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Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Friedrich Nietzsche


Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was born on October 15, 1844 at Röcken (near Lützen), Saxony, Prussia.

He was born on the 49th birthday of King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia and was thus named after him.

Friedrich's father was a country Lutheran clergyman and his family came from a long line of Protestant pastors.

His father died when Friedrich was four of softening of the brain.

In 1850 Friedrich's mother moved the family to Naumburg, where he lived for the next eight years before heading off to school. Friedrich was now the only male in the house, living with his mother, his grandmother, two paternal aunts, and his sister Elisabeth.

A bright and timid child, he was particularly pious and prim. For instance because the rules forbade children to run to school or jump on the way home, young Friedrich would walk sedately back to his house even when it was raining.

Friedrich was offered a scholarship to study at the internationally recognized Schulpforta in 1858. A boarding school run on strict lines, boys were given intensive tuition in Greek and Latin there and taught self-sacrifice to the community.

Nietzsche in 1861

A brilliant Bible student, in his youth Friedich was intent on following his father’s footsteps as a Lutheran pastor. His adolescent classmates had even ridiculed him as “little pastor”.

After graduating from Schulpforta in September 1864, Nietzsche commenced studies in theology and classical philology at the University of Bonn with hope of becoming a minister.

Nietzsche subsequently concentrated on studying philology under Professor Friedrich Wilhelm Ritschl, whom he followed to the University of Leipzig in 1865. He was later awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Leipzig with Ritschl's support.


A brilliant student, Nietzsche received an offer to become professor of classical philology at the University of Basel in Switzerland. He was only 24 years old and had not yet received a teaching certificate.

When the Franco-Prussian war erupted in 1870, Nietzsche left Basel and, being disqualified for other services due to his citizenship status, volunteered as a medical orderly on active duty.

In 1879, Nietzsche retired from his position at Basel due to his continued poor health.

Friedrich Nietzsche (circa 1875).


Despite many of his ancestors having been Protestant clergyman, and having had a "vision of God in his Glory" at the age of 12, Nietzsche completely lost his faith. He regarded himself as a prophet of the death of God and spokesman for the liberated man. All values and morals based on Christian thought, he claimed, must be reappraised and if necessary thrown out. His strong writing and radical ideas caused much outrage.

Nietzsche wrote: "I call Christianity the one great curse, the one enormous and inner most perversion, the one great instinct of revenge for which no means are too venomous, too underhand, too underground and too petty- I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind."

Nietzsche prophesied the 20th Century would be the bloodiest of all centuries and a universal madness would break out.


In 1883 Friedrich Nietzsche wrote a philosophical text Thus Sprake Zarathustra, in which he outlined the doctrines of "superman". In this controversial work, Nietzsche showed his disdain for such Christian virtues as selflessness and compassion and stressed the importance of living for now rather than an 'imaginary' afterlife.

Nietzsche invented the term "Ubermensch" meaning "Superman". This later developed into compounds such as superwoman super tax etc.

Richard Strauss' symphonic poem "Also Sprach Zarathustra," which was famously used in 2001 Space Odyssey, was based on Nietzsche s work.


Nietzsche never married and was loveless most of his life. On one occasion he persuaded a friend to propose for him for a ladies hand... she turned him down.

Nietzsche fell for the 21-year-old Lou Salomé in 1882. He proposed to her three times and was rejected each time. He ended up as a platonic partner of a ménage à trois with Lou Salomé and his friend Paul Rée. When the menage dissolved he left in a rage.

Lou Salomé, Paul Ree and Friedrich Nietzsche.

Nietzsche was once a friend of Richard Wagner and his writing was influenced by Wagner's music. He lent his name to formation of Wagner societies throughout Germany to raise money to build the Wagner opera house at Bayreuth. Later there was a deep enmity between the two Germans and he claimed "Wagner's art is diseased: he has made music sick."


Nietzsche enjoyed the music of Georges Bizet. He said: "Bizet's music seems to me perfect. It comes forward lightly, gracefully, stylishly."

The German philosopher composed music himself. "What trifles constitute happiness! The sound of a bagpipe. Without music life would be a mistake!" he said.

Nietzsche disliked German beer. He referred to beer and Christianity as the two great European narcotics.

Nietzsche admired the German-Jewish poet, Heinrich Heine with an unflagging passion.


When the Franco-Prussian war erupted in 1870, Nietzsche volunteered as a medical orderly on active duty. His time in the military was short, but he experienced much, witnessing the traumatic effects of battle and taking close care of wounded soldiers. He soon contracted diphtheria and dysentery and subsequently experienced a painful variety of health difficulties for the remainder of his life.

In 1879 ill-health regarding his eyes and brain caused Nietzsche to resign his professorship. Ten years later, he saw a cab horse being ill-treated by its driver. Nietzsche flung his arms round the animal's neck, burst into tears and fell unconscious to the ground. He was taken back to his room and spent several days in a state of ecstasy writing letters to various friends, signing them Dionysus. He gradually became less coherent and almost entirely uncommunicative and never recovered.

The house Nietzsche stayed in while in Turin (background, right), By DWRZ David Wen Riccardi-Zhu - 

By 1890 the secular prophet was residing in a mental hospital where his sister Elisabeth Forster- Nietzsche cared for him. He spent the last ten years of his life insane. The cause is undetermined; doctors later said they were not so sure about the initial diagnosis of syphilis because he lacked the typical symptoms.

His friend and secretary Peter Gast observed that Nietzsche retained the ability to improvise beautifully on the piano for some months after his breakdown, but this too eventually left him.


Nietzsche suffered at least two strokes in the late 1890s. This partially paralyzed him, leaving him unable to speak or walk. After contracting pneumonia in mid-August 1900, he then had another stroke and died at about midday on August 25, 1900.

Drawing by Hans Olde from the photographic series, The Ill Nietzsche, late-1899.

Elisabeth had her brother buried beside his father at the church in Röcken bei Lützen. Peter Gast gave his funeral oration, proclaiming: "Holy be your name to all future generations."

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