Philosophy: History and Problems
, by Samuel Enoch Stumpf, McGraw-Hill,
1971, pp. 369-371)
Nietzsche died on August 25, 1900, at the age of fifty-five, leaving a legacy of
brilliant writings whose impact and influence were delayed until the twentieth century.
His life was full of sharp contrasts. The son and grandson of Lutheran ministers, he was
nevertheless the herald of the judgment that “God is dead” and undertook a “campaign
against morality.” He was nurtured in an environment thoroughly dominated by females
yet advocated the most masculine philosophy of the superman. He called for the fullest
expression of human vitality in the name of the Will to Power and yet believed that
sublimation and control are the truly human characteristics. His writings rank among the
most lucid ever written, yet he ended his days in hopeless insanity.
Named after the reigning King of Prussia. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was born in
Röcken, in the province of Saxony on October 15, 1844. His father died when he was
four years old, and he grew up in a household consisting of his mother, sister,
grandmother, and two maiden aunts.
At age fourteen he was sent to the famed boarding
school at Pforta
, where for six years he underwent rigorous intellectual discipline,
excelling particularly in the classics, religion, and German literature. It was here that he
came under the spell of the Greek genius, discovering it especially in Aeschylus and
In October of 1864 he went to the University of Bonn but stayed only one year as
he was unimpressed by the caliber of his fellow students and decided to follow his
excellent teacher of classics and philology, Friedrich Ritschl, who was invited to accept a
chair at the University of Leipzig. While at Leipzig he came upon the main work of
Schopenhauer, whose atheism and antirationalism deeply influenced Nietzsche for a
while and confirmed his own revolt against contemporary European culture, which he
had come to despise as decadent.
It was here also that Nietzsche came under the spell of
Wagner’s music. “I could not have stood my youth without Wagner’s music,” Nietzsche
said later. “When one wants to rid oneself of an intolerable pressure, one needs hashish.
Well, I needed Wagner.”
When the University of Basel was looking for someone to fill the chair of philosophy,
Nietzsche’s name figured prominently. He had not yet completed his doctor’s degree, but
some of his published papers had attracted notice for their exceptional scholarship. On
the additional strength of his teacher Ritschl’s enthusiastic recommendation,
was appointed a university professor at the age of twenty-four. After the University of
Basel confirmed his appointment, the University of Leipzig conferred the doctor’s
degree upon Nietzsche without examination. In May 1869, he delivered his inaugural
Homer and Classical Philology
. During his years at Basel, Nietzsche visited