzsche describes his own solitary departure alone. As a composer he has wrought a thematic transformation of the boldest Lisztian kind, taking the original notes and making them express a quite different sentiment.

"That Nietzsche's endless rivalry with Wagner preoccupied him as his end neared is clearly shown  in a letter to Avenarius on 10 December.  As usual, in his mind he made Wagner think about Nietzsche what in fact Nietzsche felt towards Wagner. For with Nietzsche's music and Nietzsche's poetry there was a tragic flaw: it wasn't good enough.  He was a great writer and an extraordinary human and intellectual phenomenon.  But he wasn't a great artist. Indeed the truth was, the great musical god Dionysus was Wagner.  Nietzsche only sang in his chorus, imitated his poetry, but couldn't bear to admit it." (pp. 193 - 194)

"Nietzsche as artist and man provided a kind of music then, to which Wagner supplied most of the human content.  It was Wagner who showed what love was, and in the end Wagner who showed him how, in imagination, to die. Wagner did that not only with his works but his life.  Going mad, Nietzsche, imagined Cosima was his wife.  That claim was the end of the Cosima drama which had been going on in his head for a long time, besides the drama with Richard.  An early French critic of Nietzsche's saw it as the great unwritten romantic novel of the nineteenth century. There is a dithyramb called 'Ariadne's Lament', which in Zarathustra was spoken by a man.  The theme was rebelliousness against an absent God which was at the same time dependence.  In Zarathustra, the trembling old man who declaimed it implausibly, next moment metamorphosed in Zarathustra's mind into 'actor, counterfeiter, liar...magician', i.e. into Wagner himself. The poem made more sense as Aridane's lament, when according to myth, her lover Theseus abandoned her.  In the 1888 version Ariadne was Cosima, Theseus Wagner, and Dionysus, who appeared for the first time to save the betrayed woman, was Nietzsche.  The constant in these two versions was Nietzsche's lament for lost love, his anger and his dependence.  He shuffled the parts, but only ever succeeded in expressing in a dramatic monologue his longing for the lost companionship of the Wagners." (page 195)

Perhaps he had that in mind while he was reading the final proofs of Nietzsche contra Wagner, his mental grip already loose and erratic.  The dithyrambs were written at a time when Nietzsche was exhibiting pronounced signs of megalomania and gradual signs of insanity.  Indeed, at least one was written when Nietzsche thought himself to be the Greek god Dionysus.  As such, these poems represent the fading vocabulary of a would-be poet dancing on the edge of the abyss.