Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) was born in Röcken bei Lützen, a farming town outside of Leipzig, to a long line of Lutheran ministers. After his father’s early death from a brain disease, the family relocated to Naumburg an der Saale. Nietzsche attended the Schulpforta boarding school, where he became enamored with the music of Richard Wagner and the writings of the German Romantics, before going on to study at the Universities of Bonn and Leipzig. As a university student, Nietzsche gained a reputation as a classical philologist and discovered Arthur Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation, the “cadaverous perfume” of which would hang over him throughout his career. After a period of compulsory military service, Nietzsche was appointed to the faculty of the University of Basel at the age of twenty-four. He published his first book, The Birth of Tragedy, in 1872, but his deteriorating health soon forced him to retire from academia. In the itinerant period that followed, Nietzsche completed his most influential works, including Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883–85), Beyond Good and Evil (1886), and The Antichrist (1888). He suffered a mental breakdown in Turin on January 3, 1889—purportedly at the sight of a horse being beaten by a coachman. Before collapsing, Nietzsche is said to have thrown his arms around the horse’s neck to shield it from the whip. Three days later, he wrote in a letter to his mentor Jacob Burckhardt that he would rather be “a Basel Professor than God.” He was subsequently hospitalized, and lived the rest of his life an invalid  in the care of his mother and sister.