Born: October 15, 1844, in Röcken, Saxony
Died: August 25, 1900, in Weimar, Germany
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a philosopher and member of the existentialist movement. He professed that men could rise to become extraordinary or supermen if they removed themselves from the confines imposed by Christian morality. His work has been the subject of considerable debate and controversy and is marked by radical thinking and statements such as "God is dead".
Nietzsche was the son of a Lutheran pastor but his father died when he was only four. After the death of his father, Nietzsche, his mother and sister moved to Naumburg to live with his grandmother and two aunts.
As a boy, Nietzsche attended school in Pforta where he was a good student until he reached the age of eighteen. It was then that he developed an interest in the local beer halls which tended to interfere with his studies. Despite the distractions of his social life, he graduated and was accepted into the University of Bonn in 1864. University did not change his habits, however, and he was still noted for entertaining women friends and enjoying alcohol.
In what appeared to be an attempt at focusing on his academics, Nietzsche transferred to the University of Leipzig to study philosophy under Professor Ritschl. At this time, he also took an interest in the pessimistic writings of philosopher, Schopenhauer. He was strongly influenced by Schopenhauer's assertion that man's objective is to be nothing.
In 1868, after spending about a year in compulsory cavalry duty, Nietzsche published an article in a journal which attracted the attention and praise of scholars. Subsequently, he was granted a doctorate without having to complete the customary thesis. Later that year, he accepted a position in philology, the study of texts and their transmission, at the University of Basel.
To avoid further military service during the Franco -Prussian war, Nietzsche joined an old acquaintance, Richard Wagner, in Switzerland. While staying with Wagner and his mistress, Nietzsche was inspired by Wagner's music and wrote his first book, The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music in 1872. The book was poorly received and his reputation as a scholar did not escape untarnished.
Nietzsche traveled extensively over the next several years and in 1885, completed the fourth and final part of his work, Thus Spake Zarathustra. The work takes its name from the mystic religious leader Zarathustra who had lived more than five hundred years before Christ. Nietzsche chose the name to add an air of mysticism to the writing. Thus Spake Zarathustra created considerable controversy. Some defended it as strictly a work of art that should not be read as a doctrine while others, such as the Nazis, considered it required reading for their philosophical instruction. Modern neo-nazis have adopted Nietzsche's phrase "That which does not kill us can only make us stronger" as a rallying cry.
In 1882, Nietzsche made a failed overture for the marriage of Lou Salomé, who was captivated by his philosophy but could not bring herself to commit to spending her life with him. Many regarded him as a genius but his strong personality made him difficult to live with.
Nietzsche's later years found him plagued with a nervous disorder, eyesight problems and other physical difficulties. He spent some time in a mental institution before his sister accepted him into her care in 1887. Three years later, in a state of mental decay, Nietzsche died.