An adjective for a philosophical or aesthetic concept named after Dionysus, one of the sons of Zeus who was the god of wine and the inspirer of ritual madness and ecstasy. He provides a contrasting pole to Apollo, the god of the sun, who variously represents light, truth, healing, music, poetry, and the arts. Thus, in opposition to Apollonian values, Dionysus might also represent darkness, individuality, and primal forces of nature. Many theorists have written about this dichotomy, from Friedrich Nietzsche (see Bookmarks for pages 3-4) to Camille Paglia.
This marble statue of a drunken Dionysius and satyr is a Roman copy of some older Greek original and dates from the 2nd century. It stands in the National Museum of Rome.
It’s a bit ironic that Franz, with Tereza one of the “heavy” characters of the novel compared to the “light” and irresponsible Tomas and Sabina (“light,” that is, in the sense of taking risks and ducking commitment, not in the sense of Apollonian light), is shown regarding music with admiration as “the art that comes closest to Dionysian beauty in the sense of intoxication.” But all four primary characters in Unbearable Lightness are drawn to their opposites: Tereza has moments of lightness, such as in her brief affair with the engineer; Tomas and Sabina are drawn at times to security and solidity.
In falling for Sabina, the secure and dependable, highly respectable Franz expresses his Dionysian side.