Rivalry & Fratricide

Genius often comes to us in pairs. Plato and Aristotle, Jung and Freud, Guénon and Evola; a generation’s thought and voice is often captured by a pair of geniuses. Mark the greats of Western music: Handel and Bach, Haydn and Beethoven, Wagner and Verdi, among countless other pairs. Two relationships that I have observed to be ubiquitous are the paternal struggle between the master and apprentice, and the fraternal struggle which is often akin to sibling rivalry between two masters or two apprentices.The latter being the most common and significant of the two in our own lives.

The paternal struggle between two geniuses is that struggle between the impudent apprentice and the patient sage. In George LucasStar Wars the humble student and the impudent student are both portrayed brilliantly through and Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Before Darth Vader kills Kenobi, he taunts his old master that the student has become the master. In the Sith tradition, the apprentice eclipses and overpowers the master, killing him and taking his place. This is similar to a paternal cycle of abuse: the father abuses the child who, when grown, revolts against his father. When the child has destroyed his father, he becomes a father himself and continues the cycle of abuse with his own son. The the Jedi tradition is similar to a healthy childhood development. When Kenobi is killed by his old apprentice, Vader, he sublimates and becomes one with the force. Kenobi then always abides with his Jedi student, Luke, even when the student has become a master himself. The relationship between Luke and the second “wise old man” archetype, Yoda, is potential for an article in and of itself. When Luke enters the grove he confronts and kills his father, Vader. When Vader’s mask is lifted, Luke sees his own face, he sees what he has the potential to become. He can destroy his father and become his father, or he can redeem his father and then himself individuate as a healthy adult.

The pinnacle of Lucas’ genius is that these two traditions are synthesised by the literal father and son relationship between Luke and Vader. Luke redeems Vader who appears with Kenobi and Yoda at the end of Return of the Jedi, symbolising the healthy relationship between student and master; father and son.

The teacher imparts the totality of his genius onto the student, who then rejects the theory in part or in totality. The student may or may not eclipse the teacher. Perhaps the greatest of all these relationships is between Plato and Aristotle. Plato was the master, and his theory of forms was imparted onto Aristotle who soundly rejected it, eclipsing Plato with his immense and extensive writings. The restless student, once eclipsing his teacher may not always gloat, but feel a refreshing humility and respect for his teacher. Beethoven kissed the hand of his elderly teacher, Haydn, in an act of humility. Beethoven had eclipsed Haydn musically with his Third Symphony (the “Eroica”), which Haydn described as “quite new.” Was this understatement from the willowy Haydn the melancholy and jealously of age? The eclipsed master is like a weary and old sun. His legacy abides for centuries after his death like a pulsing neutron star that imperceptibly fades into nothingness. The son of man ate from the tree of knowledge so that he could become like the father, God.

The Fraternal struggle is a sibling rivalry where two powers, neither totally supreme, vie for dominance. This is most acute in competitive sports where two sporting geniuses vie for dominance over each other. There are no stalemates in tennis, and no draws in fencing, only team sports can deny resolution and thwart victory. “Federer Vs. Nadal” was the rivalry I remember, and despite the superiority of age and technique of the former this is still a fraternal struggle as Nadal was never a student of Federer, neither was his technique especially influenced by Federer.

Michelangelo and Raphael, Brunelleschi and Ghiberti, Wagner and Verdi, and many other Fraternal rivalries appear throughout cultural history. In these cases there are not two antagonists, both struggling to dominate the other, but a passive and an active sibling. The active Brunelleschi sabotaged Ghiberti, who was passive and unconcerned by rivals, and this is the case with Wagner and Verdi.

Verdi always praised and admired Wagner, while Wagner held Verdi in contempt. Wagner despised Italian opera, but Verdi’s operas had almost none of the cliches that bedevilled Italian opera. Wagner, the enfant terible did not have the humility of Verdi. Wagner was superior to Verdi, but he didn’t have to rub Verdi’s face in it! If you open Google, or DuckDuckGo, or whatever search engine you use, read everything Wagner wrote about Verdi and vice versa. When Verdi heard of Wagner’s death he cried, “Sad! Sad! Sad! A name that leaves a most powerful mark on the history of our art.” I doubt whether Wagner would’ve given Verdi the same respect. Wagner understood man as a philosopher would; Verdi was a man, and therein lies the difference between the two. Their rivalry is shown in this light-hearted animation.

While both Wagner and Verdi were born in 1813, Cain was older than Abel. This struggle between Cain and Abel was similar to the rage of the teacher against a student prodigy, and the envy the old man feels when seeing the vigour and beauty of youth. This fratricide is more complex than a simple overthrow of the elder by the younger or the new generation washing away the old. The more experienced and older brother, who often adopts a paternal role, murders his younger sibling. Both siblings wanted to please their Father and their God, and so it was clearly a Fraternal rivalry. It is also worth noting that Cain is the active sibling, and Abel the passive. Verdi and Abel were not vexed by possibly being “inferior” to their siblings, Wagner and Cain were always dogged by a shadow of envy and insecurity. Fratricide is a human failing, as is envy. Wagner’s pupil and admirer, Anton Bruckner, was a deeply humble and religious man. Bruckner mastered a form Wagner was very weak in, the Symphony, but dedicated his 3rd Symphony to Wagner. There is always the choice to overcome our failings.

Verdi’s characters often remind me of the lighter comic figures of Shakespeare (Verdi wrote an opera called Falstaff) and Wagner’s characters remind me of the tragic and heroic figures: Henry V, Macbeth (Verdi wrote an an opera called Macbeth too, though it does not compare to the play), or Coriolanus. Lightness itself is not a crime, but moralising and philosophising in art can often lead to bad art. Shakespeare’s great works are no mere morality plays, although he contributed to a few in his early years, they are far deeper than that, and are not filled with cheap or platitudinous moral messages.

Verdi’s characters are filled with passion and a love of life, they are somewhat roguish at times, but Romantic (French music is barely distinct from Italian music, compared to the contrast between German and Italian. Italian and French music I catch together with “Romantic”) opera often has the feeling of “love conquers all,” as opposed to the “love death” of Wagner. It is possible that Verdi was an E.N.F.P. while Wagner was E.N.T.J.. Wagner often lacks understanding of the human joys of life, spending more time contemplating death. His Das Liebesverbot is not up to the comedies of the Italians, and in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg he cannot resist clumsily forcing in dense, academic themes. The first movement of Tannhäuser is poorly paced and he never had the sprightliness of Mozart, Verdi, Weber, Rossini, or Bizet — who became the second object of Friedrich Nietzsche‘s desires after rejecting Wagner.

Ezra Pound wrote that music “begins to atrophy when it departs too far from the dance,” and Nietzsche drew the distinction between marching Germanic music and dancing Romantic music. The passionate, joyful, and almost carefree attitude of Italian and French composers (who could forget Massenet and Satie, along with Bizet?) was quintessentially Dionysian, and Nietzsche wrote in “The Case of Wagner” of Bizet’s Carmen as follows:

This music seems perfect to me. It approaches lightly, supplely, politely. It is pleasant, it does not sweat. “What is good is light, whatever is divine moves on tender feet”: first principle of my æsthetics. This music is evil, subtle, fatalistic: at the same time it remains popular — its subtlety belongs to a race, not to an individual. It is rich. It is precise. It builds, organises, finishes: thus it constitutes the opposite of the polyp in music, the “infinite melody.” Have more painful tragic accents ever been heard on the stage? And how they are achieved! Without grimaces! Without counterfeit! Without the lie of the great style! — Finally: this music treats the listener as intelligent, even as a musician, — who is also, because of this, the counterpart of Wagner, who was, whatever else he was, at any rate the most impolite genius in the world (Wagner treats us as if — –, he says something so often, till one despairs, till one believes it).

And once more: I become a better human being when this Bizet speaks to me. Also a better musician, a better listener. Is it even possible to listen better? —  I actually bury my ears under this music to hear its causes. It seems to me I experience its genesis — I tremble before dangers that accompany some risk, I am delighted by strokes of good fortune of which Bizet is innocent. — And how odd! deep down I don’t think of it, or don’t know how much I think about it. For entirely different thoughts are meanwhile running through my head … Has it been noticed that music liberates the spirit? gives wings to thought? that one becomes more of a philosopher the more one becomes a musician? —  The gray sky of abstraction rent as if by lightning; the light strong enough for the filigree of things; the great problems near enough to grasp; the world surveyed as from a mountain. — I have just defined the pathos of philosophy. — And unexpectedly answers drop into my lap, a little hail of ice and wisdom, of solved problems … Where am I? — Bizet makes me fertile. Whatever is good makes me fertile. I have no other gratitude, nor do I have any other proof for what is good.

Why, then, does genius often come in pairs? The answer is simple, and not especially important. We all have rivals, whether we are geniuses or not, but we can try to overcome our envies or petty jealousies. It is surely coincidence, all be it perhaps a meaningful one at times, that so many pairs of geniuses have appeared throughout human history; however, it is not for a twist of fate that the paternal/fraternal struggles and the dynamism of the pair, were, are, and will always be with us. They will appear and reappear until we stop being human.

There are few lone geniuses and innovators; all great men have their great friends. Napoleon had Junot, Murat, and other confidants. Once, when Napoleon was dictating to Junot on the battlefield, a cannonball exploded between the two almost killing them. Junot coolly dusted himself off and said, “Good, now I will not need sand [to dry the ink with].” Napoleon laughed. When like minds and hearts come together, often much stronger creative energies are released than those that come from confrontation. Shakespeare often collaborated with his friends and he is known to have collaborated with Middleton. Some plays attributed to Shakespeare are only a fifth his writing. The “Dynamic Duo” is a common thing and every groom has his best man.

Schopenhauer and Gœthe were friends for a time, and no doubt both inspired each other. There was no animosity between these two, and not all relationships between geniuses end in fratricide. Gœthe wrote of the end of their friendship:

We discussed a good many things in agreement; eventually, however, a certain separation proved unavoidable, as when two friends, having walked so far, shake hands, one wanting to go north and the other south, and very soon lose sight of one another.


Beethoven, Bruckner, and Wagner are my philosophers. I am a (busy) student interested in economics and the arts. My YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCm_fN39CwOHBgt2hlMmX_jQ

6 thoughts on “Rivalry & Fratricide

  1. The comment Pound makes is funny. It is funny because the Cantos, especially the middle bulk of them, is absolutely musicless. There are moments of great music. Pound could only ever write musical verse in breaths. It goes out and falls. He did not have a feeling for a cadence that could be sustained past the length of a breath. Imagism cannot be done in the long form. I understand that by this point he considered himself a vorticist, but the vorticist has the same problems as the imagist. Taken to the extreme it ends in musicless fragments. Musicless fragments attempting to outline economic history make bad poetry and atrophied poetry. The best thing he wrote, and the most honest, was:

    I have tried to write Paradise

    Do not move,
    Let the wind speak
    that is paradise.

    Let the Gods forgive what I
    have made
    Let those I love try to forgive
    what I have made.

      1. He certainly was, and was not incapable of writing musical verse. Pretty much all his poetry outside of the Cantos and those awful translations of Sophocles is musical to one degree or another. He was also very interested in music itself. He wrote an opera, and a short book on the American, Antheil, and harmony.

  2. I disagree with your characterization of French music as romantic. What Nietzsche admires in Bizet is in the first sentence of what you cited. That is not something Romantic, but classical. It is the good taste it has. It does not have the sweeping heaviness of Wagner; it is lighter than Wagner. The Romantic is , if anything, the grand and heavy and this what so offensive to Nietzsche in the Germans. You take together passion, joy, and carelessness. I think the first does not belong with the other two. Romantic passion is the stuff of heaving bosoms and grand gestures. It does not have to resolve well to be romantic. It is probably more Romantic when it does not. Nietzsche hated the Romantics, hated Hugo, hated even Baudelaire, and loved the Parnassians. Both Verdi and Wagner were Romantics. They represented two forms of the Romantic. In a certain sense Verdi was an anachronism who lived into the deaththroes of Romanticism, into Wagner’s era, Wagner’s necessity; and this is why he disdained him. Really what Nietzsche likes is the subtly and lightness of Bizet. This same is what he admires in certain Parnassian poets. There is nothing subtle or light in the romantics. Caspar David Friedrich is not light. Shelly is not light. Keats can be light, but not usually. Hugo is probably the heaviest poet one can find. Goethe might be an exception.

    1. You have misunderstood what I meant by “romantic” here. I did not mean 19th century Romanticism or the “Romantic-era” (since both Verdi and Wagner were born in the same year). I used “Romantic” as a short-hand for me to encompass Italian music and heavy Italian inspired French, and to an extent, Austrian music, and only in the context of a handful of operas — to juxtapose them to the somewhat overblown at times “Germanic” drama-operas and tone poems. Italian and French are both Romance languages, hence Romantic, and I did include straight after in the article: “Italian and French music I catch together with “Romantic””. I can see how you could jump from a word used in a specific context, that already has 5 or so definitions, to a discussion of an entire artistic movement that lasted a century depending on your point of view. It was really used as the name of a set as opposed to a strict cultural definition.

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