Friedrich Nietzsche, Human All Too Human (Menschliches, Allzumenschliches), subtitled A Book for Free Spirits (Ein Buch für freie Geister).

First published in 1878.   A second part, Assorted Opinions and Maxims (Vermischte Meinungen und Sprüche), was published in 1879, and a third part, The Wanderer and his Shadow (Der Wanderer und sein Schatten), followed in 1880.

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Previous Section   261. THE TYRANTS OF THE MIND   Next Section

THE TYRANTS OF THE MIND.  It is only where the ray of myth falls that the life of the Greeks shines; otherwise it is gloomy.  The Greek philosophers are now robbing themselves of this myth; is it not as if they wished to quit the sunshine for shadow and gloom?  Yet no plant avoids the light; and, as a matter of fact, those philosophers were only seeking a brighter sun; the myth was not pure enough, not shining enough for them.  They found this light in their knowledge, in that which each of them called his "truth".  But in those times knowledge shone with a greater glory; it was still young and knew but little of all the difficulties and dangers of its path; it could still hope to reach in one single bound the central point of all being, and from thence to solve the riddle of the world.  These philosophers had a firm belief in themselves and their "truth” and with it they overthrew all their neighbours and predecessors; each one was a warlike, violent tyrant.  The happiness in believing themselves the possessors of truth was perhaps never greater in the world, but neither were the "hardness, the arrogance, and the tyranny and evil of such a belief.  They were tyrants, they were that, therefore, which every Greek wanted to be, and which everyone was if he was able.  Perhaps Solon alone is an exception; he tells in his poems how he disdained personal tyranny.  But he did it for love of his works, of his law giving; and to be a law giver is a sublimated form of tyranny.  Parmenides also made laws.  Pythagoras and Empedocles probably did the same; Anaximander founded a city.  Plato was the incarnate wish to become the greatest philosophic law giver and founder of States; he appears to have suffered) terribly over the non fulfillment of his nature, and towards his end his soul was filled with the bitterest gall.  The more the Greek philosophers lost in power the more they suffered inwardly from this bitterness and malice; when the various sects fought for their truths in the street, then first were the souls of these wooers of truth completely clogged through envy and spleen; the tyrannical element then raged like poison within their bodies.  These many petty tyrants would have liked to devour each other; there survived not a single spark of love and very little joy in their own knowledge.  The saying that tyrants are generally murdered and that their descendants are short lived, is true also of the tyrants of the mind.  Their history is short and violent, and their after effects break off suddenly.  It may be said of almost all great Hellenes that they appear to have come too late: it was thus with Aeschylus, with Pindar, with Demosthenes, with Thucydides: one generation and then it is passed for ever.  That is the stormy and dismal element in Greek history.  We now, it is true, admire the gospel of the tortoises.  To think historically is almost the same thing now as if in all ages history had been made according to the theory "The smallest possible amount in the longest possible time!  "Oh!  How quickly Greek history runs on!  Since then life has never been so extravagant so unbounded.  I cannot persuade myself that the history of the Greeks followed that natural course for which it is so celebrated.  They were much too variously gifted to be gradual in the orderly manner of the tortoise when running a race with Achilles, and that is called natural development.  The Greeks went rapidly forward, but equally rapidly downwards; the movement of the whole machine is so intensified that a single stone thrown amid its wheels was sufficient to break it.  Such a stone, for instance, was Socrates; the hitherto so wonderfully regular, although certainly too rapid, development of the philosophical science was destroyed in one night.  It is no idle question whether Plato, had he remained free from the Socratic charm, would not have discovered a still higher type of the philosophic man, which type is forever lost to us.  We look into the ages before him as into a sculptor's workshop of such types.  The fifth and sixth centuries B.  C.  seemed to promise something more and higher even than they produced; they stopped short at promising and announcing.  And yet there is hardly a greater loss than the loss of a type, of a new, hitherto undiscovered highest possibility of the philosophic life.  Even of the older type the greater number are badly transmitted; it seems to me that all philosophers, from Thales to Democritus, are remarkably difficult to recognise, but whoever succeeds in imitating these figures walks amongst specimens of the mightiest and purest type.  This ability is certainly rare, it was even absent in those later Greeks, who occupied themselves with the knowledge of the older philosophy; Aristotle, especially, hardly seems to have had eyes in his head when he stands before these great ones.  And thus it appears as if these splendid philosopher!  Had lived in vain, or as if they had only been intended to prepare the quarrelsome and talkative followers of the Socratic schools.  As I have said, here is a gap, a break in development; some great misfortune must have happened, and the only statue which might have revealed the meaning and purpose of that great artistic training was either broken or unsuccessful; what actually happened has remained for ever a secret of the workshop.  That which happened amongst the Greeks namely, that every great thinker who believed himself to be in possession of the absolute truth became a tyrant, so that even the mental history of the Greeks acquired that violent, hasty and dangerous character shown by their political history, this type of event was not therewith exhausted, much that is similar has happened even in more modern times, although gradually becoming rarer and now but seldom showing the pure, naive conscience of the Greek philosophers.  For on the whole, opposition doctrines and scepticism now speak too powerfully, too loudly.  The period of mental tyranny is past.  It is true that in the spheres of higher culture there must always be a supremacy, but henceforth this supremacy lies in the hands of the oligarchs of the mind.  In spite of local and political separation they form a cohesive society, whose members recognise and acknowledge each other, whatever public opinion and the verdicts of review and newspaper writers who influence the masses may circulate in favour of or against them.  Mental superiority, which formerly divided and embittered, nowadays generally unites; how could the separate individuals assert themselves and swim through life on their own course, against all currents, if they did not see others like them living here and there under similar conditions, and grasped their hands, in the struggle as much against the ochlocratic character of the half mind and half culture as against the occasional attempts to establish a tyranny with the help of the masses?  Oligarchs are necessary to each other, they are each other's best joy, they understand their signs, but each is nevertheless free, he fights and conquers in his place and perishes rather than submit.  

Friedrich Nietzsche, "Ecce Homo" Ebook

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