Friedrich Nietzsche was born on October 15, 1844, in Röcken, Germany. Nietzsche’s father, a Lutheran pastor, died when Nietzsche was just four years old. Six months after his father’s passing, Nietzsche’s two-year-old brother died, leaving Nietzsche with his mother and two sisters. Nietzsche later said that the passing of his father and brother had a profound impact on him.
From the age of fourteen to nineteen, Friedrich Nietzsche attended one of the best boarding schools in Germany, and as he continued his education at the University of Bonn and the University of Leipzig, he gravitated toward philology (an academic discipline that revolved around the interpretations of biblical and classical texts). During this time, Nietzsche, who had been composing music since he was a teenager, became acquainted with famous composer Richard Wagner (who also happened to be an idol of Nietzsche’s), and the close friendship that resulted between the two men would prove to have an incredible impact on Nietzsche throughout his life (twenty years later, Nietzsche would recall their friendship as being the “greatest achievement” of his life). By the time he was twenty-four years old, having not even completed his doctorate, Nietzsche was offered a faculty position at the University of Basel department of philology.
After a brief stint serving as a medical orderly in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War (where he contracted dysentery, syphilis, and diphtheria), Nietzsche returned to the University of Basel, and in 1872, Nietzsche published his first book, The Birth of Tragedy. The book, while praised by Wagner, was met with negative criticism, particularly by Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Möllendorff, who would go on to become one of the leading German philologists of the time.
Nietzsche remained at the University of Basel until 1879. By 1878, it had become clear that Nietzsche was more interested in philosophy than philology, and his book Human, All-Too-Human marks the shift in his philosophical style (and the end of his friendship with Wagner, whose anti-Semitism and German nationalism disgusted Nietzsche). At the age of thirty-four, Nietzsche’s health had deteriorated so much that he had to resign from the university.
From 1878 to 1889, as his health severely declined, Nietzsche moved around between German, Swiss, and Italian cities and wrote eleven books. On January 3, 1889, Nietzsche suffered from a nervous breakdown (possibly as a result of syphilis) when he watched a man whip a horse on the street. Nietzsche collapsed on the street and never regained his sanity. He would spend the next eleven years in a vegetative state until his death on August 25, 1900.