Nietzsche was one of the most influential and controversial philosophers of the 19th century; he is also considered by some to be Germany’s most brilliant prose writer. He wrote of the “superman”, leaders who dominate their society through their creative spirit, and control of their emotions and environment. Some historical figures that Nietzsche considered to have been supermen included Jesus, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Da Vinci, Julius Caesar and Napoleon. Other important themes of his philosophy include perspectivism, will to power, and eternal recurrence. Nietzsche emphasized life on earth, rather than the traditional religious focus on life after death.
His most famous works include “Beyond Good and Evil” (1887) “The Antichrist” (1888) and “The Will To Power” (published posthumously from notes in 1901). During his life his work attracted little attention – he printed the last segment of his masterpiece, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, at his own expense. His association with certain doctrines that he abhorred, such as fascism, is due in large part to the misuse of his work by his sister, also his executor, after his death. In fact, he presciently predicted that ideologies extolling brotherhood and socialism would be used to mask violence and the quest for power. His writing had very broad influence on later intellectuals in a wide variety of fields, including philosophers (Albert Camus), theologians (Martin Buber), novelists (Thomas Mann), and psychologists (Sigmund Freud).
Nietzsche’s family had a strong religious background: both his grandfathers as well as his father had positions in the official Lutheran establishment. Friedrich was named after King Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia. His father died before Nietzsche was five, and he was raised in a household of five women, including his mother, grandmother, sister, and two aunts. He received an excellent classical education in theology and literature. He served in the military from 1867-1868, but suffered a serious injury while mounting a horse. Nietzsche was appointed to the professorship of classical studies at the University of Bonn in 1869. He caught dysentery and diphtheria while serving as a volunteer medical orderly in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War. At some point he may have caught syphilis; what is certain is that beginning in 1879 he was half blind and in almost constant pain, and in 1889 he went completely insane. He committed suicide when he was 56 years old.