Ironically, Nietzsche's oft-uttered maxim, "That which does not kill me makes me stronger" does not appear to have been remotely applicable to his own life. History notes that Nietzsche's final mental collapse in 1889 was precipitated by witnessing a coachman beating an old horse. Overwhelmed with pity (an emotion he rallied convincingly against in Thus Spoke Zarathustra) he rushed to the animal's aid. Conflicting accounts of the event have him either collapsing before he could insert himself between coachman and beast, or being found by others with his arms wrapped around the neck of the horse, weeping uncontrollably. In any event, he was returned, deranged, to his apartment, where friends later found him playing piano with his elbows and singing madly.

Only a few days after the very public breakdown, he authored one of his last known letters. In it, clear evidence of his madness abounds, as in this unnerving passage, "'Dear Professor, in the end I would have much preferred being a Basle professor to being God. But I did not dare to carry my private egoism so far that for its sake I should omit the creation of the world ...".

1889, the year of his final, total breakdown, also was the year he attempted an autobiography of sorts, Ecco Homo. It is as much an unnerving snapshot of the breaking mind as an account of his work and life, with chapters titles like, "Why I am So Clever" and "Why I Write Such Excellent Books".

No- the breakdown did not kill him, but none have argued that it made him stronger in any discernable way. Indeed, it must be remarked that Nietzsche's latter life was spent in vegetative physical and mental deterioration, which most believe was caused by an early syphilitic infection. The deranged and unsound shell of a once-considerable intellect was left in the care of his mother. While she, a believer in Christianity, found his philosophical writings to be abhorrent, she loved him as a mother and cared for her frail son until her own death several years later. He was then committed to the care of his sister, Elizabeth, who exploited his growing popularity for her own financial gain.