Date of Award

Summer 8-17-2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Religious Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Louis A. Ruprecht, Jr.

Second Advisor

Dr. Molly Bassett

Third Advisor

Dr. Melanie Pavich


This project compares the career of the early 20th century ballet dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky, to Friedrich Nietzsche’s theory of the tragic arts. In The Birth of Tragedy (1872) and elsewhere, Nietzsche argues that artists play the central role in communal mythmaking and religious renewal; he prescribes the healing work of the “tragic artist” to save modernity from the decadence and nihilism he identifies in scientism, historicism, and Christianity. As a dancer, and especially as a choreographer for the Ballets Russes (1912-1913), Nijinsky staged a kinetic response to modern culture that not only displayed shared concerns with Nietzsche, but also, as I argue, allow him to be interpreted as Nietzsche’s archetypical tragic artist. By juxtaposing the philologist-philosopher and dancer-choreographer as artists, I situate the emergence of Modern Art as a nascent movement still bound to Romanticism even while rebelling against it, and as an attempt to reinterpret art in a mythic (and thoroughly modern) context.