15 of the Best Friedrich Nietzsche Facts

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is one of the most talked about thinkers of the 19th century. But did you know he was anything but an anti-Semite despite the alt-right revering him as their hero whose works red-pilled them in so many ways? Did you also know that the German philosopher spent his last few years plagued by mental illness?

Below, we shed light on a thinker who is arguably Germany’s greatest philosopher, including some facts that many Germans don’t even know about their countryman. And if you’d like to share your views on Nietzsche and interpretations of his works, join the comment section.

Friedrich Nietzsche – Life and Major Facts

His parents named him after a Prussian King

Born on October 15, 1844 in Röcken in the Prussian Province of Saxony, Friedrich Nietzsche was named after King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia (1795-1861). Prussian monarch, who ruled from 1840 to 1861, turned 49 on the day Nietzsche was born. The philosopher would later drop the middle name Wilhelm.

His parents – Carl Ludwig Nietzsche and Franziska Nietzsche – had two more children after his birth. His siblings were therefore Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche (born in 1846) and Ludwig Joseph (born in 1849).

Nietzsche was around five when his father died of a brain disease. A few months later, his younger brother, Ludwig Joseph, died. He was less than two years old.

Nietzsche was named after Frederick William IV of Prussia (reign: 7 June 1840 – 2 January 1861)

Nietzsche proposed three times to a Russian-born psychoanalyst

He proposed marriage to Russian-born psychoanalyst Lou Andreas- Salomé on three occasions. The German philosopher was heads over heels with Salomé, with whom he and another friend of his, German philosopher and physician Paul Rée, travelled around Europe.

Russian-born psychoanalyst Lou Andreas-Salomé

Nietzsche’s love interest Russian-born psychoanalyst Lou Andreas-Salomé (1861-1937)

However, the well-traveled author and essayist rejected Nietzsche. The trio would later fall out with each other, and Rée and Salomé would leave Nietzsche in 1882. Nietzsche slightly blamed his sister Elisabeth for working behind the scenes to thwart his relationship with Salomé.

He was incredibly good in Christian theology and languages

In his early years, he was enrolled at a very top boys’ school. And right from his early school years, he performed very well in Christian theology. When he was around 10, he was awarded a scholarship to enroll Schulpforta, a very renowned school. There, he became friends with future German philosopher Paul Jakob Deussen. In addition to excelling in Christian theology, he had good grades in languages such as German, Latin, and Greek.

He served for one year as a volunteer in the Prussian army

When he was around 23, he enlisted in the Prussian artillery division in Naumburg for one year. There, he distinguished himself very well, and he often received praises for being a very good rider. Had it not been for an accident that caused two of his left side muscles to tear, Nietzsche might have really considered staying in the army. However, the few months he spent recuperating drastically altered his contemplation, and he decided to remain the field of scholarly work.

He lost faith in Christianity at college

Friedrich Nietzsche

Young Nietzsche, 1861

Nietzsche was a student at Schulpforta for about a decade or so. He graduated in September 1864. After Schulpforta he proceeded to the University of Bonn, where he studied classical philology. He was taken under the wings of German scholar Friedrich Wilhelm Ritschl. At the time, he dreamed of becoming a minister. A few semesters into his program, he is said to have lost his faith, which came as huge shock to his mother and sister. Bear in mind, his father was a Lutheran pastor. So why did Nietzsche lose his faith?

The young Nietzsche at the time was of the view that the central teachings of Christianity could not stand the rigorous questions thrown at them by historical research. Basically, Nietzsche believed that the core tenets of Christianity had been discredited over and over through rigorous research.

Having picked on some of the ideas from the works of German philosophers like Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach and David Friedrich Strauss, the young Nietzsche began seriously questioning the teachings of Christianity, arguing that God didn’t create humans, instead it was the other way around – man created God.

He was pals with the Wagners

The first time Nietzsche met Richard Wagner was in 1868. He made number of visits to Wagner’s residence at Tribschen in lucerne, Switzerland. The Wagners introduced him to other composers and writers, including Hungarian composer and conductor Franz Liszt (1811-1886), German composer Hans von Bülow (1830-1894) and German writer Malwida von Meysenbug (1816-1903). The latter is best known for the work Memories of an Idealist.

Nietzsche had some issue with Wagner because of the composer’s strong support for the “German culture”. As a result, the philosopher slightly distanced himself from Wagner. He also distanced himself from the views of Schopenhauer.

German composer Richard Wagner

He was a professor of philology at the University of Basel for a decade

Around the age of 24, he took up an appointment at the University of Basel, serving as a professor of classical philology. It is interesting to note that at the time he had not even completed his doctorate nor had he acquired any teaching certificate.

However, in 1869, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Leipzig University. Poor health forced him to resign his position at the university in 1879. The philosopher had been plagued by a number of illnesses since his youth, including migraine, violent indigestion, and shortsightedness.

Friedrich Nietzsche

He was stateless for very long periods of his life

It is said that prior to moving to Basel to take up the job as a classical philology professor, he renounced his Prussian citizenship. He did not try to become a citizen of any country thereafter. What this means is that he was stateless for the rest of his life. Regardless, he still enlisted in the Prussian army and served as a medical orderly during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871).

A number of German composers ridiculed his musical compositions

While at Schulpforta, Nietzsche dabbled quite a bit in the composition of music; however, it was apparent right from the get-go that he was not to become a good composer. The feedback he got from some German composers was not very encouraging, with the renowned German composer Richard Wagner allegedly ridiculing the music piece Nietzsche composed for his wife, Cosima Wagner.

Nietzsche’s favorite poet

Growing up, Nietzsche’s favorite poet was Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843), the relatively unknown German poet and philosopher whose most notable works are The Death of Empodocles and Hyperion. Nietzsche was full of praise for Hölderlin, especially his works on consciousness and reality.

Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843) was one of Nietzsche’s favorite poets. Image: Hölderlin by Franz Carl Hiemer, 1792

Nietzsche and the German poet Ernst Ortlepp

It was the German poet Ernst Ortlepp (1800-1864) who introduced Nietzsche to musical composition as well as the works of Richard Wagner. There have been some biographers of Nietzsche that opine that Ortlepp had a huge influence on the young Nietzsche.

It’s even said that some of Ortlepp’s drunken behavior rubbed off on Nietzsche as one time, Nietzsche showed up to class extremely drunk. As punishment for his deviant behavior, Nietzsche was stripped off his position as prefect.

Nietzsche’s concept of “will to power”

Nietzsche’s philosophy centered around concepts such as the “will to power,” which suggests that the driving force behind human behavior is a desire for power and self-realization. He also introduced the idea of the “Ubermensch” or “Superman,” an ideal human who surpasses conventional morality and embraces individual strength and creativity.

Friedrich Nietzsche's quote

He had a mental breakdown in 1889

Plagued by a number of illnesses including, difficulty sleeping, Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown in January 1889. During this deplorable state, he sent a number of letters to his friends, including Cosima Wagner and Jacob Burckhardt. The letters came to be referred to a Wahnzettel, meaning “Delusional notes”.

In some of the letters, he signed them off as “Dionysus” or “the crucified one” (“der Gekreuzigte”). In one of the letters, he wrote that he created the world and that he was making preparations to have all anti-Semites executed. He also called for the Pope to be put behind bars and that the German emperor should be dragged to Rome and then executed.

Photo of Nietzsche by German portrait painter Gustav-Adolf Schultze, 1882

Those that claim that tertiary syphilis was not the cause of his mental breakdown claim that it was manic-depressive illness interlaced with psychosis and then vascular dementia. It’s also been proposed that mercury poisoning caused the mental breakdown. The use of mercury to treat syphilis was widespread at the time.

All superior men who were irresistibly drawn to throw off the yoke of any kind of morality and to frame new laws had, if they were not actually mad, no alternative but to make themselves or pretend to be mad.

He suffered a number of strokes before his death

With grave concern, his friends decided to bring him to Basel, where he was placed in a psychiatric clinic. It’s possible that the syphilis he contracted in the 1870s caused the mental breakdown. In any case, the philosopher was moved from one hospital to another until he was finally brought to the home of his mother in May 1890.

After the death of his mother, Nietzsche went to live with his sister Elisabeth, who at the time had taken charge of the publication of Nietzsche’s works.

Elisabeth employed Austrian occultist and social reformer Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner (1861-1925) to help her understand the works of her brother. She found it extremely difficult to comprehend philosophy. Regardless, that did not stop her from doctoring her brother’s works so as to make them appear anti-Semitic.

With his mental breakdown growing worse with each passing day, he also began to suffer from dementia. He suffered a number of strokes in 1898 and 1899. The strokes left him partially paralyzed, and he lost his ability to walk or speak. In August 1900, he contracted pneumonia. That same month he suffered another stroke.

On August 25, 1900, he passed away. He was 55 years old. He was buried at a church in Röcken near Lützen – the same cemetery as his father.

About a year after his death, his sister Elisabeth compiled The Will to Power and published it posthumously. This was to become the first of a series of posthumous publications by Elisabeth, who doctored Nietzsche’s philosophy to suit her anti-Semitic views.

Nietzsche’s grave at Röcken in Germany

Who were some of the philosophers and scholars that influenced Nietzsche?

  • His philology professor Friedrich Wilhelm Ritschl.
  • The works of German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) had a powerful influence on the growing mind of Nietzsche. For example, Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation, which rejected the contemporaneous ideas of German idealism – awakened his philosophical interest. Nietzsche even dedicated the essay “Schopenhauer as Educator” in the Untimely Meditations to Schopenhauer.
  • Nietzsche also had strong admiration for Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897), who also admired Arthur Schopenhauer.
  • He was also influenced by some of the works by Afrikan Spir (1837-1890), a Russian philosopher of German-Greek descent. He took a lot of inspiration from Spir’s thought and Reality, a book published in 1873. Nietzsche even described Spir as “the logician I value”.

Friedrich Nietzsche: Quick Facts

Nietzsche – His life and works

Birth name: Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Born: October 15, 1844

Place of birth: Röcken, Province of Saxony, Prussia, German Confederation

Died: August 25, 1900

Place of death: Weimar, Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, German Empire

Aged: 55

Burial place: Röcken Churchyard, Germany

Parents: Carl Ludwig Nietzsche and Franziska Nietzsche

Siblings: Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, Ludwig Joseph

Education: University of Bonn; Leipzig University

Influenced by: Zoroaster, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Spinoza, Arthur Schopenhauer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Richard Wagner, Blaise Pascal, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Notable works: The Birth of Tragedy (1872), Human, All Too Human (1878), The Gay Science (1882), Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883), Beyond Good and Evil (1886)

Other interesting facts about Nietzsche

  • His first major work, The Birth of Tragedy, was published in 1872. The 1870s also saw him publish a number of essays, including: “David Strauss: the Confessor and the Writer”, “Schopenhauer as Education”, and “On the Use and Abuse of History for Life”.
  • Nietzsche was not a big fan of the Bayreuth Festival. He viewed the 1876 event as a bit too banal and base.
  • It took him about ten days to write the first part of Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

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