Born in 1844, it was Nietzsche's blessing to live a life full of thought and creation, and his doom to die before his influence was truly felt. Ascetic, atheist, philosopher, philologist, writer, musician, Friedrich Nietzsche is undoubtably one of the most widely known, if least commonly understood, philosophers of the Western world. He is many things to many men, and his writings have been used alongsides discussions in a staggering variety of fields.

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was born in Röcken, Prussia, in 1844, to Ludwig Nietzsche and Franziska Oehler Nietzsche. Ludwig Nietzsche was a Lutheran minister, and died when Nietzsche was only five years old from what was called "a softening of the brain." The remainder of Nietzsche's childhood was spent in the company of women, living with his mother, sister, two maiden aunts and an anxiety-prone grandmother. This is, perhaps, where Nietzsche aquired the dislike for women that can be found throughout his works.

After grade school, Nietzsche attended the famous boarding school of Schulpforta. During his time there, the crippling migraine headaches that were to afflict him for the rest of his life began. The medication for these headaches left him weak and nauseous. The result was that he spent the remainder of his life wavering between headaches and nausea, with only brief periods of health.

Nietzsche first went to the University of Bonn, in 1864, to study classical philology and theology. However, he rapidly lost his faith, and left the University in 1874. After that, he attended the University of Leipzig to continue his studies in philology. His professor, Friedrich Ritschl, a generally conservative professor, was highly impressed with the young Nietzsche, and published some of his papers, and recommended him for a chair of classical philology at the University of Basel in Switzerland.

It is in Ritschl's recommendation that we find a very clear picture of twenty-four-year-old Nietzsche.

However many young talents I have seen develop under my eyes for thirty-nine years now, never yet have I known a young man, or tried to help one along in my field as best I could, who was so mature as early and as young as this Nietzsche. His Museum articles he wrote in the second and third year of his triennium. He is the first from whom I have ever accepted any contribution at all while he was still a student. If--God grant--he lives long enough, I prophesy that he will one day stand in the front rank of German philology. He is now twenty-four years old: strong, vigorous, healthy, courageous physically and morally, so constituted as to impress those of a similar nature. On top of that, he possesses the enviable gift of presenting ideas, talking freely, as calmly as he speaks skillfully and clearly. He is the idol and, without wishing it, the leader of the whole younger generation of philologists here in Liepzig who--and they are rather numerous--cannot wait to hear him as a lecturer. You will say, I describe a phenomenon. Well, that is just what he is--and at the same time pleasant and modest. Also a gifted musician, which is irrelevant here.

All this, but Nietzsche did not yet have a doctorate, and had not yet published the additional book usually required for a chair. Ritschl, despite his faith in Nietzsche, thought the case hopeless, "although in the present instance," he wrote, "I would stake my whole philological and academic reputation that the matter would work out happily." Basel, unsurprisingly, decided to ignore the "formal insufficiency" and gave Nietzsche both a doctorate and a chair of philology as an associate professor. Ritschl, delighted, felt he should further describe his protégé.

Nietzsche is not at all a specifically political nature. He may have in general, on the whole, some sympathy for the growing greatness of Germany, but, like myself, no special tendre for Prussianism; yet he has vivid feelings for free civic and spiritual development, and thus certainly a heart for your Swiss institutions and way of living. What more am I to say? His studies so far have been weighted towards the history of Greek literature (of course, including critical and exegetical treatment of the authors), with special emphasis, it seems to me, on the history of Greek philosophy. But I have not the least doubt that, if confronted by a practical demand, with his great gifts he will work in other fields with the best of success. He will simply be able to do anything he wants to do.

Nietzsche, however, was not going to dedicate his life to standing at the forefront of German philology. His readings were diverse, his interests varied. While he was very conscientious about his teaching duties, and carried the heavy load without complaint, his mind was soaring beyond the academic pale, and his first book was not about philology at all. In 1872, Nietzsche published The Birth of Tragedy, writing about the sudden birth and the equally sudden death of tragedy among the Greeks. His thesis was that Greek tragedy, born of music, died among the Greek rationalism incarnated in Socrates and evidenced in Euripides. The style was an essay that moved between brilliance and floridity, all without any scholarly apparatus. Unfortunately, nearly half the book was about Nietzsche’s close friend Wagner and his music dramas, making the book look like nothing more than a pleading for Wagner, his idol.

It went from there. The rest of his works made not the least pretence at any connection with philology. First, from 1873 to 1876, he published four Untimely Meditations. Then the aphoristic works, from Human, All-Too-Human to The Gay Science. While he was writing these works, two great events in Nietzsche’s life occurred. First, his break from Wagner over the composer’s German nationalism and his anti-semitism, a concept Nietzsche found utterly distasteful. This was a great damage to Nietzsche, as his friendship with Wagner had been very close, and ending the friendship was highly painful. The second was Nietzsche retiring from the University. In 1879 he claimed ill health, true enough, and gained a pension to live off of. While he truly was in ill health, he felt that his further development as a philosopher required a break from being a professor of philology.

He remained for most of the rest of his life in Switzerland and Italy in lonely, pain-wracked writing. After this, he published the remainder of his works. First was his first attempt to put down his philosophy in one place: Thus Spoke Zarathustra in 1885. After that, Beyond Good and Evil in 1886, and then Genealogy of Morals in 1887. In 1888, he published his final denunciation of his former friend in The Case of Wagner. That was followed by the hundred-page epitome of his thought, Twilight of the Idols. He then gave up the idea of writing his opus, The Will to Power, and wrote the first part of another work, Revaluation of All Values, called The Antichrist. On the same day he completed this, he wrote the preface to Twilight of the Idols, and, in the same year, wrote his excellent and unorthodox autobiography, Ecce Homo. On Christmas Day, 1888, he completed his final work, Nietzsche contra Wagner. Less than two weeks later he broke down, insane, in the street while hugging a horse’s neck.

His madness ended his academic life, and he lived until his death in 1900 in the care of his mother and sister, a broken man. It was only after his breakdown that most of his works were published, if highly distorted by his sister, and that his greatest fame was achieved. He was aware of none of it.

The cause of his madness has been vigorously debated, whether it was from syphilis contracted during a rare sexual escapade as a young man or, perhaps, contracted while he was treating wounded soldiers in 1870, or inherited from his father. Whatever the case, he was never to know of the great impact he had on the thoughts of the twentieth century.

From Plato to Derrida
, Forrest E. Baird, Walter Kaufmann
The Portable Nietzsche, Walter Kaufmann
Thank you to Kathy J, tdent and olmanrvr for corrections.

Node your homework!...again...
I like Nietzsche. It is that obvious?