The Birth of Tragedy is not a typical work in philology.
It does not, for instance, present a classical text in its
vernacular and interpret it; instead, around a philological
theme, namely the birth of tragedy out of music and chorus,
it builds a discourse derived from various sources such as
modern philosophy and literature and keeps certain issues
and problems of the modern age both in the background and
the foreground. Some of the issues and notions Nietzsche brings
forth in this book are the Apollonian, or principle of individuation,
and the Dionysian, the state of intoxication (or the state
where there is no individuation), dream and illusion, ecstasy
and ecstatic experience, image-symbol relationship, art and
creativity, plastic art and musical art, poetry, music and
language, tragic culture, the tragic and tragedy, spectacle
and how it is experienced, science and knowledge, Socrates
and rationality, the relationship between art and science,
truth and truthfulness, and the phenomenon of Wagner. Moreover,
Nietzsche wrote two short essays in this period, which, though
unpublished, develop parallel insights along with those of
The Birth of Tragedy: Truth and Lies in an Extra-Moral
Sense addresses the question of truth within the context
of language, and On the Pathos of Truth is concerned with
how we relate to what we call truth, that is, the experience
of truth. In other notes of this period, Nietzsche deals with
issues of culture and its make-up and brings out further insights
on culture in general, and, in particular, on tragic culture
in ancient Greece.
When this book was first published, the community of philologists condemned it; one of the first to criticize it and reveal its philological shortcomings was Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, who later became a renowned philologist. Nietzsche's friend Rohde engaged in a polemic with Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, but Wagner was compelled to save his own face. These polemics revolved on the facade of Nietzsches work, namely the developmental-historical origin of tragedy, which is of minor significance compared to the major insights of the book. One such insight is the value and truth of the Dionysian and the ecstatic experience both for culture and for the individual; another one is the significance of art and creativity along with other human experiences. Yet another one is the importance of dealing with suffering, loss and death so as to retain a balanced existence in the world. During the polemics, Nietzsche kept silent; he must have been grateful to his friends who came to his defense, but not enthused by the way they had shown their support. However, The Birth of Tragedy had other shortcomings, some of which Nietzsche later noted himself and outlined in a new preface when the book was republished in 1886: the book was written under the influence of Schopenhauer and Wagner (some of Nietzsche's insights are masked by the language of Schopenhauer), and the last ten sections, for the most part, repeat the ideas and insights of the first fifteen sections, in addition to wantonly glorifying Wagner. Erwin Rohde later wrote and published a book on ancient Greek culture called Psyche. But, by this time, they were no longer friends, and neither The Birth of Tragedy nor Nietzsches name is mentioned in his work.
In Basel, Nietzsche had met Paul Rèe, the author of Psychological
Observations and Origin of Moral Feelings. He
became friends with him and, during his leave from the University
for one year (1876-77), traveled to Italy with him where they
stayed with Malwida von Meysenbug in Sorrento. There they
read (usually Rèe would read aloud to Nietzsche) the works
of the French moralists such as Montaigne, La Rochefoucauld
and Vauvenargues. Inspired by Rèe and the French, Nietzsche
wrote aphorisms which were brought together and published
as Human, All Too Human, I & II in 1886 (originally,
there were three books: Human, All Too Human, Assorted
Opinions and Maxims, and The Wanderer and His Shadow)
and Daybreak (1881). In these aphorisms, Nietzsche expresses
his thoughts on moral feelings, sensations and prejudices,
and the nature of art and artistic production, among other
issues. Some of the moral prejudices that Nietzsche reveals
in these aphorisms are pity, altruism or selfless love, revenge,
shame, and vanity. He expresses many other thoughts in these aphorisms, and this period can be said to be the experimental period. He himself describes
this period, in retrospect, as convalescence, recovery from the romanticism and pessimism of Wagner and Schopenhauer, two of his primary and most significant influences. In 1879, Nietzsche retires from the University with a pension due to health reasons and will begin his peripatetic existence, wandering through Germany, Switzerland (especially the Upper Engadine region), the south of France, and various cities in Italy, writing, over the course of next ten years, some of the most groundbreaking philosophical works, all while suffering and overcoming the most agonizing, if not extremely debilitating physical conditions.
Relieved from academic duties, Nietzsche finishes the two books of aphorisms and starts a new book called The Gay Science (1882), another book of aphorisms, yet significantly different from the previous two; many thoughts and ideas Nietzsche had been living with are transformed in this book, while he also further explores the problem of aesthetics and the crisis of art. Nietzsche develops a different notion of knowing and learning here, which he calls la gaya scienza (a phrase adopted from the Provencal poets lo gai saber), and some of the themes and notions that become crucial to his philosophy make their first appearance in this book; namely, the death of God, amor fati, and the eternal return. Furthermore, it is here that Nietzsche, for the first time, calls morality problematic; what he calls morality will later be coined as the morality of good and evil, the world-view or perspective which claims that there is only one truth or one true interpretation of existence. His more rigorous study of morality will come later; with The Gay Science, he is making preparations for Thus Spoke Zarathustra, of which Nietzsche said, among my writings - stands to my mind by itself. With that I have given mankind the greatest gift that has ever been made to it so far. (Ecce Homo, Preface).
In the spring of 1882, Nietzsche met Lou Salome (who would
become Lou Andreas-Salome in 1887 after marrying Carl Friedrich
Andreas, a philologist) in Rome (at St. Peter's) through his
friend Paul Rèe. Salome was part of a group of idealistic
young women, called the Roman Club', formed by Nietzsche's
friend Malwida von Meysenbug. Lou Salome was an extremely
bright, attractive, and enterprising young Russian woman,
who was a student at Zürich University aspiring to be a writer
and would later become the confidant and lover of Rainer Maria
Rilke and friend of Sigmund Freud. Nietzsche, Rèe and Lou
formed an intellectual bond which Lou called the Trinity.
The attraction of both men to Lou would create tensions in
the Trinity, and Nietzsches desire to live with Lou, to
be her teacher and his expectations from her to bring him
out of his hermit-like life style, remained unfulfilled. The
disintegration of the Trinity, aided in one sense by the
intrusions of Nietzsches sister, would cause terrible suffering
in him: I am straining every fiber of my self-control, but
I have lived alone too long, fed too long on my own fat, so
now I am being broken as no one else could be on the wheel
of my own passions (Letter to Franz Overbeck, 25 December
1883). Thus Spoke Zarathustra, already conceived
before the encounter with Lou, with whom Nietzsche discussed
its central themes, would be written on top of yet another
layer of suffering.
The eternal return, which is the fundamental conception of Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-85), came to him as an insight by Lake Silvaplana in the Upper Engadine; he used to spend some of his time in this region while staying in a house in Sils-Maria (it has been made into a Nietzsche-Haus (there is another in Naumburg) and is open to the public). Of this insight, Nietzsche said: this highest formula of affirmation that is at all attainable, belongs in August 1881: it was penned on a sheet with the notation underneath, 6000 feet beyond man and time. That day I was walking through the woods along the lake of Silvaplana; at a powerful pyramidal rock not far from Surlei I stopped. It was then that this idea came to me (Ecce Homo). Thus Spoke Zarathustra is a unique work in terms of both its genre and its depth and simplicity, and is one of the most inimitable poetic texts of the 19th century, while also functioning as a stunning and uniquely singular parody of the Bible. Here, Zarathustra, a type that Nietzsche reconstructs out of the historical figure Zarathustra, the ancient Iranian prophet and founder of Zoroastrianism, traverses the path of self-knowledge by teaching the eternal return and the Overman, the new meaning of existence, in order to overcome the morality of good and evil.
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"...drawing on much previously unpublished and undiscussed Nietzsche material, Emden examines the role of metaphor and interpretation, reasserting the relevance of rhetoric to philosophy, in consonance with Nietzsche's own statements and practices"
"...The strength of Richardson’s book is that it does not merely discuss the influence of Darwin’s thought on Nietzsche or catalog points of similarity and difference"
This new translation of Nietzsche’s magnum opus is by far the best available in the English language. It should find its way to the desk of all students who do not have access to the original German.
Every student of Nietzsche in the Anglophone world should read this book. It is a most able treatment of a much-ignored and much-misunderstood topic close to the very heart of the writings of this seminal thinker.