Friedrich Nietzsche was born in Rocken, a small town in the Prussian province of Saxony, on October 15, 1844, into circumstances that offer a striking contrast to his later thought. Ironically, the philosopher who rejected religion and coined the phrase "God is dead" was descended from a line of respected clergymen.
    Nietzsche completed his secondary education at the exacting boarding school of Pforta. A brilliant student, he received rigorous training in Latin, Greek, and German. In 1864 the young man entered the University of Bonn to study theology and classical philology. A year later, however, he abandoned theology and transferred to the University of Leipzig to pursue a doctorate in philology. At Leipzig Nietzsche became an ardent admirer of philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, whose work he accidentally discovered in a secondhand bookstore, and the composer Richard Wagner, whom he met in 1868 and came to regard as a second father.
    In 1869, at the age of twenty-four, Nietzsche was appointed professor of classical philology at the University of Basel, where he taught for the next ten years. The publication in 1872 of his first major book, The Birth of Tragedy, brought him immediate notoriety. Dedicated to Wagner, it exploded the nineteenth century conception of Greek culture and sounded themes later developed by twentieth-century philosophers, psychoanalysts, and novelists. Nietzsche's next work, four essays collectively titled Untimely Meditations (1873-76), focused on contemporary issues and criticism. Two attacked German "cultural philistinism" and challenged the value of historical knowledge, while tributes to Schopenhauer and Wagner were at once reflections on philosophy and art.
   "[I am] a man who wishes nothing more than daily to lose some reassuring belief, who seeks and finds his happiness in this daily greater liberation of the mind," wrote Nietzsche during this period. "It may be that I want to be even more of a freethinker than I can be." Indeed, Human All-too-Human (1878) represented an entirely new direction in his thought. Written in an aphoristic style perfectly suited to Nietzsche's multifaceted, iconoclastic beliefs, the work contains piercing observations that lay bare the hidden motivations underlying many aspects of human behavior. (Freud remarked that Nietzsche's "premonitions and insights often agree in the most amazing manner with the laborious results of psychoanalysis.") Subtitled "A Book for Free Spirits," Human All-too-Human also signaled the beginning of Nietzsche's break with Wagner. Two sequels, Mixed Opinions and Maxims (1879) and The Wanderer and His Shadow (1880), presented further investigations of psychological phenomena.
   Nietzsche resigned from his professorship in 1879 owing to chronic ill health; he had long suffered from paralyzing migraine headaches, and brief military service in the Franco-Prussian War left him shattered. Afterward he existed on a university pension as an unassuming gentleman lodger at resorts in Italy, France, and Switzerland. Yet his intellectual revolt continued unabated over the next decade. Though almost constantly in pain he produced, to quote Thomas Mann, "stylistically dazzling books -- works sparkling with audacious insults to his age, venturing into more and more radical psychology, radiating a more and more glaring white light." In The Dawn (1881), another collection of aphorisms, he exposed the prejudices of European morality. The Gay Science (1882), which Nietzsche regarded as his most personal book, includes sustained discussions of truth, art, and knowledge.
   Then, in 1883 and 1884, Nietzsche published the first three sections of Thus Spoke Zarathustra; the fourth part, completed in 1885, did not appear until 1892. Cast as a series of parables about a prophet who proclaims the death of God and challenges mankind to face its destiny, Zarathustra is a mine of ideas and perhaps Nietzsche's most popular work. "Zarathustra is in a way a document of our time, and it surely has much to do with our own psychological condition," noted Jung. "It is like a dream in its representation of events. It expresses renewal and self-destruction, the death of a god and the birth of a god, the end of an epoch and the beginning of a new one.... It is so paradoxical that without the help of the whole equipment of our modern psychology of the unconscious, I would not know how to deal with it."
   In his last productive years Nietzsche turned out a number of landmark works. Beyond Good and Evil, subtitled "Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future," appeared in 1886. The epitome of his prophetic, independent thought, it remains "one of the great books of the nineteenth century, indeed of any century," according to Walter Kaufmann. Nietzsche's sober, single-minded study on ethics, On the Genealogy of Morals (1887), was followed by The Case of Wagner (1888), a brilliantly sarcastic polemic that endures as one of his wittiest books. In 1888 he wrote The Anti-christ, a final assault on institutional Christianity, and compiled Nietzsche contra Wagner; a brief selection of passages from earlier works. (Both were brought out in 1895.) Twilight of the Idols (1889), a grand declaration of war on many ideas of the age, is a final formulation of Nietzsche's opinions that underscores his inherent optimism.
   In January 1889 Nietzsche collapsed on a street in Turin, Italy, and from that moment he rapidly descended into insanity. He remained in a condition of mental and physical paralysis until his death in Weimar on August 25, 1900. The following year Nietzsche's sister published The Will to Power; which he had abandoned in 1888. Ecce Homo, the philosopher's exuberant, passionate analysis of his life and work, came out in 1908.

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