Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900) is one of those thinkers whose personalities cannot easily be separated from their achievements in philosophy. This is not because his life was an unusually eventful one in outer respects. Rather, it is due to the intensely personal engagement in thinking that is evident throughout his writings. Franz Rosenzweig’s description of Nietzsche as ‘the first real human being among the philosophers’ is a striking testimony to this characteristic; though Rosenzweig was less justified in dismissing the content of Nietzsche’s thinking as irrelevant to his real importance.
Nietzsche was born in 1844 in Röcken, a village in Saxony, the son of a Lutheran minister. After the death of his father four years later, the family moved to Naumburg, where Nietzsche attended the local Gymnasium before being sent as a boarder to the famous Pforta school. He emerged as a classical scholar of great promise, moving on to the universities of Bonn and Leipzig, where he attracted the sponsorship of the influential Ritschl. With his assistance, Nietzsche was appointed at the early age of twenty-four to a chair in classical philology at the University of Basel. His early promise in scholarship was soon overshadowed by new developments. Making the acquaintance of Richard Wagner, Nietzsche was drawn into the Wagner circle, which turned his talents to its own purposes. His first book, The Birth of Tragedy, published in 1872, created a storm of controversy. It gave great offence to professional colleagues for its championing of the Wagnerian ‘artwork of the future’, as well for its unconventional approach to scholarship. But Nietzsche had by now largely lost interest in philology; his writings over the next few years, published under the general title Untimely Meditations, are essays in cultural criticism, often