Friedrich Nietzsche, 19th Century Philosopher
"That which does not kill us makes us stronger", is just one of many.
A completely different example, "A pair of powerful spectacles has sometimes sufficed to cure a person in love", is perhaps less known nevertheless equally timeless, but how much do we know about the complicated man behind the quotations.
A German born philosopher, and rich source of quotations, whose diverse fan base has included Theodore Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Charles De Gaulle, Jean-Paul Satre, Hitler and Jim Morrison, Friedrich Nietzsche’s influence on 20th and 21st philosophy is irrefutable.
The first born son of a Lutheran pastor, both of whose parents were descended from long lines of Lutheran clergymen, he was born on October 15 in 1844 near Leipzig in Saxony, Prussia. At the time part of the German Federation of States.
He was five when his father died, followed a year later by his younger brother, and the family moved to the paternal family home, in the wine growing region of Naumburg an der Saale, where he had a strongly religious childhood.
Continuing the family tradition Nietzsche, (pronounced Nee tcha), began theological studies combined with classical philology at Bonn University, however after his initial term in 1864, he lost his faith and focused on philology; the interpretation of biblical and classical texts.
The first of his many and varied manuscripts was published during his time at Leipzig University, where he had followed his former Bonn philology professor, and Europe was going through one of its periodical questionings of authority, tradition and beliefs, which inspired him to further his study of philosophy.
Without a completed PhD, and aged only 24, Nietzsche accepted tenure as Professor of Classical Philology at the University of Basel, Switzerland, and during the 1870-1871 Franco-Prussian war became a medical orderly volunteer with the Naumburg division of the Prussian artillery. Although he had renounced his Prussian statehood after moving to Switzerland.
In Basel he resumed contact with the composer Richard Wagner whose music he had admired as a boy at school, and had met in Leipzig, and the composer became a close friend who had a strong influence upon Nietzsche and his way of thinking.
Something that Nietzsche acknowledged even after their friendship had ended, as he had become disenchanted with Wagner's antisemitism, idealism of suffering, and the poor quality of both the performances and audiences of the Bayreuth Festival in 1876.
Nietzsche's always fragile health was further weakened by illness during his year as a medical orderly, and by 1879 had declined to such an extent that it was impossible to keep his Basel professorship.
He became a traveler, living and writing profusely wherever in Europe there was a climate to improve his health, and it was while staying in Venice that the ex-theology student’s first real criticisms of Christianity began: "God is dead" being a well documented and often repeated phrase.
He writes in his book The Antichrist, "there was only one Christian, and he died on the cross". In his opinion it was Christ, an imperfect human being, who had shown mankind how to live, whereas religion supported instead only doctrines and unquestioning commitment.
Although certainly anti-Christian his thoughts appear to be more that modern science was at the time questioning everything, so the world needed new thought and interpretations, and in addition his viewpoint was "people always talk of their faith, but act according only to their instincts". This was something he could not accept.
Perhaps due to his challenging style of writing, common agreement regarding the analysis, understanding and importance of Nietzsche's books, studies and essays, which were mainly unread in his lifetime, remains limited.
Despite his academic reputation, because of his anti-Christian attitude his application for a post with the University of Leipzig was rejected; it was made clear to him that his opinions were considered unacceptable and that there was no future for him within Germany.
It is said that in January 1889, in Turin, Nietzsche saw a coachman whipping a horse so ran to protect the animal, and while throwing his arms around its neck fell down to the ground suffering a mental breakdown from which he never recovered.
For the last years of his life Nietzsche lived with his mother Franziska until her death in 1897, then with his sister Elizabeth, and, although he probably understood little about it, it was during this time that his reputation began to rise.
After a series of strokes had left him unable to speak or walk he died from pneumonia on August 25th 1900, aged 56. Paradoxically, although Nietzsche had openly attacked Christianity for a great deal of his adult life, Elizabeth arranged a Christian funeral at the church behind the house in which he had been born, and he was buried in the family grave. Alongside the father who had died 51 years before.
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