Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo:   How One Becomes What One Is.  Ecce homo: Wie man wird, was man ist.  

Written in 1888 and not published until 1908

  Friedrich Nietzsche Full Text EBook  
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The fortunateness of my existence, its unique character perhaps can be found in its fatefulness: to speak in a riddle, as my father I have already died, as my mother I still live and grow old.  This double origin taken as it were from the highest and lowest rungs of the ladder of life at once decadent and beginning—this if anything explains that neutrality, that freedom from bias in regard to the general problem of existence which perhaps distinguishes me.  My nose is more sensitive than any man that has yet lived as to signs of ascent or decline.  In this domain I am a true master—I know both sides for I am both sides.  My father died in his thirty-sixth year: he was delicate, lovable and morbid like one who is preordained to simply pay life a passing visit—a gracious reminder of life rather than life itself.  In the same year that his life declined mine also declined: in my thirty-sixth year I reached the lowest point in my vitality—I still lived but I could not see anything that lay three paces away from me.  At that time—it was the year 1879—I resigned my professorship at Basel, lived through the summer like a shadow in St.  Moritz and spent the following winter, the most sunless of my life as a shadow in Naumburg.  This was my lowest ebb.  During this period I wrote The Wanderer and His Shadow.  Without a doubt I knew all about shadows at that time.  The winter that followed, my first winter in Genoa brought forth that sweetness and spirituality which is almost inseparable from extreme poverty of blood and muscle in the shape of Daybreak.  The perfect lucidity and cheerfulness, the exuberance of spirit that this work reflects coincides in my case not only with the most profound physiological weakness but also with an excess of suffering.  In the midst of the agony of a headache which lasted three days accompanied by violent nausea I was possessed of most singular dialectical clarity and very cold-bloodedly I then thought out things for which in my more healthy moments I am not enough of a climber, not sufficiently subtle, not sufficiently cold enough.  My readers perhaps know to what extent I consider dialectics as a symptom of decadence, as for instance in the most famous of all cases—the case of Socrates.  All morbid disturbances of the intellect even that semi stupor which accompanies fever have to this day remained completely unknown to me; concerning their nature and frequency I was obliged to instruct myself by recourse to learned works on the subject.  My circulation is slow.  No one has ever been able to diagnose fever in me.  A doctor who treated me for some time as a nerve patient finally declared: "No!  There is nothing wrong with your nerves it is simply I who am nervous”.  It has been absolutely impossible to find neither any local degeneration in me nor any organically originating stomach trouble however much I may have suffered from profound weakness of the gastric system as the result of general exhaustion.  Even my eye trouble which sometimes approached perilously close to blindness was only an effect and not a cause; for whenever my general vitality improved, so too did my eyesight.  Having admitted to all this, do I need to say that I am experienced in questions of decadence?  I know them inside and out.  Even that filigree art of grasping and comprehension in general, that feeling for delicate shades of difference, that psychology of seeing what lies around the corner and whatever else I may be able to do was first learnt then and is the specific gift of that period during which everything in me was became more subtle, observation itself together with all the organs of observation.  To look upon healthier concepts and values from the standpoint of the sick and conversely to look down upon the secret work of the instincts of decadence from the standpoint of abundance and certainty as to the richness of life—this is what I have practiced most, my particular field of experience.  If in anything at all it was in this that I became a master.  I came to know how to reverse perspectives: this is perhaps the first reason why a revaluation of all Values has been possible to me alone.  


Although I am a decadent I am also the reverse of such a creature.  Among other things my proof of this is that I always instinctively select the proper cure when my spiritual or bodily health is low; whereas the decadent as such invariably chooses those remedies which are bad for him.  As a whole I was sound but in certain details I was a decadent.  That energy with which I sentenced myself to absolute solitude and to a severance from all those conditions in life to which I had grown accustomed; my refusal to allow myself to be pampered, to be tended hand and foot and to be doctored—all this betrays the absolute certainty of my instincts regarding what at that time was most needful to me.  I placed myself in my own hands I restored myself to health: the first condition of success in such an undertaking as every physiologist will admit is that at bottom a man should be of sound health.  An intrinsically morbid nature cannot become healthy.  On the other hand to an intrinsically sound nature illness may even constitute a powerful stimulus to life, to a surplus of life.  It is in this light that I now regard the long period of illness that I endured: it seemed as if I had discovered life afresh, my own self included.  I tasted all good things and even trifles in a way in which it was not easy for others to taste them—out of my Will to Health and to Life I made my philosophy.  For this should be thoroughly understood; it was during those years in which my vitality reached its lowest point that I ceased from being a pessimist: the instinct of self-recovery forbade me to entertain a philosophy of poverty and desperation.  Now by what signs are a well made human being recognised?  They are recognized by the fact that such a person is pleasant to our senses; he is carved from one whole block of wood which is hard, delicate and fragrant as well.  He enjoys only that which is good for him; his pleasure, his desire ceases when the limits of that which is good for him are overstepped.  He divines cures for injuries; he knows how to turn misfortune to his own advantage; that which does not kill him makes him stronger.  He instinctively gathers his material from all he sees, hears and experiences.  He is a selective principle; he rejects much.  He is always in his own company whether his intercourse be with books, with men or with landscapes; he honours the when he chooses, when he acknowledges, when he trusts.  He reacts slowly to all kinds of stimuli with that unhurriedness which long caution and deliberate pride have bred in him—he tests the approaching stimulus; he would not dream of meeting it half-way.  He believes neither in "misfortune” nor "guilt”; he knows how to forget—he is strong enough to make everything turn to his own advantage.  Well then!  I am the very opposite of a decadent: for he whom I have just described is none other than myself.  


This twofold thread of experiences, this means of access to two worlds that seem so far apart finds in its every detail a corresponding part in my own nature: I am my own double, I have a "second” face as well as a first.  And perhaps I also have a third aspect.  By the very nature of my origin I have an outlook beyond all merely local, merely national and limited horizons; it required no effort on my part to be a "good European”.  On the other hand I am perhaps more German than modern Germans—mere Reichdeutsch—can ever hope to be—I, the last anti-political German.  And yet, my ancestors were Polish noblemen: it is owing to them that I have inherited so much racial instinct—who knows?  Perhaps also the liberum veto.  When I think of the number of times in my travels that I have been taken as a Pole even by Poles themselves and how seldom I have been taken for a German it seems to me as if I have only a sprinkling of German.  But my mother Franziska Oehler is at any rate something very German; as is also my paternal grandmother Erdmuthe Krause.  The latter spent the whole of her youth in good old Weimar not without coming into contact with Goethe’s circle.  Her brother Krause the Professor of Theology in Konigsberg was called to the post of General Superintendent at Weimar after Herder’s death.  It is not unlikely that her mother my great grandmother is mentioned in young Goethe’s diary under the name of "Muthgen”.  She married twice and her second husband was Superintendent Nietzsche of Eilenburg.  In 1813 the year of the great war when Napoleon with his general staff entered Eilenburg on the 10th of October she gave birth to a son.  As a daughter of Saxony she was a great admirer of Napoleon and maybe I am so still.  My father born in 1813, died in 1849.  Previous to taking over the pastorship of the parish of Röcken not far from Lützen he lived for some years at the Castle of Altenburg where he had charge of the education of the four princesses.  His pupils are the Queen of Hanover, the Grand Duchess Constantine, the Grand Duchess of Oldenburg and the Princess Theresa of Saxe-Altenburg.  He was full of loyal respect for the Prussian King Frederick William the Fourth from whom he obtained his living at Röcken; the events of 1848 saddened him immensely.  As I was born on the 15th of October, the birthday of the king above mentioned I naturally received the Hohenzollern names of Friedrich Wilhelm.  There was in any cases one advantage in the choice of this day: my birthday throughout the whole of my childhood was a day of public rejoicing.  I regard it as a great privilege to have had such a father: it even seems to me that all else that I can claim in the way of privileges can be related to this—life, the great Yes to life excepted.  What I owe to him above all is this that I do not need any special intention but merely a little patience in order to involuntarily enter a world of higher and more delicate things.  There I am at home, there alone does my inmost passion become free.  The fact that I had to pay for this privilege almost with my life certainly does not make it a bad bargain.  In order to understand even a little of my Zarathustra perhaps a man must be situated and constituted very much as I am myself—with one foot beyond the world of the living.  


I have never understood the art of arousing ill feeling against myself—this is also something for which I have to thank my incomparable father—even when it seemed to me highly desirable to do so.  However unchristian it may seem I do not even bear any ill feeling towards myself.  Inspect my life as you may you will find but seldom—perhaps indeed only once—any sign of someone having shown me ill will.  You might perhaps discover however too many traces of good will.  My experiences even with those of whom every other man has had bad experiences are without exception favourable; I tame every bear, I can make even buffoons behave decently.  During the seven years in which I taught Greek to the sixth form of the College at Basel I never had occasion to administer a punishment; the laziest youths were industrious in my class.  The unexpected has always found me equal to it; I must be unprepared if I am to be master of myself.  Whatever the instrument, even if it were as out of tune as only the instrument "man” can be—I would have to be ill not to succeed in getting a decent tune out of it.  And how often have I not been told by the "instruments” themselves that they had never before heard their voices express such beautiful things.  This was said to me most delightfully perhaps by that young fellow Heinrich von Stein who died at such an unpardonably early age and who after having considerately asked leave to do so once appeared in Sils Maria for a three days” stay telling everybody there that it was not for the Engadine that he had come.  This excellent person who with all the impetuous simplicity of a young Prussian nobleman had waded deep into the swamp of Wagnerism (and into the swamp of Dühring into the bargain!)  seemed almost transformed during these three days by a hurricane of freedom like one who has been suddenly raised to his full height and given wings.  Again and again I said to him that this was all owing to the splendid air; everybody felt the same—one could not stand 6000 feet above Bayreuth for nothing—but he would not believe me.  Be this as it may, if I have been the victim of many a small or even great offence it was not "will” and least of all ill will that was the cause; but rather as I have already suggested, I could complain of the good will which was the cause of no small amount of mischief in my life.  My experience gave me a right to feel suspicious in regard to all so-called "unselfish” instincts, of the whole "neighbourly love” which is ever ready and waiting with deeds or with advice.  To me it seems that these instincts are a sign of weakness, they are an example of the inability to withstand a stimulus—it is only among decadents that pity is called a virtue.  My reproach against those who practice pity is that they are too ready to forget shame, reverence and the delicacy of feeling—which knows how to keep a certain distance; they do not remember that this gushing pity stinks of the mob and closely resembles bad manners—that pitying hands may be thrust often destructively into a great destiny into a lonely and wounded retirement and into the privileges with which great guilt endows one.  The overcoming of pity I reckon among the noble virtues.  In the "Temptation of Zarathustra” I have imagined a case in which a great cry of distress reaches his ears, in which pity swoops down upon him like an ultimate sin and would make him break faith with himself.  To remain one’s own master in such circumstances, to keep the elevation of one’s mission pure in such cases—pure from the many base and short-sighted impulses which come into play in so-called unselfish actions—this is the test, the final test perhaps which a Zarathustra has to undergo—the actual proof of his mastery.  


In yet another respect I am merely my father again and as it were the continuation of his life after an all too early death.  Like every man who has never been able to meet his equal and unto whom the concept "retaliation” is just as incomprehensible as the notion of "equal rights” I have forbidden myself the use of any sort of defence or protective measure in all cases in which I have been made the victim either of trifling or even very great foolishness, also of course of any "justification”.  My form of retaliation consists in this: as soon as possible to follow an act of stupidity with an instance of sagacity; by this means one may perhaps overcome it.  To speak in a parable: I use a pot of jam in order to get rid of a bitter experience.  If anyone does offend me then I shall "retaliate”— he can be quite sure of that: before long I find an opportunity of expressing my thanks to the "offender” (among other things even for the offence)—or of asking him for something — which can be more courteous even than giving.  It also seems to me that the rudest word, the rudest letter is more good natured, more straightforward than silence.  Those who keep silent are almost always lacking in subtlety and refinement of the heart; silence is an objection, swallowing a grievance must necessarily produce a bad temper—it even upsets the stomach.  All silent people are dyspeptic.  You can see that I should not like to see rudeness undervalued; it is by far the most humane form of contradiction and in the midst of modern effeminacy it is one of our foremost virtues.  If one is sufficiently rich for it it may even be a joy to be wrong.  If a god were to descend to this earth he would have to do nothing but wrong; to take the guilt – not the punishment — on one’s shoulders — that would be truly godlike.  


Freedom from resentment and the enlightenment as regards resentment— perhaps I am to a great extent indebted to my long illness for this too?  The problem is not entirely straightforward: a man must have experience of this both when strong and when in a weakened state.  If anything can be said against illness and weakness as such, it would be that when they prevail the instinct for recovery, that is, the instinct of defence and of attack in man becomes weakened.  He does not know how to become free of anything, how to come to terms with anything and how to cast anything from him.  Everything wounds him.  People and things draw importunately near, all experiences strike deep and memory is a festering wound.  To be ill is a sort of resentment in itself.  Against this resentment the invalid has only one great remedy—I call it Russian fatalism, fatalism free from revolt and with which the Russian soldier to whom a campaign proves unbearable ultimately lays himself down in the snow.  To accept nothing more, to receive anything, to absorb anything into oneself—to cease entirely from reacting.  The tremendous rationality of this fatalism which does not always imply merely the courage for death but which in the most dangerous cases may actually be a self-preservative measure amounts to a reduction of activity in the vital functions, a slowing down which is a kind of will to hibernate.  A few steps farther in this direction we find the fakir who will sleep for weeks in a tomb.  As one would be used up too quickly if one reacted, one no longer reacts at all: this is the principle.  And nothing on earth consumes a man more quickly than the passion of resentment.  Annoyance, morbid susceptibility, incapability for revenge, the desire and thirst for revenge, the brewing of every sort of poison— this is surely the most injurious manner of reacting for exhausted men.  It involves a rapid depletion of nervous energy, an abnormal increase of detrimental secretions as for instance that of bile into the stomach.  To the sick man resentment ought to be more strictly forbidden than anything else—it is his particular danger: unfortunately however it is also his most natural inclination.  This was fully grasped by that profound physiologist Buddha.  His "religion” which it would be better to call a system of hygiene in order to avoid confounding it with a creed so wretched as Christianity depended for its effect upon the triumph over resentment: to make the soul free from this was considered the first step towards recovery.  "Not by hostility is hostility put to flight; through friendship does hostility end”: this stands at the beginning of Buddha’s teaching—this is not a precept of morality but of physiology.  Resentment born of weakness is most harmful to no one but the weak man himself—conversely in the case of that man whose nature is fundamentally a rich one, resentment is a superfluous feeling – the mastery of which is almost a proof of richness.  Those of my readers who know the earnestness with which my philosophy wages war against the feelings of revenge and vindictiveness even to the extent of attacking the doctrine of "free will” — my struggle with Christianity is only a particular instance of it — will understand why I wish to focus particular attention upon my own personal attitude and the sureness of my instincts precisely in this matter.  In my moments of decadence I forbade myself the indulgence of the above feelings because they were harmful; as soon as my life recovered enough riches and pride however I regarded them again as forbidden but this time because they were beneath me.  That "Russian fatalism” of which I have spoken manifested itself in me in by my tenaciously holding on for years to almost unbearable situations, locations, residences and company once chance had placed them on my path—it was better than changing them, than feeling that they could be changed — than rebelling against them.  In those times I took it very badly if I was stirred from this fatalism, if I was violently shaken into consciousness—in point of fact it was a serious danger whenever it occurred.  To accept one’s situation as destiny, not to wish one’s self "different”—this in such circumstances is sagacity itself.  


War on the other hand is something different.  At heart I am a warrior.  Attacking belongs to my instincts.  To be able to be an enemy, to be an enemy—that presuppose a strong nature; this is in any case a condition of a strong nature.  Such natures need resistance; consequently they go in search of resistance: the pathos of aggression belongs of necessity to strength as much as the feelings of revenge and of vindictiveness belong to weakness.  Woman for instance is revengeful; this is due to her weakness and her susceptibility to the suffering of others.  The strength of the aggressor can be measured by the opposition which he needs; every increase, every growth is revealed by a seeking out of more formidable opponents—or problems: a philosopher who is combative challenges even problems to a duel.  The task is not to overcome opponents in general but only those opponents against whom one has to summon all one’s strength, one’s skill and one’s swordsmanship—in fact to master opponents who are one’s equals.  To be the equal of one’s opponent—this is the first condition of an honourable duel.  Where one despises, one cannot wage war.  Where one commands, where one sees something as beneath oneself — one cannot wage war.  My approach to warfare can be reduced to four principles: Firstly, I attack only causes that are triumphant—if necessary I wait until they become triumphant.  Secondly, I attack only those causes against which I would find no allies, where I stand alone—where I compromise nobody but myself.  I have never taken one single step in the public eye which did not compromise me: that is my criterion of right action.  Thirdly, I never make personal attacks—I use a personality merely as a magnifying glass by means of which I render a general but elusive problem more apparent.  It was in this way that I attacked David Strauss or rather the success given to a senile book by the cultured classes of Germany—by this means I caught German culture red handed.  In this way I attacked Wagner or rather the falsity or mongrel instincts of our "culture” which confuses the artful with the rich and the effete with the great.  Fourthly, I attack only those things from which all personal differences are excluded, where there is no history of disagreements.  On the contrary, attacking is to me a proof of goodwill and in certain circumstances of gratitude.  I do honour and confer distinction when I associate my name with a cause or a person: by being against or for is all the same to me.  If I wage war against Christianity I feel justified in doing so because I have never met with any disagreeable experiences or difficulties from that quarter—the most earnest Christians have always been kindly disposed to me.  I myself, a convicted opponent of Christianity, am far from holding the individual responsible for what is the fatality of millennia.  


May I be allowed to hazard a suggestion concerning one last trait in my character which creates for me no small difficulty in my relations with others?  I am gifted with a sense of cleanliness the keenness of which is phenomenal; so much so that I can ascertain physiologically—that is to say smell—the proximity, nay the innermost core, the ‘entrails” of every human soul.  This sensitivity of mine is furnished with psychological antenna with which I sense and grasp every secret: the dirt laying at the base of many a human character, perhaps occasioned by base blood but covered over by education is revealed to me at the first glance.  If my observation has been correct such people whom my sense of cleanliness rejects also become conscious on their part of the cautiousness to which my loathing prompts me: and this does not make them any more fragrant.  In keeping with a custom which I have long observed—cleanliness towards myself is the first condition of my existence, I would die in unclean surroundings—I swim, bathe and splash about as it were incessantly in water, in any kind of perfectly transparent and shining element.  That is why my relations with my fellows try my patience to no small extent; my humanity does not consist in the fact that I understand the feelings of my fellows but that I can endure to understand those feelings.  My humanity is a perpetual process of self-overcoming.  But I need solitude—that is to say recovery, a return to myself, the breathing of free, light, playful air.  The whole of my Zarathustra is a dithyramb in honour of solitude or, if I have been correctly understood, in honour of purity.  Thank Heaven it is not in honour of "pure folly”!  He who has an eye for colour will call it diamond.  Disgust for mankind, of the "rabble” has always been my greatest danger.  Will you listen to the words spoken by Zarathustra concerning redemption from disgust?  "What has happened to me?  How did I deliver myself from disgust?  Who rejuvenated my eyes?  How did I soar to the height where there are no more rabble sitting about the well?  Did my very loathing give me wings and the strength to scent far off fountains?  Truly, to the loftiest heights did I need to fly to find once more the spring of joyfulness.  Oh, I found it my brethren!  Up here on the loftiest height, the spring of joyfulness gushes forth for me.  And there is a life where no rabble can drink with you.  Almost too fiercely do you rush for me you spring of joyfulness!  And often do you empty the cup in trying to fill it.  And yet must I learn to approach you more humbly.  Far too eagerly does my heart leap to meet you.  My heart upon which my summer burns, my short hot melancholy over blessed summer: how my summer heart yearns for your coolness!  Farewell the lingering affliction of my spring!  Gone are the snowflakes of my malice in June!  Summer have I become entirely and summer noon-tide!  A summer in the loftiest heights with cold springs and blessed stillness: oh!  Come my friends that the stillness may grow even more blessed!  For this is our height and our home: too high and steep is our dwelling for all the unclean and their thirsts.  Do but cast your pure gaze into the well of my joyfulness my friends!  How could it thus become dim!  It will laugh back at you with its purity.  On the tree called Future do we build our nest: eagles shall bring food in their beaks unto us solitaries!  Truly, not the food that the unclean might enjoy.  They would think they ate fire and would scorch their mouths!  Truly, no dwellings do we offer to the unclean!  To their bodies our happiness would seem an ice-cavern and to their spirits also!  And like strong winds will we live above them, neighbours to the eagles, of the snow and of the sun: thus do strong winds live.  And like a wind shall I one day blow amongst them and with my spirit take away their soul’s breath: thus my future wills it.  Truly, a strong wind is Zarathustra to all lowlands; and this is his counsel to his foes and to all those who spit and spew: Take care not to spit against the wind!  

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