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Friedrich Nietzsche

Philosopher; Born: October 15, 1844 in Röcken, Prussian Province of Saxony, Germany; Died: August 25, 1900 in Weimar, Germany

Headshot of Friedrich Nietzsche


  • Abitur, Schulpforta, 1864
  • Ph.D. in Classics, University of Leipzig, 1869

From 1858-1864, Nietzsche studied Greek and Latin at a famous college prep-school, now called Landesschule Pforta, near Naumburg in the Prussian Province of Saxony (now the German state Saxony-Anhalt).

After graduation, he entered the university of Bonn to study theology, but soon became enthralled by Classical Philology, attending lectures by Otto Jahn (1813-1869) and Friedrich Wilhelm Ritschl (1806-1876), both famous classicists. When Ritschl moved to the University of Leipzig in 1865, Nietzsche followed him there. Still a student, he was able to publish essays on Aristotle, Theognis and Simonides. At the recommendation of Ritschl, the twenty-four-year-old Nietzsche was offered a professorship in Classical Philology at the University of Basel in Switzerland and received his Ph.D. without having to complete a Ph.D. thesis.

Nietzsche taught Classics at the University of Basel from until 1869-1879 when he had to resign from his post for health reasons. His inaugural lecture was called "Homer and Classical Philology." In 1872, he published his first book, The Birth of Tragedy Out of the Spirit of Music. This book, influenced by the philosophy of Schopenhauer, speculates about the origins and the nature of ancient Greek tragedy as a combination of the "Dionysian" and "Apollonian" in the Greek soul.

The Birth of Tragedy finished Nietzsche as a classicist. A fellow graduate of Schulpforta, Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorf (1848-1931), later one of the most influential classicists of all time, famously ridiculed Nietzsche's utter disregard of the philological evidence for his thesis in a scathing review, entitled "Zukunftsphilologie!" ("Philology of the Future!"). When the book was reissued in 1886, Nietzsche himself added a prologue, entitled "An Attempt at Self-Criticism," and referred to his work as "an impossible book . . . badly written, ponderous, embarrassing, image-mad and image-confused, sentimental, saccharine to the point of effeminacy, uneven in tempo, [and] without the will to logical cleanliness."

Others were impressed with the book. Nietzsche's then-friend, the composer Richard Wagner, remarked to his wife, Cosima, "That is the book I have always wished for myself!" His friend Erwin Rhode, another Classics professor, recognized the philosophical merits of Nietzsche's argument and praised the book. And in fact, The Birth of Tragedy represents Nietzsche's start to a new career as an original philosopher whose ideas had an impact on entire disciplines like psychology and anthropology and inspired artists and writers like Rainer Maria Rilke, Robert Musil, Gottfried Benn, Thomas Mann, and Ernst Jünger.


Nietzsche entry in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Nietzsche page at the University of Toronto.

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