Once upon a time there lived a man named Friedrich Nietzsche. He was a philosopher. He was a genius. He was brave.
Nietzsche was born in Röcken, the Prussian province of Saxony, on October 15th, 1844. His father died when Nietzsche was five years old, hence, his childhood was spent with his mother, sister and two maiden aunts. At fourteen the young Nietzsche was awarded a scholarship to enter the preparatory school, Schulpforta, with the intent of training for the clergy. He excelled in religious studies, German literature, and classical studies. He also began to suffer from migraine headaches, an ailment that would trouble him for most of his adult life. He graduated in 1864, and continued studies in theology and classical philology and the University of Bonn. However, he soon gave up theology and transferred to Leipzig, where he was introduced to the works of Kant, the composer Richard Wagner and Schopenhauer and his recent text, The World as Will and Idea.
Although Nietzsche served in the army in 1868 his appointment was cut short by illness. However, he was thought to be a brilliant student, and rather than return to the army, the University of Basel called him to the chair of classical philology at the age of 24, even though arrangements to award him a doctorate had to be made shortly thereafter. Then during the Franco-Prussian war, he served as a medical orderly for a brief period, returning this time to Basel in ill-health, and though he managed to teach there from 1869-79, he was again forced by his health to retire.
It was in Basel that Nietzsche became a close friend of Richard Wagner, the second part of The Birth of Tragedy is devoted to Wagner’s music. With the publication of The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music in 1872 Nietzsche returned to Basel to lecture. Upon Nietzsche’s rise to celebrity, he sought to bring his friend along, and together, they managed to convince the government to fund the construction of the Bayreuth theatre, built to feature Wagner’s work. The theatre was completed in 1876, and Wagner’s self-proclaimed masterpiece, The Ring of the Nibelung, was performed for the Emperor. Much to his despair, Nietzsche found that he hated the work, and began to question not only Wagner’s work, but Prussian culture in general. His friendship with Wagner ended in 1878, at the time Nietzsche discovered the French Enlightenment. Tensions between the two rose as Wagner disapproved of the French and Nietzsche refused the cult of Wagnerian ideals in Bayreuth, particularly the anti-Semitism it propagated.