§13. Strophe I [189–190]

Thoughts of communal spirit are

Quietly ending in the poet’s soul.

That swiftly struck, long since

Familiar to the infinite, it quivers

With recollection, and, kindled by the holy ray,

Its fruit born in love, the work of gods and humans,

Its song, bearing witness to both, succeeds.

And thus, as poets tell, since she

Desired to see visible the God, his lightning fell on Semele’s house

And she, by divinity struck, gave birth,

The fruit of the thunderstorm, to holy Bacchus.

And now therefore the sons of the Earth

Without danger drink heavenly fire.

Dionysos is the son of a mortal woman, Semele, one of the four daughters of Cadmos, king of Thebes. His mother was consumed by the lightning flash of father Zeus before she gave birth to her son, and the father protected him from the searing flames with cooling vines of ivy. Thus engendered by the God in a mortal woman, Dionysos bears witness to the beyng of both: he is this beyng in a primordial unity. Dionysos is not just one demigod among others, but the distinctive one. He is the Yes that belongs to life at its wildest, inexhaustible in its creative urge, and he is the No that belongs to the most terrifying death and annihilation. He is the bliss of magical enchantment and the horror of a crazed terror. He is the one in being the other; that is, in being, he at the same time is not and in not being, he is. Being, however, for the Greeks means ‘presence’—παρουσία. In presencing, this demigod is absent, and in absencing he is present. The symbol of the one who is absent in presencing and present in absencing is the mask. The mask is the distinctive symbol of Dionysos—that is, understood metaphysically in a Greek way: the originary relatedness to one another of being and non-being (presence and absence). Conversely, precisely this symbol, as Dionysos, is decisive evidence for the truth of our interpretation of the Greek experience of being.

The myth and cult of Dionysos has recently been portrayed by Walter F. Otto in his fine and valuable book Dionysos (1933). Otto has also incorporated into his book—although without touching upon the decisive metaphysical connections—the preceding interpretation of Dionysos as the being of the mask, an interpretation that I suggested to him on the occasion of his lecture on Dionysos that he presented

Martin Heidegger (GA 39) Hölderlin’s Hymns “Germania” and “The Rhine”