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The Journal of Nietzsche Studies 25 (2003) 114-115

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Queries and Answers

Q: Where do the ancestors of Nietzsche come from? - There is a slight chance that the Nietzsches of my family tree are related to the family of the philosopher.—Peter Navé

A: Recent research has revealed that people with the same names are probably more related to one another than they think. But as "Nietzsche" is a common name, any relationship with your family is unlikely to be close. I refer you to the following passage from R. J. Hollingdale's Nietzsche (1965), pp. 3-5:

Nietzsche's ancestry has been traced back to the sixteenth century. Over 200 forebears are known, all of them Germans. [. . .] A wholly unnecessary confusion has been introduced into the straightforward tale of Nietzsche's ancestry by the story that the Nietzsches were really descended from Polish nobility [letter to Georg Brandes late 1888: "My ancestors were Polish noblemen (Nietzky) [. . .]. The researches of Max Oehler, sometime curator of the Nietzsche Archive at Weimar, have proved—what Nietzsche's contemporaries suspected—that there is no truth in it. It was Oehler who traced the 200 ancestors referred to, and who established that they all bore German names, even the wives' families. According to Richard Blunck, Nietzky is not a Polish name, while Nietzsche is an exceptionally common one throughout central Germany, in this and its cognate forms (e.g., Nitsche, Nitzke). Like many common surnames, it derives from a common forename, in this case Nikolaus (Nicholas), which, abbreviated to Nick and assimilated with the Slavic Nitz (pronounced Nitsch) became Nitsche and then Nietzsche.

—Carol Diethe

Q: Why did Nietzsche say that Christian dogma banishes art to the realm of falsehood when he had before him the evidence of the splendours of art inspired by Christianity?—Alun Shapra

A: In his preamble to The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche admits that in the book there is no greater contrast to his aesthetic view of the world than Christian teaching, "which is, and desires to be, morality only, and with its absolute standards, for example, with its 'God as truth,' banishes art, all art, to the realm of lies [. . .]" (BT, "Attempt at a Self-Criticism": 5, KSA 1). The preamble was actually added to the 1886 version of The Birth of Tragedy, which [End Page 115] had been first published in 1872 at a time when Nietzsche's aesthetic philosophy was taking shape in tandem with a Messianic hatred of Schopenhauerian pessimism. This is a significant factor in Nietzsche's attempt to praise Greek tragedy in the original work, but he singles out music, which he dubs "the Dionysian art" (BT, 16), as the highest of all the arts. Nietzsche's full-blown attack on Christianity did not really emerge fully until he published the first volume of Human, All Too Human (1878). The text scandalized the Wagners and contributed to their breach with Nietzsche, though in 1876 Nietzsche had already fled from the horrors of The Ring, having heard the dress rehearsal at Bayreuth. When the second volume of Human, All Too Human appeared in 1886, Nietzsche's views on music and Wagner were both radically different to what they had been in 1872. The "Attempt at a Self-Criticism," written at the same time, should be seen within this context; Nietzsche is admitting to his readers, as well as to himself, that circumstances have changed. His attempt to read a critique of Christianity backwards into The Birth of Tragedy does not really work, in spite of his assurance to his readers that his silence on the matter of Christianity in the first version of his work was both "studied and hostile" (BT, "Attempt at Self-Criticism": 5). He is more effective when he goes on to set Christianity's pessimism against his own (and the Greeks') optimism. What does emerge clearly in this added-on preamble is Nietzsche's insistence that there can be no certainty about what is truth, or what is moral. He is attacking Christian dogma rather than the manifold artifacts inspired by the Christian faith, many of which, as...


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