Apollo and Dionysus
Apollo and Dionysus

The Apollonian and Dionysian: growing up in the Algarve and living in Lisbon

Growing up in the Algarve, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by rugged cliffs, stunning beaches, small woodlands, boundless fields and a big garden to play in.

Every day after school, I’d drop my backpack in the garden and spend what felt like hours playing outside until I was finally called in for dinner.

I had a vast green lawn to run around on, plenty of trees to climb, a pond to fish in and, at some point, I even buried a few coins and drew a map to one day find them again in the future. It was like being an intrepid explorer and each day was a new expedition. Ultimately, my surroundings and childhood filled me with a sense of wonder, which cultivated my passion for exploring the world.

Today, although my profession takes me all around the globe, I live in the largest city in Portugal, the bustling metropolis that blends old-world charm with a vibrant and flourishing capital.

The large contrast between the two got me thinking about the benefits of growing up in a rural area compared to living in larger cities.

The Algarve versus Lisbon
The Algarve versus Lisbon

There are many myths and stories from different cultures that explore the differences between growing up in the countryside as opposed to the city. In the 19th century, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote about the concepts of the Apollonian and Dionysian, two distinct yet complementary forces in our lives.

The ancient Greeks had a unique understanding of the world, one that was embodied in their myths, religion, and culture. The Apollonian, associated with the Greek god Apollo, represents the rational, conscious, and objective side of human nature. It is characterised by order, clarity, logic, purity and beauty. When I think of the Algarve, my mind wanders to open spaces, natural beauty, and a slower paced lifestyle which all aligns with the Apollonian values.

During my childhood in the Algarve, I got to engage in lots of sports and outdoor activities, cultivate a strong connection to nature, rely on a close-knit and supportive community, and make the most of living in a safe environment, which allowed me to explore and play without the dangers and distractions of a larger city.

Photo of Nietzsche by Gustav-Adolf Schultze, 1882
Photo of Nietzsche by Gustav-Adolf Schultze, 1882

Aristotle believed that everything in nature had a purpose and a specific role to play, and that studying the natural world could provide insights into the workings of the universe. Nature has a crucial role in the development of the human spirit and mind, and studies have even found that children who are exposed to green spaces have better cognitive function. Nature can help reduce stress, promote physical activity, and improve mental health, all of which can have a positive impact on a better working memory and an elevated attention capacity.

On the opposite end, the Dionysian, associated with the Greek god Dionysus, represents the irrational, unconscious, and emotional side of human nature. It is characterised by chaos, ecstasy, passion, emotion and instincts. The energy, excitement, and diversity of Lisbon aligns with the Dionysian values of chaos and creativity.

Moving to Lisbon to study when I was 18 years old was a defining moment in my life, as it allowed me to explore a new city and experience different cultures.

From visiting historic neighbourhoods like Alfama and the Baixa, to exploring the city’s many museums and art galleries, I have been fortunate enough to experience the city’s rich cultural heritage first-hand, which further cultivated my passion for exploring and adventuring around the world.

Whilst Aristotle was a big fan of Nature, he also believed the city to be the pinnacle of human development, where citizens could fully participate and engage in discourse, and maximise their potential. Although exposure to noise and pollution can have negative effects on the brain, the fast-paced and constantly changing environment of the city can also lead to better executive function, which involves skills such as planning, decision-making, and self-control.

Nietzsche believed that both the Apollonian and Dionysian aspects of human nature are necessary for a full and rich human experience, as he believed them to be complementary, rather than opposing.

Growing up in the countryside and now living in Lisbon has provided me with a unique and well-rounded perspective on life. The Algarve allowed me to develop a strong connection to nature and a sense of community, while the energy and excitement of life in Lisbon has broadened my horizons and provided me with new opportunities for both personal and professional growth.

Looking to the future, I am excited about continuing to enjoy the benefits of both worlds. I look forward to returning to the countryside to spend time with family and friends and, at the same time, I am eager to continue exploring the city and taking advantage of its many cultural offerings and diverse opportunities.

By Jay Costa Owen

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Jay works for a private charter airline, and is also a UX designer and aspiring author who enjoys learning about history and other cultures