Friedrich Nietzsche Biography
Died At Age: 55
Sun Sign: Libra
Also Known As: Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
Born Country: Germany
Born in: Röcken, Lützen, Germany
Famous as: Philosopher
father: Carl Ludwig Nietzsche
mother: Franziska Nietzsche
siblings: Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, Ludwig Joseph Nietzsche
place of death: Weimar, Saxony, German Empire
Cause of Death: Pneumonia
Diseases & Disabilities: Depression
education: University of Bonn (1864–1865), University of Leipzig
Friedrich Nietzsche was a famous 19th century German philosopher and philologist, known for his critical texts on religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy, and science. He was widely known for his ideas and concepts like death of God, perspectivism, the Übermensch, eternal recurrence, and the will to power. He started his career as a classical philologist. At the age of 24, he became the youngest individual to hold the chair of classical philology at the ‘University of Basel.’ His writings mostly remained controversial and were often criticized for their anti-Christian faith. His work was later recognized and considered as an effort to teach humanity about personality development and greater individualism. It was said that German soldiers were given a copy of Friedrich’s philosophical novel ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’ during ‘World War I’ for inspiration. Famous political leaders like Theodore Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler, Mussolini, Charles de Gaulle, and Richard Nixon read his works and were influenced by his ideas. His writings also influenced many profound thinkers of the 20th century, including Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Leo Strauss, Albert Camus, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Gilles Deleuze.
- Friedrich Nietzsche was born on 15 October 1844, in a small town called Röcken, located near Leipzig in the Prussian Province of Saxony. His father Carl Ludwig Nietzsche was a Lutheran pastor in Röcken. His mother’s name was Franziska Nietzsche (née Oehler).
- Friedrich was the eldest of three children. His sister Therese Elisabeth Alexandra Nietzsche became anti-Semitic in her later years. His brother Ludwig Joseph was the youngest in the family.
- In 1849, Friedrich’s father died from a brain disorder. Friedrich’s brother Ludwig Joseph also passed away in 1851. Subsequently, Franziska, Friedrich, and Elisabeth left Röcken to live with Franziska’s mother in Naumburg. Two of Franziska’s unmarried sisters-in-law also lived in the same house.
- In 1854, Friedrich was admitted to ‘Domgymnasium’ in Naumburg, where he studied till 1858. Thereafter, he entered ‘Schulpforta,’ an internationally known boarding school, on scholarship. According to most scholars, he got the admission as his father, a pastor, was no more.
- At ‘Schulpforta,’ he studied religion, history, natural sciences, and mathematics apart from studying classical languages like Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French, and German. A voracious reader, he also became acquainted with works of non-conformist writers.
- During this period, he seemed to have suffered from certain confusion. In 1862, he wrote an essay titled ‘Fate and History,’ arguing that historical research did not corroborate with the central teachings of Christianity. At the same time, he was profoundly affected by ‘Life of Jesus,’ written by David Strauss.
- In September 1864, Friedrich Nietzsche graduated from school, receiving a1 in religion and German. He then entered the ‘University of Bonn’ with theology and classical philology as his subjects. Although his initial aim was to become a minister like his father, he lost faith in God and gave up theology after a semester at the university.
- In 1865, Nietzsche began to study philology with Friedrich Wilhelm Ritschl. At the end of his second semester, when Ritschl was forced to resign from his post and move to Leipzig, Nietzsche also moved with him. Prospering under Ritschl’s tutelage, he soon began to publish a number of papers.
- Around this time, he began to study the works of Arthur Schopenhauer, which awakened in him an interest in philosophy. ‘History of Materialism,’ written by Friedrich Albert Lange, which he first read in 1866, also had tremendous impact on him.
- In October 1867, Nietzsche signed up for one year voluntary military service. In March 1868, he hurt himself badly, requiring several months of rest. In October 1868, while on an extended leave, he once again concentrated on his studies. During this time, he met composer Richard Wagner.
- In 1869, a professorship in classical philology fell vacant at the ‘University of Basel’ in Switzerland. Although Friedrich Nietzsche was yet to complete his doctoral work, Ritschl strongly recommended his name, declaring that in his 40 years of teaching he had not come across anybody like him.
- Also at Ritschl’s insistence, the ‘University of Leipzig’ conferred the doctoral degree on Nietzsche, basing their decision on his published papers. They did not conduct any further examination.
- Before he moved to Basel in 1869, Friedrich Nietzsche gave up his Prussian citizenship, remaining stateless for the rest of his life. He was appointed an extraordinary professor of classical philology, before being promoted to the post of full professor the following year.
- During this period, he developed close friendship with Richard Wagner and his wife Cosima, becoming a frequent guest at their villa. Perhaps under their influence, he published his first major work ‘Greek Music Drama’ in 1870.
- Also in 1870, Nietzsche decided to work for his second doctoral degree, writing ‘Beiträge zur Quellenkunde und Kritik des Laertius Diogenes’ (Contribution toward the Study and the Critique of the Sources of Diogenes Laertius) as his dissertation. But he never submitted it.
- Although he had given up Prussian citizenship, his national fervor did not die. In July 1870, the ‘Franco-Prussian War’ broke out and in August, he took leave to serve as a medical orderly in the ‘Prussian Army.’ However, he was discharged from the service within a month as he became ill.
- By October 1870, he was back at Basel and resumed his work as a teacher. Due to tight teaching schedule and overwork, he became sick during early 1871. He then sought transfer to philosophical department, but was refused.
- In spite of his heavy teaching schedule and ill health, Nietzsche continued to write. In April 1871, he submitted the manuscript of his first major work 'Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik' (The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music).
- After it was refused by the first publisher, ‘The Birth of Tragedy’ was ultimately published on 2 January 1872, evoking angry response from many scholars in Greek literature. Undeterred, he next wrote ‘Über Wahrheit und Lüge im außermoralischen Sinn’ (On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense).
- n 1873, he wrote ‘On Truth and Lie,’ but it was not published until 1896. Also in 1873, he started working on 'Philosophie im tragischen Zeitalter der Griechen' (Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks), but left it unfinished. His 1874 book ‘We Philologists’ was also left unpublished.
- By 1877, he had become seriously ill, suffering from unrelenting pain and failing eyesight. Taking time off, he set up a home with his sister and past student Johann Heinrich Köselitz, better known as Peter Gast.
- During this period, Gast began to act as his secretary, taking dictation and helping out in other ways. In 1878, Nietzsche published 'Menschliches, Allzumenschliches: Ein Buch für freie Geister' (Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits). It was his first work to be written in the aphoristic style.
- Unfortunately, his health continued to deteriorate, forcing him to take longer leaves. Finally on June 14, 1879, he resigned from his job at Basel, upon which he was granted a yearly pension of 3000 Swiss franc for a period of six years.
- After resigning from his job, Nietzsche lived in isolation. Financed by his pension from Basel and aid from friends, he started moving around in Italy and Switzerland, publishing a number of books.
- ‘Morgenröte – Gedanken über die moralischen Vorurteille’ (The Dawn), published in 1881, was his first important work of this period. The following year, he had ‘Die fröhliche Wissenschaft’ (The Gay Science) published. His famous quote ‘Gott ist tot’ (God is Dead) first appeared in this work.
- From 1882, as his health worsened, he started taking huge quantity of opium; but it did not help. In 1883, he tried to obtain professorship at the ‘University of Leipzig,’ but because of his views on Christianity, it was denied to him. He was now unemployed and did not have many friends by his side.
- Going into seclusion, he wrote ‘Also sprach Zarathustra: Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen' (Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None), a philosophical novel composed in four parts between 1883 and 1885. In the novel, he elaborated his idea on the death of God, which he had introduced in ‘The Dawn.’
- In 1886, he wrote 'Jenseits von Gut und Böse: Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukun' (Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future). Due to a dispute with his publisher, he had it printed at his own expense. He also acquired publication rights for his earlier works.
- In 1887, Nietzsche published 'Zur Genealogie der Moral: Eine Streitschrift' (On the Genealogy of Morality: A Polemic). In addition to this, he also issued second editions of ‘The Birth of Tragedy,’ ‘Human, All Too Human,’ ‘The Dawn,’ and ‘The Gay Science,’ placing the contents more coherently and adding new prefaces to them.
- With the readjustment of the contents, the readers began to take more interest in his works and sales began to improve. Happy with the response, he wrote five books in 1888; but only 'Der Fall Wagner' (The Case of Wagner) was published that year.
- Among his other works, 'Götzen-Dämmerung, oder, Wie man mit dem Hammer philosophirt’ (Twilight of the Idols, or, How to Philosophize with a Hammer), written between 26 August and 3 September 1888, was published in 1889. Two other works, namely 'Der Antichrist' and ‘Nietzsche contra Wagner’ were published in 1895.
- In 1888, he wrote a semi-autobiographical book entitled 'Ecce homo: Wie man wird, was man ist' (Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is). Published in 1908, it was the last original work written by Nietzsche before he had his mental breakdown, which effectively ended his career.
- ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra,’ one of Nietzsche’s most celebrated works, records the imaginary travels and speeches of Zarathustra. The work elaborates ideas like ‘eternal recurrence,’ ‘death of God,’ and the "prophecy" of the Übermensch which were already introduced in his previous works.
- 'Twilight of the Idols' is among Nietzsche’s important works. In the book, he not only criticizes the German culture of that time as rather crude and nihilistic, but also criticizes the British, French, and Italian personalities who possessed similar views. He also applauded people like Caesar, Napoleon, Goethe, Thucydides, and the Sophists.
- Friedrich Nietzsche did not marry. He is said to have proposed thrice to Lou Salomé, a Russian student, in around 1892-1893; each time he was rejected by her. Some modern scholars also believe that he was homosexual, but others dismiss this view.
- Nietzsche had a close bond with his sister Therese Elisabeth Alexandra Förster-Nietzsche who used to look after him. Later, as she got married to Bernhard Förster, and developed anti-Semitic mindset, there was a rift between the two.
- On 3 January 1889, Nietzsche had a mental breakdown, originally diagnosed as tertiary syphilis. He was approached by two policemen after causing public disturbance in Turin. It is said that he witnessed a horse being flogged, ran towards the horse and tried to protect it before collapsing to the ground.
- By then, his sister had left for South America. Therefore, his friends arranged to bring him back to Basel. In March 1890, his mother transferred him to a clinic in Jena, subsequently bringing him back to Naumburg in May 1890, looking after him at home.
- Nietzsche’s sister returned in 1893 and immediately took control of his unpublished works. She rewrote them to suit her anti-Semitic ideology, creating the ‘Nietzsche Archive’ in 1894. After their mother’s death in 1897, she had him transferred to Weimer, where she allowed visitors to meet the uncommunicative Nietzsche.
- In 1898 and 1899, he suffered at least two strokes, losing his capability to walk or speak. In August 1900, he contracted pneumonia. He suffered another stroke on 24 or 25 August. He did not survive the stroke, and passed away on 25 August 1900.
- His mortal remains were buried at the church in Röcken bei Lützen, beside his father’s grave. His unfinished notes were later edited by his sister and published as 'Der Wille zur Macht' (The Will to Power).
- A German literary award named ‘Friedrich-Nietzsche-Preis’ was created in 1996 in his honor. Nietzsche-Haus, where he spent his childhood, has now been turned into a museum.
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