Why Nietzsche and Sallust? Why such an unlikely pairing of the nineteenth-century German astonishment and the first century BC Latin chronicler? They are not even antagonists. Nietzsche and St. Paul, or Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky, or even Nietzsche and Leibniz, yes, there is the stuff of contest, of opposition. But of Nietzsche and Sallust, what is the relation? How could a world-defying iconoclast have anything in common with a historian who dutifully recorded events to us now long ago? Yet, as those who know, know, Nietzsche lauded Sallust to the skies, saying that the first century BC Roman historian may be one of the few writers he actually admires. A close look at the text of Twilight of the Idols is warranted here: My taste, which may be the opposite of a tolerant taste, is in this case too far from saying Yes indiscriminately; it does like to say Yes; rather even No; but best of all nothing. That applies to whole cultures, it applies to books — also to places and landscapes. At bottom it is a very small number of ancient books that counts in my life; the most famous are not among them. My sense of style, was awakened when I came into contact with Sallust. I have not forgotten the surprise of my honored teacher, Corssen, when he had to give his worst Latin pupil the best grade: I had finished with one stroke, compact, sever, with as much substance as possible, a cold sarcasm against “beautiful words” and “beautiful sentiments” — here I found myself. And even in my Zarathustra one will recognize a very serious ambition for a Roman style, for the aere perennius in style. Nietzsche says he is not voraciously curious, not open to everything the opposite of the famous credo of a slightly earlier Latin writer than Sallust, the African-born playwright Terence, who famously said, humani nil a me alienum puto. Nothing human is alien to him; Nietzsche makes clear that much that is human is. As a reader, Nietzsche freely takes on the danger of what Voltaire satirized in Candide in the character of Pococurante—somebody who dismisses most of extant literature because it is not good enough for him, and avoids many standard authors not out of ignorance or boorishness but out of icy, snide disdain. Nietzsche will not compromise for the sake of inclusiveness, but lets the actual dictates of his judgment call to him.
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