nietzsche whip

5 Crazy Facts About The Life of Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher who really hated Christianity and morality. His philosophy has often erroneously been conflated with Nazism because his sister was kind of a dick  Nazi who wanted to revive her brother’s work after his death. By revive, I mean grossly manipulate to make it seem anti-semitic and Nazi-ish because, hey, when in Rome, right?

In 2000, Alain de Botton made a six part series on philosophy which is now available online. One episode on Nietzsche details his life and work. Little did I know Nietzsche’s life was kind of a shit show. Here are the five craziest things about Nietzsche’s life from Alain de Botton’s video.

#1 Nietzsche was a failure during his lifetime

Nietzsche had the impressive feat of becoming a professor by the age of 24. However, he was alienated by his peers and forced to retire by the age of 35. Nietzsche also wanted abandon philosophy in favor of gardening, but apparently failed at that as well. It wasn’t until after his death that Nietzche’s work began to be read widely.

#2 His mustache frightened women

Botton claims that Nietzsche was grotesquely incompetent at romance. Apparently, Nietzsche’s epic hipster mustache “scared” women at the time. And that’s probably for the better, because Nietzsche also managed to contract syphilis at a brothel while he was still in college.

nietzsche whip
Nietzsche was also allegedly in love with this woman

#3 He was sickly for most of his life

You would think a philosopher who argued for the embrace of suffering and the triumph of the over-man must be the philosophical equivalent of Chuck Norris. But it turns out, Nietzche’s philosophy is seemingly ironic when you find out he was always constantly ill and not very ubermenschy. Part of this was due, of course, to that syphilis he caught earlier. Given the Darwinian interpretation that some give to Nietzsche’s work (which many argue is wrong), this becomes a little hilarious. It would almost be as ironic as discovering conservative god-figure Ayn Rand was on government handouts. Oh wait, she was.

Of course, Botton points out that Nietzsche’s philosophy is all the more fitting for his life. For a man who suffered a lot, he learned to celebrate it.

 #4 He had a mental breakdown when he saw a horse being beaten

After seeing a horse being whipped in the streets of Turin, Italy, Nietzsche had a mental breakdown that put him in an asylum for the rest of his life.  Nietzsche is reported to have run over to the horse and held it in his arm to protect it before he collapsed to the ground. The scene was also the subject a movie by Bela Tarr (whom Jacques Ranciere wrote a book about) called The Turin Horse.

According to Botton, after the horse incident Nietzsche “returned to his boarding house, danced naked” and thought of shooting the Kaiser. Botton continues to explain that Nietzsche began to believe himself to be Jesus, Napoleon, Buddha and other historical figures. Nietzsche’s family threw him into asylum where he died 11 years later at the age of 56.

Nietzsche one year before his death

#5 He thought alcohol was as bad as Christianity

Nietzsche lumped alcohol and Christianity in the category of “shit that makes you not embrace suffering.” Nietzsche, according to Botton, doesn’t think we should “drown our sorrows”. As such, he never drank. Nietzsche, according to Botton, believed that Christianity like alcohol, “dulls pain” but also “weakens resolve to overcome the problem from which the pain has arisen.”  And if you thought that might piss off the Church, it did.  After his death, Nietzsche’s burial records written by church authorities note he was “a known antichrist” next to his name”

Watch the Alain de Botton video on Open Culture.

  • KennethMoe

    The horse thing and the syphilis thing are probably not true.

    • Tristan Haze

      Especially the latter – I hope the horse thing is true, and didn’t realize people doubted it.

      The thing about being a gardener sounds really odd… are you sure you’re not thinking of Wittgenstein’s stint as a gardener at a monastery after the War?

      It’s also not true that Nietzsche never drank alcohol.

      • Ken

        Both are true. Multiple sources support these claims; I’m serious, look it up. However, he was not kept in an asylum for the rest of his life, but was cared for by his sister until he died in 1900. As for the gardening thing, I’m not completely sure if that’s 100% accurate.

        • Tristan Haze

          Ken, Nietzsche himself writes in Ecce Homo of being able to write Latin essays as a student having had large quantities of ‘grog’ – adding that smaller amounts, by contrast, tend to make life a ‘veil of tears’ for him. Are you saying he was lying about having drunk alcohol?

          I have also read that a visitor who stayed with him was surprised at how much liquor he drank, but I do not have the source to hand.

          Numerous sources also attest to his having gotten into trouble with fellow students (gymnasium or university) for knocking off and getting tipsy. So it’s certainly not the case that he never in all his life drank alcohol. But perhaps there were periods when he could truly say, speaking of the then-current run of things, ‘I never drink’. Perhaps that ambiguity is at the bottom of our apparent disagreement.

          • Ken

            I was not saying that he didn’t drink alcohol; I was actually responding to what Kenneth said about Nietzsche’s breakdown (with the horse) and his being sick as a child. Those facts are true; that was all I was saying. I was not saying that Nietzsche never drank. Forgive me if I confused you with how I stated my words.

          • S Ray Wright

            Because he drank as a kid, he was like “I don’t drink anymore”

            Ecce Homo says your wrong

            The best cooking is that of Piedmont. Alcohol does not agree with me; one glass of wine or beer a day is enough to turn life into a valley of tears for me; in Munich live my antipodes. Admitting that I came to understand this rationally rather late, yet I had experienced it as a mere child. As a boy I believed that wine-drinking and tobacco-smoking were at first but youthful vanities, and later simply bad habits. Perhaps the wine of Naumburg was partly responsible for this harsh judgment. To believe that wine was exhilarating, I should have had to be a Christian-in other words, I should have had to believe in what, for me, is an absurdity. Strangely enough, whereas small largely diluted quantities of alcohol depressed me, great quantities made me act almost like a sailor on shore leave. Even as a boy I showed my bravado in this respect. […] Later on, towards the middle of my life, I grew more and more decisive in my opposition to spirituous drinks: 1, an opponent of vegetarianism from experience-like Richard Wagner, who reconverted in annot with sufficient earnest-ness advise all more spiritual natures to abstain absolutely from alcohol. Water answers the same purpose.”

  • jc

    Alcohol is indeed bad. but sometimes we also need a bit of poison in our lives to recover.

    • clc

      Nietzsche-
      He did drink and party when he first attended Bon College at age 20, but decided he didn’t want that lifestyle. I’m sure he drank socially, like most do after that. As for the Syphilis story, it is actually believed to be started to discredit him. His symptoms of headaches and loss of vision for periods of time are documented to have started around age 10 and progressed to bouts of momentary paralysis. Which in historical documentation resemble TIA or mini strokes. That would make sense because in the years near his death he had more than one major stroke. All of that along with the mental changes have been shown more likely to have been brain cancer or other type tumor.

      As for his writing, it was not literal. It was made to get people thinking, to evoke emotion. “God is Dead” was not literal, the idea of an omnipresence who created everything was being replaced with Descartes Cogito Ergo Sum. Man has a mind which gives him free will to make decisions, denoting God’s will over you. Darwin was showing the possibilities of evolution not a rib taken from Adam. So science was “killing” God. His point in all of this is that the herd mentality needs something to follow, and now what were they going to do? They were breaking down beliefs that gave them answers and made them feel safe.

      He promoted individualism, he promoted passion to be who you wanted to be, and felt driven to be. His point about living with full force, even in the eyes of death, is that you cannot change things that are inevitable. You cannot change things that have already happened, no matter how terrible, and why should you let it rob you of truly living. What you can change is how you embrace what you have now, but first you have to purge yourself of what holds your soul, your desire and your nature hostage. I would even venture to say he lived more sliding full force into death than you live in life. Eugene, Anyone who possesses the ability to be the Ubermensch, would be wise to stay far from you, because you will only bring them down to your level. You enjoy chasing life, while people like me, rage full force staring into the eyes of it, not afraid to LIVE.

  • Gary M

    a 10-year-old article casts a lot of doubt on the syphilis story:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/3313279/Madness-of-Nietzsche-was-cancer-not-syphilis.html