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Nietzsche: Attempt at a Mythology

Ernst Bertram
Translated and with an Introduction by Robert E. Norton
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 424
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    First published in 1918, Ernst Bertrams Nietzsche: Attempt at a Mythology substantially shaped the image of Nietzsche for the generation between the wars. It won the Nietzsche Societys first prize and was admired by luminous contemporaries including Andre Gide, Hermann Hesse, Gottfried Benn, and Thomas Mann. Although translated into French in 1932, the book was never translated into English following the decline of Nietzsches and Bertrams reputations after 1945. Now, with Nietzsches importance for twentieth-century thought undisputed, the work by one of his most influential interpreters can at last be read in English._x000B__x000B_Employing a perspectival technique inspired by Nietzsche himself, Bertram constructs a densely layered portrait of the thinker that shows him riven by deep and ultimately irresolvable cultural, historical, and psychological conflicts. At once lyrical and intensely probing, richly complex yet thematically coherent, Bertrams book is a masterpiece in a forgotten tradition of intellectual biography.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09052-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Translator’s Introduction: Attempt at a Demythologization
    (pp. xi-xxxvi)
  4. A Comment on the Notes
    (pp. xxxvii-xxxviii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxxix-xl)
  6. Introduction: Legend
    (pp. 1-10)

    All of the past is but a parable.¹ No historical method can give us a window on lived reality “as it actually was,”² as nineteenth-century advocates of a naïve historical realism so often seem to have believed. History, which is after all the study and testimony of souls, is never synonymous with the reconstruction of some past phenomenon, or even with the closest possible approximation to a past reality. It is, rather, precisely the de-realization of that former reality, its transposition into an entirely different category of being; it is an establishment of values, not a production of reality. The...

  7. 1 Ancestry
    (pp. 11-36)

    Everything revolutionary both obeys and enforces the law that ensures that the best part of what is opposed actually continues to endure. Revolution, above all in the spiritual realm—and every revolution is ultimately spiritual—is the rejuvenating bath of all that endures. Catiline,³ according to Nietzsche, is the preliminary form of existence of every Caesar: all legitimate greatness must first traverse the stage of disreputable and criminal illegality. Yet Caesar, as a type, also requires repeated baptism in the Catiline element. Caesar, as a rightful heir, always has to remember that he possesses an usurper’s power within himself so...

  8. 2 Knight, Death, and Devil
    (pp. 37-55)

    Ultimately, the romantic man of the north wants, as in Schopenhauer’s metaphysics, to fathom the essence of the world by hearing it as music, not to comprehend it by grasping it as form. Nietzsche, who considered himself “too much of a musician not to be a romantic,”² was not as remote from the sensual sphere as many have thought. But he admits himself: I am very unphysical. “Representations of historical scenes, human beings in motion, always leave me cold.”³ Only landscape paintings can put him in a “calm and expectant” mood; they place him in that heightened state of vaguely...

  9. 3 The German Becoming
    (pp. 56-78)

    Throughout all the changing epochs of his thought, Nietzsche, in his need to display gratitude, always honored Heraclitus³ as the oldest ancestor of his philosophy. This great figure, who had discovered and justified Becoming, was for the poet ofZarathustraperhaps the most fruitful prototype and model of himself. Heraclitus’s veiled and indirectly transmitted conception of the world gave Nietzsche an early experience of that austere, intoxicated joy that came from encountering a heightened version of himself, as he was later to experience only through his own conception of Zarathustra, in whom so many features of the Ephesian sage were...

  10. 4 Justice
    (pp. 79-87)

    Bossuet writes: justice is a kind of martyrdom.² It is symbolic of Nietzsche’s thought, which always finds ways to martyr itself anew, that he is compelled to take such self-tormenting, brooding, rigorous pains in making repeated attempts to solve the problem: “How justice (theoretical and moral) is possible—rather: how justice must be understood in order to be possible?—for ithasto be possible.”³ And there is something moving, after his constantly renewed struggle with the problem of justice over the course of many years, in still encountering words such as we find in this very late passage in...

  11. 5 Arion
    (pp. 88-106)

    Music is the element in Nietzsche’s life one first perceives when approaching him, gratefully or polemically, as an observer: music is the most colorful flare radiating out from his existence into the outermost periphery of his influence; and music is perhaps the last echo that will be heard rising up nostalgically when his name is uttered after the completion of preordained centuries.

    It was undoubtedly the musical element that first made Nietzsche’s life and work visible and valuable to his own people. Not the “aristocratic radicalism”³ first admired by Georg Brandes, who introduced the German philosopher to his European audience...

  12. 6 Illness
    (pp. 107-120)

    Nietzsche attested more than once to an innate, inherited Christianity in his blood. But Zarathustra knows that blood is spirit. And one would certainly not need confirmation from Nietzsche’s own lips to perceive the deeply rooted Christian atavism of his mind throughout all its phases (and not just in the Schopenhauer period) as one of the strongest latent obligations of this “free spirit” and Hellenic Antichrist. If Nietzsche likes to understand himself as the first radical non-Christian in German intellectual history, which in his eyes remains disastrously bound up with Christianity (“if people do not get over Christianity, it will...

  13. 7 Judas
    (pp. 121-133)

    The great apologetic problem of Judas—how were both Judas and Judas’s betrayal possible, and why were they necessary—this most absorbing of all the problems of justification has preoccupied Christian thought for two millennia.¹ For Christianity, Judas’s deed and fate were, next to Adam’s fall, the most concrete embodiment of the eternal question about the meaning of evil, about the relationship between freedom and necessity. Every kind of interpretation has passed over the image of Judas. We have Dante imperiously sitting in judgment over him and relegating him to the innermost region of hell, delivering him to the crushing...

  14. 8 Mask
    (pp. 134-153)

    “The problem of the actor has troubled me for the longest time,”³ Nietzsche admits inThe Gay Science. Despite this confession, which obviously touches on a fundamental psychological trait in Nietzsche, the problem of the actor does not initially seem to be one that necessarily emanated out of his primary constitution. It wasnotat first an eminently “autobiographical” problem for him. With respect to his entire nature, Nietzsche was unactorly and untheatrical to the core, even if one may observe traits of a certain intellectual coquetry throughout all his phases, and particularly in his late period. A friend from...

  15. 9 Weimar
    (pp. 154-170)

    Among the minor prefigurative inclinations and desires Nietzsche had as a child there is a dream, reported by his sister, that the boy entertained for years: that he would like to round out and complete his later years (which at that point he probably still imagined within a “theological” framework he basically never renounced) in a modest house either on theRhineor inRothenburg ob der Tauberor, finally, inWeimar. This childish dream has something touchingly clairvoyant about it with regard both to Nietzsche’s future as well as to the fundamental predispositions of his intellectual character. First of...

  16. 10 Napoleon
    (pp. 171-182)

    Nietzsche proves he is a pupil of the Greeks when he says that for him, as was true of his teachers as well, “the most abstract idea always coalesces into a person,” whereas for the moderns, “even what is most personal is sublimated into abstractions.”² “The Greeks,” he writes in the fragment from 1873 on “Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks,” “were the opposite of realists in that they believed only in the reality of men and gods and viewed the whole of nature as if it were only a disguise, masquerade and metamorphosis of those divine beings....

  17. 11 Jest, Cunning, and Vengeance
    (pp. 183-193)

    The mystical and didactic inheritances within German literature are the two strongest and oldest forces of continuity that have exerted an uninterrupted influence since its old-High-German beginnings. Initially, they were fused together; then they diverged, the former culminating, before Luther, in the works of Eckhart,¹ Suso,² and Tauler,³ and in the spiritual poetry of the hymns; the latter, with roots in ancient runes, riddles, and rhymes, blossoms in an abundance of popular verse. Both also merge to nourish here and there a work of a higher order, such as Wolfram’sParzival, or the religious plays about the Passion of the...

  18. 12 Anecdote
    (pp. 194-202)

    “Only what is personal is forever irrefutable. It is possible to render the image of a person with three anecdotes; I try to extract three anecdotes out of every system and discard the rest.”²

    Thus Nietzsche wrote in a later preface to the work that remained a fragment, the “Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks.” Just as he lends poetic amplifications of his own philosophical potential to the philosophers in this fragment, so, too, do these sentences from the preface offer the aphoristically concentrated kernel of his philosophical method. Out of three anecdotes an image, out of three...

  19. 13 Indian Summer
    (pp. 203-212)

    Nietzsche, who disdained Mörike³ and who thought “the highest notion of a poet” was represented not by Goethe or Hölderlin but by Heine’s “sweet and passionate music and divine malice,”⁴ loved Adalbert Stifter—that is one of those symbolic paradoxes, sometimes themselves almost malicious, that even superficially give his life the allure of extremism, of romantic inconsistency. It was not an early attachment of Nietzsche, like the love for Schumann he later disavowed and bitterly ridiculed, whose music is so close to the writer of the earlyStudies, the “The Condor” and “Wild Flowers”⁵ (both artists occupy a province in...

  20. 14 Claude Lorrain
    (pp. 213-222)

    For several hundred years, ever sinceFaustand Luther’s Bible gave us our German foundation, one question has stood as a familiar symbol of our forever conflicting German possibilities: Luther’s or Goethe’s journey to Rome and what became of it, Luther’s or Goethe’s image and concept of Rome—which one seems to be themore Germansolution to the thoroughly German problem, to the German fate that remains inescapable in its repetitions and variations: that of the “northern man in the south”? Both figures, owing to everything that drew them to these southerly spheres of their existence, are perfect symbols...

  21. 15 Venice
    (pp. 223-230)

    Inscribed in the legend of Nietzsche the wanderer are four cities on whose names there now falls a reflection of his own like a gift of belated gratitude. These four cities alone are more than the accidental backdrops to a heroic drama played out entirely within himself, more than mere milestones on the path of the philosophic pilgrim. Their names designate and truly embody distinct directions in his intellectual landscape, their outlines mark the extreme ends of his inner universe.

    There is Basel, an island of belated aristocratic humanism, one of the last of the venerable and refined city-republics in...

  22. 16 Portofino
    (pp. 231-238)

    Two landscapes live on in the poem about Zarathustra’s downfall. One, containing “all the points midway between the ice and the South,”³ the most remote, high-lying valley on the continent, the Engadin, where “Italy and Finland form an alliance,”⁴ where a “constant sunny October wind”⁵ blows: this, Nietzsche says, is “mylandscape: so far away from life, so metaphysical.”⁶ Here, according to his own testimony, “the basic conception ofZarathustra, the idea of the Eternal Return, that highest formula of affirmation,”⁷ came over him with the force of an ecstatic vision. The other landscape, however, is that of the Gulf...

  23. 17 Prophecy
    (pp. 239-261)

    The prophetic flourishes only in half-light. It was not obscurantism, as the entire eighteenth century suspected, that spoke in favor of the sacred dusk. Just as crystal grows only while it is in the mountain and, once touched, rigidifies its growth, so too the prophetic word with the power to transform people develops only in sleep. It is part of Nietzsche’s tragic transitional fate that his intellectual calling and his “spiritual election”—to express it theologically—occurred precisely during what were perhaps the most irreverent decades ever witnessed in intellectual history; at the height of the “historical” century, which so...

  24. 18 Socrates
    (pp. 262-288)

    If Nietzsche was a Christian—albeit in a secret, parodic, and paradoxical way—then he was a Christian, too, in that he loved his enemies. With a love, to be sure, in which Christian self-hatred and Hellenic competitive envy enter into a genuinely Nietzschean union. Nietzsche was never more grateful, he never devoted himself more, than to those whom he insulted and persecuted, a second Saul.⁴ Thus Socrates, that most questionable figure of antiquity, asThe Birth of Tragedycalls him, is thus so close to him—“just so as to admit it”—that he “was almost always waging a...

  25. 19 Eleusis
    (pp. 289-308)

    Zosimos, a historian from late antiquity who, though he lived in the fifth century, was not yet a Christian, transmits to us a peculiar Greek belief: the Greeks, he says, believed that their mysteries at Eleusis, that great pan-Hellenic cult, “held the human race together.”³ The human race—not, as one would expect, the Greek people alone in its proud exclusive entirety; because non-Greeks, “speechless barbarians” of every sort, were not permitted to be initiated into the Eleusian mysteries at all, which even the lowliest Greek slave was free to do. Nevertheless, Greek religious thought conceived of the sublimely extravagant...

  26. Notes
    (pp. 309-364)
  27. Chronology
    (pp. 365-368)
  28. Index
    (pp. 369-382)
  29. Back Matter
    (pp. 383-384)