Who is Friedrich Nietzsche?

Mary McMahon

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) was a Prussian writer and philosopher whose work affected many 20th century philosophers, artists, and scholars. Thanks to creative editing of his work after his death, Friedrich Nietzsche is sometimes thought of as an anti-Semitic misogynist, though this is not actually true. Friedrich Nietzsche's work was bold, daring, and challenging to the reader, questioning the society around him and the rules that people lived by. Nietzsche is considered one of the fore guard of the existential philosophers.

Friedrich Nietzsche was a well-known philosopher who explored existentialism.
Friedrich Nietzsche was a well-known philosopher who explored existentialism.

Friedrich Nietzsche was born in Saxony in 1844 to Lutheran parents. His father passed away five years later, and Nietzsche was largely raised by his female relatives, who sent him to boarding school and later to university, first at Bonn and then Leipzig. At university, Nietzsche studied classical literature and linguistics. He first began to distinguish himself after university, when he took a teaching position at Basel, which he held until 1879.

Nietzsche was found in the streets of Turin, Italy, in 1889.
Nietzsche was found in the streets of Turin, Italy, in 1889.

In 1872, Nietzsche published The Birth of Tragedy, a discussion of the clash between Apollonian and Dionysian cultures. Friedrich Nietzsche believed that a balance must be found between the two extremes and that humans were inherently Dionysian, but needed to temper this tendency with the self control and focus of Apollonian existence. The book was reasonably well received as a critical analysis of contemporary culture.

In 1879, Friedrich Nietzsche began to suffer increasingly from health problems and was forced to give up his teaching position. He began a nomadic life, wandering Europe and producing some of his most famous work, including Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883) and Beyond Good and Evil (1886). These books were characterized by much more abstract philosophical concepts and marked by radically atheist ideas. Nietzsche didn't receive much attention for these books during his lifetime — it was only later, with the advent of the 20th century and a new struggle for understanding, that his work became popular.

In 1889, Friedrich Nietzsche was found in the streets of Turin, Italy, weeping and embracing an old horse. It has been suggested that the cause of his mental and physical decline was a case of syphilis, and Nietzsche spent the remaining years of his life in peaceful obscurity under the care of his sister. Unfortunately, Friedrich Nietzsche's sister was very anti-semitic, and when she gained control of his literary estate, she heavily edited his work, which later became a touchstone for the Nazi movement, something that would have horrified Nietzsche to the core.

After Friedrich Nietzsche's death, his sister published Will to Power in 1901 and Ecce Homo in 1908. The work of Friedrich Nietzsche had a profound effect on 20th century society, which became, as Nietzsche had predicted, extremely Dionysian. His work is still widely translated and read by many, especially disaffected youths attempting to find their place in society.

Nietzsche was born in Saxony in Eastern Germany.
Nietzsche was born in Saxony in Eastern Germany.

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Discussion Comments


His concept of "ubermensch" was a strong power which pertained directly to this world, in contrast to the Christian traits of an otherworldly Christ and far-off morals. Nietzsche was interested in establishing the groundwork for a new kind of thinking, sort of like a founder of a new religion. To this day, his influence has become very much like a founding figure of a faith.


Friedrich Nietszche's "The Anti-Christ" had a profound bent towards rediscovering pre-Christian pagan beliefs in Europe, and daring to go beyond what society has established as rules and regulations for modern western society. This had many indirect results that Nietzsche could not have foreseen. Much of the Germanic world today has become angry and upset with Judeo-Christian religion and values, to the point of Anti-Semitism.


You can notice both his restless mind and his skill with language in the form of pithy aphorisms which really make you think. His thirst for knowledge and understanding is contagious, and it is difficult to read his works without pausing to think multiple times in a given page. This man was a great philologist, and loved using words to their utmost potential.

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