This article discusses Nietzsche's response in The Birth of Tragedy (BT) to what he calls the wisdom of Silenus, that “the very best thing is utterly beyond your reach: not to have been born, not to be, to be nothing. However, the second best thing for you is to die soon.” I begin by analyzing the view that Silenus expresses a proto-Schopenhauerian truth about the world as “Will.” I then review Bernard Reginster's interpretation of the wisdom of Silenus as an early form of Nietzschean nihilism. As an alternative to these readings, I argue that, for Nietzsche, Silenus's wisdom addresses a crucial, existential dimension of ancient Greek tragic culture. I conclude by pointing out that, in BT, Nietzsche locates nihilism not in the wisdom of Silenus, but in the advent of Socratism.

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