Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Anne R. Zahlan


1986 Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, Nigerian dramatist, poet, essayist and novelist, names the Yoruba god, Ogun, as his tragic muse for ritual theatre in "The Fourth Stage," his early artistic manifesto. In this essay Soyinka maintains that in contrast to Dionysus, Nietzsche's hero in The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, Ogun balances within himself elements that could be described as Dionysian, Apollonian, and Promethean. Archetypally, Ogun thus constitutes a destructive-creative unity which overcomes the dyad of good-versus-evil of Europe's Christian civilization.

For this reason, Soyinka upholds Ogun not only as a natural patron of tragedy but, furthermore, as a native alternative to the West's religions and ideologies. Still, in his later essays, Soyinka is careful to distance himself from the nativistic ideologues of so-called "Négritude." Ogun for him does not retreat into a reactionary vision of the glories of an Africanist past but advances boldly into a future place within world culture, because Ogun, after all, is a universal archetype, even if particularized within his Yoruba context.

But behind Soyinka's mythopoetic Ogun lies a deeper substratum of Nietzschean philosophy. Soyinka identifies crossing the abyss of transition as the metaphor for transforming consciousness in his dramaturgy. To cross the abyss is to overcome "weak" nihilism with "strong." This thesis examines The Strong Breed, The Road, Madmen and Specialists, and Death and the King's Horseman in terms of this Ogunnian "overcoming." The most important question to be asked, however, is whether Soyinka's Nietzschean "aufheben" ("overcoming") succeeds in crossing the abyss of nihilism in an ontology without transcendence.