Nietzsche, Friedrich (1844–1900)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC057-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 23, 2019, from

1. Life

Nietzsche was born in Rocken, a small village in the Prussian province of Saxony, on 15 October 1844. His father, a Lutheran minister, became seriously ill in 1848 and died in July 1849 of what was diagnosed as ‘softening of the brain’. His brother died the following year, and Nietzsche’s mother moved with her son and daughter to Naumberg, a town of 15,000 people, where they lived with his father’s mother and her two sisters. In 1858, Nietzsche was offered free admission to Pforta, the most famous school in Germany. After graduating in 1864 with a thesis in Latin on the Greek poet Theogonis, he registered at the University of Bonn as a theology student. The following year he transferred to Leipzig where he registered as a philology student and worked under the classical philologist Friedrich Ritschl. The events of his Leipzig years with the most profound and lasting influence on his later work were his discoveries of Schopenhauer’s Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (The World as Will and Representation) and F.A. Lange’s Geschichte des Materialismus (History of Materialism), and the beginning of a personal relationship with Richard Wagner (see Schopenhauer, A. §§3–6; Lange, F.A. §2). Nietzsche became Ritschl’s star pupil, and on Ritschl’s recommendation he was appointed to the Chair of Classical Philology at Basel in 1869 at the age of twenty-four. Leipzig proceeded to confer the doctorate without requiring a dissertation.

Basel’s proximity to the Wagner residence at Tribschen allowed Nietzsche to develop a close relationship with Richard and Cosima Wagner. Sharing with the composer a deep love of Schopenhauer and a hope for the revitalization of European culture, he initially idealized Wagner and his music. His first book, Die Geburt der Tragödie (The Birth of Tragedy) (1872), used Schopenhauer’s philosophy to interpret Greek tragedy and to suggest that Wagner’s opera constituted its rebirth and thereby the salvation of modern culture. Torn between philology and philosophy since shortly after his discovery of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche devoted much of his teaching to the texts of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy and hoped that his first book would establish his credentials as a philosopher. Instead, its unorthodox mixture of philosophy and philology merely served to damage his reputation as a philologist.

In 1879, he resigned his chair at Basel because of health problems that had plagued him for years. In the meantime, he had become progressively estranged from Wagner, a process that culminated in the 1878 publication of the first volume of Menschliches, Allzumenschliches (Human, All Too Human), a positivist manifesto that praised science rather than art as indicative of high culture. The ten productive years left to him after his retirement were marked by terrible health problems and a near absence of human companionship. Living alone in Italian and Swiss boarding houses, he wrote ten books, each of which has at least some claim to being a masterpiece. His last seven books mark a high point of German prose style.

In January 1889, Nietzsche collapsed in Turin. He wrote a few lucid and beautiful (although insane) letters during the next few days, and after that nothing of which we can make any sense. Following a brief institutionalization, he lived with his mother and then his sister until his death in Weimar on 25 August 1900.

Citing this article:
Clark, Maudemarie. Life. Nietzsche, Friedrich (1844–1900), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC057-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2019 Routledge.

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