What was the nature of Nietzsche’s disability?

Friedrich Nietzsche Read more from
Chapter Continental Philosophy

Much controversy swirls around this question. There is evidence that he was treated for syphilis at Leipzig, while being kept ignorant of the diagnosis. He is believed to have had tertiary syphilis when he died. It is not clear when Nietzsche might have caught this disease, since he lived an ascetic life, but it was perhaps the result of visiting a brothel only once or twice while he was a student.

Nietzsche’s health was poor throughout his life. His eyesight was weak and he had gastro-intestinal pains that he treated himself by walking and by taking a plethora of pills. In January 1889, Nietzsche broke down in a street in Turin, his arms around a horse that had been beaten. Over the next few days, he wrote demented letters to his friends, claiming to have been “crucified by German doctors in a very drawn-out manner,” and ordering the Emperor of Germany to report to Rome so that he could be shot. His friends brought him back from Italy, and his mother put him in a clinic in Jena. The treatment was unsuccessful, though, and his mother brought him home.

In 1893, his sister, Elisabeth, returned from Paraguay, where her husband had committed suicide. She took charge of the editing and publication of Nietzsche’s manuscripts and isolated him from his friends. When their mother died in 1897, Elisabeth brought Nietzsche to Weimar, where she allowed people to see him. Nietzsche was not communicative, but she had him dressed up anyway, so that she could display him. He was by then very famous.


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