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The Life of Nietzsche - Page 2

The legendary Cologne brothel episode dates from this period, which many find to be proof for Nietzsche’s contraction of syphilis. Nietzsche, who claimed he was dumbstruck before the women (a street porter brought him there mistakenly after Nietzsche asked to be taken to ‘interesting sights’), thought only the piano had any spirit, and approaching it, struck a few improvisatory chords, which freed him from his paralysis, and left the establishment at once. Some might expect the “disciple of Dionysis” to have freely indulged himself, but that perhaps is a distorted view of the Dionysian philosopher for whom self-mastery is just as vital. At the year’s end, he left Bonn for Leipzig, a move encouraged by Ritschl’s own move to Leipzig University.

In Leipzig, Nietzsche continued his work on Theognis, worked closely with Ritschl, and was part of a student philological club initiated by Ritschl. Nietzsche worked closely on Aeschylus’ texts, wrote an essay on Diogenes Laertius, and many other articles and reviews which make up the Philologica. During the Leipzig years, Nietzsche's first, or major philosophical awakening came with his discovery of Schopenhauer, whose philosophy would present entire new perspectives of viewing the world and leave him with many striking questions. He read The World as Will and Representation carefully and enthusiastically, internally debating with the philosopher while blending his knowledge of classical literature with his own lived experiences of philosophical issues; Erwin Rohde, a colleague and friend of Nietzsche's, also shared his enthusiasm for Schopenhauer. Another significant influence on Nietzsche's philosophical evolution during this period was F.A. Lange’s History of Materialism (1866), and in the midst of these intellectual developments, Nietzsche began to consider teaching, encouraged by the encomiums of his professors, who said he had great pedagogical talents. Moreover, he was making efforts to improve his prose style and, under the influence of Lichtenberg and Schopenhauer, began to write aphorisms.

In 1867, Nietzsche was compelled to join the Prussian Army, interrupting his philological work for one year. During his time in the military, he injured himself while mounting a horse and was eventually declared ‘unfit for service’ and released from further duties. Nietzsche became familiar with Kantian philosophy while in the army through Kuno Fischer, a neo-Kantian. He started writing a philosophical essay, “Teleology since Kant,” which he thought would be his doctoral dissertation, but this project did not materialize. Shortly after his return to Leipzig, he gave a lecture to the philological society, but his loyalty was suddenly split between philology and philosophy. In this last year in Leipzig, two great events took place in Nietzsche's life. In the beginning of the academic year, he met and became friends with Richard Wagner, whose works he had been familiar with. And in the beginning of 1869 Nietzsche was chosen to be Professor Extraordinarius at Basel University through the influence of Ritschl, who recommended him with great accolades. At twenty-four, he would become an associate professor before completing his doctorate.

In his youth, Nietzsche had aspired to be a musician prior to taking up the path of philology; he composed lieder and solo piano works, but did not develop his musical talent as would a professional musician. Thus to meet Wagner, one of the eminent cultural figures of his time, was an exhilarating experience; two weeks prior to his first encounter with Wagner in Leipzig in November of 1868, Nietzsche, who had been familiar with the composer’s music since his youth, said that in particular the Overture to Die Meistersinger and the Prelude to Tristan created and sustained in him “the feeling of being carried away.” Wagner was also the same age as Nietzsche’s long deceased father, to whom the musician bore a striking resemblance; they also shared common interest in Schopenhauer, whom Wagner said was the only philosopher who understood the essence of music. Wagner also wrote works on art, religion, and politics, and their mutual interest in Greek tragedy led to many fruitful discussions on the significance of art and its place in life. These would have a great impact on Nietzsche’s first book. However, their relationship, which started so amicably, would end in a rupture due to artistic, philosophical, and personal conflicts and differences.

On April 13, 1869, Nietzsche left Naumburg for Basel and renounced his German citizenship. Though he lived in Switzerland for some time, residency requirements kept Nietzsche from actually becoming a Swiss citizen, thus he remained stateless, living the very life of one separate from state, nation, and politics as he exemplified in his philosophy. It was not only spiritually, but physically that he would and always be a “Good European.”

While engaged as a professor (he would remain an ‘academic’ for but ten years), Nietzsche presented his inaugural lecture, which was on “Homer and Classical Philology.” During his time there, he taught classical Greek, continued to present public lectures, engaged in dialogue with colleagues and met frequently with Wagner and his wife Cosima, who lived not far from him at Tribschen, which he referred to as the “Isle of the Blessed.” Nietzsche also met Jacob Burckhardt, the well-known historian of culture, who taught history of ancient Greek culture at Basel (his work was published posthumously as Die Griechische Kulturgeschichte). Burckhardt had the keen sense of a historian and an astute understanding of the inner dynamics of ancient cultures, and this complemented Nietzsche's attempt at an interpretation of ancient Greek civilization. Nietzsche and Burckhardt attended each other’s lectures and had long discussions on Greek culture, which also surely influenced Nietzsche’s first work. While at Basel, Nietzsche also befriended Franz Overbeck, the Christian theologian, and Heinrich Köselitz, a student of Nietzsche's, who later became an opera composer under the pseudonym Peter Gast. He functioned as Nietzsche’s amanuensis, editing his writings and proofreading galleys; towards the end of Nietzsche’s life, it was said that Gast was the only person capable of deciphering the philosopher’s hand-writing. During his time as a professor, Nietzsche taught Greek tragedies, Greek poetry, and Plato and the pre-Platonic philosophers. In the meantime, he was working towards a major publication and writing essays to that end; these essays would later form the bulk of Nietzsche's first book, The Birth of Tragedy, whose original title was Ursprung und Ziel der Tragödie [Origin and Goal of Tragedy], published in 1871.

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