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NIETZSCHE’S LAST LAUGH

Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo was published posthumously in 1908, eight


years after his death, and has been variously described ever since as
useless, mad, or merely inscrutable. Against this backdrop, Nicholas
D. More provides the first complete and compelling analysis of the
work, and argues that this so-called autobiography is instead a satire.
This form enables Nietzsche to belittle bad philosophy by comic
means, attempt reconciliation with his painful past, review and unify
his disparate works, insulate himself with humor from the danger of
“looking into abysses,” and establish wisdom as a special kind of “good
taste.” After showing how to read this much-maligned book, More
argues that Ecce Homo presents the best example of Nietzsche making
sense of his own intellectual life, and that its unique and complex
parody of traditional philosophy makes a powerful case for reading
Nietzsche as a philosophical satirist across his corpus.

nicholas d. more is Professor of Philosophy at Westminster


College.
N I E T Z S C H E’ S LA ST LA U G H
Ecce Homo as Satire

NICHOLAS D. MORE
University Printing House, Cambridge cb2 8bs, United Kingdom

Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
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© Nicholas D. More 2014
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First published 2014
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and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain,
accurate or appropriate.
for Tico
We must rest from ourselves occasionally by contemplating and
looking down upon ourselves, and by laughing or weeping over
ourselves from an artistic remoteness.
Nietzsche (GS 107)
There’s nothing we philosophers like better than to be mistaken for
artists.
Nietzsche to Georg Brandes, 4 May 1888 (KGB 3.5.1030)
That the deepest spirit must also be the most frivolous, this is almost
the formula for my philosophy: it could be that I, above all other
‘greats,’ have indeed become cheerful in an unlikely manner.
Nietzsche to Ferdinand Avenarius,
10 December 1888 (KGB 3.5.1183)

vi
Contents

Acknowledgements page ix
Abbreviations, citations, sources x

Prologue 1
Introduction 2
Ecce Homo’s reception 3
Ways of reading Nietzsche 5
Secondary literature on Ecce Homo 8
Principles and structure of the present study 18

part i what is ECCE HOMO? 21


1 Nietzsche deigns to read himself 23
2 A question of genre 27

part ii what is the meaning of ECCE HOMO? 37


3 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary 39
The title: Ecce Homo 39
The subtitle: How One Becomes What One Is 44
The Foreword 48
“On this perfect day . . .” 57
Why I Am So Wise 59
Why I Am So Clever 87
Why I Write Such Excellent Books 101
The Birth of Tragedy 114
The Untimely Ones 125
Human, All Too Human 128
Daybreak 147
The Gay Science 165

vii
viii Contents
Thus Spoke Zarathustra 168
Beyond Good and Evil 178
On the Genealogy of Morals 179
Twilight of the Idols 184
The Case of Wagner 188
Why I Am a Destiny 196

part iii what is the significance of ECCE HOMO? 205


Conclusion 207

Bibliography 212
Index 222
Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Kathy Higgins, Bob Solomon, Louis Mackey, and to Louis’s
student, Mark Jordan. Their guidance and kind words over a span of many
years made this work possible in ways I am sure they do not realize. Thanks also
to Mark Murray, Betty Kane, Jim Staley, Joe Sullivan, Kent Emery, Katherine
Tillman, Stephen Rogers, Dan Smith, Bud Luepke, Ellen Bergen Ruggia,
Christopher Middleton, Nina Sidhra, Karen Mottola, Damian Love, Kabilan
Selvakumar, Michelle Birke Paustenbaugh, Mary Beth Mader, Margret
Grebowicz, Thomas Kammel, Kelly Oliver, Richard Badenhausen, Mary
Jane Chase, Michael Popich, Laura Landon, Friedrich Nietzsche, and my
dear siblings and parents. I extend special thanks to Teresa Knight and Craig
Waterman for discussing many of this book’s ideas with me and reading various
complete drafts. Separate sabbatical leaves from Westminster College supported
the principal writing and later revision of the work; I am grateful to this bastion’s
support of teaching and scholarship, and to my many students and colleagues
who encourage and renew my thinking every fall and spring. Thanks to my
current readers – I encourage you to write to me after marking this book. Parts
of the present work were first published as an article in Philosophy and Literature,
35/1 (2011), 1–15 (“Nietzsche’s Last Laugh: Ecce Homo as Satire,” copyright ©
2011 The Johns Hopkins University Press), reprinted with permission by The
Johns Hopkins University. My thanks to Garry Hagberg and Denis Dutton for
their kind support. I offer additional thanks to Dee Mortensen and several
anonymous readers, both at Cambridge University Press and elsewhere, whose
comments and criticisms helped make this a better discussion all around.
Thank you as well to Rob Lock at Hart McLeod for the arrestingly arch
book cover design. Finally, special thanks to my editor Hilary Gaskin, and to
Anna Lowe, Emma Collison, Fleur Jones, Joanna Breeze, and everyone at
Cambridge for their timely good cheer and professional excellence; I owe them a
great deal for bringing this book to fruition in its present form. And yet – all my
gratitude and love to Tico, the best comic thinker I know, or could ever hope to
know. I always write with you in mind.
ix
Abbreviations, citations, sources

In quoting a passage from Nietzsche, I have abbreviated the fourteen works


he intended and prepared for publication according to the English trans-
lation of the title, as follows:

AC The Antichrist
BGE Beyond Good and Evil
BT The Birth of Tragedy
CW The Case of Wagner
D Daybreak
DD Dithyrambs of Dionysus
EH Ecce Homo
GM On the Genealogy of Morals
GS The Gay Science
HH Human, All Too Human
NCW Nietzsche Contra Wagner
TI Twilight of the Idols
UM Untimely Meditations
Z Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Chapter and section or aphorism number, not page numbers, follow the
book’s abbreviation. For example, “TI 10.2” refers to the tenth chapter in
Twilight of the Idols (“What I Owe the Ancients”), to the second section or
numbered part in that chapter. (Nietzsche’s book prefaces or epilogues are
identified as such.)
Editions of Nietzsche’s collected works in German are abbreviated as
follows, with numbers referring to volume and letter, section, or aphorism
number.

x
Abbreviations, citations, sources xi

KGB Nietzsche Briefwechsel: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, ed. Giorgio Colli


and Mazzino Montinari. 25 vols. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1975–
2004.
KGW Nietzsche Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, ed. Giorgio Colli and
Mazzino Montinari. 24 vols. and 4 CDs. Berlin: De Gruyter,
1967–2006.
KSA Kritische Studienausgabe, ed. Giorgio Colli and Mazzino
Montinari. 15 vols. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1999.
For Nietzsche’s books, I have used the translations of Judith Norman,
Walter Kaufmann, Duncan Large, and R. J. Hollingdale (please see the
Bibliography), in consultation and comparison with the corrected critical
German edition of Nietzsche’s works in Digitale Kritische Gesamtausgabe
Werke und Briefe – based on KGW and KGB, above. Translations of
Nietzsche’s letters and notebook material are my own.
Aside from Nietzsche’s texts (or other texts where custom dictates section
citation), numbers in citations refer to page numbers. Full reference infor-
mation for abbreviated citations appears in the Bibliography.
Prologue

After Odysseus gets the better of Polyphemus by guile and violence in Book
9 of Homer’s epic poem, the great tactician and his men escape by ship as
the blinded hulk raises a stone over his head to avenge himself, if he can, on
the fleeing Greeks. With care to make no sound as they set to sea, the
Trojan War veterans seem out of harm’s way. But Odysseus must have the
last word. He narrates:
Again I began to taunt the Cyclops – men around me
trying to check me, calm me, left and right:
‘So headstrong – why? Why rile the beast again?’
‘That rock he flung in the sea just now, hurling our ship
to shore once more – we thought we’d die on the spot!’
‘If he’d caught a sound from one of us, just a moan,
he would have crushed our heads and ship timbers
with one heave of another flashing, jagged rock!’
‘Good god, the brute can throw!’ So they begged
but they could not bring my fighting spirit round.
I called back with another burst of anger. ‘Cyclops –
if any man on the face of the earth should ask you
who blinded you, shamed you so – say Odysseus,
raider of cities, he gouged out your eye,
Laertes’ son who makes his home in Ithaca!’1
And what about Ecce Homo? Does Nietzsche call to us as he sails away? And
who are we?

1
Homer, The Odyssey, trans. Robert Fagles (London: Penguin, 1997), 9.548–62.

1
Introduction

Pretend you know nothing of Nietzsche and imagine yourself in a deck


chair with Ecce Homo. What would this book communicate to you? The
author describes grand intellectual travails, and German pastry; reviews his
own books that “overcome morality,” and celebrates the climate of Turin,
Italy; purports to give reasons for the existence of his outstanding character
traits and abilities, and recounts a miserable slew of blinding headaches and
digestive ills. As passage reading, Ecce Homo may not seem very good – it
lacks sex, plot, and intrigue, certainly. And for several generations it has
failed to make good philosophy reading either. In addition to these acci-
dental faults, the book has lacked a genre; it has lacked context.
Consequently, it has lacked for good interpretation, let alone an explan-
ation. Because the work was neither fiction, memoir, nor philosophy as
even loosely defined, there was no entrée to understanding.
Ecce Homo has aged in the shadows, and its sorry life consists of neglect,
misunderstanding, and disparagement. As far as I can tell, the last person to
comprehend and gain merriment from its farraginous form was its author,
Friedrich Nietzsche. Instead of laughing at this cheerfully cynical book, a
legion of grave scholars has found it oddly distressing at best and pathetic
madness at worst. (Unless you count the worst as the view in all camps that
the work has no good reason to be.) Roberto Calasso has written that the
“great changes of madness unfold in the hidden chamber of this work,
something mysterious haunts these pages, and the mystery is destined to
remain such.”1 With due deference to mystery, I beg to differ.
Nietzsche completed Ecce Homo (“Behold the Man”), sometimes called
his autobiography, just weeks before his mental collapse of 3 January 1889.
Yet his last original composition is no chronicle or confession; rather, it
shows Nietzsche attempting to unify and understand his philosophical

1
Roberto Calasso, “Fatal Monologue,” in The Forty-nine Steps, trans. John Shepley (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 2001), 23.

2
Ecce Homo’s reception 3
work overall. Hence Ecce Homo provides a way to read Nietzsche on his own
terms, but it does more than this by way of its form. I contend that Ecce
Homo is a satire. As a trained classicist, Nietzsche was familiar with this
ancient genre, and he wrote a parody of autobiography to skewer not only
the inherent pretensions of self-reflection and unvarnished truth, but the
larger historical pretensions of philosophy to procure timeless wisdom. Seen
this way, Nietzsche wrote Ecce Homo to recast his entire corpus as a species
of what I call philosophical satire: the comic attack by hyperbole on
philosophy itself, the better to contrast Nietzsche’s own program of more
modest truth-telling.
On the surface, Ecce Homo presents us with a collection of interpretive
prefaces to Nietzsche’s previous ten works, book-ended by a glancing
autobiography, exaggerated self-celebration (with explanatory accounts of
his own virtues), considerations of weather, recreation, food, drink,
thoughts about philosophical writing and interpretation, and predictions
of immense future fame. What did Nietzsche hope to accomplish by
offering up this mysterious mixture? And why have his readers run away
from it in such haste?
Aside from Ecce Homo’s text, we must remember its source. Nietzsche the
man suffered the early death of his father and brother, lost love, horrific
health, and almost lifelong loneliness and isolation. How did he sustain
himself? His pain was physical, incisive, emotional, and persistent. From the
first to the last of his books, his interest in tragedy and responses to pain was
not academic or abstract, but pressing and personal. What is the value of life
lived painfully? Could prolonged suffering be overcome and transformed, or
would his authorial output always stand in spite of it? Ecce Homo became
Nietzsche’s last effort to transform enduring pain into something valuable,
and to unify and communicate the essence of his philosophical corpus as he
saw it. In my understanding of the book’s form, satire became the philos-
opher’s stone that turned the dark details of Nietzsche’s life and philosophy
into the comic, and made them bearable, even enjoyable. Humor distanced
Nietzsche from his own life just enough to face and embrace it – which
makes his last book at turns honest and ridiculous by design.

Ecce Homo’s reception


Ecce Homo’s appearance and reception were troubled from the outset.
Nietzsche was reviewing the editor’s final proofs for the completed Ecce
Homo when his mental collapse occurred on 3 January 1889. Long-time
friends Franz Overbeck and Heinrich Köselitz decided to delay the book’s
4 Introduction
publication, in part because of what they considered the shrill madness and
naked hostility of the book’s section on Nietzsche’s mother and sister (EH
1.3). After a torturous process that included the ignorant Elisabeth Forster-
Nietzsche taking control of her brother’s literary estate, Ecce Homo was
finally published in 1908 – nearly twenty years after its composition, and
eight years after its author’s death.
Ecce Homo has a long history of being mistaken – as damning evidence of
insanity by Nietzsche’s foes, as bizarre and embarrassing by his sympa-
thizers. Most have considered the book an obvious sign that Nietzsche’s
mental illness preceded his final collapse, and others cite the book to suggest
that his philosophy was always the product of a diseased mind. Even the
more charitable interpretations contain their own kinds of incomprehen-
sion, bow to enigma or interpretive synecdoche, deem the book a mere
annunciation for future (non-existent) works, or claim that Ecce Homo has
nothing new or nothing much worth talking about from a philosophical
point of view. The result? A work that had no official place in Nietzsche’s
canon until 1969 and that, overall, has suffered “a prolonged and systematic
marginalization.”2 Things are a bit better for Ecce Homo these days, but the
wary and negative views still predominate: to most, the book is both
scandalous and insignificant.
Ecce Homo has languished in Nietzsche’s corpus for several reasons, but
chief among them is the book’s extreme immodesty and self-celebration.
They have rarely been viewed as funny or ironic but, rather, as pathetic signs
of megalomania or insanity.3 The book has defied expectations in genre

2
Duncan Large, “Introduction,” in Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, trans. Duncan Large (Oxford
University Press, 2007), xi–xxviii, at xxvii–xxviii.
3
These judgments cause many to dismiss the book out of hand, though the prejudice has long been
resisted. Anthony Ludovici in 1911 writes: “To point, as many have done, to the proximity of all
Nietzsche’s autumn work of the year 1888 to his breakdown at the beginning of 1889, and to argue that
in all its main features it foretells the catastrophe that is imminent, seems a little too plausible, a little
too obvious and simple to require refutation. That Nietzsche really was in a state which in medicine is
known as euphoria – that is to say, that state of highest well-being and capacity which often precedes a
complete breakdown, cannot, I suppose, be questioned; for his style, his penetrating vision, and his
vigour, reach their zenith in the works written in this autumn of 1888; but the contention that the
matter, the substance, of these works reveals any signs whatsoever of waning mental health . . . is best
contradicted by the internal evidence itself ” (“Translator’s Introduction,” in Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce
Homo, in The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, ed. Oscar Levy, vol. xvii (New York: Macmillan,
1911), vii–xiv, at x). And in 1927 W. H. Wright writes: “There has long been a theory that his insanity
was of gradual growth, that, in fact, he was unbalanced from birth. But there is no evidence to
substantiate this theory. The statement that his books were those of a madman is entirely without
foundation. His works were thought out in the most clarified manner . . . it is puerile to point to his
state of mind during the last years of his life as a criticism of his philosophy. His books must stand or
fall on internal evidence. Judged from that standpoint they are scrupulously sane” (“Introduction,” in
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Philosophy of Nietzsche (New York: Modern Library, 1927), vii–xviii, at x).
Ways of reading Nietzsche 5
terms, as also noted, leading to widespread confusion. Finally, Ecce Homo
was so straightforward and insistent on the philosophical import of one’s
physical environment that scholars have deemed it irrelevant for compre-
hending Nietzsche’s more traditional-looking doctrines. Whatever the
cause, comparatively little has been written about Nietzsche’s last original
composition, even though it provides an invaluable guide to understanding
Nietzsche’s ends and means as a writer and thinking person.4 Still, a hardy
few have engaged the work, so let us briefly discuss how scholars tend
to approach Nietzsche and where Ecce Homo stands in the current
conversation.

Ways of reading Nietzsche


When reflecting on how we approach someone as rich in thoughts, works
and consequence as Nietzsche, it helps to observe where scholars stand on

Still, Daniel Breazeale writes that “there is something alarmingly ‘unbalanced’ about Ecce Homo,”
and describes the book as megalomaniacal (“Ecce Psycho: Remarks on the Case of Nietzsche,”
International Studies in Philosophy, 23/2 (1991), 19–33, at 19, 28). And in his revised Nietzsche
biography, R. J. Hollingdale claims that Ecce Homo’s second Foreword (“On this perfect day . . .”)
shows “an exalted cheerfulness” that stands as “the most pathetic in his works” – key evidence for his
contention that Nietzsche suffered an “increasingly intense feeling of euphoria culminating at last in
megalomania” (Nietzsche: The Man and His Philosophy, rev. edn (Cambridge University Press, 2001),
193–94).
For Rüdiger Safranski, Ecce Homo became Nietzsche’s “ultimate grandiose self-interpretation,” one
that seems to show his thought “breaking free of its supports and drifting away” (Nietzsche: A
Philosophical Biography, trans. Shelley Frisch (New York: W. W. Norton, 2002), 307, 312). For
Curtis Cate, Nietzsche “yielded to his inner demon and indulged in exaggerations” that mar the
otherwise “charming” and “rambling” Ecce Homo (Friedrich Nietzsche (Woodstock: Overlook Press,
2005), 541, 538). And fellow biographer Julian Young sees evidence of mental imbalance dating back to
Thus Spoke Zarathustra, surveying three possibilities for the cause of Nietzsche’s mental condition:
syphilis, a brain tumor, and a “purely psychiatric” case of “manic depression with late-developing
psychotic features” (Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography (Cambridge University Press, 2010),
561). While Ecce Homo, he claims, contains “manifest delusions” (519), Young also argues that
Nietzsche’s insanity crept upon him in “the final weeks of 1888” (525) – that is, after Ecce Homo’s
composition – and that Nietzsche’s mental illness was “purely psychological” (562).
Aaron Ridley observes that we cannot know Nietzsche’s mental state at the time of composition.
“Nor does it seem tremendously important to know. Incipient insanity may take the form of hyper-
bole, and what is exaggerated may be true, or interesting, even when pitched at a level that can seem
deranged” (“Introduction,” in Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols,
And Other Writings, trans. Judith Norman (Cambridge University Press, 2005), vii–xxxiv, at ix).
4
In the Cambridge University Press edition of Ecce Homo, editor Aaron Ridley lists only Daniel
Conway’s article, “Nietzsche’s Doppelgänger: Affirmation and Resentment in Ecce Homo,” in
K. Ansell-Pearson (ed.), The Fate of the New Nietzsche (Brookfield, VT: Avebury, 1993), 55–78, at
66–67, as recommended reading from the scant literature on Nietzsche’s last original composition.
Thomas Steinbuch’s A Commentary on Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo (Lanham, MD: University Press of
America, 1994) is the only extended treatment in English, but provides analysis of the book’s first
chapter alone.
6 Introduction
four large-scale issues: (1) the importance of Nietzsche’s theories and doc-
trines in themselves, as against the context of his concerns and critiques
pursued in particular books; (2) the philological status of his work and thus
the objects of analysis; (3) the choice of interpretive method or style; and (4)
allegiances to particular schools of thought or the attempt at independence
from them. We will be in a better position to consider the secondary
literature on Ecce Homo once we survey this landscape.
On the first issue, the relative importance of Nietzsche’s doctrines versus
his books, consider the idea that we have two grand camps of Nietzsche
scholars today; call them miners and holists. Miners often see Nietzsche as a
philosopher in spite of his literary gifts or other designs; therefore, they
extract the philosophical ore from the soil of his verdant prose. Such ore can
be valuable, but procuring and refining it is different from understanding
nature, its source. The second camp is more green, if you like, when it
comes to reading Nietzsche. Holists attend to the multiple aspects of
Nietzsche’s ideas, in particular to their specific contexts in specific books,
on the plausible hypothesis that his thinking comprises an interrelated set of
concerns that he unifies, at the very least, by the decision to treat them in
particular works. This holist approach takes Nietzsche seriously, I suppose,
when he makes fun of philosophers who “think they are doing a thing honor
when they dehistoricize it, sub specie aeterni – when they make a mummy of
it. All that philosophers have handled for millennia has been conceptual
mummies; nothing actual has escaped from their hands alive” (TI 2.1). This
admonition would seem to apply to those who isolate Nietzsche’s ideas and
try to give them intrinsic, essentialist meanings.
On the second issue, the standing of books versus notes, the question
involves how to weigh Nietzsche’s works prepared for publication in
comparison to his notebooks. Thanks to the philological work of Giorgio
Colli, Mazzino Montinari, and Marie-Luis Haase, we now see the great
difference between Nietzsche’s intended books and the clearly fragmentary
nature of his notes – notes that others often gave false shape and signifi-
cance.5 Why some have privileged Nietzsche’s notes over his books makes
for an interesting story, but the pendulum has swung: scholars today more
often attend to Nietzsche’s considered public positions instead of his private
jottings. And yet the hangover remains in the case of notes appearing in

5
This includes even their chronological ordering. I share Dirk R. Johnson’s view of the philological
landscape as now clearly divided between fragmentary notes and finished works, due especially to the
work of Marie-Luise Haase (Johnson, Nietzsche’s Anti-Darwinism (Cambridge University Press, 2010),
11–13).
Ways of reading Nietzsche 7
English under the title “Will to Power,” and more notebook material will be
translated into English in the years to come. Thus we need to distinguish
between what Bernd Magnus calls “lumpers” and “splitters” on this issue of
Nietzsche’s Nachlaß.6 Lumpers draw heavily on the notebooks to establish
their claims, sometimes in order to turn Nietzsche into a more traditional
philosopher with a set of epistemological, metaphysical, and ethical doc-
trines, other times to accomplish any number of things that Nietzsche’s
finished works do not plausibly support. Splitters privilege instead the texts
Nietzsche wrote, compiled, edited, and approved for publication – as most
authors I know of would urge readers to do, Nietzsche included.7
On the third issue of concern to Nietzsche scholars, methods or styles of
interpretation, I suggest a distinction between hot and cool interpreters.
Hot interpreters excerpt phrases or striking metaphors in Nietzsche’s works
and run with them on vibrant journeys of inference, association, ardor – or
outrage. Argumentation, formally speaking, is less important than making
pregnant suggestions and new, surprising, or dramatic connections between
a Nietzschean phrase and other ideas. In contrast, cool interpreters ‘dis-
passionately’ contextualize Nietzsche’s ideas and make plodding, often
internal connections to support theses about meaning. To them, under-
standing an author’s intention is more important than making impressive or
novel claims about hidden significance. Cool interpreters pay respect to
Nietzsche by attending to his stated intentions and the structure of his ideas.
Hot interpreters pay respect to Nietzsche by demonstrating how fecund he
is. We could say that cool interpreters note, hot ones connote.
On the fourth issue, allegiances to schools of thought, we might place
Nietzsche scholars into five large groups: analytical, deconstructive, psycho-
logical, biographical, and reconstructive.8 The analytical school of
Nietzsche scholars treats him as a philosopher who engages in philosophy
‘of the tradition’ as presently construed, consisting of canonical questions,
the answers to which are possibly forthcoming – answers shaped by and
consistent with empirical science. In this light Nietzsche offers theories and
doctrines of language, knowledge, morality, art, ontology, truth, and so on,
sometimes in poetic language that becomes translated or purged.

6
Bernd Magnus, Stanley Stewart, and Jean-Pierre Mileur, Nietzsche’s Case: Philosophy as/and Literature
(New York and London: Routledge, 1993), 35–37. (Nachlaß refers to Nietzsche’s fragmentary notes not
prepared or intended by him for publication.)
7
Referring to his previous books, Nietzsche says in Ecce Homo that he really should not need to say who
he is, because it is not as if he has left himself “without testimony” (EH Foreword 1).
8
I have drawn upon and expanded a three-part division outlined by Bernd Magnus in “Nietzsche
Today: A View from America,” International Studies in Philosophy, 15/2 (1983), 95–103, at 97.
8 Introduction
The deconstructive school questions the analytical view of Nietzsche’s
place in the tradition, often regarding Nietzsche as having pursued a
skeptical dismantling of Western philosophy. Deconstructivists attend to
Nietzsche’s emphasis on historical and critical methods, and are more likely
to admire his literary art, considering it part and parcel of his rhetorical
project. Deconstructivists also tend to view philosophy as an experimental
and creative enterprise rather than a truth-seeking or quasi-scientific one.
Psychologically minded scholars treat Nietzsche’s writings and life as
surface material for inferring the great hidden iceberg below – his psyche.
Meanwhile, biographers of Nietzsche marshal concrete detail to construct a
historical narrative more than to engage philosophical disputes about the
meaning of his ideas, and, obviously, they lay weight upon the lived
particularities of Nietzsche’s life in relation to his works.
Finally, the reconstructive school attempts to understand Nietzsche in a
comprehensive way, ready to reckon with whatever he actually sought to
give. In my view, the best scholars of this kind draw upon the strengths of
the other four schools: the precision, argumentation, and care with language
of the analytical school; the historical, critical, and literary considerations of
the deconstructivist school; the attention to mental features, conditions,
and complex motivations of the psychological school; and the narrative
details of a particular human life pursued by biographers. Drawing upon
and balancing these elements, the reconstructivist school strives to discern
and communicate an understanding of Nietzsche’s views as clearly as
possible. In this sense the reconstructivist scholar remains open to any
approach that aims to think cogently about what the evidence presents.
The distinctions made above, naturally, should be taken as plastic, over-
lapping, and non-exhaustive, but I think it worth reflecting on our intellec-
tual habits when we set out to consider another thinker’s work. These
distinctions will make the following discussion of the secondary literature
on Ecce Homo more intelligible as well. To my mind, all the schools of
thought and ways of approaching a multifaceted thinker like Nietzsche
comprise a set of tools – it is what we do with them that counts.
(Although the following section fulfills an important purpose and further
sets the stage, some readers may prefer advancing to the last part of this
Introduction, “Principles and structure of the present study.”)

Secondary literature on Ecce Homo


Ecce Homo is the enfant perdu of Nietzsche books, and the secondary
literature partially reflects this unfortunate state of affairs. By considering
Secondary literature on Ecce Homo 9
what others have said about Ecce Homo via the five schools outlined above, I
hope to draw us nearer to an integrated approach, and thus situate and
motivate the current study.
Because Ecce Homo does not appear to introduce any new doctrines or
theories, the analytical school of Nietzsche scholars has offered no sustained
treatment of the work. Instead, Ecce Homo is occasionally mined for a
thought or two about Nietzsche’s other books or ideas.
Ecce Homo has attracted by far the most attention from deconstructivist
readers, perhaps due to its marginalized status. As a rule, interpretations of
this school emerge from philological lumping, and employ a hot interpre-
tive style that unwinds linguistic connotations to identify semiotic fissures
or unseen meanings in the text. A bevy of such article-length interpretations
of Ecce Homo appeared in the 1980s, but their spirit can be traced, I think, to
Pierre Klossowski’s 1969 book, Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle, and to the
work of Jacques Derrida and the influence of Martin Heidegger.9
Klossowski takes Nietzsche’s thought to have “revolved around delirium
as its axis,” and says that “lucid thought, delirium and the conspiracy form
an indissoluble whole in Nietzsche.” For him, “because Nietzsche’s thought
was lucid to the extreme, it took on the appearance of a delirious interpre-
tation.”10 Moreover, “the incoherence that certain people thought could be
found only in the final messages from Turin exists at the start of Nietzsche’s
career,” he claims. He further believes that “Nietzsche’s collapse would
never have occurred if the seduction exerted by Chaos – that is, by
incoherence – had not still and always been present in Nietzsche.”11
Klossowski devotes a chapter in his book to an elaborate interpretation of
Ecce Homo’s familial riddle of dual descent (EH 1.1), with inventive

9
Martin Heidegger locates any understanding of Ecce Homo away from the book itself. Indeed, he
inaugurated a particular fascination with Nietzsche’s Nachlaß, and privileged the notes far above
Nietzsche’s books. Heidegger claims that “Nietzsche’s philosophy proper, the fundamental position
on the basis of which he speaks . . . did not assume a final form and was not itself published in any
book,” and “what Nietzsche himself published during his creative life was always foreground.” Hence
Heidegger strangely supposes that Nietzsche’s “philosophy proper was left behind as posthumous,
unpublished work” (Nietzsche, vol. i: The Will to Power as Art, ed. and trans. David F. Krell (New
York: Harper & Row, 1979), 8–9). As to Ecce Homo, the book for him “must attain its significance
from the context in which all of Nietzsche’s autobiographical observations belong; that is to say, from
the task of his thought and the historical moment of that task.” According to Heidegger’s reading,
derived primarily from Nietzsche’s notes, “that task alone is reality proper” – as Heidegger under-
stands it, natürlich (Nietzsche, vol. ii: The Eternal Recurrence of the Same, ed. and trans. David F. Krell
(New York: Harper & Row, 1984), 9–10).
10
Pierre Klossowski, Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle, trans. Daniel Smith (University of Chicago Press,
1998), xv, xvi.
11
Ibid., 220.
10 Introduction
psychological use of Nietzsche’s juvenilia. In light of his reading, he writes
that Nietzsche “had now become his own ‘propagandist’” in Ecce Homo,
and that the work is a “double apologetic, which had to compensate for the
sterile ageing of the mother he was to himself.”12 Here we see many of the
features that distinguish the deconstructivist school, including textual
lumping, a hot interpretive style, and a dose of psychology to suggest
subterranean meanings.
Jacques Derrida likewise explores Ecce Homo’s family descent riddle and
permutes signatures and names. He calls the book an “impossible trans-
gression” of the dialectical logic of traditional metaphysics that, conse-
quently, precludes any localization of Nietzsche’s autobiographical voice.13
The deconstructive interest in Ecce Homo reaches its watershed in Sarah
Kofman’s two-volume work in French, Explosion.14 Her treatment makes a
profusion of suggestive claims for the meaning of Nietzsche’s last original
composition. In a section entitled “Otitis, Meta-Otitis,” she writes:
Ecce Homo was not intended to be Nietzsche’s last book. The correspond-
ence of the period presents it as a threshold book, a ‘high noon,’ facing two
ways: it closes one door and opens another. Once and for all it cuts the
‘umbilical cord’ connecting him to his past, tears him away and separates
him from what he has been and what he has produced. It draws a line, takes a
balance and settles accounts, keeping, reaping only what deserves to be kept
and to return eternally. But the book also opens onto the future. It is the
promise of a work that is ripening under the autumnal sun: the only work of

12
Ibid., 207, 189.
13
Jacques Derrida, “Otobiographies: The Teaching of Nietzsche and the Politics of the Proper Name,”
in Harold Bloom (ed.), Friedrich Nietzsche: Modern Critical Views (New York: Chelsea House, 1987),
105–34, at 118. Other work on Ecce Homo in the wake of Heidegger, Klossowski, and Derrida includes
articles by Rodolphe Gasché, “Autobiography as Gestalt: Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo,” in Daniel O’Hara
(ed.), Why Nietzsche Now? (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985), 271–90), and “Ecce Homo
or the Written Body,” in Lawrence A. Rickels (ed.), Looking After Nietzsche (Albany, NY: SUNY
Press, 1990), 113–36; Charles Altieri, “Ecce Homo: Narcissism, Power, Pathos, and the Status of
Autobiographical Representations,” boundary 2, 9/3 and 10/1 (1981), 389–413; Milad Doueihi,
“Nietzsche, Dio a Torino,” in Thomas Harrison (ed.), Nietzsche in Italy (Saratoga, CA: Anma
Libri, 1988), 209–18; Thomas Harrison, “Have I Been Understood? The Eternal Nowhere of
Nietzschean Existence,” in Harrison (ed.), Nietzsche in Italy, 181–98; Hugh J. Silverman, “The
Autobiographical Textuality of Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo,” in O’Hara (ed.), Why Nietzsche Now?,
141–51; Adrian Del Caro, “Towards a Genealogy of an Image: Nietzsche’s Achievement According
to Nietzsche,” University of Toronto Quarterly, 54/3 (1985), 234–50; Robert P. Harrison, “Beyond the
End: Nietzsche in Turin,” in Thomas Harrison (ed.), Nietzsche in Italy, 219–27; David Farrell Krell,
“Consultations with the Paternal Shadow: Gasché, Derrida and Klossowski on Ecce Homo,” in David
Farrell Krell and David Wood (eds.), Exceedingly Nietzsche: Aspects of Contemporary Nietzsche
Interpretation (London: Routledge, 1988), 53–63; and Calasso, “Fatal Monologue.”
14
A few excerpts from her work have appeared as journal articles in English; see Bibliography.
Secondary literature on Ecce Homo 11
Nietzsche’s worthy of the name, and of his name, which is to be for him the
‘sanction’ and the a posteriori justification of his whole being.15
As intriguing as these ideas may be, Kofman’s paragraph proceeds like much
of her two-volume work, multiplying claims that she rarely explains or
supports. Yet her work spurs the imagination. As Duncan Large notes in his
review, Kofman’s long-standing deconstructive and Freudian interest in
‘madness’ as against ‘reason’ culminates in her book on Ecce Homo. Hence
for her, “far from being a disqualification . . . the ‘madness’ of Ecce Homo is
rather its very condition of possibility.”16 Large observes two other themes
that animate much of Kofman’s treatment: the importance (in volume i) to
Nietzsche of “reaching a French ‘audience’ (thus neatly legitimizing her
own undertaking),” and (in volume ii) the metaphor of hearing and the ear,
particularly its relation to “Ariadne/Cosima Wagner.” Large writes: “From
beginning to end [Kofman] stresses that ‘Ecce Homo is a text, strictly
speaking, unheard of – lacking ears to hear,’ indeed ‘the text most unheard
of in philosophy.’”17
After writing that Kofman’s work “is a highly celebratory reading of this
most affirmative of texts,” Large interprets her labor overall: to “render
justice” to Nietzsche – exhibiting “the desire of a paramour.” As support, he
cites Explosion II, where Kofman makes “an explicit declaration of love for
Nietzsche.”18 Kofman’s work on Ecce Homo, then, is avowedly personal. In
the book’s “Conclusion,” she writes: “Could I have written accurately about
Nietzsche and his children, returning justice to them, without myself
becoming a child of Nietzsche? A child who, after passing so many hours
of her ‘life’ with her ‘mother,’ finds herself forced, in the last analysis, to cut
the umbilical cord to become who she is. And perhaps to also make her
‘autobiography.’”19 Could she have? Are we in a position to say?20
When working to interpret Ecce Homo itself, Kofman employs
Zarathustra and eternal recurrence as interpretive keys. She claims that

15
Sarah Kofman, “Explosion I: Of Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo,” trans. Duncan Large, in Daniel Conway
(ed.), Nietzsche: Critical Assessments (London: Routledge, 1998), 218–41, at 218.
16
Duncan Large, “Double ‘Whaam!’: Sarah Kofman on Ecce Homo,” German Life and Letters, 48/4
(1995), 441–62, at 443.
17
Ibid., 450.
18
Ibid., 460–61, citing Sarah Kofman, Explosion II: Les enfants de Nietzsche (Paris: Galilée, 1993), 371.
19
Kofman, Explosion II, 371 (trans. Teresa Knight, unpublished, 2012).
20
Also offering a personal take on Ecce Homo, but in a meditative or journalistic form, Lesley
Chamberlain claims “to befriend Nietzsche.” In her book’s Ecce Homo chapter, she believes that
“syphilitic megalomania certainly seems to creep in” to EH 1.14, and writes that Nietzsche “made
rudeness a heroic topic in the autobiography.” The would-be friend concludes: “Nietzsche makes, as
one does, profound excuses for inadequacy” (Nietzsche in Turin: An Intimate Biography (New York:
Picador, 1996), 3, 165, 176, 172).
12 Introduction
Ecce Homo unifies Nietzsche’s life and works by establishing which things
deserve to return eternally. She writes, for example, that “Ecce Homo
reaffirms this fight [against morality] as his own and as worthy to make an
eternal return.” This interpretation of eternal recurrence as selective seems
to misread both Ecce Homo 1.3 (by taking it seriously when Nietzsche jokes
to exclude his mother and sister from eternal recurrence, as we will see), and
the Zarathustrian teaching itself.21
Kofman also writes in passing fashion that Ecce Homo suggests a
Dionysian, satyric festival erected in defiance of Christian mores,22 and
she defends its tone: “Ecce Homo was able to pass for a ‘mad’ text particularly
because of its unique tone, bursting, thundering, jubilant, unbearable to the
moral man who takes himself seriously, because such a text breaks with the
‘suited’ and suitable, with all the modest habits and reserve generally
adopted by those who talk of ‘themselves’ in the ‘first person,’ as if their
observed modesty must compensate for the audacity of showing oneself in
‘person.’”23 Although I find such ideas promising, Kofman’s work on Ecce
Homo frequently defies discussion because it prefers pronouncements to
discourse. Hence a person in love with Nietzsche as mother and paramour,
who sees gaining a French audience, selecting what things should return
eternally, a metaphoric ear, and Cosima Wagner as the defining concerns of
Ecce Homo becomes more easy to describe than engage – because she moves
us away from the text that we share and can examine together. It reminds
me of the student who wants to talk about his love life in relation to Kant.
As interesting as that might be, the rest of us sitting in the room have a copy
of “Answering the Question: What is Enlightenment?” on the table.
Although many deconstructivists employ psychology’s methods and
terminology at times, there have been more conventional psychological
takes on Ecce Homo as well. Carl Pletsch writes: “These [chapter] titles,
Nietzsche’s manner of referring to himself, and the many particular claims
he makes for himself and his books in Ecce Homo are so outrageous as to
embarrass even the most fervent admirers of Nietzsche’s earlier ideas and
books. It is such a strident book as to be almost unreadable.”24 To Liliane

21
Kofman, Explosion II, 230 (trans. Knight). Kofman’s view does not accord with Nietzsche’s treatment
in Thus Spoke Zarathustra of eternal recurrence as an all-affirming pathos. If one could select what
returns, Zarathustra would hardly have found it psychologically difficult to teach and accept the idea.
Making it selective would contradict, in addition, Nietzsche’s aim to overcome ressentiment of
the past.
22
Kofman, Explosion I: De l’ “Ecce Homo” de Nietzsche (Paris: Galilée, 1992), 20.
23
Ibid., 30 (trans. Knight).
24
Carl Pletsch, “On the Autobiographical Life of Nietzsche,” in George Moraitis (ed.), Psychoanalytic
Studies of Biography (Madison: International Universities Press, 1987), 424.
Secondary literature on Ecce Homo 13
Frey-Rohn, Ecce Homo illustrates “the fact that [Nietzsche] had lost his
grasp on reality and become completely immersed in himself. The excessive
degree of his self-glorification and his extreme conviction that he had a
mission to fulfill are both embarrassing and repulsive.”25 And Richard
Samuel concludes his article on Ecce Homo as follows: “The facts have to
be faced with regard to composition, style, contents, proportions and
attitude. They reveal a distorted mind, irresponsibility, and in particular,
megalomania. If Nietzsche was insane when he wrote his autobiography,
the consequences are serious.”26 My goodness. And yet – in a 1908 meeting
devoted to Ecce Homo, Sigmund Freud said, “The indication that this work
of Nietzsche is fully valid and to be taken seriously is the preservation of the
mastery of form . . . The degree of introspection achieved by Nietzsche had
never been achieved by anyone, nor is it likely ever to be reached again.”27
Still, prominent biographers of Nietzsche have taken suspicious views of
Ecce Homo. As noted, R. J. Hollingdale, Rüdiger Safranski, and Julian
Young all incline to call the book unhinged.28 And though Freud had no
doubt about the cogency of Ecce Homo, the later psychological and bio-
graphical readings of Nietzsche’s book frequently suffer the fault of projec-
ting Nietzsche’s ultimate mental state onto an earlier one, in large part
because they wrongly take a parodic text seriously.29

25
Liliane Frey-Rohn, Friedrich Nietzsche: A Psychological Approach to his Life and Work, ed.
Robert Hinshaw and Lela Fischli, trans. Gary Massey (Zurich: Daimon, 1984), 262.
26
Richard Samuel, “Friedrich Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo: An Autobiography?” in Brigitte Schludermann
et al. (eds.), Deutung und Bedeutung: Studies in German and Comparative Literature Presented to Karl-
Werner Maurer (The Hague: Mouton, 1973), 210–27, at 227.
27
Sigmund Freud et al., Minutes of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, vol. ii: 1908–1910, trans.
M. Nunberg, ed. H. Nunberg and E. Federn (New York: International Universities Press, 1967),
30–32.
28
See footnote 3 above. Ronald Hayman finds Nietzsche “adopting . . . more and more insane strategies
to achieve self-sufficiency” in the fall of 1888, and thinks Ecce Homo is “fortified with delusions”
(Nietzsche: A Critical Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 329). Julian Young opines that
Ecce Homo displays someone with a possible “‘Messiah complex’” who announces a “superman” on
the order of a “Wagner purified” to reform culture. For him, Ecce Homo is a “flawed work,” of
“wandering organization,” but “remains a book full of interest and sublime moments.” It “contains
what look to be manifest delusions” or, if they are part of a legitimate fictionalizing project for “self-
presentation,” then “a great deal of the fictionalising actually has no particular literary justification”
(Friedrich Nietzsche, 519–23). This manages to repeat and summarize the common sorts of reading
that Ecce Homo has endured, and ironically hints at the cause: inattention to the book’s literary form.
29
As literary theorist Linda Hutcheon remarks about the prerequisite for reading such texts: “in order
for parody to be recognized and interpreted, there must be certain codes shared between encoder and
decoder. The most base of these is that of parody itself . . . for, if the receiver does not recognize that
the text is a parody, he or she will neutralize both its pragmatic ethos and its doubled structure” (A
Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-Century Art Forms (New York: Methuen, 1985), 27).
Although she does not mention any of his works, Hutcheon notes that “Nietzsche’s parodies are very
modern in the sense that I am using the term here” (25).
14 Introduction
Turning now to the reconstructive school of scholars who have treated
Nietzsche’s last original composition, Thomas Steinbuch provides the only
previous book in English to discuss Ecce Homo at any length.30 His mono-
graph treats only the book’s first chapter, however, and contends that the
purpose of Nietzsche’s book is to persuade us to “recognize and overcome
our own unconscious condition of decadence,”31 an overcoming that he
holds to be nearly impossible. Steinbuch is right, I think, to attend to
Nietzsche’s treatment of decadence, and we will see that Nietzsche counts it
as something to overcome in himself. Less clear, perhaps, is the idea that
overcoming decadence stands as the central meaning of Nietzsche’s work. It
seems instead that decadence embraces one family of responses to the larger
issue of pessimism that Nietzsche discusses. In other words, decadence
names a type of response to illness and pessimism, and Nietzsche’s work
opposes such un-therapeutic strategies with his own more effective answers
to the problem. And we know from Ecce Homo that a positive project drove
Nietzsche on, namely, the pursuit of forbidden truths and his own kind of
tasteful wisdom, not merely the surmounting of obstacles to that end. If we
see a lioness leaping over fallen branches, in other words, we might be
witnessing a philosophy of hunting impala rather than one of overcoming
branches.
Steinbuch concludes his view of Ecce Homo by way of a curious dilemma.
He writes that we are finally left “with the same two choices – the same
dialectic – that we had before Nietzsche’s scientific optimism: either the
gallows, if one believes that human effort is all there is, or the steeple if, by
good fortune, one believes that something more exists.”32 This unfortunate
eisegesis takes us rather away from Nietzsche and his text, but does suggest
Ecce Homo’s high stakes.
Chapter 6 of Alexander Nehamas’s sparkling and influential Nietzsche:
Life as Literature has long stood among English speakers as the most widely
known interpretation of Ecce Homo – or at least, of its subtitle, How One
Becomes What One Is. But Nehamas’s twenty-nine-page chapter (and its
endnotes) about Ecce Homo quotes or cites from the spurious non-book
“Will to Power” forty-four times, and from its putative subject, Ecce Homo,
only seven.33 Exegesis of Nietzsche’s work itself is not Nehamas’s priority.

30
Steinbuch, Commentary. (The work is 118 pages.) 31 Ibid., 75. 32 Ibid., 79.
33
Relying on Nietzsche’s Nachlaß ignores Nietzsche’s intention to create both literary art and a set of
public, considered, intellectual positions. Nehamas employs the “Will to Power” assemblage of notes
so extensively that he offers a defense of its use: it “has become, for better or worse, an integral part of
Nietzsche’s literary and philosophical work, and it has been instrumental in forming our reactions to
him over the past eighty years” (Nietzsche: Life as Literature (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Secondary literature on Ecce Homo 15
Instead, he wants to see if Nietzsche’s book can rest on a pedestal of human
excellence achieved through literary self-creation, in keeping with the
dominant theme of his study. This desire may be motivated by
Nehamas’s concern that Nietzsche felt his perspectivist positions faced the
problem of being read dogmatically, a problem that he thinks Ecce Homo
attempts but fails to surmount. He also describes how Nietzsche’s “positive
morality” (of self-integration and “giving style to one’s character”) required
an exemplification model that Ecce Homo means to provide.34 Hence,
Nehamas claims that Ecce Homo should be understood as the presentation
of an ideal character on a literary model, and that this ideal enacts not only
self-integration of Nietzsche’s multifarious traits, but the complete affirma-
tion and amor fati of life prescribed by Nietzsche’s teaching of eternal
recurrence.35 This hypothesis is an admirable effort to bring several themes
and ideas together in Nietzsche’s philosophy, and seeks to justify Ecce Homo
as a philosophical capstone to a lifelong project of self-becoming.
There are some difficulties, however, with Nehamas’s interpretation of
Ecce Homo. First, we have the considerable paucity of evidence and argu-
mentation. Nehamas builds his case by citing Nietzsche’s unpublished
notes six times more often than the book he is meant to be explaining.
Second, nowhere within Ecce Homo does Nehamas identify and support his
claims for the book’s purposes; by and large they are imported, or hung
upon something mentioned in Nietzsche’s notes. Third, as an explanation
of Ecce Homo, the interpretation glides by numerous salient facts and actual
emphases in Nietzsche’s book that run directly counter to Nehamas’s
reading, not least of which is satire, a literary style that undermines any
claims for Ecce Homo’s idealized meaning.
In his “Introduction” to the Cambridge University Press edition of Ecce
Homo, Aaron Ridley writes that “Nietzsche presents his life as a species of
artistry” in three senses: (1) as something “he can affirm in all of its circum-
stances”; (2) in that everything in his history has been interpreted as “‘for the
best’”; and (3) in that this artistic unfolding is caused by “the ‘artistry’ of his
‘instinct,’ since much that contributed to its course was not (and perhaps
could not have been) consciously chosen.” Ridley also uses the subtitle to
approach Ecce Homo, and locates its meaning with care in the shady place
between amor fati and the “freedom to act.” He writes that “becoming who
Press, 1985), 10–11). Why he does not choose “for better” is unclear. As Paolo D’Iorio remarks, “the
texts published under the title ‘The Will to Power’ (there are at least five different versions of them)
are compilations of fragments that are wholly unusable for research purposes” (“The Digital Critical
Edition of the Works and Letters of Nietzsche,” Journal of Nietzsche Studies, 40 (2010), 70–80, at 78,
note 3).
34
Nehamas, Life as Literature, 223, 185, 195–96, 8. 35 Ibid., 195–99, 190–91.
16 Introduction
you are requires that you distinguish between what is and what is not
necessary in things.”36 Perhaps consequently, he finds amor fati to be an
“ethical injunction” rather than a “thesis about how much of the world is
necessary,”37 even though Nietzsche seems to make no allowance for free
action or ethical ‘choices’ at all.38 Like Nehamas, Ridley further reads Ecce
Homo as Nietzsche’s artistic project to “create himself”; it becomes the work
in which “Nietzsche portrays himself as the poet of his life.”39 Ridley
discerns, in addition, that hyperbole in Ecce Homo “is also a means of self-
deflation, a form of deliberate overstatement that is meant to be seen
through.” This means that Nietzsche might possibly be “debunking his
aesthetic ideal” of living life as a work of art, “admitting that it is not fully
realizable.”40 Agreed.
Daniel Conway’s “Nietzsche’s Doppelgänger: Affirmation and Resentment
in Ecce Homo” stands out as the best short treatment of Nietzsche’s book in
the secondary literature. Nearly alone among English-speaking interpreters,
Conway hears Nietzsche’s second, ironic voice in the text.41 He argues
persuasively against solemn interpretations that take Nietzsche’s idolatrous,
“monumental history” presentation literally, and finds intriguing precursors
in Nietzsche’s published texts for the idea of writing a joking epilogue to
one’s work.42 Conway writes: “In short, Ecce Homo must – and does – enact

36
Ridley, “Introduction,” xix, xiii. 37 Ibid., xvii.
38
“My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not
forward, not backward, not in all eternity” (EH 2.10). See also TI 6.8. (For an excellent reminder of
Nietzsche’s fatalist position, see Brian Leiter, “Who is the ‘sovereign individual’? Nietzsche on
Freedom,” in Simon May (ed.), Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality (Cambridge University
Press, 2011), 101–19.)
39
Ridley, “Introduction,” xix.
40
Ibid., xxi. In another introduction to an English translation of Ecce Homo, Duncan Large focuses on
the book’s “educative function,” a function meant to help show Nietzsche’s success at achieving
genuine selfhood. Large does not consider Ecce Homo to “break new philosophical ground,” having
instead “the character of an annunciation” to Nietzsche’s future work (“Introduction,” xv, xiv).
Although he calls it sometimes witty and whimsical, briefly considering the idea that the book is
parodic, Large claims that “we must assume that Ecce Homo is intended seriously.” He concludes that
Nietzsche “is not redefining the genre, but rather just taking the generic immodesty of the
autobiography to its extreme” (xxi).
41
Michael Tanner also (briefly) considers Ecce Homo to parody the autobiographical form, evincing a
parodic impulse he sees in Nietzsche’s last creative period (“Introduction,” in Friedrich Nietzsche,
Ecce Homo, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (London: Penguin, 1992), vii–xvii, at viii).
42
Alluding to the ancient practice of the Dionysian drama festivals, which consisted of three tragedies
followed by a comic satyr play, Nietzsche wishes that with Parsifal Wagner had “meant to be funny,”
that he had taken his leave “above all from tragedy” with an “epilogue and satyr play,” that is, with an
“extravagance of wanton parody of the tragic itself” and of “all earthly seriousness” (GM 3.3). Conway
speculates that Nietzsche put this vision into practice with Ecce Homo (“Nietzsche’s Doppelgänger,”
66–67). In a related vein, Matthew Meyer sketches an argument for taking all of Nietzsche’s 1888
works as “a Dionysian comedy that parallels important formal structures of Aristophanes’ early plays”
Secondary literature on Ecce Homo 17
an implosive self-parody that ridicules its own tragic and redemptive aspira-
tions.”43 Conway further argues that Ecce Homo is particularly modern in
facing our laughable but resilient desire to seek redemption, even after the
death of God. In this context, Ecce Homo’s self-parody provides “a strategy
for surviving the fragmentation that afflicts agents in late modernity,”
enabling us “to resist the various swindles of late modernity” by laughing
at our own impulse for metaphysical comfort.44
Conway thus identifies self-parody as central to Ecce Homo. We should
note, however, that he gives little evidence for where this “self-parody”
occurs in the text, does not identify satire as operative in Ecce Homo, lists
only Nietzsche’s persona as the object of parody (not autobiography, Jesus,
Germans, philosophy and philosophers, or the many other objects we will
identify), does not cite the textual evidence for Ecce Homo’s link to ancient
satire, does not fit his reading to Nietzsche’s biography or philosophy as a
whole, nor explicate any of the numerous literary techniques throughout
the work by which Nietzsche’s satire is accomplished. But let us be fair – all
of that would take a book.
Articles, chapters, introductions to translations, reflective meditations,
and partial commentaries do not undertake a comprehensive and detailed
analysis of Ecce Homo, and only silly people fault the work of others for
failing at something not attempted. But we can wonder about many of the
interpretive conclusions that scholars draw in this case. Aside from the host
of dismissive readings that more or less call Ecce Homo insane, the primary
problem in the secondary literature on Ecce Homo has been a restriction of
the book’s field of play, a reductive view based only on certain textual
features (like the book’s subtitle or its family descent riddle), or the use of
short phrases as symbolic substitutions for a meaning of the whole. In the
case of deconstructive readings (by far the most common in Ecce Homo’s
case), intriguing claims often become so poetic or personal that one is hard
pressed to evaluate their cogency as interpretations. And this may be the
point, in accord with an ongoing experiment about what constitutes the
academic or intellectual genre. Luckily, readers of the secondary literature

(“The Comic Nature of Ecce Homo,” Journal of Nietzsche Studies, 43/1 (2012), 32–43, at 32). Meyer
makes a telling comparison between the parabasis of Old Comedy and Nietzsche’s manner in Ecce
Homo, since the autobiographical choral ode in Aristophanic comedies allows the poet to “address the
success or failure of his previous works,” “bathe in the glories of self-praise,” and “ridicule his
opponents” (37) – all of which we see in Ecce Homo.
43
Conway, “Nietzsche’s Doppelgänger,” 67. 44 Ibid., 70.
18 Introduction
on Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo have some choices in scholarship style, if not
quite so many in explanation.45

Principles and structure of the present study


The present study of Ecce Homo aims to be holist, privileges Nietzsche’s
intended publications and splits them away from the notebook material,
and considers Nietzsche’s books to be unified objects of analysis per se. It
means to offer a tempered and contextual interpretation of Ecce Homo, and
overall seeks to reconstruct Nietzsche’s intellectual labor by grounding his
last original composition, as its author does, in relation to his entire body of
published work, and his books themselves to Nietzsche’s life as a person
living in the world. In short, my goal is to bring analytical clarity, attention
to detail, and cogent argumentation to those matters that especially concern
a continental philosopher such as Nietzsche: matters of form, and overt
attention to (not isolation from) the historical and personal circumstances
of philosophical ideas. Although many accede that Nietzsche’s style must
inform our understanding of his works, this idea often suffers in practice.
Many Nietzsche scholars still appear to believe that being rigorous about
Nietzsche means fighting their way through his style to somehow get at the
ideas themselves. But this threatens to confuse the indispensable value of
cogent and detailed analysis with well-worn preferences for certain objects
of analysis – for example, his doctrines. Instead, here I give close attention to
how Nietzsche says what he is saying, and my approach to Nietzsche’s form
enables the understanding of Ecce Homo that constitutes this study, and
which leads to an evidential conclusion about his philosophy not otherwise

45
Other article-length treatments (or pithy judgments) of Ecce Homo not already discussed or cited run the
gamut. For Max Reuben Layton, “Nietzsche’s philosophy can be elucidated on the basis of Ecce Homo
alone,” because with “but one exception [the will to power], all of Nietzsche’s key concepts are clarified
in this book” (“In Defence of Ecce Homo,” Gnosis: A Journal of Philosophic Interest, 1/1 (1973), 82–88, at
82, 87). Arthur Danto calls Ecce Homo Nietzsche’s “strident and exclamatory apologia,” and a book that
concludes in a style that “is beyond the permissible limits of manic utterance” (“Nietzsche’s Daybreak:
Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality,” in Kathleen M. Higgins and Robert C. Solomon (eds.), Reading
Nietzsche (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 186–91, at 186, 183). In contrast, Walter Kaufmann
judges Ecce Homo to be “one of the treasures of world literature,” and “a work of art [that] marks one of
the high points of German prose,” finding its univocal contrast with Jesus “central.” He wonders,
however, about Nietzsche’s “strange emphasis on little things,” and sees this as part of the contrast to
Jesus and otherworldliness (“Introduction,” in Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, trans. Walter Kaufmann
(New York: Vintage, 1969), 201–09, at 201, 207).
See also Gary Shapiro, Nietzschean Narratives (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989),
Chapter 6; R. J. Hollingdale, “Introduction,” in Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, trans.
R. J. Hollingdale (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979), 7–17; and David Parker, “Nietzsche’s Ethics
and Literary Studies: A Reading of Ecce Homo,” Cambridge Quarterly, 33/4 (2004), 299–314.
Principles and structure of the present study 19
possible. My approach also accords with what Nietzsche tells us again and
again in Ecce Homo and elsewhere: that his style is crucial for interpreting
and understanding him, even constitutive of and inseparable from his
philosophical content.46 We would do well to understand what this
means, and its significance.
To bring Nietzsche’s last original work into more sunlight, three questions
animate the present book: (1) What is Ecce Homo? That is, what kind of thing
is it? What is its form and genre? (2) What is the meaning of Ecce Homo? That
is, how is it to be understood and interpreted? And (3) What is the significance
of Ecce Homo for understanding the rest of Nietzsche’s philosophy? I have
organized the book into three parts to answer these three questions.
Part I one introduces Ecce Homo and this book’s line of inquiry. Chapter 1
describes Nietzsche’s life in the period prior to the writing of Ecce Homo
(1886–88) to discern the external causes of the book’s composition. Chapter 2
discusses satire as a literary genre and shows how Nietzsche might be understood
as a satirist who thought philosophically, instead of a philosopher who wrote
satirically. This chapter prepares the way to consider Ecce Homo by way of its
form instead of dismissing its substance. Ecce Homo’s content is profound, it
seems to me, once we comprehend its satiric structure and purpose.
Part II consists of Chapter 3, which answers the question of Ecce Homo’s
meaning by offering a complete section-by-section analysis of and com-
mentary on the text. Reading the book as satire makes a comprehensive
understanding of Ecce Homo possible for the first time.
Part III consists of the book’s Conclusion, and answers the question:
What is the significance of Ecce Homo? I argue that Ecce Homo gives us
Nietzsche’s unique view of his own philosophy in a unified fashion, and
provides a different way to think about what he sought to do as a thinker. I
use the idea of Nietzsche as a philosophical satirist to envision a new way of
understanding Nietzsche’s project overall, and offer a modest proposal for
Nietzsche studies going forward.
This book is for scholars interested in Nietzsche, be they philosophers,
literary theorists, critics, rhetoricians, cultural historians, scholars of
German Studies, classicists, or thinkers of any stripe. I offer it to those
accustomed or willing to cross a few disciplinary boundaries in the pursuit
of understanding and reflection, not to defenders of intellectual turf.
Although the book supposes a working knowledge of Nietzsche’s

46
“Good style in itself – a pure folly, mere ‘idealism,’ on a level with the ‘beautiful in itself,’ the ‘good in
itself,’ the ‘thing in itself ’” (EH 3.4). See also BGE 28. For a forthright study that takes Nietzsche’s
style seriously, see Douglas Thomas, Reading Nietzsche Rhetorically (New York: Guilford Press, 1999).
20 Introduction
intellectual concerns, I have sought to avoid both the atomizing of his ideas,
and the tortured, jargon-filled prose that too often poses as insight in
academia. I aim to engage the literate reader who wants to learn about
another person’s pursuit of wisdom at some depth, and in detail.
In The Gay Science and Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche took pains to
make “the comedy of existence” come into view, and he longed for the day
when laughter and wisdom would be allied.47 Does Ecce Homo attempt such
an alliance? Does it configure Nietzsche’s corpus in a similar way? And if so,
with what result?

47
GS 1, Z 4.13.16–20. See also the idea of a “comic solution” (GS 153), the notion of becoming parodists
and “God’s clowns” (BGE 223), and “the comic as the artistic discharge of the nausea at the absurdity
of existence” (BT 7).
part i
What is Ecce Homo?
chapter 1

Nietzsche deigns to read himself

It seems lucky in retrospect that I had neither Human, All Too Human
nor The Birth of Tragedy on hand when I wrote those [new] prefaces.
Just between us, I can no longer stand all that stuff.
Nietzsche (letter to Heinrich Köselitz, 31 October 1886)1
For the past four weeks, I have finally understood my own writings;
not only that, I admire them. In all seriousness, I never knew what
they really signify. I would be lying if I claimed (other than
Zarathustra) that they had impressed me.
Nietzsche (letter to Heinrich Köselitz, 22 December 1888)2
Consider the last two years of Nietzsche’s creative life, framed by the two
letters to the same man, above. What changed Nietzsche’s mind about the
worth of his own works? The biographical evidence suggests several causes.
He wrote new prefaces for all of his prior books (except for the Untimely
Meditations) to secure a new publisher (though he returned to his first one,
Ernst Wilhelm Fritzsch). He was buoyed by news that Georg Brandes, a
Danish professor, was to lecture on his philosophy; as a result, he composed
a biographical sketch for him. And finally, he read his own books, and came
to think that he could unify his corpus and introduce himself to a new
public by writing Ecce Homo.
As we know, Nietzsche was steeped in the ancient civilizations of Greece
and Rome, educated by Germany’s most famous school for classical studies,
Schulpforta. He earned his doctorate in classical philology at Leipzig under
Friedrich Ritschl, who helped secure him a professorship in classics at the
university in Basel, Switzerland, when Nietzsche was just twenty-four. He
seemed in 1869 to have a long, secure, and promising academic career in
philology ahead of him. But from the time he gave up his professorship just
ten years later (because of bad health), until his physical and mental collapse

1 2
KGB 3.5.770. (Heinrich Köselitz is also known as Peter Gast.) KGB 3.5.1207.

23
24 Nietzsche deigns to read himself
on 3 January 1889, Nietzsche had no fixed address and no formal standing or
interest in academia. With a meager pension, he stayed in guest rooms
across Europe, read a wide range of authors, and wrote literary philosophy
books; usually living on the southern French coast in cold weather and the
Swiss Alps when it grew warm. He hated to travel but was so sensitive to
weather and other environmental factors that he did so every several
months, with various boxes and a large trunk of books sometimes sent
for, other times not.3 We have good reason to think that after his own
books’ galleys were off to the printer, Nietzsche did not re-read his works.
So what made him read The Birth of Tragedy and Beyond Good and Evil in
1887, and the rest of his corpus in 1888?4
Nietzsche’s relation to publishers was desultory at best. He secured his
first, E. W. Fritzsch, on 16 November 1871. He had met the man in October
through Fritzsch’s far more famous client – Richard Wagner. Fritzsch
published Nietzsche’s first book, The Birth of Tragedy, and the first of his
Untimely Meditations. When Fritzsch was beset with financial problems and
failed to pay Nietzsche honoraria, however, Nietzsche accepted the offer of
Ernst Schmeitzner to become his publisher in July 1874. In the next ten
years, Schmeitzner published Nietzsche’s other three Untimely Meditations,
then Human, All Too Human, Daybreak, The Gay Science, and the first three
parts of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Schmeitzner refused to publish the fourth
part of Thus Spoke Zarathustra in the spring of 1885 because of his own
financial troubles and the minuscule public interest in Nietzsche’s books.
The disheartened author traveled to Leipzig to sever ties with Schmeitzner
that fall.
Nietzsche learned from his visit that more than two-thirds of his books
over the last twelve years sat unsold in a German warehouse, that
Schmeitzner had frequently failed even to supply bookstores with
Nietzsche’s titles, and that little more than five hundred copies of his
works had sold over a twelve year period.5 Nietzsche wanted a new pub-
lisher. This specific desire led him to write five new prefaces to his previous
books in 1886–87; thus new editions could be offered with current impri-
maturs. (New prefaces were composed for The Birth of Tragedy, Daybreak,
3
He wrote to Georg Brandes: “I find particular climatic and atmospheric conditions indispensable. I must
spend summers in the Upper Engadine, winters on the Riviera; I have no choice” (KGB 3.5.1014).
4
For a detailed discussion and accounting of what Nietzsche read during the germane period, see
Thomas Brobjer, “Nietzsche’s Reading and Private Library, 1885–1889,” Journal of the History of Ideas,
58/4 (1997), 663–93, at 663–80.
5
In a letter to Carl von Gersdorff of 12 February 1885, Nietzsche wrote: “Now in my fortieth year, and
my various writings have yet to earn me a penny – oh the humor of it all (and if you like, the pride)”
(KGB 3.3.572).
Nietzsche deigns to read himself 25
Human, All Too Human – having two prefaces, one for each volume – and
The Gay Science.) As we know from the letter quoted above, Nietzsche did
not even re-read The Birth of Tragedy and Human, All Too Human in order
to compose their respective prefaces.
Negotiations with prospective publishers through early 1886 failed
because of Schmeitzner’s asking price to relinquish rights and remaining
book stock, and Nietzsche decided in June to pay for the printing of his next
book himself. He contracted with C. G. Naumann to do so, and Beyond
Good and Evil debuted in late July.
Finally in August of 1886, Nietzsche returned to his first publisher,
Fritzsch, when they reached an agreement with Schmeitzner that brought
all unsold copies and publishing rights to the newly re-solvent Fritzsch.
Nietzsche worked through early 1887 to complete final versions of the new
prefaces and the fifth part of The Gay Science. He completed a draft of his
next book, On the Genealogy of Morals, in July. Of his recent labors,
Nietzsche wrote to Meta von Salis on 14 September 1887: “I’ve now
provided a proper introduction to myself; the new prefaces, from The
Birth of Tragedy to the Genealogy, constitute a sort of ‘developmental
history.’ Nothing is more disgusting, by the way, than having to comment
on oneself; but since nobody else could bear this weight, I clenched my
teeth and did my best to put on a good face and, I hope, a ‘good name.’”6
Armed with the new prefaces for his books’ second editions, Fritzsch and
Nietzsche were ready for his philosophy to have a proper public hearing and
a positive reception.
On 26 February 1888, Nietzsche learned the result of his protracted
efforts at self-promotion. He wrote to his friend Heinrich Köselitz:
“Fritzsch offered review copies of my complete works to newspapers and
journals last fall in a brochure, and not a single one replied . . .”7
The first good news of Nietzsche’s public reception in fifteen years
occurred just days later, however, when Danish professor Georg Brandes
informed him that he intended to lecture on Nietzsche’s philosophy.
Nietzsche was elated, telling the news to everyone he could think of over
the last eight months of his sanity. Nietzsche replied to Brandes on 10 April
in jovial fashion: “But, dear Sir, what a surprise! What encouraged you to
speak in public about one of the world’s most obscure men?” Nietzsche also

6
KGB 3.5.908. Although Nietzsche includes the Genealogy as having received a new preface, its preface
was completed contemporaneous with Genealogy’s composition. Thus the other prefaces are, properly
speaking, ‘new’ and retrospective.
7
KGB 3.5.1000.
26 Nietzsche deigns to read himself
“enclosed a small vita, my first . . .”8 This vita listed his books, their time and
place of composition, and gave a biographical sketch with details like those
found in Ecce Homo, but differing by its pro forma tone.
Brandes’s good news also sparked Nietzsche to read his own books. For
the first and last time, Nietzsche surveyed his entire philosophy. He wrote
to Brandes on 4 May 1888 about the surprising result.
Almost every day for an hour or two I’ve had enough energy to inspect my
overall conception from top to bottom, in such a way that the incredible
variety of problems lies spread out beneath me in clear outline. This requires
a degree of strength I’d almost given up hope of having. It all hangs together;
for years now everything’s been on the right track. You build a philosophy
like a beaver: every move you make is necessary and you don’t know it. But
this has to be seen, as I’ve seen it now, to be believed.
I feel so at ease, so strong, so cheerful – I hang a little farcical tail on the
most serious things.9
We now see the chain of events that spurred Nietzsche to write Ecce Homo.
The first link is Schmeitzner’s dereliction of publishing duties and
Nietzsche’s dismay at the wrongs he had suffered as a result, a dismal lack
of readers most of all. To attract a new publisher and reintroduce himself to
the public, Nietzsche makes a perfunctory mental review of his books and
writes new prefaces. Just as Nietzsche realizes that the new editions are
having as little success in Germany as the originals did, Brandes excites him
with the news that Nietzsche will be the subject of lectures in Copenhagen.
This leads Nietzsche to write a vita for Brandes and to think of his works as a
whole for the first time. Little more than six months later, Nietzsche writes
Ecce Homo in a mere three weeks. It was his last new book. If we were to say
it biographically, then, Nietzsche wrote Ecce Homo in pursuit of readers and
recognition, to introduce himself and his works to a new audience. Ecce
Homo appeared after the first and only period in Nietzsche’s life when he
contemplated the meaning of his entire body of work.
How then does Ecce Homo go about introducing Nietzsche and his
philosophy to this imagined new audience? Are the external causes of its
composition congruent with the causes Nietzsche provides in the book?
What other goals does he identify? And, if you were attempting to gain
more readers and lasting fame, would you really write Ecce Homo? One look
at the chapter titles alone and you know that Ecce Homo is not promotional
publishing or a glorified vita of any normal sort.

8 9
KGB 3.5.1014. KGB 3.5.1030.
chapter 2

A question of genre

Literary theorists agree that to write a few abusive things and employ irony
against one’s foes in print does not constitute a satire. Likewise, it has
seemed right to most Nietzsche readers to see his work as philosophy with a
lot of style, as opposed to some kind of literary genre with a lot of philosophy.
And that might still be right. But let us consider another possibility for a
moment.
Satire presents a definitional mire to scholars because the genre is
amorphous and subversive. Some people resist calling satire a genre at all.
But by tradition, satire is a fantastical parody constituting a “direct attack on
human vice or folly.”1 Through ironic wit, exaggeration, unmasking, belit-
tling, and numerous other devices, a satire depicts some set of human
behaviors, customs, or ideas as ridiculous or contemptible, and champions
opposing ones, all in a humorous way that counters the subject’s actual
gravity. Note how this definition distinguishes satire from another aggres-
sive and polemical genre, philosophy. Satire employs a preponderance of
wit and exaggeration over logic and argumentation; it strives to make its
object stupid or laughable, not prove it untrue, and uses art to entertain its
readers, not bore them into rational submission. Not to finish the race, but
this seems at once to characterize Nietzsche’s work rather well.
But does Nietzsche employ satire’s ‘fantastical parody’? Matthew
Hodgart describes the idea as follows:
more important is the element of fantasy which seems to be present in all true
satire. The satirist does not paint an objective picture of the evils he describes,
since pure realism would be too oppressive. Instead he usually offers us a
travesty of the situation, which at once directs our attention to actuality and
permits an escape from it. All good satire contains an element of aggressive
attack and a fantastic vision of the world transformed.2

1 2
Matthew Hodgart, Satire (New York: World University Library, 1969), 31. Ibid., 12.

27
28 A question of genre
Nietzsche attacks three principal follies in Ecce Homo and throughout his
books: Christian morality, German pseudo-culture, and post-Socratic phi-
losophy. Critics of his polemics often lament that Nietzsche fails to present
an objective picture of the evils he describes, that he offers instead a grossly
exaggerated imitation of his subject. Also recall that Nietzsche often remarks
on the abysmal, nihilistic dangers of pursuing his godless truths; as Hodgart
notes, satire protects and offers a partial escape from such dangers through
its literary art, exaggeration, and humor. Finally, Nietzsche gives few
philosophical arguments for his positive positions; instead, they stand like
a vision of the world transformed: by an Overman, an Eternal Recurrence, a
Zarathustra, a Dionysian philosophy of amor fati. Hence Nietzsche seems
to engage in fantastical parody as well, thus meeting every requirement in
the traditional view of satire.
Still, what is Nietzsche actually parodying? We might agree that he has
objects of satiric attack, and that his work exhibits the generic traits outlined
thus far, but if the structural backbone of satire is imitation or travesty, what
are his rhetorical techniques, methods of inquiry, and provisional teachings
making fun of, exactly? Now appears a strange prospect in Nietzsche: that
his writing is a parody of philosophy. He takes up genuine topics in the
discipline, but Nietzsche writes ‘philosophy’ with such exaggeration, sar-
casm, and novel methods that people have wondered for generations what
kind of work they were really reading. Could Nietzsche be imitating
philosophy for satiric effect? For laughs?
If Nietzsche parodies philosophy through close-cleaved imitation, he
would further several of his intellectual goals. He would undercut philoso-
phy’s pretensions to absolute truth by sounding cocksure of himself while
exposing grounds for doubt; would protect his own positions from charges
of dogmatism by subverting the authority of all philosophers (himself
included); and would stake a claim as one of the more ingenious stylists
and original thinkers in Western history: a person who seriously pursued
philosophy while he mocked it.
Seeing Nietzsche as a satirist instead of an errant philosopher might
allow us to think about his means and ends more clearly, as well. And with
Ecce Homo, it generates the question: Are there other specific targets of
satire? Beside the three we have discussed that appear in all of Nietzsche’s
works, Ecce Homo raises a fourth: Nietzsche’s dearth of readers and, of
those few, their continual misunderstanding. This theme begins Ecce
Homo, and the rhythmic chiming of the thrice-repeated question, “Have
I been understood?” concludes it. R. C. Elliott and Matthew Hodgart
identify anger and a desire to avenge wrongs as a perennial impetus of
A question of genre 29
satire,3 and Ecce Homo reveals a man deprived of fame by his German
readers. But instead of an objective discussion of this wrong suffered, we
see a personal cause for bitterness transmuted into a fantasy in which the
world celebrates Nietzsche’s genius. More, Nietzsche’s chapter titles
assume a recognized greatness, with the book explaining its causes to an
imaginary celebrant.
Nietzsche himself becomes a fifth satiric object in Ecce Homo: the
serious thinker who near the end of life writes a revealing memoir,
maybe a Romantic tale of how he came to his brilliant ideas. A ‘modest’
tale like those of Rousseau or St. Augustine that masks a towering vanity.
(In Human, All Too Human, Nietzsche had written: “St. Luke 18:14
improved. – He that humbleth himself wants to be exalted,” HH 1.87).
To satirize himself and autobiography generally, Nietzsche is absurdly
immodest in Ecce Homo; he writes a panegyric that glorifies his traits and
accomplishments in a classical, anti-Christian fashion, yet ironically
locates the source of his philosophy in illness, diet, weather, and recreation
of sundry sorts – as though Odysseus were to attribute his heroic traits to
Ithaca’s temperate summers and his penchant for the crispy bits of grilled
boar.
Nietzsche further mocks the autobiographical genre by undercutting his
own reliability as a narrator, crafting a persona that ridicules bad readers
while making a good reading of Nietzsche’s motives and authentic self all
but impossible. And yet, Nietzsche writes trenchant interpretive reviews for
his ten previous books, interpretations that illuminate and unify those
works and create, I aim to show, a legacy of better understanding. But
Nietzsche also avenges himself against moral and philosophic enemies by
reducing their status with satiric aggression, and justifies his lack of renown
by castigating German culture. Finally, he predicts future fame, in the midst
of deep obscurity. Correctly, as it turns out.4
We are still too quick to call Nietzsche a satirist just yet, however. The
latter half of the twentieth century saw many new theoretical molds applied
to satire that changed its shape, moving the genre well beyond the idea

3
Robert C. Elliott, The Power of Satire: Magic, Ritual, Art (Princeton University Press, 1960), 292;
Hodgart, Satire, 11. And Francis M. Cornford mentions in passing “the strange stories told by later
grammarians of the farmers who came into the town to avenge themselves on the citizens by
lampooning them” (The Origin of Attic Tragedy (Cambridge University Press, 2010), 194).
4
Nietzsche joked on another occasion about his future fame in a letter to Emily Fynn (4 March 1887),
after an earthquake in Nice: “The house in which two of my books were created was so shaken and
damaged that it must be demolished. This has the advantage for posterity that people will have to
make one pilgrimage fewer” (KGB 3.5.812).
30 A question of genre
of contrasting virtue with vice to effect a moral or political corrective.5
Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays and Mikhail Bakhtin’s
Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics enlarged satire’s nature and purpose. And as
Dustin Griffin wrote in Satire: A Critical Reintroduction, the new generation
of theorists came to “view with suspicion any universalizing claim about the
nature of satire, since most theories can be shown to have a polemical base
or derive from a partial view of the genre.” Instead, many spoke “not of
satiric plot but of satiric discourse,” thus emphasizing “the satirist’s rhetor-
ical purposes, and its audience.”6 Hence, Griffin and others did not con-
sider satire a genre at all. Still, the wheel turned against this liberalizing
tendency in Leon Guilhamet’s Satire and the Transformation of Genre and
Howard Weinbrot’s Menippean Satire Reconsidered: From Antiquity to the
Eighteenth Century. Let us examine the central conceptions of satire in these
four studies, and compare them with Nietzsche’s methods in Ecce Homo
and his other works. This should provide some further idea about whether
Nietzsche is a satirist, and of what kind. In what follows I wish to provide a
brief but substantive understanding of how literary theorists view the genre
so that we have a shared language for discussing Ecce Homo as satire. I will
not adjudicate among the accounts, however, nor pretend to decide on the
‘essence’ of satire. In the end I want to show that regardless of our preference
for one view or another, Nietzsche can be understood as writing satire in
terms of any of the several theories I engage.
In Frye and Bakhtin, tone and philosophical weight take precedence over
any definition of satire by form. In Guilhamet and Weinbrot, on the other
hand, analyses of ancient examples mean that formal considerations take the
lead, resulting in a more delineated and conservative genre definition. This
might suggest that Frye’s and Bakhtin’s work can accommodate Nietzsche
while Weinbrot’s and Guilhamet’s will not. But Nietzsche’s satire in Ecce
Homo and elsewhere invokes and parallels ancient satire, while bending its
tone and purposes to philosophical ends, as in Frye and Bakhtin.
Satire in Frye’s analysis transcends ordinary genres, becoming a “mythos”
that approaches experience with “militant irony.” Characterized by “violent
dislocations” in narrative and an intellectual, anatomizing approach toward

5
Dustin Griffin notes that this view of satire’s purpose originated in Dryden’s 1693 critical essay,
“Discourse Concerning the Original and Progress of Satire,” and held sway into the 1960s (Satire: A
Critical Reintroduction (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1994), 15). Dryden in turn had taken
Horace as one of his sources, treating seriously the Roman poet’s politic and quite possibly insincere
invocation of a moral purpose in response to those critics of satire who found the form too uncivilized
and subversive (Griffin, Satire, 7).
6
Ibid., 197, 185.
A question of genre 31
its victims, satire “relies on the free play of intellectual fancy” and can
provide “a vision of the world in terms of a single intellectual pattern.”7
Yet satire retains in Frye an element of fantasy and often makes at least
implicit moral judgments of some kind. And Frye notes that satire, by its
attention to ideas, cuts close to but away from philosophy. The philoso-
pher’s “attitude is dogmatic; that of the satirist pragmatic. Hence satire may
often represent the collision between a selection of standards from experi-
ence and the feeling that experience is bigger than any set of beliefs about it.
The satirist demonstrates the infinite variety of what [people] do by show-
ing the futility, not only of saying what they ought to do, but even of
attempts to systematize or formulate a coherent scheme of what they do.”8
This casts the satirist as skeptic, and suggests a position beyond good
and evil.
Satire provides a spirit of “carnival” for Bakhtin, in which orthodoxies of
all kinds are challenged, and ridicule is “fused with rejoicing.” Bakhtin
coined the word “Menippea” to refer to satire’s ancient source in the lost
work of Menippus (third century bce), giving fourteen characteristics of
satire that create what he calls the “serio-comical,” “the atmosphere of joyful
relativity characteristic of a carnival sense of the world.”9 Bakhtin further
characterizes Menippean satire as the philosophical made concrete, “the
stripped down pro et contra of life’s ultimate questions.”10 This accords with
Nietzsche’s goal to live his philosophy in worldly detail instead of grasping
after ideals. Overall, Bakhtin’s work further enlarged satire’s province
because his enumerated traits were neither essentialist nor very precise.
But they remain insightful and evocative.
Satire concerns ideas and a tone, for Bakhtin, that challenge the status
quo. He characterizes satire’s “carnival” sense of the world through fourteen
possible elements, a list worth considering in relation to Nietzsche’s oeuvre.
Satire, he writes, (1) has an increased comic element; (2) is unfettered by
demands of verisimilitude and thus enjoys an “extraordinary freedom of
plot and philosophical invention”; (3) makes bold use of the fantastic, the
“creation of extraordinary situations for the provoking and testing of a
philosophical idea, a discourse, a truth, embodied in the image of a wise

7
Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (New York: Atheneum, 1967), 223, 310. See in
particular the chapter entitled “The Mythos of Winter: Irony and Satire” (223–39), and his remarks
on Menippean satire (309–12).
8
Ibid., 229.
9
Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, ed. and trans. Caryl Emerson (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 127, 107.
10
Ibid., 116.
32 A question of genre
man, the seeker of this truth”;11 (4) frequently joins fantasy and symbol with
“crude slum naturalism”; (5) contemplates the world on a huge scale,
involving ultimate questions; (6) has a plot structure that leads to “threshold
dialogues,” e.g., at the gates of Olympus, or with the dead; (7) changes the
scale of the observed phenomenon of life, e.g., from on high; (8) conducts
moral-psychological experimentation, by depicting abnormal states, e.g., of
madness; (9) employs scandal scenes and violations of norms; (10) contains
sharp contrasts and “mésalliances of all sorts”; (11) imagines a social utopia as
in dreams or journeys to unknown lands; (12) makes extensive use of other
inserted genres, like letters, discursive prose, or poetry; (13) results in multi-
styled, multi-toned works; and (14) shows “concern with current and topical
issues.”12
We can now see a striking number of common features between both
Frye’s and Bakhtin’s accounts of satire and Nietzsche’s characteristic
approach to his subjects. In Ecce Homo, we encounter a militant and ironic
attitude toward painful experience, the free play of intellectual fancy, violent
dislocations in the so-called autobiographical narrative, a fantasy of fame,
and persistent attacks on universalizing moralists on a carnival ride of
hyperbolic language and allusion.13 The work also transcends and mixes
the genres of philosophy, autobiography, book review, polemic and pane-
gyric. In Bakhtin’s terms, full eleven of the fourteen satiric characteristics
likewise express Nietzschean prose traits.14

11
Bakhtin clarifies this idea: “We emphasize that the fantastic here serves not for the positive embodi-
ment of truth, but as a mode for searching after truth, provoking it, and, most important, testing it”
(ibid., 114). This understands satire as a philosophic method, it seems.
12
The fourteen characteristics appear ibid., 106–19. Bakhtin discusses the genre effects of the “carniv-
alization of literature” in close detail (122–37). I also made use of Howard D. Weinbrot’s and Griffin’s
discussions of these characteristics (Howard D. Weinbrot, Menippean Satire Reconsidered: From
Antiquity to the Eighteenth Century (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), 12 ff.;
Griffin, Satire, 32).
13
Joel Relihan argues that ancient satire targeted moralists and philosophers most often (Ancient
Menippean Satire (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 34–35, 49, 98). For
example, the satirist Lucian, who wrote in Greek, mocked philosophers at length in “Philosophies
for Sale” and “The Fisher” (second century ce).
14
And a case could be made for numbers 4, 6, and 11 as well. Bakhtin’s lengthy treatment of satire’s
carnival spirit (Dostoevsky’s Poetics, 122–37) strikes many other Nietzschean notes. The “very core” of
the carnival sense of the world lies in “the mock crowning and subsequent decrowning of the carnival
king,” capturing “the pathos of shifts and changes, of death and renewal. Carnival is the festival of the all-
annihilating and all-renewing time” (124). This bringing down and raising up characterizes Ecce
Homo, where the reversal and obliteration of distinctions in carnivalistic hyperbole sounds especially
Dionysian (123). Bakhtin notes: “Carnivalistic thought also lives in the realm of ultimate questions,
but it gives them no abstractly philosophical or religiously dogmatic resolution; it plays them out in
the concretely sensuous form of carnivalistic acts and images.” Thus, “carnivalization . . . penetrates to
the very philosophical core of the menippea” (134).
A question of genre 33
Guilhamet and Weinbrot mean to constrain rather than enlarge satire as a
genre. They do this in large part by returning to satire’s ancient origins.
Guilhamet defines satire by arguing that “in some respects all satires are
imitations of rhetorical structures.” They become satires by “deforming”
them with “strategies calculated to disrupt the normal logic of the rhetorical
text.” Which rhetorical structures does satire deform? Those of the “major
categories of classical oratory: demonstrative (epideictic), deliberative (pub-
lic), and judicial (forensic).”15 Most germane to philosophy, demonstrative
oratory seeks to persuade by showing forth, explaining, or exhibiting its
position. Citing Aristotle, Guilhamet divides demonstrative oratory into two
major classes: it “either praises or censures somebody.” But Guilhamet also
observes how these two forms often combine in satire, a genre which deforms
demonstrative structures. “This relationship between satire and panegyric
often results in elaborate mixing of the two modes,” because “when a
panegyric is delivered we are always aware that there may be an effect
opposite to that intended.”16 Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo commingles praise
and censure, and Nietzsche himself comes in for both. “Granting that I am
a decadent, I am the opposite as well,” he writes (EH 1.2). This contrast,
among several others, animates much of the book.
Satire deforms and parodies its host genre; for Guilhamet, “this appro-
priation of forms is unique to satire and is one of its chief identifying
characteristics.”17 Satire creates its fictive parody by using “an inconsistent
or unreliable narrator or persona, illogical shifts in intention or design,
introduction of a variety of literary or rhetorical structures, and extreme
hyperbole.”18 Ecce Homo does each of these things again and again, as we
will see. Hence in both formal and technical terms, Nietzsche would be a
satirist even by Guilhamet’s more stringent definition.
Let us pause to clarify terms relevant to this genre discussion, namely,
parody, irony, comedy, and satire. Although up for much debate, parody can
be understood as imitation with critical distance; it may, but need not be,
comic or satiric.19 Parody requires irony, because irony creates the two or
more levels of meaning: at least one for parody’s imitation, and one for
parody’s critical distance. For example, if comic Chris Rock parodies Bill
Cosby, we must first notice that he imitates Cosby, but we must also notice
that the imitation itself stands at a critical distance from its subject. That is,

15
Leon Guilhamet, Satire and the Transformation of Genre (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania
Press, 1987), 13.
16
Ibid., 22.
17
Hence satire is a meta-genre. We might even call satire a philosophy of genre, enacted.
18
Guilhamet, Transformation of Genre, 13–14. 19 Hutcheon, Theory of Parody, 6, 5.
34 A question of genre
the imitation must itself cue us that Rock is parodying Cosby, not only
imitating him. Frequently, a comic cues this critical distance by distorting
the imitation – usually through exaggeration. For our purposes, comedy
concerns the ridiculous, but causes no genuine pain or harm.20 Satire,
however, interprets the ridiculous as harmful or destructive, thus worth
criticizing. Satire always employs parody and irony, and brings a knowing
smile or laugh to the discerning. Stringing the four terms together, then,
gives this relationship among them: satire concerns what is comic but
harmful, and uses parody’s inherent irony to attack it. By design, however,
some people will not discern satire at all, mistaking its literal level of
meaning for its only level of meaning. (This practically defines the history
of Ecce Homo’s reception.)
Howard Weinbrot wages a respectful war against the untoward liberaliz-
ing of satire’s genre definition perpetrated by Frye, Elliott, Bakhtin, and
their ilk, in his Menippean Satire Reconsidered: From Antiquity to the
Eighteenth Century. Weinbrot’s definition intends to exclude scores of
pseudo-satires, even long-held examples such as The Golden Ass or
Metamorphoses, let alone contentious candidates such as Alice’s Adventures
in Wonderland or Ulysses. And, one might think, Ecce Homo. Weinbrot’s
definition of satire runs as follows:
My notion of Menippean satire is of a kind of satire that uses at least two
different languages, genres, tones, or cultural or historical periods to combat
a false and threatening orthodoxy . . .21
It does so in either a harsher and severe or a softer and muted way [Bion,
Menippus, Lucian, Petronius, Swift, and Pope’s Dunciad exemplify the first
way, and Seneca, Julian, Pope, and Richardson the second] . . .22
In the severe tone, “the angry satirist fails and becomes angrier still”; in the
muted, “the angry satirist offers an antidote to the poison he knows
remains.”23
Weinbrot then identifies four modes that genuine satire can adopt: satire by
addition, by genre, by annotation, or by incursion. Weinbrot’s definition by
addition is most relevant to us. “Menippean satire by addition enlarges a
main text with new generally smaller texts that further characterize a
dangerous world [e.g., Swift, Petronius].”24 In satire by addition, the satirist

20
Guilhamet, Transformation of Genre, 7. 21 Weinbrot, Menippean Satire, xi.
22
Ibid., xi, 18 for bracketed material. 23 Ibid., 297.
24
Ibid., 6, 17 for bracketed material. Note Weinbrot’s two citations of the Roman satirist Petronius. In
an alternative draft of an Ecce Homo section (EH 2.3), Nietzsche lavished praise upon The Satyricon by
Petronius in terms that suggest similarities between Nietzsche and the Roman satirist. I discuss this
further in the relevant section of the Chapter 3 commentary, “Why I Am So Clever.”
A question of genre 35
“expands his nominal text within its own nominal bounds so that it
transcends its presumed initial intention.”25
We need no hermeneutic contortion to see Weinbrot’s definition of
satire alive in Nietzsche’s work. Ecce Homo employs a literal and ironic
voice, and four host genres (autobiography, panegyric, book review, phil-
osophical polemic) to combat the false and threatening orthodoxy of
Christian morality, German delusions of cultural superiority, and philoso-
phers’ claims to Truth. In much of the work and in Ecce Homo’s famous
conclusion, Nietzsche offers a requisite antidote to Christianity with pas-
sion: a Dionysian philosophy of life affirmation set directly against “the
Crucified.” Finally, in Weinbrot’s technical terms, Ecce Homo is satire by
addition: Nietzsche enlarges the ostensibly autobiographical text with
extensive quotations from his other works, and its central section consists
of book reviews and digressions that mock the work’s nominal intention to
narrate Nietzsche’s life. And these particular additions are no accident. They
keep Nietzsche’s satiric targets in view by reviewing his previous books that
are themselves depredations of orthodoxy.
Thus, we have reason to consider the idea that Nietzsche is a satirist who
writes philosophy, a philosopher who writes satire, or a satirist of philoso-
phy itself. His multivalent style and tone, the formal structures employed,
and his philosophical goals are consistent with even divergent definitions of
literary satire, both traditional and current.

25
Weinbrot, Menippean Satire, 115.
part ii
What is the meaning of Ecce Homo?
chapter 3

Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary

This chapter treats each section of Ecce Homo in close detail to answer one
question: What does Ecce Homo mean? Why are the chapters and sections as
they are? What does this book communicate to us, and to what purpose?
Overall I have tried to keep in mind what Nietzsche said about good
reading, that it calls for “caution, patience, [and] subtlety in the desire for
understanding” (AC 52). Such reading, I think, will lead us to conclude that
Ecce Homo is a satire.

The title: Ecce Homo


First I list instances and aspects of the title phrase in Nietzsche’s own work,
or works with which he would have been familiar, then I group and analyze
these instances.
(a) The Latin (vulgate) means “behold man” or “behold the man” (that is,
this man visible); it also could be translated as “behold a man.” The
Latin homo derives from humus: earth, ground, soil. The most famous
use of the phrase ecce homo occurs in the New Testament, John 19.1–7:
Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged him. And the soldiers plaited a crown of
thorns, and put it on his head, and arrayed him in a purple robe; they came up
to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and struck him with their hands. Pilate
went out again, and said to them, ‘See, I am bringing him out to you, that you
may know that I find no crime in him.’ So Jesus came out, wearing the crown
of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the man!’ When the
chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, ‘Crucify him, crucify
him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no
crime in him.’
(b) Many paintings and other art works that depict Jesus crowned with
thorns, from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance, bear the title

39
40 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
Ecce Homo. The woodcut by Albrect Dürer (1471–1528) and the paint-
ing by Antonio da Correggio (1489–1534) are famous examples.
(c) The phrase occurs in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, with Antony
celebrating his compatriot Scarus to Cleopatra, after battle: “Behold this
man; / Commend unto his lips thy favoring hand: / Kiss it, my warrior:
he hath fought to-day / As if a god, in hate of mankind, had / Destroy’d
in such a shape” (4.8.27–31). A version of the phrase also appears in
Julius Caesar (a play Nietzsche praises in Ecce Homo). Antony says of
Brutus:
This was the noblest Roman of them all;
All the conspirators save only he
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar;
He only, in a general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them.
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mix’d in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, ‘This was a man!’ (5.5.68–75)

(d) Napoleon uttered the French equivalent, it is said, after meeting


Goethe, to convey his admiration: “Voilà un homme!”
(e) Nietzsche mentions Napoleon’s remark in Beyond Good and Evil: “At
long last we ought to understand deeply enough Napoleon’s surprise
when he came to see Goethe: it shows what people had associated with
the ‘German spirit’ for centuries. ‘Voilà un homme!’ – that meant: ‘But
this is a man! And I had merely expected a German’” (BGE 209).
(f) Nietzsche wrote ecce homo several times in the margins of books by
Ralph Waldo Emerson.1
(g) Ecce homo appears in Twilight of the Idols:
Let us consider finally what naïveté it is to say ‘man ought to be thus and thus!’
Reality shows us an enchanting wealth of types, the luxuriance of a prodigal
play and change of forms: and does some pitiful journeyman moralist say at the
sight of it: ‘No! man ought to be different’? . . . He even knows how man ought
to be, this bigoted wretch; he paints himself on the wall and says ‘ecce homo’! . . .
But even when the moralist merely turns to the individual and says to him:
‘You ought to be thus and thus’ he does not cease to make himself ridiculous.
The individual is, in his future and in his past, a piece of fate, one law more,
one necessity more for everything that is and everything that will be. (TI 5.6)

1
Hermann Hummel, “Emerson and Nietzsche,” The New England Quarterly, 19 (March–December
1946), 63–84, at 73.
The title: Ecce Homo 41
(h) Nietzsche wrote the following poem for The Gay Science, in a section
entitled “Joke, Cunning, and Revenge; Prelude in German Rhymes.”
Ecce Homo
Yes, I know from where I came!
Ever hungry like a flame,
I consume myself and glow.
Light grows all that I conceive,
Ashes everything I leave:
Flame I am assuredly. (GS 62)

The title of Nietzsche’s book sounds many overtones and undertones. To


give offense, the allusion (a) to the Gospel suffices. Nietzsche compares
himself to the Christ in stature by offering himself as an alternative, and
mocks Jesus’ alleged divinity in doing so. But Nietzsche’s allusion to John
19.1–7 has a complex valence. First, consider Nietzsche’s reference to the
speaker of the phrase, Pontius Pilate. In The Antichrist, he writes: “Do I still
have to add that in the entire New Testament there is only one solitary figure
one is obliged to respect? Pilate, the Roman governor. To take a Jewish affair
seriously – he cannot persuade himself to do that” (AC 46). Pilate’s attitude
suggests disdain or indifference; he places no great stake in the judgment of
Jesus. And when Jesus says, “Every one who is of the truth hears my voice,”
Pilate only replies, “What is truth?” (John 18.38).2 By calling his book Ecce
Homo, Nietzsche becomes the speaker for his own presentation; he is both
the presenter and the one presented. As presenter, like the Roman procu-
rator, he conveys a measured indifference to how we judge him. What does
it matter to Nietzsche, in the end, if we call for his crucifixion? But if so, this
ideal remains unfulfilled, for the book strives to shape Nietzsche’s legacy
again and again.
The New Testament allusion also configures Nietzsche as the presented,
occupying Jesus’ circumstance, hence subject to Pilate’s presentation. In the
Gospels, Jesus often appears indifferent to his fate, living his creed to “resist
not evil!” (Matthew 5.39). His own destruction at hand, mocked and
ridiculed, he remains passive. As the presented, Nietzsche uses “Ecce
Homo!” as a foil: he means his presentation to bear witness to a life and its
works – to contradict the Nazarene’s willingness to have others speak for
and against him as death draws near. In this light, the book’s title is sarcastic
and cruelly ironic: while it invokes a Gospel passage meant to inspire pity

2
In Human, All Too Human, Nietzsche understands Pilate’s question to indicate “the dreadful back-
ground of the impossibility of knowing” (HH 2.1.8). Having Pilate introduce Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo
thus mocks the idea of autobiography as self-knowledge.
42 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
for Jesus, it participates in the mockery of him. This interpretation makes
sense in light of Ecce Homo’s last words: “Have I been understood? –
Dionysus versus the crucified” (EH 14.9), signaling that Nietzsche’s work
has been a contest between opposing outlooks.
The antagonism prefigured in the book’s title further points toward Ecce
Homo as satire. Aggressive denunciation is one of satire’s dominant and
oldest forms, and the book’s title invokes the Christian model of humanity
in order to present Nietzsche’s philosophy against it. The title also puts us in
two historical periods, as Nietzsche applies a New Testament phrase to
himself in the present. Hence the title inaugurates a series of temporal
dislocations in Ecce Homo that will grow to include the classical world of
Greece and Rome. Weinbrot’s definition of satire notes that two or more
“historical periods” are often employed as a strategy to “combat a false and
threatening orthodoxy”3 in the present, as the current object of satire and its
era can be contrasted with a supposedly superior past.
The impotence of Jesus before injustice (if he was condemned unjustly),
and the ignorance of the crowd about his teaching, create a third aspect of
Ecce Homo’s New Testament allusion. The Gospels depict Jesus as mis-
understood, persecuted, tragic. Likewise, Nietzsche’s contemporaneous
correspondence reveals how he felt persecuted by ignorance in the usual
sense, and more literally, because his work was largely ignored. He signed
letters of 4 January 1889 to Heinrich Köselitz and Georg Brandes, “The
Crucified” (KGB 3.5.1247, 3.5.1243) and greatly feared being misunderstood.
“Hear me! For I am such and such a person. Above all, do not mistake me
for someone else!” (EH Foreword 1).
Nietzsche’s negative use of ecce homo in Twilight of the Idols (g) throws
light on the proper translation and understanding of the phrase in our
book’s title, as well. A “journeyman moralist” (TI 5.6) commands that man
ought to be different. He presents the command in a universal form
(“behold man”). But that form only disguises his intent: that all become
exactly like the moralist. Nietzsche denounces all universal moral codes,
castigates the moralist for presuming to know the right one (how man
“ought to be”), and criticizes the dissemblance by which a particular man
presents himself as a universal model, and a petty and bigoted model at that.
How then does Nietzsche use the phrase in the Twilight of the Idols
passage? It operates as a compressed symbol for (the mistake of) moral
universalism. Nietzsche’s title thus offers an ironic contrast to this symbol;
in Nietzsche’s hands, Ecce Homo means Behold a Man, a unique man, an
3
Weinbrot, Menippean Satire, xi.
The title: Ecce Homo 43
example of man, a man for your consideration, not a model for morality, not
a man for mimicry or devotion. This accords with Frye’s understanding of
satire as a work that frequently shows “the futility, not only of saying what
[human beings] ought to do, but even of attempts to systematize or
formulate a coherent scheme of what they do.” Hence the philosopher’s
“attitude is dogmatic; that of the satirist pragmatic.”4 Nietzsche means to
discuss what worked for him, not take any position on moral truth.
Nietzsche was aware, most likely, of the precedent (b) for naming works
of art Ecce Homo. By enlisting the title he presents his book as a work of
literary art that weighs against Christian iconography. The Shakespeare
precedent (c) for the phrase adds the aspect of praise and celebration,
likewise Napoleon’s remark (d, e), and Nietzsche’s use of the phrase
regarding Emerson (f). The description of Brutus mirrors Nietzsche’s
description of greatness found in Ecce Homo (as mastery over expansive
and disparate characteristics); hence, Nietzsche likely considered the
description of Brutus self-appropriate. A tone of wonderment and praise
also exists, then, in Nietzsche’s title. (This commingling of praise and
censure in Nietzsche’s title mirrors Guilhamet’s view of satire as mixing
and deforming the rhetorical structure of demonstrative oratory.5) With
Ecce Homo Nietzsche celebrates himself as an extraordinary human being, in
contrast to the moralist’s subterranean vanity in which earthly modesty will
be repaid with eternal glory.
The poem in The Gay Science (h) makes Nietzsche’s use of ecce homo
personal. Ecce Homo traces Nietzsche’s intellectual history, enacting the
poem’s claim, “Yes, I know from where I came!” (GS 62). And the theme of
beneficial injury or self-catabolism (“I consume myself and glow”) recurs as
well, when Nietzsche credits overcoming illness for his strength and cheer-
fulness. Notice too how the poem builds a heroic model of sacrifice for
certain intellectual goals, especially the pursuit of dangerous truths.6 Such
an understanding contrasts with the alleged heroism of Jesus, whose
destruction comes from passivity and at the hands of others.7

4
Frye, Anatomy of Criticism, 229. 5 Guilhamet, Transformation of Genre, 13.
6
The poem sounds to me as if inspired by remarks made by Heinrich Heine, the German poet and
satirist, whom Nietzsche admired. From Heine’s Thoughts and Fancies: “Goethe’s aversion to
enthusiasm is as repugnant as it is childish. Such withdrawal is more or less suicide. It is like the
flame which will not burn lest it be consumed. The generous flame, the soul of Schiller, burned with
self-sacrifice. Every flame sacrifices itself. The more brilliantly it burns, the closer it approaches self-
annihilation, self-extinction. I do not envy those timid little bedroom candles who lead prolonged and
retired little lives” (The Poetry and Prose of Heinrich Heine, trans. Frederic Ewen et al. (New York:
Citadel, 1948), 764).
7
Nietzsche argues against Ernest Renan’s claim for Jesus as hero (AC 29).
44 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
The title Ecce Homo announces something complex, allusive, ironic,
multivalent, doubly reflective, and profoundly aggressive. Nietzsche
presents, and is presented, as a skeptical but ultimately distant Pilate, and
as a philosophical martyr and object of fate – but he suggests the intellectual
hero, too, who opposes Christian faith to the last breath. The title has also
announced a satiric intent, and its compressed irony and allusion is fantas-
tically fecund. As Bakhtin says, satire includes the violation of norms (as
Nietzsche compares himself to Christ), has multiple tones, and employs
razor-sharp contrasts.8 In the title Ecce Homo we have a striking and satiric
mésalliance between the first Christian and the self-proclaimed immoralist.

The subtitle: How One Becomes What One Is


(a) The phrase refigures Pindar, the Roman poet: “Be what you know you
are,” which opens the Coda of the second Pythian Ode.9
(b) In the first paragraph of “Schopenhauer as Educator” in Untimely
Meditations, Nietzsche writes:
When the great thinker despises mankind, he despises its laziness: for it is on
account of their laziness that men seem like factory products, things of no
consequence and unworthy to be associated with or instructed. The man who
does not wish to belong to the mass needs only to cease taking himself easily;
let him follow his conscience, which calls to him: ‘Be your self! All you are now
doing, thinking, desiring, is not you yourself ’ . . . (UM 3.1)
(c) Nietzsche writes the following maxim in The Gay Science (270): “What
does your conscience say? – ‘You shall become the person you are.’”
(d) And in the same book:
Anyone who still judges ‘in this case everybody would have to act like this’ has
not yet taken five steps toward self-knowledge. Otherwise he would know that
there neither are nor can be actions that are the same; that every action that has
ever been done was done in an altogether unique and irretrievable way, and
that this will be equally true of every future action . . . Yes, my friends,
regarding all the moral chatter of some about others it is time to feel nauseous.
Sitting in moral judgment should offend our taste. Let us leave such chatter

8
Bakhtin, Dostoevsky’s Poetics, 117–18.
9
In a footnote, Kaufmann gives an additional, similar phrase from Hegel: “spirit . . . makes itself that
which it is” (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, ed. and trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York:
Vintage, 1974), 219). For an interpretation of Pindar’s ode, see Ruck and Matheson in Pindar: Selected
Odes, trans., with interpretive essays, Carl A. P. Ruck and William H. Matheson (Ann Arbor:
University of Michigan Press, 1968). See also Kathleen M. Higgins, Comic Relief: Nietzsche’s Gay
Science (Oxford University Press, 2000), 123–26. Nietzsche’s first known public use of the quotation
appears as the lead for an essay on Diogenes, when he was a student in Leipzig in the mid 1860s.
The subtitle: How One Becomes What One Is 45
and such bad taste to those who have nothing else to do but drag the past a few
steps further through time and who never live in the present – which is to say
the many, the great majority. We, however, want to become those we are –
human beings who are new, unique, incomparable, who give themselves laws,
who create themselves. To that end we must become the best learners and
discoverers of everything that is lawful and necessary in the world: we must
become physicists in order to be able to be creators in this sense. (GS 335)
(e) Nietzsche’s Zarathustra character uses the phrase. “For I am he [a “fisher of
men”], from the heart and from the beginning, drawing, drawing towards
me, drawing up to me, raising up, a drawer, trainer, and taskmaster who
once bade himself, and not in vain: ‘Become what you are!’” (Z 4.1).
Let us begin with a literal question for the subtitle: What does the first
instance of one refer to, and what does the second one refer to? The phrase’s
form suggests that a person is (a certain way?) always, but needs time (and
the right methods?) to become this person. This does not make immediate
sense. Instead, consider the subtitle in light of Nietzsche’s other uses of the
phrase. Elsewhere, what one is operates not as an unchanging given, but as a
goal, a phrase that captures potential being. Then how one becomes refers to
procedures, to an individual ethics, to how such a goal might be reached.
What one is denotes a valued conception and state of being, while how one
becomes this way requires that sometimes one does not live as what one is, or
does so incompletely. What then, is the goal? Nietzsche describes this other
self in the Untimely Meditations, and offers the first steps toward its achieve-
ment by way of a question.
What have you truly loved up to now, what has drawn your soul aloft, what
has mastered it and at the same time blessed it? Set up these revered objects
before you and perhaps their nature and their sequence will give you a law,
the fundamental law of your own true self. Compare these objects one with
another, see how one completes, expands, surpasses, transfigures another,
how they constitute a stepladder up which you have clambered up to yourself
as you are now; for your true nature lies, not concealed deep within you, but
immeasurably high above you, or at least above that which you usually take
yourself to be. (UM 3.1)
This picture of the self (what one is) consists of a person’s unique aspirations
and possibilities, inspired by an intellectual (that is, a spiritual – in German,
a geistlich) love. We are each to imagine our own higher self, and pursue it as
a goal.
Nietzsche contrasts the social conformist self in the first quoted passage
from Untimely Meditations (b) with an independent thinking self. The
subtitle means, on this axis, that the one that becomes is the social-conforming
46 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
self, while what one is constitutes an independent thinking self. This suggests
that what one could be is more real than what is currently the case. Thus,
Nietzsche locates a greater value in what one is, using metaphysical language
to underline the contrast. We will see another motive for the subtitle’s
metaphysical overtones in a moment.
The two passages from The Gay Science (c, d) also show that Nietzsche
intends a contrast between a current self and a higher self. Attaining that
higher self would prove the person you are. Against the masses and one’s own
laziness, the independent thinker’s conscience says: improve yourself into
what you could be. The longer passage parallels the Twilight of the Idols
critique of moral universalism. In The Gay Science, aspiring thinkers leave
moral chatter beneath them because such language inhibits individuality
and, Nietzsche claims in the passage, makes no sense in any case. He argues
once more that moral instruction founders on erroneous premises: (1) that
acts can be grouped by type and called the same, and (2) that acts have
simple causes (“free will”) that can be praised or blamed in abstraction.
“We, however,” he states, “want to become those we are” (GS 335), some-
thing clear in Zarathustra’s teaching as well (e). This in turn creates one’s
higher self by discovering “everything that is necessary in the world” (GS
335). But does this capture all of the subtitle’s meaning? Is it merely a quasi-
ethical invocation to self-improvement by independent thought?
Were it so, Nietzsche could have penned the subtitle: How One Becomes
What One Could Be. Aside from damning objections of style and insipidity,
this phrase would fail to convey two key Nietzschean ideas, namely, his
denial of any unchanging Being for the self, and his fatalism.
What one is connotes the fateful, the determined in past and future.
Nietzsche uses how one becomes to express his initial ignorance and slowly
acquired knowledge of his own fate (what is “necessary in the world”).
Human life is this experience of becoming. So becoming what one is must
occur, is necessary – there is no question, in the end, of freely choosing the
right procedures. From this perspective, there is only a coming to conscious-
ness, not a quasi-ethical striving. Hence, Ecce Homo stands as Nietzsche’s
attempt to describe his experience of coming to know a destiny.10 And this
explains why the work catalogs influence and casuistry. Ecce Homo exists to
acknowledge the inevitable.

10
“Destiny” does not distinguish people. According to Nietzsche, everything is equally destined, fully
determined. The textual evidence shows that Nietzsche had long rejected the notion of free will, most
likely earlier but at least since 1881, when he writes in a letter to Franz Overbeck about Spinoza: “He is
like me, this most unusual and solitary thinker, on just these points: he denies freedom of the will”
(KGB 3.1.135). He says the same in published works; see BGE 21, TI 6.7, HH 1.107, and EH 14.8.
The subtitle: How One Becomes What One Is 47
Nietzsche’s subtitle points as well to the revaluation of becoming.
Nietzsche mocks the philosopher’s traditional search for eternal being as
chimerical, and means to free the concept of becoming from its bastard
relationship to being. In being’s shadow, becoming suffers categorically in
two respects. First, it cannot be an object of stable knowledge so we judge it
less worthy of our attention. Second, becoming is a mere way station on the
road to being (logically or temporally). For example, the gaseous matter far
flung from the nearest sun over four billion years ago, we like to think, was
on its way to becoming the Earth, a being. But this degrades the status and
meaning of these long astrophysical moments. Note how we deem this
period of accretion a process, not a state (patently relative to us), and how, as
a process, it becomes far less significant than the spherical result. Of course
this forgets that our planet, too, is not a state but a process – not a being but a
becoming – and will disperse once more in time.
For Nietzsche, all is becoming without end. The trick, then, is how to
shift the ontological and rhetorical privilege of being to becoming. We see
this same analysis when appearance requires a change of understanding once
the “thing-in-itself” has been rejected in Twilight of the Idols (TI 5). How
can this be accomplished? Blurring the two words at issue can help. Ecce
Homo’s subtitle does this. So understood, Nietzsche’s subtitle reads, how one
becomes what one becomes. To change the second word to a form of to be,
however, helps us think of being as becoming, with all the honors, rights,
and rhetorical privileges thereunto appertaining. Speaking of a person,
Nietzsche presents the only picture of himself possible: a picture of a
human being becoming, because this is what a human being is.
Like a Russian set of nesting dolls, Ecce Homo’s subtitle fits several
meaningful ideas within a single phrase. And like the book’s title, its com-
pressed allusions capture the matryoshka quality of Nietzsche’s thought and
the book that follows. How one becomes what one is alludes to an ideal of the
independent thinker, encouraging us to become likewise free in thought,
and proclaims that Nietzsche, ecce homo, is attaining this ideal. The book
will describe this process. The subtitle also alludes to Nietzsche’s deeper
desire to love fate, to love the necessary in existence; that is, all existence.
This explains why he links the phrase in The Gay Science with the new
thinker’s quest to “know the necessary” in all things (GS 335). What one is:
determined but unknown in advance. What one becomes: knowing in
moments of retrospect, in moments of autobiography.11 Nietzsche’s title

11
This tension marks a difference in reflective versus practical wisdom, whereby Nietzsche considers
himself determined but acts on the assumption of self-control and free activity. Nietzsche admired the
48 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
and subtitle mean: behold a man – how he came to think freely and know
his fate.
Nietzsche’s subtitle for Ecce Homo holds a unique distinction, first
appearing in his boyhood writings. The biographer Rüdiger Safranski
relates that from “1858 to 1868, he penned no fewer than nine autobio-
graphical sketches, each following the general theme of ‘How I became what
I am.’”12 As such, the idea spans the entirety of Nietzsche’s writing life, and
makes Ecce Homo the final word on this perennial topic.
Finally, while Nietzsche’s title is satirically aggressive, the subtitle paints a
contrasting tone of self-reflection and inquiry. We will see this contrast play
out in Ecce Homo, and the theme of seeking to reconcile various contrasts
itself looms large.

The Foreword
The Foreword to Ecce Homo comprises four short sections. In the first,
Nietzsche remarks that “I live on my own credit” (EH Foreword 1). Ignored
by his contemporaries, he is forced to imagine a future surplus of under-
standing. Because of this, and because of the demands that his philosophy
makes, he feels compelled to present Ecce Homo so that we know the
source of his philosophy. Despite hating to do so, against “the pride of
my instincts,” he says, circumstances compel him to write: “Listen to me! I
am the one who I am! Above all, do not mistake me for anyone else! ” (EH
Foreword 1).
Nietzsche’s two stated reasons for writing Ecce Homo spur reflection. The
urgency to dispel misconceptions points to his fear that they are likely. This
fear overcomes Nietzsche’s reluctance to beg for a proper hearing. But
remember Nietzsche’s situation in 1888. Despite the pregnant quality of
his considerable corpus, Nietzsche and his thought were ignored. He had to
face the possibility that his work, to which he had devoted his life, might
never find an audience. He had neither profession, children, nor love of his
own. The value of his life depended on the legacy of his books. Knowing
this, he composes Ecce Homo; it is, he suggests, a last resort. And the book
shows Nietzsche living on his own credit: written of necessity by the

German Enlightenment aphorist, Georg Lichtenberg, who put it this way in aphorism 44 of
Notebook J: “Man is certainly not free, but not to be misled by this idea requires a very profound
study of philosophy . . . Freedom is . . . really the most convenient and comfortable way of picturing
the matter to oneself and, since it has appearance so very much on its side, will for all time remain the
most usual one” (The Waste Books, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (New York Review, 1990), 136).
12
Safranski, Nietzsche, 25.
The Foreword 49
beneficiary of its praise. Nietzsche introduces this double-edged celebration
and piece of credit because his contemporaries have kept it from him.
The sense of Ecce Homo as personal introduction and appeal stands in the
larger context of Nietzsche’s series of new prefaces written as part of the
republishing effort we discussed in Chapter 1, and follows fast upon the vita
written for Georg Brandes.
So much for a literal interpretation of Nietzsche’s stated intention for the
book. What of the subtext?
Irony is satire’s lifeblood, allowing an author to engage the painful truths of
the world but, in Emily Dickinson’s formula, to “say it slant.” Irony depends
on a surface meaning and (at least) a second, often opposed meaning. We see
this in Ecce Homo’s nuanced title, by which Nietzsche configures himself with
a serio-comically blasphemous reference to Pilate’s words that introduced
Jesus prior to the Nazarene’s crucifixion, thus marking Nietzsche himself as
sufferer and mocker, the presented and the presenter. In the first of the
Foreword’s four sections, this ironic doubling continues. Nietzsche mentions
that he really should not need to say “who I am,” because he has not left
himself “without testimony” (which he puts in scare quotes) (EH Foreword
1). Literally, this is true: Nietzsche had written ten books by late 1888. But the
remark rings sarcastically true as well, because testimony refers to an account
given in court, and Nietzsche’s work would already defend him. He also
makes two references to death in the section, which might remind us that
Christians often give testimony to their faith as the end draws near. In this
sense, Nietzsche has not given testimony, but the reverse is true – he has given
ample testimony against the faith.
Nietzsche employs another satiric technique, reduction, in the book’s
first paragraph when he writes: “the discrepancy between the greatness of
my task and the smallness of my contemporaries is apparent from the fact
that people have not listened or even looked at me” (EH Foreword 1).
Taking one’s adversaries down a notch – here, those who deny Nietzsche his
rightful fame – nearly encapsulates the history of satire, and Nietzsche
emphasizes the size of his contemporaries with italics.
The idea of Nietzsche living on his own credit that appears in Ecce
Homo’s first paragraph – he adds, “perhaps it is just a prejudice that I am
living at all” – situates him as if beyond his own death (EH Foreword 1).
This marks Ecce Homo as a threshold book in Bakhtin’s sense: satire that
carries on a conversation with the dead, as it were, from a literally impossible
place.13 Many satires involve a protagonist who makes a hazardous journey
13
Bakhtin, Dostoevsky’s Poetics, 116.
50 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
to fantastical lands, and Nietzsche visits not only his painful past but an
imaginary future of immense world fame. Nietzsche uses several travel
metaphors later in Ecce Homo, but this remark in the Foreword puts the
entirety of his book in a posthumous condition while Nietzsche writes it in
the present.14
Let us return to another outrageous and hammy reference to the Bible
from the passage we studied for its literal content a moment ago: “Listen to
me! I am the one who I am! Above all, do not mistake me for anyone else! ” (EH
Foreword 1). The second sentence parodies Exodus 3.14, in which God first
announces himself to Moses from a burning bush (in all caps):
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people
of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ . . . This is my name for ever, and thus I
am to be remembered throughout all generations.” (3.14–15)
With this satiric allusion, Nietzsche casts himself now in the role of Old
Testament God, announcing his identity to “all generations.” A more
exaggerated role is impossible to assume; its buffo absurdity cues the reader
to understand Ecce Homo at both a literal and comic level.
The scriptural allusion fits as a joking reference to Nietzsche’s larger task
as well, since Exodus 3 describes God’s pledge to deliver the Israelites from
Egypt into a land of milk and honey – by violence. “And I will stretch out
my hand, and smite Egypt with all my wonders which I will do in the midst
thereof” (Exodus 3.20). Nietzsche can serio-comically promise deliverance
from enslaving orthodoxies to his audience by means of satire: a style of
philosophical smiting done with literary wonders in the midst thereof.
In the second section of the Foreword, Nietzsche anticipates how he will
be misread, writing that he is “by no means a bogey, or a moralistic
monster” (EH Foreword 2).15 Calling himself a disciple of Dionysus, he
would prefer to be a satyr than a saint. Nietzsche then introduces the book
we are reading: “But one should really read this essay. Perhaps I have
succeeded; perhaps this essay had no other meaning than to give expression
to this contrast in a cheerful and philanthropic manner” (EH Foreword 2).
Nietzsche’s claim for the meaning of “this essay” (from French essayer,
meaning to try or to attempt) reveals much in a short span. Nietzsche intends

14
Guilhamet distinguishes satire via these kinds of “illogical shifts in intention or design,” for this helps
a work deform its host genre (Transformation of Genre, 14).
15
Nietzsche is still taken in some quarters to be offering a new kind of prescriptive ethics, and his fear of
being called holy was justified – Heinrich Köselitz pronounced him exactly that at Nietzsche’s funeral.
In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, a devil urges Zarathustra to assume saintly manners and moralize
universally. Zarathustra calls this enemy “the Spirit of Gravity” (Z 3.11).
The Foreword 51
the contrast of saint and satyr to be a window into his nature. It was the goal
of Ecce Homo, he claims, to write about this inner antithesis with cheerful-
ness, and from love of humanity (in a “philanthropic manner”). As saint,
Nietzsche grew up with the sobriquet “the little pastor,” a pious boy filled
with sympathy for others, raised Lutheran in an extended line of Lutheran
ministers. He says how difficult it was to overcome Christian feelings of
pity, and that he fought throughout life against the urge to sermonize and
prescribe his own standards and ways of thinking to everyone else; hence, he
takes pains to show how he differs from the moralistic monster. As for the
antithesis, the satyr, Nietzsche refers to the half-man half-goat creature of
Greek mythology to suggest a creature dominated by strong instincts played
out freely, a being overfull with sexual energy, disdaining the laws and
enfeebled customs of human society.16 Nietzsche’s passion and iconoclasm
are lifelong traits, evidenced in his style and subject matter.
Nietzsche sought to capture a dichotomous pathos with Ecce Homo, which
is no easy task. He wrote of a grave and painful existence – as the metaphor
suggests, a wrenching existence between two extremes – in a flowing and
cheerful manner. And in effect, this was Nietzsche’s goal throughout his
thinking life, to approach the darkest, most difficult topics with good cheer.17
In Ecce Homo, that topic became Nietzsche’s literal existence (a history of
physical pain and intense loneliness), but also his inner conflict between a
Christian and an ancient world view, between moral valuations and amoral,
affirmative expression. But Nietzsche has a particular purpose in expressing
this pathos, too. He writes to create and express a shade of feeling through
which interpretation of his previous books can take place. Aside from con-
figuring Nietzsche’s books as more expressive than argumentative, Ecce Homo
establishes the ground for reading his corpus. By subtilizing a set of classical
and Christian allusions, Ecce Homo seeks to convince us that Nietzsche’s
works are so particular that to read them well is to understand, to feel, the very
pathos of Nietzsche’s inner conflict. Communicating such a pathos requires a
different style of writing philosophy, and we are seeing a different style.

16
For thoughts on Nietzsche’s use and conception of the satyr, see Lawrence J. Hatab’s “To Laugh Out
of the Whole Truth: Nietzsche as Tragicomic Satyr,” in Steven V. Hicks and Alan Rosenberg (eds.),
Reading Nietzsche at the Margins, (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2008), 73–85. Hatab
argues that for Nietzsche, “the satyr embodies [an] ambiguous animal-human hybrid figure who lives
on the fringes of the human world and who exhibits astonishment at the unfolding of that world, and
whose transgressions and crossings are experienced as comical – which is to say not repulsive but
pleasurable, interesting, revelatory, and rejuvenating” (81).
17
“To stay cheerful when involved in a gloomy and exceedingly responsible business is no inconsider-
able art; yet what could be more necessary than cheerfulness? Nothing succeeds in which high spirits
play no part” (TI Foreword 1).
52 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
The contrast between satyr and saint serves another purpose. It signals
the undercurrent and literary form of Ecce Homo. Although Nietzsche likely
knew that satire and satyr are not linked etymologically, he was aware of
their historical and metaphoric coupling, as we shall see.18 In the moral,
‘civilized’ world, the satyric arouses fear, but to the free thinker and know-
ing reader, the satiric is playful and refreshing, capturing a kind of malicious
good humor that Nietzsche praised and practiced. And the contrast mirrors
the levels of meaning identified – the saintly: a simple, literal level, and the
satiric: a subversive, passionate one. Because Nietzsche characterizes his
own psyche by this coupling, the semantic structure of Ecce Homo mirrors
its author in this sense as well.
Nietzsche writes also in the second section of the Foreword that he is “a
disciple of the philosopher Dionysus” (EH Foreword 2). This reference to
the Greek god of wine, music, and passion, repudiator of civilized distinc-
tions, makes another nod to Ecce Homo’s satiric form. Consider the genuine
etymology of the word satire that Nietzsche knew from his professional
knowledge of Greek and Roman literature. Although the genre has Greek
origins, the word comes from Latin, lanx satura, a “full dish,” especially a
dish filled with foods of the fall harvest and offered in gratitude to Ceres and
Bacchus (Roman analogues of Demeter and Dionysus).19 Thus the word’s
origin points to satire as a mixture; as Roman satirist Varro has it, satire is a
multa admixta (copious miscellany), a genre defined as a “borrower of
forms,” and “resistant to formal closure.”20 By invoking Dionysus amongst
these other satiric cues, Nietzsche presents Ecce Homo as a tribute to the
god, pointing to the ancient origin of satire as a cornucopian offering. And
of course Ecce Homo is most of all an admixture of forms: autobiography,
book review, polemic and panegyric, prose and poetry, philosophy and
prophecy. Nietzsche also remarks (in EH Foreword 2) on the time of year in
which the book was completed – at harvest time.
Nietzsche’s anti-moral stance in the second section of the Foreword may
seem to run counter to satire’s history, however. “The last thing I would
promise would be to ‘improve’ humanity” (EH Foreword 2). This seems to
contradict a long-standing tradition that, for all its aggressiveness, satire has

18
The word “satire” “has etymologically nothing to do with ‘Satyr’ . . . although . . . it was often
confused with this by classical and modern writers” (Hodgart, Satire, 133). See also Elliott, Power of
Satire, 102. (Satire and satyr are the German words, too.) I return to this link between the two words in
the discussion of EH 2.3.
19
Hodgart, Satire, 133. Nietzsche uses the Latin lanx satura phrase in a letter to Erwin Rohde, 3 April
1868 (KGB 1.2.565).
20
Guilhamet, Transformation of Genre, 13; Griffin, Satire, 5.
The Foreword 53
a moral purpose: to correct the vice and folly it ridicules. But this moralizing
tradition is not so homogeneous or traditional as sometimes claimed. In
fact, the trait does not appear at satire’s origin – the magical curse21 – nor in
countless exceptions to the supposed rule. And we should remember that
satirists have long suffered under social pressure to justify what otherwise
could be construed as outright rebellion in print. We see this in Swift, Pope,
and Dryden, and in the Romans Persius and Petronius, all of whom wrote,
at times, under oppressive regimes. As early as Horace, and in Dryden’s
influential “Discourse Concerning the Original and Progress of Satire,” the
genre’s sharp essence has hidden behind a rhetorical figleaf, namely, the
claim of moral purpose.22 And given Nietzsche’s avowed immoralism, we
might expect him to dispense with the idea of moral purpose in satire
altogether, channeling instead the vigor of ancient sources.
Most often, Nietzsche uses satire against moral intention, at least of the
traditional, Christian, prescriptive sort. “Knocking over idols (my word for
‘ideals’)” Nietzsche writes, “that is more my style” (EH Foreword 2).23 This
invokes the trope of satirist as rule breaker, a subversive trickster. Hodgart
notes that the satirist frequently “attacks [social] rituals” of every kind,24 a
function that stems from satire’s origin. In nearly every culture, the satirist
grew out of some sanctioned mocking function, accomplished by “a crea-
ture of instinct and great energy who serves a dual role; as a rule-breaker he
is . . . a spanner in the social works, and beyond this he is a generating
symbol who promotes change by offering opportunities for exploring what
possibilities lie beyond the status quo.”25 Of an infamous French criminal,
Nietzsche wrote to August Strindberg on 8 December 1888: “Prado was
more than a match for his judges, even his lawyers, in self-control, wit, and
bravado . . . In places I even wrote [Ecce Homo] in the style of a Prado.”26
This configures Nietzsche’s work as outside social approbation and the
status quo, outside the law, and superior to society’s judgment.
However, we can see how Ecce Homo accords with the larger ethical urge
of satire, by painting a better picture of how to live a good human life, and
holding up this image to the reader. Nietzsche does this in Ecce Homo, over
and over. He avers an affirmative, Dionysian pathos, champions a person-
alized diet (literally and psychologically), and celebrates his examples of

21
Elliott, Power of Satire, 291–92. 22 Griffin, Satire, 15, 185.
23
Nietzsche seems to contradict any moral purpose for his satire in the section cited, and elsewhere (e.g.,
GS 335), but one might argue this from other sources. Nietzsche’s fight against universal moral
prescription, however, and his express distaste for and fear of being thought a moralist of any stripe in
Ecce Homo, makes any moral system or set of codes implausibly reconciled to Nietzsche’s position.
24
Hodgart, Satire, 248. 25 Ibid., 21; see also 199, 203. 26 KGB 3.5.1176.
54 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
human excellence. Hence Nietzsche’s satire is twofold: it seeks the over-
throw of Christian ideals so that his own image of how to live (the ancient
provenance of ethics) might prevail. This accords with Hodgart’s definition
of satire as requiring not only a “direct attack on human vice or folly,” but a
“vision of the world transformed.”27 From this angle, Nietzsche’s satire
aligns with the ethical element of the tradition. On the narrower idea of
moral purpose in satire, nonetheless, I think Griffin wisely concludes: “If we
stop insisting on the centrality of the moral in satire, then we are readier to
see the satirist as a figure struggling for notice in a particular kind of
sociopolitical context.”28 And we know already that Nietzsche writes Ecce
Homo in want of recognition and fame.
Nietzsche now turns to characterize his philosophy in Ecce Homo’s
Foreword as a kind of dangerous but invigorating form of life, not a set of
doctrines for analysis as the academic philosopher would have it. On truth,
for example, Nietzsche puts the question in terms that refer to an activity,
not a definition. “How much truth can a spirit tolerate, how much truth is it
willing to risk? This increasingly became the real measure of value for me.
Error (– the belief in the ideal –) is not blindness, error is cowardice” (EH
Foreword 3).
Nietzsche thus describes the essence of his philosophy with a phrase from
Ovid: nitimur in vetitum – we strive for the forbidden. He claims that moral
education has occluded the philosopher’s sight, leading to bad hermeneutics
all around. When morality is thought universal and paramount, people
discourage or castigate diverse ways of reading and organizing human
phenomena. (For example, most readers describe Ecce Homo with a grand
word that dyes a moral condemnation of pride with a tincture of science:
they call it megalomaniacal.) In other words, Nietzsche thinks that philos-
ophers must be courageous to see things otherwise, and most of all when
they accost social mores.
The rhetorical purpose of remarking that only strong, courageous people
will feel at home in Nietzsche’s writing is obvious, for it invites us to
imagine that we are such people, and creates sympathy for Nietzsche’s
work. The formula given here for value, however, deserves more attention.
The bracing claim that truth is as often ugly and damaging as it is beautiful
and enlightening rings true to every satirist. And how often, Nietzsche
observed, did someone pose a serious question but ignore the ugly answer,
on the unconscious ground that it ran counter to an aesthetic prejudice
about truth? Plato’s formulas and the dominant monotheistic religions, for
27 28
Hodgart, Satire, 31, 12. Griffin, Satire, 186.
The Foreword 55
example, dictate that goodness is to be aligned with truth and beauty. In such
schemata, simple observation becomes difficult. Nietzsche alludes to such
persisting conditions when he claims that only courage and self-injury have
furthered our knowledge of the world. His own claims to intellectual
courage cast him in the role of embattled, philosophical underdog, an
unlikely kind of picaresque hero.
The facing up to dark, even horrifying truths stands as the consistent
measure in Ecce Homo by which Nietzsche celebrates his own works and
castigates the cowardice of others. In reviewing his previous works, he
identifies the dangerous truths uncovered in each for the first time, and as
proof of their hazard describes the physical and psychic cost to him of
incorporating such knowledge.29 Satire became the means of approaching
and appropriating such dangerous truths, his literary armor if you will.
Nietzsche’s view of truth-seeking as a measure of courage in Ecce Homo’s
Foreword highlights an aspect of his axiology. Truth has no intrinsic value
to Nietzsche; its value lies in being a worthy adversary against which he tests
his strength of character. In other words, truth stands as the proving
ground – but not what is proven. Instead, the seeker becomes proven or
not. Will the seeker face up to dark truths, or return to comforting fables?
This explains the style that Nietzsche employs to make philosophic pro-
gress.30 Satire is a combative way to approach and communicate truths that
we conceive as enemies to our well-being, and combines bravura with a
certain silliness and wit; this prevents one’s difficult task from becoming too
grave, provides a kind of emotional distance, and entertains us while the
author engages the serious foe.
Nietzsche positions himself as an unmasker of fraud and philosophic
pretension by referring in the Foreword to having seen “the hidden history
of the philosophers, the psychology of its greatest names” (EH Foreword 3).
While others debate the revered philosophers, Nietzsche claims to see
behind their reputations. Indeed, cynicism fuels much of Nietzsche’s
corpus. Even his first book undresses the iconic Socrates as anti-Greek
and a naïve optimist. Such unmasking has won Nietzsche more resentment
and ire from philosophers, it seems, than appreciation or praise.

29
In a letter to Franz Overbeck, 2 July 1885, Nietzsche wrote: “My life is now governed by the wish that
things are not as I see them, and that someone will show that my ‘truths’ are not credible” (KGB
3.3.609). To Georg Brandes, 2 December 1887: “Whether a man calls something true or not seems
more up to his degree of courage. (Only rarely do I have the courage for what I really know)” (KGB
3.5.960).
30
“One does not kill by anger but by laughter,” says Nietzsche’s Zarathustra (Z 1.7).
56 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
Nietzsche next advertises Thus Spoke Zarathustra as the greatest among
his works. He takes pains in section 4 to clarify his hero. “It is no fanatic that
speaks here; this is not ‘preaching’; no faith is demanded here” (EH
Foreword 4). He proclaims that Zarathustra is the opposite of a saint. He
quotes from “Of the Bestowing Virtue” chapter in the last section of the
Foreword, citing as follows:
You say you believe in Zarathustra? But who cares about Zarathustra! You
are my believers, but who cares about believers!
You have not looked for yourselves yet: and you found me. That is what all
believers are like; that is why belief means so little.
Now I call upon you to lose me and find yourselves; and only after you have all
denied me will I want to return to you . . . (EH Foreword 4)
Nietzsche has concluded his Foreword by injecting another text into Ecce
Homo, one that makes sarcastic allusion to words spoken by Jesus to
his disciples (Mark 14.72). This snide gambol helps establish Nietzsche as
“the opposite of the type of person who has been traditionally admired as
virtuous” (EH Foreword 2). Thus Nietzsche fights to overcome a moral
heritage no less than to spiritualize the satyr. In this context, humor
makes holy.
Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra quotation, comprising most of sec-
tion 4, is a strange way to end Ecce Homo’s Foreword. Of course, this use of
foreign material and Nietzsche’s jump among subjects square with
Weinbrot’s formal definition of “Menippean satire by addition,” Frye’s
notion that satire is marked by “violent dislocations,” and Guilhamet’s of
the “de-form[ing] of structures.”31 This reminds us that the genre, as
Hodgart says, has “no fixed style,” working instead “by comparisons and
contrasts.”32 Finally, the quotation Nietzsche employs from Thus Spoke
Zarathustra refers to figs and autumn, another wink to a Dionysian lanx
satura.
Ecce Homo’s title, subtitle, and foreword connect Nietzsche by opposi-
tion to a tradition of moralistic wisdom. Nietzsche’s thinking life led him
to reject the premise that a universal prescription could ever be part of
living wisely. More to the point, Nietzsche claims that moral philosophy
never helped him surmount his natural pessimism and nausea at human-
ity: the sickness for which he created his own philosophy as a “will to

31
Weinbrot, Menippean Satire, 6; Frye, Anatomy of Criticism, 310; Guilhamet, Transformation of
Genre, 165.
32
Hodgart, Satire, 63.
“On this perfect day . . .” 57
health” (EH 1.2). Hence the double edge of Ecce Homo and its inverted
metaphoric allusions: it cuts away from one philosophic tradition of
universal wisdom by attempting to cut a singly wise figure of itself.
But this double meaning points to more doubling structures: to the
ironic treatment of Christian and moral themes, to one person as both
author and subject of autobiography, and to Ecce Homo’s seriously comic
manner that puts it in the company of Varro, Horace, Seneca, and
Petronius.33

“On this perfect day . . .”


A short passage of several sentences appears on the facing page before the
body of the book; it functions as a second foreword of a different tone from
the first.34 Nietzsche describes a moment of pause, a day when “everything
is ripening and not only the grape turns brown.” On this day (Nietzsche’s
birthday, 15 October 1888), “the eye of the sun just fell upon my life: I
looked back, I looked forward, and never saw so many good things at once.”
Nietzsche reports the three works completed in the last quarter preceding
this date, and feels happy to “bury” his forty-fourth year. “Whatever was life
in it has been saved, is immortal.” In light of this production, and in looking
back and forth across his life, Nietzsche ends this second foreword as
follows: “How could I fail to be grateful to my whole life? – and so I tell
myself my life.”
Three key ideas appear in Ecce Homo’s second foreword. First,
Nietzsche’s reference to ripened fruit, and the burying of another year,
point to his sense of a life near its end. Nietzsche, too, turns brown. And just
as a food’s “perfect day,” its ripened peak, symbolizes incipient decay, so
Nietzsche seems to foretell his own destruction.
The second idea captures Nietzsche’s view of the relationship between
his life and his work. A year of life has been saved when it has turned into
writing. The remark might seem an unusual formulation, but it helps to
explain why Ecce Homo consists largely of Nietzsche discussing his pre-
vious books. Nietzsche counts them as his lasting life, as parents might
count their children. Even scant knowledge of Nietzsche’s biography
explains this, for he was unloved. His health was terrible when not

33
Seneca’s Apocolocyntosis and Petronius’ The Satyricon also involve narrator self-parody.
34
In the original, the order is as follows: Foreword, Table of Contents, “On this perfect day . . .” and the
rest of the book proper.
58 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
debilitating. He lived a lonely, wandering life, with few friends and no one
living who shared his intellectual outlook. Thus his writing made him,
and his writing saved him. His books preserve his loves, his happiness, his
life. The great events of Nietzsche’s life are his published works, and Ecce
Homo treats them this way. But the prominence in Ecce Homo of
Nietzsche’s book reviews upsets our expectation of an autobiography; it
constitutes that “illogical shift in intention or design” that helps indicate
satire for Guilhamet,35 but more importantly serves Nietzsche’s satiric
purpose by allowing him to further characterize the follies of the world
that he means to right. Thus Weinbrot’s understanding of “satire by
addition” applies, for Nietzsche’s treatment of his previous books “further
characterize[s] a dangerous world” in a way that “transcends its presumed
initial intention.”36
The first foreword gave two motivations for Ecce Homo: that Nietzsche
owed it to his readers to say who he was because of the demands his
philosophy put upon those readers; and that his works had been ignored,
thus requiring Ecce Homo to stir interest in his philosophy. To these two
Nietzsche now adds a third, more personal motivation. Nietzsche is grateful
for the whole of his life. Given his life of suffering, we might be skeptical. To
show this gratitude, he says, he will narrate that life to himself. What does
this mean? It suggests that Nietzsche gives thanks for the whole of his life,
not just for his works. This sentiment accords with Nietzsche’s fatalism and
overall understanding of the unfathomable complexity of human causality:
to want anything changed, he believed, was the same as wanting everything
changed. To be thankful for the ability to write great books, but to curse
one’s health and loneliness – that would betray a poor understanding of
life’s workings and depth. To Nietzsche, one affirms all or nothing. Ecce
Homo, then, is that affirmation.
Although creative minds perhaps write in the end for themselves – as
Nietzsche says – his conclusion here, “and so I tell myself my life,” feels like
a sad whimsy, a sign that Nietzsche feared never being well or widely read.
Ecce Homo had to be justified, in this light, by what it accomplished for
Nietzsche. In this sense the book stands as Nietzsche’s final self-
understanding of his ways, means, and ends as a thinker.
Finally, the second brief and unnamed foreword situates Ecce Homo
explicitly as a work of gratitude in a time of harvest, when “everything is
ripe.” Knowing the etymology of satire as the “full dish” given to Dionysus

35 36
Guilhamet, Transformation of Genre, 14. Weinbrot, Menippean Satire, 6, 115.
Why I Am So Wise 59
in thanks for his (book-writing) bounty, Nietzsche here gives the keen
reader a sly, knowing smile. Incipient lanx satura.37

Why I Am So Wise
Nietzsche begins this chapter of eight sections as follows, with a famous riddle:
The good fortune of my existence, its uniqueness perhaps, lies in its fateful-
ness: I am, to express it in the form of a riddle, already dead as my father,
while as my mother I am still living and becoming old. This dual descent, as
it were, both from the highest and the lowest rung on the ladder of life, at the
same time a decadent and a beginning – this, if anything, explains that
neutrality, that freedom from all partiality in relation to the total problem
of life, that perhaps distinguishes me. I have a subtler sense of smell for the
signs of ascent and decline than any other human being before me; I am the
teacher par excellence of this – I know both, I am both. (EH 1.1)
Let us consider Nietzsche’s few other remarks about his father and mother
in Ecce Homo to help elucidate this riddle. The next paragraph describes
Nietzsche’s father as delicate, kind, and morbid, “more a gracious memory
of life than life itself” (EH 1.1). He considers it “a great privilege to have had
such a father” in section 3; “the farmers he preached to . . . said that this is
what an angel must look like” (EH 1.3).38 Nietzsche refers for the last time in
section 5 to his father.
At another point as well, I am merely my father once more and, as it were,
his continued life after an all-too-early death. Like everyone who has never
lived among his equals and who finds the concept of ‘retaliation’ as
inaccessible as, say, the concept of ‘equal rights,’ I forbid myself all counter-
measures, all protective measures, and, as is only fair, also any defense, any
‘justification,’ in cases when some small or very great folly is perpetrated
against me. (EH 1.5)

37
In his book review, Stephen Nimis credits Joel Relihan for discerning that signs of satire frequently
appear in “prologues and key programmatic statements” (“Review of Joel C. Relihan, Ancient
Menippean Satire,” Bryn Mawr Classical Review, 94.01.13 (January 1994), http://bmcr.brynmawr.
edu/1994/94.01.13.html (accessed 29 May 2013)). See also Guilhamet, Transformation of Genre, 165:
“prolegomenal and suffixal material” helps generate satire through a “pattern of ironies.” This mise-
en-abîme characterizes Ecce Homo as well; the work culminates Nietzsche’s preoccupation with new
prefaces to his books, all written in the mid to late 1880s.
Relihan’s intriguing book on the origin of satire argues that the form arose to combat philosophical
claims to Truth. The “genre is primarily a parody of philosophical thought and forms of writing . . .”
(Ancient Menippean Satire, 10).
38
In a variant draft of EH 1.3, Nietzsche wrote that his father explained “whatever else I have of
privileges – not including life, the great Yes to life.” From his father he also accounted his ability “to
enter quite involuntarily into a world of lofty and delicate things.” (See EH 1.3 in Hollingdale’s or
Kaufmann’s translation.)
60 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
Nietzsche says nothing of his mother, apart from the terms in the riddle,
and section 3, where he calls her “canaille” (riff-raff), and says that she has an
“immeasurably shabby instinct” (EH 1.3).39
Nietzsche’s remarks about his parents form the most important clues to
the meaning of his riddle. He has already described himself as embodying
the contrast between saint and satyr, and will continue in Ecce Homo to
express his nature as the hybrid of various antitheses, as above when he
describes himself as both a decadent and its opposite. Notice that the
following attend the father when we follow the riddle’s two-track form:
delicate, kind, morbid, privileged in ability to enter refined, ‘angelic’ worlds,
the highest rung of life, without equals and consequently unable or unwill-
ing on principle to retaliate against others or defend himself, decadent, and
thus unable to affirm life. One might add here “saint” as the appropriate
term for the father, from Nietzsche’s previously stated pair of relevant
opposites, and because his father was a pastor.
The terms that attend the mother: lowest rung of life, canaille, a shabby
instinct, a beginning (contrasted with decadence), and strangely, the
satyr.40
We next can clarify the riddle’s contrast between the father as “decadent”
and the mother as a “beginning” (EH 1.1) by suggesting that Nietzsche’s
thought exhibits two kinds of affirmation or “yes-saying.” The first is
Dionysian, hyper-conscious of, and embracing toward, even the morbid
or terrifying aspects of existence. The second kind of affirmation is biologic,
or shallow, like the ignorant “Yes-Yes” of Zarathustra’s ass,41 or the result of
a superficial optimism that shields itself from distasteful realities. Given his
mother’s unfailing faith and idealism, it seems reasonable to conclude that
her style of affirmation was of this second kind. And given his father’s
intelligence and sensitivity, Nietzsche’s brand of Dionysian affirmation
would be the product, as the riddle has it, of the son’s dual descent.
Hence, part of Nietzsche’s lifelong cycle between morbidity and health

39
Nietzsche also remarks that “the greatest objection to ‘eternal return’, my truly abysmal thought, is
always my mother and sister,” discussed in detail in the interpretation of this section. (In the variant
draft of EH 1.3, he wrote merely that his mother was “very German” – itself never a compliment from
Nietzsche.) (See EH 1.3 in Hollingdale’s or Kaufmann’s translation for what is now considered the
superseded draft.)
40
Given that Nietzsche has called himself saint and satyr, and the riddle purports to explain Nietzsche’s
dualities, the life-affirming and scruffy satyr seems needed on the mother’s side to pair with the saintly
father. (In the variant draft of EH 1.3, Nietzsche excluded “the great Yes to life” from his father; hence,
calling his mother a “beginning” (EH 1.1) points to her as a brute form of saying Yes to life.)
41
Discussed in connection to EH 2.2.
Why I Am So Wise 61
could be explained poetically as the movement between these parental
poles.
So what is the meaning of Nietzsche’s riddle? How chilling to read that as
his father Nietzsche is dead. When we see what Nietzsche represented by
“father,” the riddle means that Nietzsche’s decadence has died, but it also
means that his creative life, his rarefied skills and delicacy, his refusal to offer
defense or justification, his kindness and spiritual life . . . it means that
Nietzsche feels that all of this has died in him. He only lives – “it is perhaps a
mere prejudice that I live at all” (EH Foreword 1) – as his mother, a shabby
existence (“canaille”), as if merely from the biological fact of birth (his
“beginning”), through the power of his satyr’s non-rational affirmation of
life. This makes for a macabre riddle, that Nietzsche felt his philosophic life,
with the completion of Ecce Homo, coming to an end. This gives a tragic
pallor to Nietzsche’s “cheerful essay” (EH Foreword 2).42 At the same time,
the riddle operates as a defense mechanism against Nietzsche’s familial
memories, and aligns with Hodgart’s view that satire offers “a travesty of
the situation,” because “pure realism would be too oppressive.”43
Nietzsche’s motive for philosophizing, and the relationship between his
physical states and his thinking response to them, begins to take shape in the
remaining paragraphs of this first section of “Why I Am So Wise.” Here
Nietzsche describes the ties between his illnesses, his cities of residence, and
several of the books that came about in particular circumstances. These
observations create a sharp contrast between the “perfect brightness and
cheerfulness” of any particular book (he cites Daybreak) and his “most
profound physiological weakness,” “even with an excess of pain” (EH 1.1).
Nietzsche relates weak physical states to philosophical decadence, but
first lists only benefits from painful experience. He says that his illnesses
created “a dialectician’s clarity par excellence,” enabling him to think
through “with very cold blood matters for which under healthier circum-
stances I am not mountain-climber, not subtle, not cold enough. My readers

42
Of the relatively few discussions of Ecce Homo in the secondary literature, the great majority focus
either on the book’s subtitle or on “the riddle.” For other interpretations of the riddle, see Derrida,
“Otobiographies”; Jean Graybeal, “Nietzsche’s Riddle,” Philosophy Today, 32/3 (1988), 232–43; Robert
P. Harrison, “Nietzsche in Turin”; Kofman, Explosion I; Klossowski, Vicious Circle, Chapter 7;
Melanie Shepherd, “Nietzsche’s Tragic Performance: The Still-Living Mother and the Dionysian in
Ecce Homo,” Philosophy and Literature, 37/1 (2013), 20–35; and Krell, “Consultations with the Paternal
Shadow.” For other interpretations of the subtitle phrase, see Nehamas, “How One Becomes What
One Is,” The Philosophical Review, 92/3 (1983), 385–417; Shapiro, “How One Becomes What One Is
Not” (Chapter 6 of Nietzschean Narratives); Gasché, “Autobiography as Gestalt”; Altieri, “Ecce
Homo”; Doueihi, “Nietzsche, Dio a Torino”; and Thomas Harrison, “Have I Been Understood?”
43
Hodgart, Satire, 12.
62 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
know perhaps in what way I consider dialectic as a symptom of decadence;
for example in the most famous case, the case of Socrates” (EH 1.1).
The unexpected twist is critical, however. Nietzsche links his physical
sicknesses with the spiritual (geistlich) sickness that he calls decadence.
Nietzsche explicates decadence in Ecce Homo as any unhealthy, failed
response to the threat of pessimism and despair; physiologically, decadence
is a lack of discipline toward such stimuli, so that the threat of pessimism
(the reality of death, say) provokes an undisciplined response (for example,
the idea of eternal life). Why does Nietzsche here count dialectics, then, as a
symptom of decadence?
Let us briefly consider Nietzsche’s view of Socratic decadence. His
account in The Birth of Tragedy (12–15) identifies Socrates’ scientific article
of faith as follows: “that thought, using the thread of causality, can penetrate
the deepest abysses of being, and that thought is capable not only of
knowing being but even of correcting it” (BT 15).
Socratic decadence engenders the idea that science can “make existence
appear comprehensible and hence justified” (BT 15). As this faith’s teacher,
Socrates became “the prototype of the theoretical optimist,” convinced that
“to be beautiful everything must be intelligible” (BT 15). Such “despotic
logic” enters no less for Socrates into ethics, wherein virtue is knowledge
and error is the only true human evil, the very cause of unhappiness (BT 15).
Nietzsche mocks this optimism and untragic philosophy. When people
believe that existence can be solved, they are idealistically deceived. Their
thinking is decadent.44
Nietzsche does not spare the rod in his own case, however. He fell prey to
his own form of decadence, he says, when he was sick. Illness caused a
desperate optimism because he longed for a cure. Still, Nietzsche finds
ground for gratitude. Sickness gave him “fingers for nuances, that psychol-
ogy of ‘looking around the corner’” (EH 1.1). He summarizes his positive
gain from sickness.
Looking from the perspective of the sick toward healthier concepts and
values and, conversely, looking again from the fullness and self-assurance
of a rich life down into the secret work of decadence – in this I have had the
longest training, my truest experience; if in anything, I became master in this.
Now I know how, have the know-how, to reverse perspectives: the first reason
why a ‘revaluation of values’ is perhaps possible for me alone. (EH 1.1)

44
Religious people in the Judeo-Christian tradition are yet more decadent for Nietzsche, because they
believe that existence needs to be solved, can be solved, and has been solved (according to its various
stories, doctrines, and beliefs – metaphysical and otherwise).
Why I Am So Wise 63
Nietzsche’s gain from sickness is not in knowledge, but in perspectives
understood, in know-how. An advance in wisdom comes by new methods
for Nietzsche, not by new concepts. And understanding opposed perspec-
tives puts Nietzsche in a position to “revalue” values. If a value in social
terms is the settlement of a repeated evaluation, then an evaluation captures
a perspective on the matter to which the value is referred. To evaluate “the
same matter” differently is to evaluate from a different perspective. Since
Nietzsche experienced both a decadent attitude and an instinctually
healthy, skeptically wise and affirming one, the precondition was estab-
lished by his dual nature for understanding both, and for revaluing those
things devalued from decadent perspectives (ugly truths about mortality, for
example, that a deathly sick man might be unable to acknowledge).
Let us pause to remember that the first three chapters of Nietzsche’s
putative autobiography are absurdly titled, “Why I Am So Wise,” “Why I
Am So Clever,” and “Why I Write Such Excellent Books.” Such “extreme
hyperbole” helps define satire, as Guilhamet notes,45 but Nietzsche writes
such chapters in a serio-comical tone. And given Nietzsche’s penchant for
taking antithetical stances to Christian morality and iconography, we might
pass a glance over the most famous Christian autobiography – to some
scholars, the birth of the genre – St. Augustine’s Confessions. (Nietzsche had
marked up his copy with some vehemence in 1885.46) Augustine of Hippo’s
work begins this way: “Can any praise be worthy of the Lord’s majesty? How
magnificent his strength! How inscrutable his wisdom! Man is one of your
creatures, Lord, and his instinct is to praise you. He bears about him the
mark of death, the sign of his own sin, to remind him that you thwart the
proud. But still, since he is a part of your creation, he wishes to praise you.”47
Nietzsche abjures any such obsequious approach to a god, and transfers it
with comic sincerity, instead, to himself. If the Christian God demands
praise and prohibits pride, then Nietzsche will deny Him praise and
compose a panegyric to himself.
Augustine labors to acknowledge that all his good qualities are really gifts
from God in the last section of Book 1, and plunges into the somber
confession of sins by Book 4: “Let the proud deride me, O God, and all
whom you have not yet laid low and humiliated for the salvation of their
souls; but let me still confess my sins to you for your honor and glory.”48
Augustine’s flesh wages war with his spirit, and he names an essential

45
Guilhamet, Transformation of Genre, 14. 46 Brobjer, “Nietzsche’s Library,” 679.
47
Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961), 21.
48
Ibid., 71.
64 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
torment in Book 8: “My inner self was a house divided against itself.”49 His
learned but confused soul, he says, fought against his newfound
Christianity. When Augustine one day stuck his finger on a Bible passage
without looking and applied it to himself, Christianity won out.50
Augustine takes up theological issues of temporality, the soul, and God’s
nature in later books of the Confessions, spending considerable time in
scriptural exegesis. I mention these details because Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo
does the reverse in every respect. Instead of confessing, he brags. Instead of
decrying the body and its senses as against the soul, he celebrates them. He
comes to wisdom by his own labor, not by adopting someone else’s, and
strives to understand not God’s word but his own, by interpreting his
previous books. Although Ecce Homo is not likely a satire of Augustine’s
Confessions itself, Nietzsche does make sport of Christian autobiography by
decisively reversing its pathos and orientation from God to human beings.51
While Augustine praises God as his origin to open Book 1, and concludes
the Confessions by interpreting Genesis 1, Nietzsche begins his would-be
autobiography with a riddle about his parents. Besides its playful mystery,
this maneuver spurs two other thoughts: it makes us wonder about the
reliability of our narrator, and displays a wary approach to a painful past.
Nietzsche supplies almost no family detail outside of his riddle, and a story
of his “noble Polish” ancestry is pure fiction. He also misrepresents the
amount of reading he did, even by the internal standards of Ecce Homo.52
Most biographers soberly regret that Nietzsche tried to prop up his
esteem with delusions of grandeur in Ecce Homo; I offer another possibility.
As mentioned, an unreliable narrator is a common satiric trope, particularly
in the ancient Menippean satire that Nietzsche admired. Joel Relihan
further identifies an unreliable narrator as definitional of the genre, and
nearly all scholars note the prevalence of a distinguishable persona even in
first person satires.53 The Nietzsche within Ecce Homo’s pages differs from
the one without, so we should pay close attention to the book’s persona.
The first section of “Why I Am So Wise” concludes by claiming that
Nietzsche’s varied experience with extremes of health and sickliness, vigor

49
Ibid., 170. 50 Ibid., 178. (The scriptural passage was Romans 13.13.)
51
Or as La Rochefoucauld said (#133): “The only good copies are those which show up the absurdity of
bad originals” (Maxims, trans. Leonard Tancock (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1959), 54).
52
Brobjer, “Nietzsche’s Library,” 664.
53
Stephen Nimis remarks that “of greatest importance for the definition of the genre, according to
Relihan, is that these strange brews are offered to the reader by an incompetent narrator who is himself
parodied, along with his quest for philosophic knowledge. This kind of mise-en-abîme is perhaps
most familiar from [Petronius’] Satyricon, where the reader is often in doubt how something is to be
taken” (“Review of Ancient Menippean Satire”).
Why I Am So Wise 65
and decadence, makes him better equipped to view things from varied
perspectives, thus capable of a “revaluation of values” (EH 1.1) –
Nietzsche’s term for overthrowing Christian values and revaluing traits
and ideas long ignored or devalued. The job sounds hyperbolic and ambi-
tious even for nineteenth-century philosophers, but this type of effort to
effect widespread cultural and intellectual change is par for the course in the
history of satire. Writers as diverse as Aristophanes, Horace, Swift, Juvenal,
and Pope pine for some antediluvian condition of honest dealing and
vibrant living, and their satires aim to dethrone reigning orthodoxies and
revive or transfigure the past.
Nietzsche offers another personal contrast in section 2 of “Why I Am So
Wise”: “Apart from the fact that I am a decadent, I am also the opposite”
(EH 1.2).54 Nietzsche supports this claim in the remainder of the section. As
evidence for the latter, he has “always instinctively chosen the right means
against wretched states, while the decadent typically chooses means that are
disadvantageous for him” (EH 1.2). He chose to his advantage, he says,
because of a fundamental health, which allowed him to take himself in hand
and heal himself.55 Ecce Homo evinces this motivation for writing philoso-
phy many times. And the chief measure in this curative activity, writes
Nietzsche, was his eventual rejection of any pessimistic philosophy: “the
instinct of self-restoration forbade me a philosophy of poverty and discour-
agement.” In retrospect, a time of illness even proved to be an “energetic
stimulus for life, for living more” (EH 1.2).56
Nietzsche learned through experience, then, to recognize the opposite of
a decadent: those who “turn out well” (EH 1.2). His endemic health gave
Nietzsche, he says, “a taste only for what is good” for him. Such a person is
“a principle of selection, [who believes neither in] misfortune [nor in] guilt:
he comes to terms with himself, with others; he knows how to forget – he is
strong enough; hence everything must turn out for his best” (EH 1.2). So
Nietzsche defines the opposite of a decadent. This sets the table for Ecce
Homo, because the book spells out Nietzsche’s “principles of selection,” his
taste, and argues that such principles explain his philosophic success and

54
This echoes the German satirist and poet Heinrich Heine, much read by Nietzsche. In Heine’s
Confessions, he writes, “Notwithstanding the war of extermination that I waged against Romanticism,
I always remained a Romantic at heart” (Poetry and Prose, 501).
55
Although new in this form, the idea of self-healing had been on Nietzsche’s mind for many years. On
6 April 1867 he wrote to Carl von Gersdorff, “One must be one’s own physician, and gather medical
experience with oneself. We consider our own welfare too little, our egotism isn’t intelligent enough,
our intellect isn’t egotistic enough” (KGB 1.2.540).
56
This echoes La Rochefoucauld once more, who wrote (#343): “To achieve greatness a man must know
how to turn all his chances to good account” (Maxims, 81).
66 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
constitute the real wisdom of life. This displays Ecce Homo’s pragmatic
attitude to experience in contrast to the theoretical, as Frye notes of the
satiric mythos.57 The wise live their philosophy, they do not logically
wrangle over it.
Ecce Homo posits an intimate bond between Nietzsche’s health and his
thinking. But we should not be surprised, because Nietzsche flatly rejects
any mind/body dualism.58 Here Nietzsche pursues the consequence of that
rejection: What is the result of sickness in thinking for sickness in body, and
vice versa? And is there a difference? This begins a line of thought that
animates Ecce Homo. Nietzsche identifies its core with this formulation in
section 2 of “Why I Am So Wise”: “I turned my will to health, to life, into a
philosophy” (EH 1.2).
The language of taste and health in these passages points to a satiric
tradition of using food and physical well-being as metaphors – and literal
signs – of the noble person and a healthy society, set against the profligate
and weak who earn the satirist’s scorn. Griffin gives a fascinating first look at
the numerous uses of food in satire, and Bakhtin notes the frequency of
banquets and symposia in the genre.59 Horace, one of Nietzsche’s favorite
authors, uses such language in his Satires again and again.60 Petronius, too,
has a famous and extended banquet scene in The Satyricon, and
Aristophanes contrasts sickly and healthy boys to satirize a contempora-
neous depraved (and philosophic) Athens with a strong, glorious past in The
Clouds. Nietzsche named The Satyricon, discussed below, as one of his
favorite books in a draft variant of “Why I Am So Clever.” That is, an
ancient and extended satire was on his mind.
We know in addition that Nietzsche connected wisdom to the idea of
taste, inspired by a pre-Socratic conception. In Human, All Too Human, he
remarks that “the Greeks, who were very subtle in such things, designated
the wise man with a word that signifies the man of taste, and called wisdom,
artistic and practical as well as theoretical and intellectual, simply ‘taste’
(sophia)” (HH 2.1.170). So considered, Ecce Homo reanimates an ancient

57
Frye contrasts the philosopher’s dogmatism with the satirist’s pragmatism (Anatomy of Criticism, 229).
And as Richard Schacht says, Nietzsche “never tires of inveighing against the dogmatic turn of mind
and pretensions of his predecessors” (Nietzsche (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983), 21).
58
“‘I am body and soul’ – so speaks the child. And why should one not speak like children. But the
awakened, the enlightened man says: I am body entirely, and nothing beside; and soul is only a word
for something in the body” (Z 1.4). Also: “We philosophers are not free to divide body from soul as the
people do” (GS Preface 3).
59
Griffin, Satire, 190–97; Bakhtin, Dostoevsky’s Poetics, 120.
60
E.g., Horace, Satires 2.4, 2.8, in The Essential Horace: Odes, Epodes, Satires, and Epistles, trans.
Burton Raffel (San Francisco: North Point, 1983), 175–77, 192–94.
Why I Am So Wise 67
understanding of philosophy as taste, and Nietzsche instructs us to read his
work in such a way.61
Nietzsche’s view of impartiality quoted earlier (EH 1.1), and how it arises,
differs from most accounts. Traditionally, the ideal consists of an all-seeing
eye, removed, indifferent, perfectly above and beyond the world. Nietzsche
finds this ideal not merely impossible (sometimes this counts as no objec-
tion at all), but worthless. The being with such an eye could not commu-
nicate in human terms, as it would share nothing of our epistemic or
axiological situation.62 So how is Nietzsche more impartial than others in
human terms? His dual series of experiences, “by virtue of my descent,” has
made him a more neutral party than other thinkers, he claims (EH 1.1).63
That is, he seems to embrace the rational ideal of impartiality no less than he
celebrates individuality. But we reach our best form of impartiality by
multiplying the eye, looking from varied and numerous vantage points.
This requires greater education, more training, more experience. In the case
of philosophy, Nietzsche believed it meant more knowledge of history,
psychology, and the body. Nonetheless, when the time comes to commu-
nicate by writing, all perspectives must be co-ordinated by author and
reader alike. Nietzsche is different, he claims, by having been informed by
a wider and more extreme set of physical experiences.
The third section of “Why I Am So Wise” is barbed and bizarre. After
outlining its content in the next two paragraphs, I will offer explication.
Claiming it a privilege to have had a father whom German farmers thought
angelic, Nietzsche writes: “And this is where I come to the question of race.
I am a pure-blooded Polish nobleman without a single drop of bad blood,
certainly not German blood. When I look for my diametric opposite, an
immeasurably shabby instinct, I always think of my mother and sister, – it
would blaspheme my divinity to think that I am related to this sort of
canaille” (EH 1.3). Nietzsche’s mother and sister know just how to hurt him.

61
I revisit this idea in the Conclusion.
62
See GM 3.12: “there is only a perspective seeing, only a perspective ‘knowing’; and the more effects we
allow to speak about one thing, the more eyes, different eyes, we can use to observe one thing, the
more complete will our ‘concept’ of this thing, our ‘objectivity’, be.”
63
Nietzsche proclaimed himself a Doppelgänger in a superseded version of EH 1.3: “I have,” he said, a
“‘second’ face in addition to the first. And perhaps also a third.” This third face could allude to the
critical distance required for analyzing the first two – the perspective taken in Ecce Homo itself. In this
previous draft Nietzsche called himself “the last anti-political German” – quite a rare species of
impartiality in Bismarck’s era. In a letter to Hans von Bülow of 1882, Nietzsche wrote of his dual
nature as follows: “What do I care if my friends maintain that my current ‘freespiritedness’ is
eccentric, something held onto by the teeth against my own natural inclinations? All right, it may
be a ‘second’ nature; but I shall yet show that only with this second nature did I step into genuine
possession of my first” (KGB 3.1.344).
68 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
With scathing humor he jokes: “Physiological contiguity makes this sort of
disharmonia praestabilita possible . . . But I will admit that the greatest
objection to ‘eternal return,’ my truly abysmal thought, is always my mother
and sister” (EH 1.3).
After turning nobility on its head by writing that he “would not allow the
young German emperor the honor of driving my coach” (EH 1.3), Nietzsche
makes a final point about lineage: “People are least related to their parents: it
would be the most extreme sign of vulgarity to be related to your parents.
Higher natures have their origins infinitely further back; collecting, econ-
omizing, accumulating has gone on longest for their sake” (EH 1.3).
What are we to make of this infamous section 3?64 Let us start with the
claim to Polish heritage. Nietzsche’s disport with nationality is not unique
to Ecce Homo. In a letter to Heinrich Köselitz of 1880, he describes what may
well be the origin of Ecce Homo’s little nonsense: “I’m living incognito, as a
very modest guest at the spa. The registry lists me as ‘Mr. Nietzsche,
instructor.’ There are many Poles here and they – it’s most strange – insist
on taking me for a Pole, keep greeting me in Polish, and refuse to believe me
when I tell them I’m Swiss.”65 In the first Postscript to The Case of Wagner
(1888), Nietzsche refers to himself among “us Germans.” And in Ecce
Homo’s draft variant of EH 1.3, he calls himself “the last anti-political
German,” so there is no sense claiming that he has forgotten his genuine
ancestry, or that he is delusional. And besides, Nietzsche mocked all
national enthusiasms, preferring most often to call himself a ‘good
European.’
As to the black humor about his mother and sister, Nietzsche’s suffering
at their hands is well documented, and he must have found it satisfying to
take his revenge here. But people ignore several details. First, the satiric
allusion to Leibniz’s doctrine of pre-established harmony sets the stage for
joking about metaphysical theories. (The faithful philosopher’s doctrine
means to convince us that we inhabit the best of all possible worlds,
necessarily, as created by God.) Directly after his Leibnizian jab comes
the remark that Nietzsche’s mother and sister constitute an objection to
eternal recurrence. This philosophical jape borders on the sublime. The idea
64
This once-contested version of EH 1.3 is now canonical. See “A New Section in Nietzsche’s Ecce
Homo,” in Mazzino Montinari, Reading Nietzsche, trans. Greg Whitlock (Urbana: University of
Illinois Press, 2003), 103–40. Translations of Ecce Homo in English that follow Montinari’s critical
edition of Nietzsche’s work include those by Judith Norman for Cambridge University Press, and
Duncan Large for Oxford University Press. The translations of Ecce Homo by Walter Kaufmann (for
Vintage) and R. J. Hollingdale (for Penguin) predate Montinari’s article, and use a superseded draft
of EH 1.3.
65
KGB 3.1.49. There was also a rumor about Polish heritage in Nietzsche’s family.
Why I Am So Wise 69
that Nietzsche’s formula for complete and profound affirmation of all
history and personal fatefulness could be undone by the objection that
one has a vulgar mother and sister makes no sense.66 In effect Nietzsche
satirizes his own doctrine in order to make a malicious joke at his mother’s
and sister’s expense. This also underscores Nietzsche’s contention that
philosophical doctrines are made, and broken, for their use, not their
truth. Worth comparing to the best Socratic irony, Nietzsche both pursues
wisdom and mocks his own.
Nietzsche’s biting humor clears the deck for a larger claim: that inher-
itance from one’s parents becomes trivial in light of a person’s long genetic
and “physiological” history. Hence, Nietzsche counts it a wry comfort that
“people are least related to their parents” (EH 3.1). Still, this argument may
not seem to sit well in the “Why I Am So Wise” chapter, framed by the
parental riddle and its defining dualities. Nietzsche’s argument raises the
question: Why write about one’s parents at all if our inheritance is ancient
and close to inscrutable? Consider four reasons. First, this section’s treat-
ment subverts the riddle’s parental descent account of Nietzsche’s traits, an
account more simplistic than explanatory. Second, it furthers the trope of an
unreliable narrator. Third, autobiographies discuss parents, and Nietzsche
parodies the form. And fourth, Nietzsche must have enjoyed a fine venting
of the spleen.
While many find Nietzsche’s false reference to his Polish nobility a
desperate stab at aristocratic glory by proxy, I cannot help but laugh.
Illustrious lineage is a mainstay of autobiography, and Nietzsche mocks
the convention with a fiction about his noble lineage, and gives no account
of his childhood in the Nietzsche household. For the reasons already given,
Nietzsche’s Polish genealogy is a joke and winking fiction – not a delusion.
And in The Gay Science, Nietzsche makes fun of the German love for
“everything that came from the court” (GS 104). Finally, Nietzsche had
supplied a serious motive in Untimely Meditations for pulling this sort of
aristocratic ruse about himself. Sometimes, he writes, we must “combat our

66
Yet Shelley Frisch, Sarah Kofman, and Rüdiger Safranski (among many others) read this remark
literally. Frisch: Nietzsche “went so far as to decry his cherished theory of eternal recurrence because it
might force him to reencounter his family members” (“Translator’s Preface,” in Safranski, Nietzsche,
13); Kofman: to Nietzsche, life stands “worthy of returning eternally, unlike the mother and the
sister” (Explosion I, 231). And for Safranski, Nietzsche’s remark means that “he could not feel
altogether secure . . . because the ‘recurrence of the same’ could bring back the old unhappy
circumstances once again” (Nietzsche, 306). Brian Domino also reads Ecce Homo at a literal level
(“Nietzsche flaunts his credentials to convince his readers to take him seriously”) with unhappy
results – he thinks EH 1.3 evinces “Nietzsche’s spectacular failure to love his fate” (“Nietzsche’s Use of
Amor Fati in Ecce Homo,” Journal of Nietzsche Studies, 43/2 (2012), 283–303, at 283, 294).
70 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
inborn heritage” and give ourselves, “as it were a posteriori, a past in which
one would like to originate in opposition to that in which one did originate”
(UM 2.3).
Still, we should ask ourselves why Nietzsche resorts to this odd parody of
autobiography instead of a genuine recollection of the past. Why play
obscurant games with one’s family life? There is a ready answer.
Nietzsche’s childhood was dominated by two deaths: of his father (aged
thirty-six), precipitated by a fall witnessed by Nietzsche when he was five
years old; and of his brother Joseph (aged two), less than a year later. Despite
the personal voice of his philosophy, Nietzsche never wrote about either of
these events directly, not even here when he (somewhat) describes his life
and family. He only mentions his father’s “all-too-early death” in a sub-
ordinate clause in section 5 of Ecce Homo’s first chapter. It seems, instead,
that a veil of tragic comedy descends over this childhood in silence.
Satirizing autobiography was Nietzsche’s way to glance sideways at his
losses, an attempt at rapprochement with the past. Satire allowed him to
maintain an emotional distance from truths he nonetheless wanted to
approach and convey.67 Nietzsche’s treatment of his childhood in Ecce
Homo stands as a prime example of “active forgetting,” conceived by
Nietzsche in On the Genealogy of Morals:
Active forgetfulness [is] like a doorkeeper, a preserver of psychic order,
repose, and etiquette: so that it will be immediately obvious how there
could be no happiness, no cheerfulness, no hope, no pride, no present,
without forgetfulness. The man in whom this apparatus of repression is
damaged and ceases to function properly may be compared (and more than
merely compared) with a dyspeptic – he cannot “have done” with anything.
(GM 2.1)
Writing Ecce Homo is dangerous for Nietzsche. By replaying the past and his
life’s work, he risked upsetting the delicate balance that constituted his
current condition.68 To manage that risk, Nietzsche creates a dark comedy
of family pain – half aristocratic fantasy, half metaphysical joke revenge.
The sharpness of the humor indicates the sharpness of the pain.

67
For Hutcheon, parody is a way that authors grapple with a literary tradition, a “model for the process
of transfer and reorganization of the past” (Theory of Parody, 4). This would seem to apply both to
Nietzsche’s treatment of his previous books and to his painful past, for parody allows both evaluation
and critique, and, as need be – a distancing humor.
68
“I’m not fit for ‘redigesting’ [Wiederkäuen] my life,” he wrote to Heinrich Köselitz in January 1887
(KGB 3.5.793). See also BGE 39, in which Nietzsche suggests that a complete knowledge of existence
would be self-destructive.
Why I Am So Wise 71
Jumping well beyond puberty, Nietzsche next describes what sort of
professor he was at Basel, in Switzerland. He writes in section 4 of “Why I
Am So Wise” that he could bring out the best in his students. “I make even
buffoons behave themselves” (EH 1.4). He also maintains that he never
caused ill will to be bred in others against him (“however un-Christian this
may seem, I am not even predisposed against myself,” EH 1.4), and that
only once did someone ever show ill will toward him.69 Instead, the
“neighbor love,” “selflessness,” and pity he received did more harm to
him than any honest bad intent, because the ‘benefactors’ had no idea of
Nietzsche’s needs (EH 1.4). He analyzes pity as an inability to resist stimuli,
motivated by a fear of self-reflection.70 Decadents think that pity is a virtue,
says Nietzsche, because they love any experience that takes them away from
themselves, that makes them other-regarding.
Nietzsche counts his refusal to pity others among his noblest virtues. For
the third time he refers to Zarathustra, who proved his strength in “The Cry
of Distress” by resisting a pity that sought “to entice him away from
himself ” (EH 1.4). Nietzsche shows the consequence of the earlier passage:
pity is decadent because it enables an escape from self-concern. When people
adopt an injured dog out of selfless love, for example, one might suspect on
this Nietzschean account that they run from themselves, psychologically
requiring a problematic distraction that can absorb their energies. In
physiological terms, pity is a failure to resist the stimuli that evoke it.
Hence Nietzsche defines decadence as over-stimulation, overreaction.
This understanding will help us see the connection between Nietzsche’s
physical states and his resultant philosophy.
Two rare ideas in Nietzsche help establish, in section 4, the pathos of Ecce
Homo. “I have been wronged a number of times in large and small ways,” he
writes, and describes his destiny as “the isolation of the wounded” (EH 1.4).
Here Nietzsche had declined to mention the early deaths of his father and
brother, so this admission of injury rises from the valley floor like a peak of
self-revelation.
To understand the remark, we should consider four sources of suffering
in Nietzsche’s life. Foremost is emotional and physical isolation. “If only I
could give you some idea of my feeling of isolation and loneliness,” Nietzsche
wrote to Overbeck on 5 August 1886. “I do not feel close to anyone, neither

69
This could be Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, a German philologist (and rival of Nietzsche at
the University of Bonn) who appeared bent on ruining Nietzsche’s academic career, in part to make
his own; he published two all-encompassing attacks on The Birth of Tragedy that you may not have
read recently.
70
Mitleid in German; the word has some shadings of compassion and sympathy, not just pity.
72 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
the living nor the dead. This is indescribably horrible; only the long practice
I’ve had since childhood, of enduring this growing isolation, can explain
why I haven’t been destroyed by it already” (KGB 3.3.729). Nietzsche felt
different from others at a young age, and his unique intellectual concerns,
coupled with a pious reserve that became a persistent social stiffness, made
connecting to people very difficult for him.71 He made much of small signs
from others, positively and negatively, imagining love where there was only
curiosity or admiration, imagining horrid bad manners or vulgarity where
there was only thoughtlessness. In other words, he was sensitive.
Nietzsche’s life was filled with physical pain. His correspondence sounds
like pensioners playing pinochle, tenfold, as he recounts a frightening array
of maladies: blinding migraines, digestive travails, and “steady pain, a feel-
ing much like seasickness several hours each day, a semi-paralysis that makes
talking difficult and, for variety, furious seizures (the last included three days
and nights of vomiting); I craved death.”72 The medical evidence was long
thought to indicate syphilis, but Richard Schain’s The Legend of Nietzsche’s
Syphilis (2001) put that hypothesis to rest.73 Two bouts of cholera, epileptic-
like episodes, a debilitating dysentery contracted as an orderly in the
Franco-Prussian war of 1872, a serious riding accident, Nietzsche’s own
ideas about curative drugs, whatever constitution he may have inherited
from his father, and his quixotic diet – all played a role in his troubled
health. For a man who lived for books and writing, his terrible eye problems
frightened and disheartened him, and he had someone read to him and take
dictation at the worst of times. I find it hard to imagine how he lived so long
with the prevalence and degree of physical pain he endured. “The thought
of suicide is a powerful solace,” he wrote in Beyond Good and Evil, “by
means of it one gets through many a bad night” (157).
The third source of Nietzsche’s suffering is philosophical. Nietzsche felt
and lived ideas to a degree only dreamed of by most people. The biograph-
ical evidence suggests a gradual sloughing off of his Christian faith, though
it was marked in dramatic public fashion by his refusal to take communion
at Easter 1865. But the beginning of genuine inquiry began earlier, at the
famous boarding school Schulpforta where Nietzsche studied from 1858–64.
71
In the cases of Nietzsche’s two known marriage proposals, to Mathilde Trampedach (1876) and Lou
Salomé (1882), Nietzsche wrote his request and had it delivered to the women by men who – both
times – would in future marry Nietzsche’s intended. Is this tragic, or comic? Nietzsche appears to self-
describe in Daybreak: “Those to whom a warm and noble intimacy is impossible try to display the
nobility of their nature through reserve and severity and a certain deprecation of intimacy” (D 288).
72
KGB 3.1.1 (to Dr. Eiser in January 1880).
73
Richard Schain, The Legend of Nietzsche’s Syphilis (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2001). He also finds
the hypothesis of schizophrenia inadequate to the evidence.
Why I Am So Wise 73
Renowned throughout Germany for its strength in classics, it gave
Nietzsche his first good taste of the non-Christian world of ancient
Greece and Rome. Everything about these cultures beckoned him, and
knowing that generations of great thinkers had lived without Christianity
inspired him. He posed skeptical and philosophical questions in an 1862
essay that stemmed from this colliding of worlds. Rüdiger Safranski
describes the seventeen-year-old’s work this way: Nietzsche wondered
how our view of the world might change if there were no God, immortality,
Holy Spirit, or divine inspiration, and if the tenets of millennia were based
on delusions. Might people have been “led astray by a vision” . . . for such a
long time? What kinds of reality are left behind once religious phantasms
have been taken away? The schoolboy in Pforta trembled with courage at the
very act of posing this question . . . His answer was nature, in the form of the
natural sciences and a whole universe of natural laws. [Now Nietzsche] was
intent not on faithful acceptance but on enthusiastic production.74
Nietzsche absorbed Darwin, Lange, Schopenhauer, and Stirner as a young
man, alongside the classics.75 He became convinced that God was a fiction
by the mid to late 1860s, and that the universe – people included – was all in
all a physical reality, chaotic and meaningless in itself but subject to human
artifice and design, to the imprintings especially of the great thinkers. The
conscious mythologizing of Plato and his new friend Richard Wagner
served as models to him in this crucial respect. Nietzsche began to see
himself capable of creating meaning – for a world in sudden short supply.76
This account of Nietzsche’s mental development may sound like the
usual course of a post-Enlightenment intellectual atheist, but perhaps no
one had quite taken these novel propositions to heart and seen through to
the bottom of their consequences as Nietzsche did. Unlike his few atheistic
contemporaries, Nietzsche took no hypocritical succor from a now baseless
Christian morality (as David Strauss and countless others did), failed to see
inevitable historical progress of the spirit (as Hegel), gave up as untenable

74
Safranski, Nietzsche, 36.
75
Hollingdale seems justified by the evidence in saying that Darwin and the Greeks, not Wagner and
Schopenhauer, constituted the first spurs to Nietzsche’s philosophy (Hollingdale, Nietzsche, 72–74),
but Safranski makes the case that Lange’s Materialism sharpened Nietzsche’s reading of
Schopenhauer in the late 1860s, and that Stirner’s radical nominalism was deeply influential
(Safranski, Nietzsche, 47–48, 126–31). Nietzsche read Stirner’s The Ego and His Own in 1874 and
praised it in correspondence.
76
Nietzsche wrote to his former teacher Rohde on 15 February 1870: “Scholarship, art, and philosophy
now grow so much within me that someday I will give birth to a centaur” (KGB 2.1.58). In Human,
All Too Human, Nietzsche called philosophers who could bring their ideas to life “tyrants of the
spirit” (HH 1.261).
74 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
any aesthetic metaphysics and will-denial (of Schopenhauer), scoffed at the
mass-equality dream of a political utopia (Marx), and would not reconfigure
nature as divine (Spinoza). Nietzsche found Kant particularly ridiculous,
given the Prussian’s tortured détente between the Critique of Pure Reason
and God’s existence on the one hand, and human beings subject to physical
laws and an obviously Christian-sourced morality and ‘free will’ on the
other.77 When you actually faced God’s death without other philosophical
trappings, Nietzsche knew firsthand that you faced an abyss. He suffered
from this perspicacity, and wondered how much dark truth he could bear
without cracking.78 The Gay Science passage on God’s death illustrates the
dizzying risks.
The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes.
“Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him – you and I.
All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up
the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were
we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving
now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging
continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any
up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not
feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night
continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the
morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who
are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition?
Gods, too, decompose.” (GS 125)
No wonder Nietzsche later remarked, “Once and for all, there is a great deal
I do not want to know. – Wisdom sets bounds even to knowledge” (TI 1.5).
Nietzsche’s intellectual suffering, then, comes from pursuing dangerous
truths. But this task is a mark of strength and value to Nietzsche (EH
Foreword 3), and helps him justify his own suffering. Another striking
example of what truth-seeking entails according to Nietzsche appears in
Beyond Good and Evil: “the strength of a spirit could be measured by how
much ‘truth’ it could take, more clearly, to what degree it needed it
attenuated, veiled, sweetened, blunted, and falsified” (BGE 39). Hence
truth-seeking requires strength and courage more than observation or
insight; we will return to this in a moment. For now, consider that a satiric

77
Of Kant’s move back to God, despite the Critique of Pure Reason, Heine wrote in Religion and
Philosophy in Germany: “After the tragedy comes the farce” (Poetry and Prose, 714).
78
“The conviction overcomes me, especially when I’m lying sick in bed, that life is worthless and all
goals are deceptions,” he wrote to Carl von Gersdorff on 13 December 1875 (KGB 2.5.495).
Why I Am So Wise 75
style makes sense if you consider knowledge-seeking as an agon or contest
against abysmal truths that assail us.
The fourth principal source of Nietzsche’s suffering appeared later, but
grew stronger to the end. He suffered from want of fame. This feeling and
its expression reaches an apotheosis in Ecce Homo. Nietzsche lived nearly all
of his adult life in the sure knowledge that he deserved more recognition and
praise than he ever received.
Nietzsche cared, like any author, about the reception of his books. He
was expected to churn out scholarly treatises on the ancient world as a
professor at Basel, to weigh in on the academic siftings and squabbles of the
day. Instead, Nietzsche’s debut was The Birth of Tragedy, a profound and
unusual book that mixed philosophy and philology, Dionysus, Apollo,
Sophocles, Euripides, and Socrates: creating an analysis of tragedy’s birth
and death still influential today. The book also weaves in Schopenhauerian
aesthetic terms and Wagner’s operas to outline a hoped-for modern ana-
logue to the culturally transformative power of music he had identified in
ancient Athens. To academics, however, the book was a confusing affair,
done no favors by a blistering attack from a philology young gun, Ulrich
von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff. But Nietzsche’s reception as an author got
worse, because no book after The Birth of Tragedy received as much
attention, nor sold as well. During his lifetime, in other words,
Nietzsche’s publishing career began inauspiciously, and went south from
there.
Nietzsche’s fame today spreads from an enormous watershed, so it
becomes harder to imagine its absence. But we should try. From
Nietzsche’s perspective, and now from the world’s learned opinion, he
was writing in one of the finest styles ever accomplished in German,
about things of the greatest cultural and human significance, raising incisive
objections to received wisdom, creating new epistemological perspectives
that would reshape thinking in all of the humanities and many of the social
sciences, and crafting a host of philosophical ideas that excite the imagi-
nation and have hurried the ongoing re-evaluation of a once dominant
Christian world view. And no one noticed.
So yes, Nietzsche suffered from want of fame, as only someone who
deserves it can.79 Sympathetic to ancient and Renaissance – not Christian –
views of fame’s glory, Nietzsche valued it highly. He knew he deserved
it, and he did not get it. His letters desire it, his late prefaces request it, and

79
Confidant Georg Brandes wrote that Nietzsche “thirst[ed] for recognition to the point of morbidity”
(Friedrich Nietzsche (London: Heinemann, 1914), 103).
76 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
Ecce Homo demands it. This thirst explains his giddy enthusiasm when he
learned (in February 1888) that the first review of his philosophy had
appeared in print, and why he corresponded with Georg Brandes in July,
and supplied a vita upon learning that the Dane planned to teach a course
on his work. Hence Nietzsche’s desire for fame helps to explain the writing
of Ecce Homo, because the book treats his philosophical corpus as a whole
and makes the explicit case for its proper reception.
In summary, Nietzsche suffered in four respects: socially (he was awk-
ward and emotionally isolated), physically (beset by a host of maladies),
intellectually (he grappled with the significance of God’s death and the
consequences of a natural, thoroughly human world), and in point of honor
(he was denied a deserved fame). The result? Nietzsche uses a unique phrase
to describe his situation: “wounded isolation” (EH 1.4).
We are tempted to pity him, yes? And so, straight after this self-
revelation, Nietzsche writes: “I consider the overcoming of pity a noble
virtue” (EH 1.4). Although Nietzsche’s biographers show that his extreme
intelligence and sensitivity led him to experience life’s bad turns, lost loves,
familial meddling, personal slights, physical ailments, and lack of fame
perhaps more keenly than others, the evidence also shows that Nietzsche
had continual success at regaining equanimity, that he found paths back to
creative vigor and good cheer. In Ecce Homo, Nietzsche seeks to revalue a
series of nominal curses into fertile blessings.
Nietzsche couches his suffering in proud language. Like Jesus and
Nietzsche’s father, he claims to have no will to avenge wrongs suffered.
Consistent with his claim to be the opposite of a decadent, he resists pitiful
stimuli and maintains his own psychic health. Still, whatever energy he may
have reserved by way of personal restraint, he unleashed against cultural and
philosophical wrongs as he saw them. The irony of a pacifist Nietzsche in
this section should not be ignored.
Finally, two satiric tropes organize section 4 of “Why I Am So Wise”:
height, and the mob. Nietzsche alludes three times to being at a great
height, each with the same rhetorical intent: to emphasize his superiority
over “Bayreuth” (that is, Wagner), and over the pity of “the mob” (EH 1.4).
Hodgart and Bakhtin note how satirists use language of height to belittle,
and “the mob” is a long-favored trope because it robs one’s victim of
personality.80 These two ideas add comic grandeur to Nietzsche’s otherwise
lonely and suffering existence in Ecce Homo. They help create a tragi-heroic
persona. After noting the power of equating one’s enemies to a faceless
80
Bakhtin, Dostoevsky’s Poetics, 116; Hodgart, Satire, 129.
Why I Am So Wise 77
“sweaty and turbulent mob,” Hodgart adds: “But there is a deeper reason
for the effectiveness of the device. The opposite of the satirist’s butt is the
heroic individual who in tragedy or epic is pictured as standing alone in his
moment of triumph or defeat. The tragic hero loses in his conflict with
society, but is allowed to die in glorious isolation.”81 Nietzsche configures
himself as such a hero in Ecce Homo, suffering from his “wounded isola-
tion.” Only the right kind of death awaits.
Section 5 treats Nietzsche’s form of retaliation against those who harm
him unknowingly, a matter of “following up the stupidity as fast as possible
with some good sense” (EH 1.5). “I find an opportunity for expressing my
gratitude to the ‘evil-doer’ (at times even for his evil deed) – or to ask him for
something, which can be more obliging than giving something” (EH 1.5).
Nietzsche works to benefit from the wrong. His retaliation thus revalues the
‘evil’ deed. His reaction disproves the notion that a deed must be under-
stood from the perspective of its intent, or from the victimized perspective;
rather, Nietzsche shows that the deed can always be axiologically trans-
formed. The consonance with Jesus is striking, for “resist not evil” is
likewise the urge to revalue deleterious stimuli.82 But in contrast to “turn
the other cheek,” Nietzsche describes rudeness as something more decent
and healthy than the silence of swallowing one’s enmity. “All who remain
silent are dyspeptic” (EH 1.5). Nietzsche links a refigured Jesus to himself by
concluding section 5 as follows: “If one is rich enough, it is even fortunate to
be in the wrong. A god come to earth must not do anything except wrong:
not to take the punishment upon oneself but the guilt would be divine” (EH
1.5). Good fortune comes from the expiation of psychological more than
physical pain. A healthy constitution and mental strength make this possi-
ble. Nietzsche no doubt saw himself in regard to his own culture as one who
thought nothing but what is wrong, again suggesting a sacrificial aspect to his
existence. His sharp irony manages to imply that Jesus’ death was wasted
and that his own philosophic effort to free us from guilt is divine.
Nietzsche’s efforts to escape ressentiment continue the psychological
theme in section 6. He argues that recovery from illness taught him how
to overcome ressentiment, noting how “sickness itself is a kind of ressenti-
ment” (EH 1.6) – because both consist of an inability to repel and resist
stimuli. Philosophers are particularly prone to ressentiment, Nietzsche

81
Hodgart, Satire, 129.
82
In The Antichrist, Nietzsche distinguishes Jesus’ thinking (his possible denial of objective evil in the
phrase “resist not evil”) from the later contradictory teachings of the church (of Paul in particular).
In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche imagines Jesus saying: “What are morals to us sons of God!”
(BGE 164).
78 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
thinks, because their insatiable curiosity draws them to myriad stimuli. The
philosopher stands out by intellectual appetite, seeks strange foods, and has
the will to digest them. They are prone to gluttony and over-stimulation vis-
à-vis the world of phenomena, hence to decadent responses. Heightening
the risk, free thinkers combine creativity and an ideal imagination.
Ressentiment arises for Nietzsche from a decadent diet, when optimistic
formulas attempt a cure that only worsens our sickness with the world.
Some unpacking of this idea seems in order.
Ressentiment literally means “to feel strongly” (from the Latin sentire), if
one reads the prefix as an intensive, or rather “to feel back,” that is, “to feel
again,” reading the prefix in its dominant form.83 Nietzsche uses the French
term, and surely knew its derivation. So Nietzsche can be understood to
relate decadence and ressentiment as follows. Because decadence is a lack of
discipline toward stimuli, ressentiment is the second feeling or experience of
those excessive stimuli backward through memory, and not just a second
time. Ressentiment causes harm because of the disgust that arises when
philosophic or religious ideals fail to comfort us, that is, when we fail to
feel better. One then resents the attempt at a cure, re-feeling the original
decadence. Nietzsche describes how ressentiment harms the sick, but it
remains our most likely inclination, because we find it harder to resist
decadent stimuli precisely when we are weak from illness. (An example
follows in a moment.)
Now Nietzsche turns to prescriptions. Against decadence and ressenti-
ment, he says, the sick person “has only one great remedy – I call it Russian
fatalism, that fatalism without revolt which is exemplified by a Russian
soldier who, finding a campaign too strenuous, finally lies down in the
snow. No longer to accept anything at all, no longer to take anything, no
longer to absorb anything – to cease reacting altogether” (EH 1.6). This
strategy can save one’s life in dangerous conditions, says Nietzsche, by
“reducing the metabolism, slowing it down, as a kind of will to hibernate”
(EH 1.6). Hypersensitive philosophers must sometimes use this stratagem
because they are most prone to overreacting to stimuli, most prone to find
and live with disgust at humanity, for example, as in Nietzsche’s case.
Sometimes every investigation, sign, and stimulant confirms that disgust,
engenders ressentiment and a will to revenge. This must be fought with . . .
calm. Indifference. Fatalism. Now Nietzsche’s philosophy of amor fati
comes into focus as antidote. Its stoic serenity casts a very particular and

83
Following the etymologist Eric Partridge, in Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern
English (New York: Arlington House, 1983), 559, 605.
Why I Am So Wise 79
physical figure against decadence and ressentiment – those states that inspire
so much human ugliness. This shows how a philosophical idea becomes a
practice for improving life.
Nietzsche advances a historical model for overcoming ressentiment in the
teachings of the Buddha. He regards this “profound physiologist” as the
author of a philosophy that was really a “kind of hygiene” (EH 1.6), because
it sought to combat ressentiment physically. How so? Nietzsche writes: “To
liberate the soul from this is the first step toward recovery. ‘Not by enmity is
enmity ended; by friendliness enmity is ended’: these words stand at the
beginning of the doctrine of the Buddha. It is not morality that speaks thus;
thus speaks physiology” (EH 1.6). This passage enacts a revaluation of value.
So-called educated people commonly esteem the mind or soul and its
treatment (philosophy, religion) of greater value than the body’s treatment
(training, medicine). This stems from the disparity in the assigned value of
the mind as against the body. To treat ressentiment, Nietzsche first identifies
this malady ‘of the soul’ as a malady of the body. Even more strongly, of
course, Nietzsche rejects the distinction of body and mind. But rhetorically,
moving a reader toward that unity, he speaks here of a soul that requires
physical recovery. This seeming zeugma or category mistake, so set against
the traditional prejudice, actually revalues the body (which turns out to
include the mind), and hence, revalues physiology, because the body is the
locus of all treatment, where all improvement must occur in the end.
Because physical health results from the Buddha’s spiritual formulation,
Nietzsche understands that here “speaks physiology” and “not morality”
(EH 1.6). This physical health corresponds with (for Nietzsche, it defines
thereby) a similar mental health.84
Nietzsche now revalues (‘attacks’) Christianity by noting how its mor-
ality often harms physical health because it commands believers to feel the
suffering and pitiful stimuli of others. For this reason, Nietzsche sees
Christian morality as unhealthy (unwise) to the mind. Love thy neighbor is
a decadent command.

84
So, e.g., it makes no sense to say that someone suffers from a “purely psychological” ailment, as if the
mind can exist free of the body. Of course, here Nietzsche has the advantage of using the multiple
senses of the German word Geist: mind, spirit, intellect, wit. Nietzsche uses die Seele (soul) to make the
reader think of separate from the body, and der Geist as a newly understood unity of those things
referred to as of the soul but which in Nietzsche’s understanding are of the mind as body. Der Geist
preserves that which a reader would presume to describe as parts of the soul, through the word’s
meaning as spirit, while Nietzsche sought to show that the word’s meaning as mind and intellect could
be understood through the right description of body.
80 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
Nietzsche proceeds to treat ressentiment in connection with Christianity,
decadence and revenge. He observes that resentful feelings arise when we
are weak:
He who knows the seriousness with which my philosophy has taken up the
struggle against the feelings of revengefulness and vindictiveness even into
the theory of ‘free will,’ – my struggle against Christianity is only a special
instance of it – will understand why it is precisely here that I throw the light
on my personal bearing, my sureness of instinct in practice. In periods of
decadence I forbade them to myself as harmful; as soon as my life was again
sufficiently rich and proud for them I forbade them to myself as beneath me.
(EH 1.6)

A detailed explication of this passage will help us understand Ecce Homo’s


view of decadence in Christianity. Nietzsche’s chain of thought begins with
the idea that decadence is the inability to resist deleterious stimuli: a nervous
energy left badly controlled or entirely undisciplined. The consequence in a
philosopher is a corresponding inability to resist creating all manner of
fictive causes and explanations, metaphysical comforts (since he suffers from
his sensitivity), emotive arguments, banal anthropomorphisms, and the
like – accompanied by the faith that these fictions justify existence. The
decadent person becomes, subsequently, the most prone to ressentiment and
hence more likely to seek revenge. Nietzsche strives, then, to be the opposite
of a decadent, to stem needless ressentiment and enmity. First, in himself
as a condition of recovery (“I forbade . . . feelings of revengefulness and
vindictiveness . . . to myself as harmful,” EH 1.6), second, in our culture.
Nietzsche characterizes Christianity as decadent and conducive to ressen-
timent; it fosters vengefulness and vindictiveness toward this worldly “vale
of tears” and its sorry members. But then comes a remarkable statement of
intent. Nietzsche says that his philosophy has sought to fight with great
seriousness “against the feelings of revengefulness and vindictiveness” (EH
1.6). What does it mean to say that Nietzsche’s philosophy has fought
against certain kinds of feeling? This may seem an unusual sort of philo-
sophical project.
Three initial aspects of Nietzsche’s project present themselves. It implies,
first, that his denunciation of decadent philosophy is not on grounds of
truth but on grounds of health and human consequence. Second, it implies
that his own Dionysian and fateful philosophy is preferable on grounds of
health and human consequence, not because it is true. The third aspect is
Nietzsche’s background claim that human culture would suffer less and
prosper more were there fewer grounds for feelings (and subsequent acts) of
Why I Am So Wise 81
revenge and rancor. The next two phrases support this reading: Nietzsche
has denied free will for the express purpose of undermining toxic feelings,
and his entire attack on Christianity is only a special case in the greater effort
to combat the sickness of vengeful feelings.85 This suggests a significantly
different understanding of Nietzsche’s work from those traditional readings
that paint Nietzsche as unconcerned with human suffering. Here, feelings
lodged at the root of human misery fuel the engine of his philosophy.
The quoted passage from section 6 concludes with Nietzsche’s remark
that he has made “such a point of my own behavior” (EH 1.6) in this matter
because it underscores his analysis of the link between decadence, ressenti-
ment, and feelings of revenge. He learned that when he was decadent (that
is, when he was sick), he strictly resisted feelings of revenge “as harmful” –
this was his instinctually healthy response. And when he recovered his
strength, he resisted such feelings as unworthy of him. Nietzsche repeats
that fatalism was his greatest strategy to overcome decadence, sickness,
ressentiment, and the desire to avenge wrongs suffered.
The final two sentences reconnect Nietzsche’s understanding of deca-
dence as physiologically grounded with his strategy to combat it, his
“Russian fatalism” (EH 1.6). That was described as a slowing and calming
of the body, as a reduced metabolism, as the attempt to “cease reacting
altogether” (EH 1.6), in other words, as the cultivated ability to resist stimuli.
As a philosophy, this becomes expressed in Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence
and amor fati: “not wishing oneself different,” “not feeling that [things]
could be changed” (EH 1.6). This intricate discussion of decadence, ressenti-
ment, and the physical effects of ideas accords with Bakhtin’s observation
that satire routinely conducts what he calls “moral-psychological experi-
mentation.”86 Ecce Homo recounts the results of Nietzsche’s trials along
these lines. And his description here of fatalism should remind us of Jesus at
the moment of presentation signaled by the book’s title: a refusal to react, a
practiced and grounded indifference. Jesus is no decadent when he stands to
await crucifixion. So Nietzsche is like Jesus. But he is also like Pilate: he
questions the meaning of truth, and cannot permit himself to take an
alleged offense or injustice too seriously.
And yet Ecce Homo speaks loudly against one injustice: Nietzsche’s books
have been ignored. Hence, Nietzsche sustains a certain degree of indiffer-
ence to this injustice by treating it satirically (as a wrong to be humorously

85
Nietzsche describes free will as a priestly invention which enabled that caste to fix blame and take
revenge upon believers through prescribed punishments (TI 6.9).
86
Bakhtin, Dostoevsky’s Poetics, 116–17.
82 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
and stridently described), but he also exacts a literary revenge by belittling
his contemporaries who fail to understand him. Nietzsche did say that he
was a decadent and its opposite (EH 1.2).
After such gravity, we should consider the wit of section 6, by which I
mean not so much its humor, but its combination of the incongruous, and
the reduction of complex phenomena to unity. Nietzsche manipulates
physical and spiritual terms to arrive at a surprising congruence and
re-evaluation of disparate ideas, accomplished through a compressed mas-
tery that reads like a paragraph of epigrams. Nietzsche has a well-deserved
reputation for aphoristic writing, and this form aligns with the history of
satire. Hodgart writes that “the aphorism is the distillation of philosophic
satire”; the aphorist employs compression, not argumentation, “to simplify
in order to generalize,” and cuts out “time-honored conventional and
sentimental associations, which are always flattering,” and gets “to the
root of the matter, which seldom is.”87
Nietzsche contrasts any moments of passivity by next turning to his
conception of intellectual war. Section 7 of “Why I Am So Wise” gives four
propositions of its practice. Equality before the enemy is Nietzsche’s “first
presupposition of an honest duel” (EH 1.7). The next four requirements for
Nietzsche to wage war (that he only attack victorious causes, that he stand
alone, that he attack ideas and not persons, and that he attack only where
personal quarrels are lacking) make clear that Nietzsche is not speaking of
troops and blood, Nazi hack readings notwithstanding.88 Nietzsche does
exercise considerable aggression, however. He explains his “warlike nature”
by saying that a strong spirit needs “objects of resistance; hence it looks for
what resists: the aggressive pathos belongs just as necessarily to strength as
vengefulness and rancor belong to weakness” (EH 1.7). Nietzsche sees his
life as having been “the search for a mighty opponent – or problem; for a
warlike philosopher challenges problems, too, to single combat” (EH 1.7).
Nietzsche’s perennial opponent was Christian morality and the decadent,
vengeful feelings it inspires. This section of Ecce Homo serves to distinguish
wars of rancor from those of valor (that is, wars of agon in the Greek sense).
Nietzsche’s propositions of war illuminate his polemical nature. Many
readers see vindictiveness and revenge in his attacks on Christianity, but

87
Hodgart, Satire, 156–57.
88
Even a few marginally educated Nazis knew better. As Ernst Krieck deadpanned: “All in all, Nietzsche
was an opponent of socialism, an opponent of nationalism, and an opponent of racial thinking. Apart
from these three bents of mind, he might have made an outstanding Nazi” (Manfred Riedel, Nietzsche
in Weimar: Ein deutsches Drama (Leipzig: Reclam, 1997), 131; translated by Shelley Frisch in Safranski,
Nietzsche, 341).
Why I Am So Wise 83
Nietzsche argues that another psychology animates the work. The strong
nature seeks resistance against which to test its strength. Without a worthy
opponent, we may not realize our potential abilities. But we should
remember that Nietzsche never claimed to be free of base feelings; he
admits – almost laments – that he struggled against them.
Nietzsche furthers another rhetorical goal by enhancing the heroic per-
sona of Ecce Homo’s narrator. Greek and Roman literature almost exists to
praise warriors, and Nietzsche aligns himself with this tradition by con-
structing a pedestal on which to stand. Early in his career, and reiterated in
the Twilight of the Idols chapter, “What I Owe the Ancients,” Nietzsche put
considerable faith in the generative power of the Greek agon – the contest –
as against the deadening influence of Christian pietism. Here, he posits
himself as a lone warrior who tests and displays his strength by the enemies
he chooses. Still, something comical and self-parodying arises, I think, when
after saying that he is “warlike by nature,” and rhapsodizing about a strength
that we are apt to associate with the physical, we learn that “a warlike
philosopher will challenge problems to single combat” (EH 1.7). Odysseus
now wanders amid tiny rented rooms in Europe and battles “half-couth”
monsters – a German culture that embraced Wagner and David Strauss –
and the “disaster of millennia” – Christianity (EH 1.7). Nietzsche has
transfigured war: now it takes place on an intellectual field.
Section 8 treats a “final trait of my nature” that “has caused no end of
difficulties in my dealings with people” (EH 1.8), not least the threat of
misanthropy. Nietzsche describes this final trait as his “instinct for cleanli-
ness” (EH 1.8), characterized by an extreme sensitivity toward the human
beings he meets. Nietzsche writes that “the inmost parts, the ‘entrails’ of
every soul are physiologically perceived by me – smelled” (EH 1.8). This
trait gives him, he says, the “psychological antennae” with which he locates
“the abundant hidden dirt at the bottom of many a character” (EH 1.8).
What do we make of Nietzsche’s exorbitant description of his sensitivity?
Nietzsche’s self-description reinforces the idea of the philosopher as a
person who feels too much, hence a person prone to decadence. For a
start, a philosopher attunes him or herself to more and different kinds of
human stimuli. Further, the effect rarely ennobles, so the thinker risks a
psychological infection. Decadence begins when we ignore, justify, or
idealize such experiences. Nietzsche created a philosophy to fight this
inclination. In this respect, Ecce Homo takes aim at philosophy itself as a
decadent enterprise, all too inclined to logical hand-waving and fanciful
compromises that elide what must be confronted about human life and
meaning.
84 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
Disgust at humanity threatens and tempts Nietzsche because of his
sensitivity to human life. “My humanity does not consist in sympathizing
with people as they are, but instead putting up with the fact that I sympathize
with them” (EH 1.8). Nietzsche defies expectation. When it seems that he
parades his sensitivity as an excuse for nausea at humankind, he turns the
trait around as his cross to bear, given the fact of his sympathy. Like his
philosophy-centering idea about the struggle against feelings of revenge,
here Nietzsche repeats that his work flows from human sympathy, that his
sensitivity motivates the attack on ideals because he has felt the pain they
cause.89
The need for solitude is another consequence of Nietzsche’s hypersensi-
tivity. For him, solitude became one sure remedy for nausea, a type of
redemption. Nietzsche ends the section by again quoting Zarathustra at
length on the joy of solitary escape and rejuvenation. The quotation’s
peculiar intrusion again underlines Ecce Homo’s multifarious form: innu-
merable allusions and quotations import other styles and purposes into
the text.90
Irony intrudes as well. The opening sentence of section 8 implies that all
of Nietzsche’s personal traits so far described are species of that which “has
caused no end of difficulties in dealings with people” (EH 1.8). This points
beneath the literal reading (one that tempts us to see an unbalanced self-
celebrant), because the very traits listed to explain why Nietzsche is “so
wise” are self-mockingly reduced to traits that simply cause trouble in
social dealings. Here, wisdom becomes absurdly trivial, a bother. As
predicted, the unreliable narrator has now mocked the value of philo-
sophic knowledge.91
Nietzsche’s reference to cleanliness and dirt in section 8 presents another
poetic contrast that highlights his nature. Evoking one of the oldest civiliz-
ing distinctions in human society (as Nietzsche observes in On the Genealogy
of Morals, 1.6), this contrast functions at a primitive level: one’s enemies are
those who smell bad. Throughout “Why I Am So Wise,” Nietzsche paints an
unflattering picture of his adversaries. They are reduced in stature,

89
Nietzsche’s self-analysis here strikes some as dubious. A more ready reading of his polemical nature
finds pools of revenge feeding his enmity. But none of Nietzsche’s contemporaries describe an angry
man, and the passage at least suggests a complexity to Nietzsche’s motivations.
90
This complicates the picture of the lonely Nietzsche who had isolation thrust upon him. Although his
letters indicate bouts of such feeling, he also reports the joys of his solitude – and misses it in society.
Writing was probably the ideal way for Nietzsche to be social while alone – not uncommon for
introverts across the ages. (Consider too his interest in masks and performance.)
91
Relihan links the mocking of philosophic knowledge to the origins of satire (Ancient Menippean
Satire, 34–35, 49, 98).
Why I Am So Wise 85
individuality, status, and now cleanliness. These literary tropes do their
work in place of sober argumentation. But we already know that Nietzsche
wants to persuade and change how we view him and his philosophy, not
prove anything true. As Nietzsche observed in Twilight of the Idols, dialectic
is the “last expedient” for the person with no other weapons left (TI 2.10).
Nietzsche has sketched a complex answer to his rueful first chapter title,
“Why I Am So Wise.” Literally, he has given numerous reasons worth
considering together. First, Nietzsche’s wisdom comes from his dual
descent; he is both a decadent and its opposite. He knows of unhealthy
perspectives as much as he knows of healthy ones – by experience. Second,
he has learned to philosophize wisely because he was so sick, so often. His
condition required beneficial counter-measures and the rejection of pallia-
tives. Third, Nietzsche attributes his wisdom to his impartiality, the result
of his variegated perspectives and a stateless existence. Fourth, Nietzsche
overcame that special decadence, pity; he learned to resist his own over-
weening reactions to stimuli. Fifth, Nietzsche owes his wisdom to restraint
against petty attack. He repays enmity with gratitude, stupidity with good
humor. Sixth, Nietzsche is wise because he understands the nature of
ressentiment and its destructive effect on health – both physical and psycho-
logical. He learned a remedy in his own case: fatalism, the acceptance of all
events as necessary. Seventh, Nietzsche counts his aggressive pathos as a
sign of strength and self-expression, its wisdom lying in the choice of
enemies and rules of engagement, and in the higher ends for which he
waged his intellectual wars. Eighth, Nietzsche owes his wisdom to having
surmounted a disgust at human beings to which his sensitivity and sym-
pathy led him.
Nietzsche’s suffering tempted him to pessimism, and a deeper sickness.
His self-analysis in Ecce Homo’s first chapter consists of connecting the
attempt to overcome pessimism to the necessary means he employed philo-
sophically. Thus we have good cause for considering how Nietzschean ideas
and methods arise from his physical and mental condition, and from his
temptation to misanthropy. Ecce Homo explains how Nietzsche created a
philosophy that was by design a cure and recovery from despair.
Honoring the body as a totality of health and thinking runs through
Nietzsche’s first chapter. His revaluing of bodily experience and health,
including his own philosophical reactions to sickness, constitutes the
answer for Nietzsche to “Why I Am So Wise.” That he had little control
over his own body and no choice about his genetic history is obvious, but in
his philosophy’s context this underscores the humorously serious (or the
intentionally absurd) title of Ecce Homo’s first chapter.
86 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
“Why I Am So Wise” lampoons and shares the sardonic presumption of
Socrates in the Apology, namely, that a philosopher gadfly should be
celebrated by society, not prosecuted, and further stands as a deliberate
contrast to the rhetorical modesty of Christianity. It manifests a pride and
love of self often castigated by Christian morality.92
Ecce Homo’s first chapter portrays Nietzsche as a wise man, seeking
simple truths. For Bakhtin, “the most important characteristic of the
menippea as a genre” is that it be “internally motivated” as a test of one’s
philosophy. Thus the satirist is “justified by and devoted to a purely
ideational and philosophical end: the creation of extraordinary situations
for the provoking and testing of a philosophical idea, a discourse, a truth,
embodied in the image of a wise man, the seeker of this truth.”93 In this
fundamental sense, Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo persona creates just such an
image of himself as a wise man who sought truth. But while the “extra-
ordinary situations” in most satires are wholly fictional, Nietzsche presents
his own life of pain and isolation as just such a proving ground for his
philosophical tenets. He need not set himself, like Dante, in some fantastic
Inferno – Nietzsche’s own life was the uncanny and hellish test that inspired,
even required, his philosophy. This puts Ecce Homo in the ancient tradition
of satire that Bakhtin traces to the serio-comical style of Socratic dia-
logues.94 But the chapter can be read, on the other hand, to make an honest
assumption of fact (Nietzsche’s wisdom), which fact Nietzsche meant to
investigate. Repeating that “Nietzsche is a megalomaniac” misses the point,
I think. And aside from Ecce Homo’s satiric cues, to say that fate and one’s
body are responsible for personal wisdom is not the usual or logical tack
taken by megalomaniacs. Nietzsche’s understanding in effect declines all
responsibility for what, moreover, appears by his description to be a state
more disconcerting and painful than enviable. For all that, Nietzsche has
provided a defense, an apologia, of this chapter’s title. And his wisdom is
strange and particular, employed to ensure Nietzsche his own conception of
the good life. Given his body, it seems that Nietzsche was wise. Had he not
taken the steps he did to self-protect and improve, there is little reason to

92
Consider the faith of Nietzsche’s lineage, Lutheranism. In Luther’s theology, only justifying grace
makes human beings righteous. Believers explicate righteousness, in turn, as self-accusation and a
despair at one’s works (in contrast to faith), and the acceptance of the deity’s right to condemn one’s
sinful life. In this light, Ecce Homo stands as the opposite of a “despair at one’s works.”
93
Bakhtin, Dostoevsky’s Poetics, 114.
94
Ibid., 109–12. (Bakhtin names eight people other than Plato and Xenophon known to have written
Socratic dialogues in the ancient world.)
Why I Am So Clever 87
think that he would have lived very long, let alone produced his corpus. Of
course, the corpus is the steps that he took, in words.

Why I Am So Clever
The second chapter of Ecce Homo proposes to give us Nietzsche’s explan-
ation of “Why I Am So Clever.”95 Differing from his explanation of
wisdom, Nietzsche concentrates on thinking methods and habits. His
first answer: “I have never reflected on questions that are none – I have
not wasted myself” (EH 2.1). The second answer regards his overcoming of
bad diets, and subsequent attention to nutrition. Aside from their literal
meaning, Nietzsche supplements the growing list of his opponents’ bad
traits in section 1 by implying that they waste their time on pseudo-
problems and consume an unhealthy diet of idealist starch.
Nietzsche has never wasted time with “religious difficulties,” whether
about sin, God, redemption, or the beyond. “I have absolutely no knowl-
edge of atheism as an outcome of reasoning, still less as an event: with me it
is obvious by instinct. I am too inquisitive, too questionable, too high
spirited to rest content with a crude answer. God is a crude answer, a
piece of indelicacy against us thinkers – fundamentally even a crude
prohibition to us: you shall not think!” (EH 2.1). Nietzsche has not wasted
himself on religious questions because they did not touch upon reality; to
say it another way, in such matters he saw no criteria of judgment in the
question’s terms, no path of investigation, no relevance to living, hence no
“difficulty” at all – only meta-questions of psychology, of history, of value
and motivation. The statement of Nietzsche’s atheism is restrained and
particular. Nietzsche does not portray atheism as an intellectual spur or the
reason for his polemics against Christianity. Nietzsche does not argue
against religion on grounds of truth; he does not refute proofs of existence
or offer a philosophical exposition for his own position. He only explains
that “God” seemed to him a prohibition of thought in the guise of an
answer. This distinguishes Nietzsche from our usual view of the philosopher
who lives for disputation. “I do not refute ideals, I just put on gloves when I
have to deal with them” (EH Foreword 3).96
Nietzsche introduces the second reason for his cleverness as follows: “I
am much more interested in a question on which the ‘salvation of human-
ity’ depends far more than on any theologians’ curio: the question of

95
The German klug can also mean intelligent.
96
This has significant consequences for Nietzsche’s style, a topic I treat in connection to EH 3.4.
88 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
nutrition . . . [That is:] ‘how do you, among all people, have to eat to attain
your maximum of strength, of virtu in the Renaissance style, of moraline-
free virtue?’” (EH 2.1). Nietzsche again substitutes the body’s requirements
for those of a separate soul. Yet Nietzsche’s own nutrition and diet had been
dreadful; “I am amazed how late I heard this question,” he writes. “I always
ate badly, morally speaking, ‘impersonally,’ ‘selflessly,’ ‘altruistically’” (EH
2.1). Subsequent paragraphs comically connect German education and
food. As above, Nietzsche means to conflate matters of the body with
matters of the spirit – for him, they overlap and determine one another to
a degree never suspected. Nutritionally speaking, he considers Christian
morality to be a universal diet that ignores particular requirements, and
proceeds impersonally, that is, stupidly – counter to good health. Nietzsche
uses “nutrition” literally and metaphorically, emphasizing its literal mean-
ing as paradoxically crucial to thinking and philosophy. (In Daybreak
Nietzsche writes of desiring a “philosophy which is at bottom the instinct
for a personal diet,” 553.) As Christianity has devalued the body and this life,
so Nietzsche will devalue Christianity and its super-terrestrial diet. After his
mocking description of German food (“the degeneration of pastries and
puddings into paperweights!” EH 2.1), the intentional conflation of food
and mind comes to this: “The German spirit is an indigestion: it does not
finish with anything” (EH 2.1).97
Nietzsche was well aware of food’s prominent place in satiric literature.98
His treatment in section 1 is especially funny and clever, reducing bad food,
bad education, and bad moral thinking to symptoms, causes, and equiv-
alents of one another. He contrasts their shared weakness – the impersonal –
with good food, good education, and good thinking, all of which are
symptoms, causes, and equivalents of one another with a shared intelli-
gence: they meet the specific, unique, and real needs of an individual
person. “Everyone has their own standards here, sometimes between the
narrowest and most delicate boundaries” (EH 2.1). This extended treatment
of food has almost no philosophic precedence, but plenty of satiric fore-
bears.99 Overall Nietzsche gives frequent attention to ‘matters of taste’

97
The satirist Heine in Memoirs of Herr von Schnabelewopski (1834): “Not a word about German
cooking. It has every possible virtue, and only one fault: which I won’t tell here. It offers sympathetic,
but quite indecisive pastry; amorous egg-dishes, solid dumplings, temperamental barley soup,
pancakes with apples and bacon, virtuous meat balls, sour cabbage – lucky is he who can digest it!”
(Poetry and Prose, 647–48).
98
See Brobjer, “Nietzsche’s Library,” for the extensive list of ancient texts to which Nietzsche often
returned, including Horace and Petronius. See also TI 10: “What I Owe the Ancients.”
99
See Griffin, Satire, 190–97.
Why I Am So Clever 89
where philosophers wish to see truth or falsity. This helps explain on my
account why Nietzsche wrote satires of philosophy, not philosophy proper.
Philosophy proper is too often the unpalatable and impersonal orthodoxy
that Nietzsche sought to reform.
Next Nietzsche turns to exercise, with another ironic use of Christian
terminology, inverted to create a new formula. “Do not believe any idea
that was not conceived while moving around outside, – with your muscles
in a celebratory mode as well. All prejudices come from the intestines. –
Sitting down – I have said it before – is a true sin against the holy spirit”
(EH 2.1). In this epigram, Nietzsche mocks the idea of a holy spirit by
reconfiguring the idea to serve his purpose. He does the same to sin by
referring to his sitting example as a true sin, and redefines both holy spirit
and sinning in physical, not spiritual terms. This continues his intentional
conflation of these categories, to revalue the physical as against the
otherworldly.
So, what of Nietzsche’s diet? Section 1 lists his own dietary requirements
and prohibitions. These have struck most academic philosophers as
unhinged. “In vino veritas: it seems that here, too, I am at odds with all
the world about the concept of ‘truth’ – in my case, the spirit moves over
water” (EH 2.1). Again comes the equation of body and ethics: “A couple
more signposts from my morality. A big meal is easier to digest than one too
small . . . One has to know the size of one’s stomach” (EH 2.1). These
statements function comically and literally; in the end, Nietzsche does mean
that questions of diet are ethical questions, because they involve good and
bad results, and bear upon achieving a healthy and accomplished life.
Nietzsche speaks about tea, coffee, times of day for certain drinks, and so
on. One leaves with the idea that thinking, too, is a kind of digestion. Today
this idea is the opposite of insanity. Only a metaphysical dualist of some
extreme variety would dispute Nietzsche’s bedrock claim that what goes
into our body affects our mind.
Nietzsche next turns to location. “The question of place and climate is
most closely related to the question of nutrition” (EH 2.2). The remainder
of section 2 treats how Nietzsche suffered when he made a bad choice of
habitat (Turin excepted). By his own experience, and by accounting cities of
genius as those with dry air and generally clear skies, Nietzsche then
connects climate to digestion.
The slightest sluggishness of the intestines is entirely sufficient, once it has
become a bad habit, to turn a genius into something mediocre, something
‘German.’ The German climate alone is enough to discourage strong, even
inherently heroic, intestines. The tempo of the metabolism is strictly
90 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
proportionate to the mobility or lameness of the spirit’s feet; the ‘spirit’ itself
is after all merely an aspect of this metabolism. (EH 2.2)100
Nietzsche speaks of his terrible “spiritual diet” in Basel, Switzerland. “Any
refined self-concern, any protection by some commanding instinct was
lacking. I simply posited myself as equal to any nobody” (EH 2.2). He
concludes section 2 by claiming that sickness caused by bad diet and climate
brought him to reason in these matters. He believes that his own ignorance
and bad experiences with unhealthy climates arose because of his education,
the “ignorance in physiologicis – that damned ‘idealism’ – that was the real
calamity in my life . . . The consequences of this ‘idealism’ provide my
explanation for all blunders, all great instinctual aberrations and ‘modes-
ties’” (EH 2.2).
Nietzsche’s thesis? To eat “selflessly” and “stupidly” means to eat without
reference to one’s unique conditions and requirements. And because thinking
is a kind of digestion, to eat badly also means to think badly, to think without
conscious recourse to one’s particularity and the things necessary to achieve
one’s own highest states and works. For an example from philosophy,
consider the thinker who picks a ‘problem’ to masticate because peers deem
it problematic. He ignores the pursuit of wisdom as personal, ignores his own
requirements in thinking, and ignores his own thought in relation to human
culture. Hence, Nietzsche aligns universal moralities and philosophies with
eating badly, because they are indifferent to an individual’s situation.
Rhetorically, section 2 serves up several more paradoxical formulations of
the type, “x is merely y,” or “all x is y.” Most striking: the idea that “‘spirit’
itself is just a type of metabolism” (EH 2.2), an ingenious compression that
links the incongruous, spurring us to hold both ideas in an unstable
equilibrium of incompatible contexts.101 Nietzsche couches these discus-
sions aggressively, always having an enemy in view; here, the idealist and
Christian, who would never ‘sully’ the spirit with talk of the body, let alone
the intestines and rates of digestion. Nietzsche’s concrete emphasis con-
structs a persona of the plain-dealer, ever ready to remind the pretentious
that people are physical beings in the world.102

100
Nietzsche counts genius here as dependent “on a rapid metabolism, on the possibility of drawing
again and again on great, even tremendous quantities of strength” (EH 2.2).
101
Arthur Koestler considers examples of creative thought and humor to involve “the perceiving of a
situation or idea . . . in two self-consistent but habitually incompatible frames of reference, [causing] a
double-minded, transitory state of unstable equilibrium where the balance of both emotion and
thought is disturbed” (The Act of Creation (London: Penguin, 1990), 35–36).
102
Hodgart identifies this as a stock persona in satire, even “an excellent general term for the satirist’s
persona” (Satire, 195).
Why I Am So Clever 91
Section 2 adumbrates once more Nietzsche’s painful past, mixing pride
with long-suffering. “If I do not have any happy memories from my child-
hood and youth, it would be silly to blame so-called ‘moral’ factors, – like
the indisputable dearth of adequate company: because this dearth is just as
much the case today as it ever was, but it does not stop me from being
cheerful and brave” (EH 2.2). Passages like this sit uneasily among the
catalogue of Nietzschean skills and accomplishments – they help subvert
the heroic stances and make us wonder at the sacrificial, pitying aspect of
Ecce Homo’s testament.
In accounting for his cleverness, Nietzsche next considers “the choice of
one’s own kind of recreation [Erholung]” (EH 2.3).103 He distinguishes in
section 3 between times of “spiritual pregnancy” when he thinks and writes,
and recuperative times when he escapes himself. In the former condition,
“one must avoid chance and outside stimuli as much as possible” (EH 2.3).
In the latter, Nietzsche wants “recreation” from his own work by reading
others. The remainder of section 3 briefly treats Nietzsche’s favorite authors.
He names fourteen French novelists and Shakespeare. This reminds us that
Nietzsche was more than conversant with contemporary literature, even
though the list is quite selective and not entirely consistent with the
evidence of his overall reading in 1888.104 As with other details in Ecce
Homo, however, Nietzsche employs them to create a multifaceted persona.
Here, he treats books like a thinker’s trifles, not allowed to influence
Nietzsche, the independent thinker. This may help to explain why he
decided to omit a draft variant of section 3, quoted in part below. Does it
reveal too much?
Of all books, one of my strongest impressions is that exuberant Provençal,
Petronius, who composed the last Satura Menippea.105 Such sovereign free-
dom from “morality,” from “seriousness,” from his own sublime taste; such

103
The German also means recovery. This second sense appears in Nietzsche’s discussion of his kind of
“recreation” – as when he writes that “reading is precisely my ‘recreation’ from my own seriousness.”
Rendering the word as “recovery” here brings a better result. Translator Judith Norman successfully
splits the difference with “recuperation” throughout the passage.
104
In 1888 alone, Nietzsche read seven books on literary history (Brobjer, “Nietzsche’s Library,” 680). In
one of Nietzsche’s last letters (5 January 1889), he wrote to Jacob Burckhardt that “Monsieur Daudet
belongs to the Forty,” a reference to the members of the French Academy, about whom Daudet had
just published a stinging satire, L’Immortel. Nietzsche jokes, “I salute the Immortals,” and signs off as
“Astu,” an approximation of the hero of Daudet’s work, Astier. In a postscript, Nietzsche also jokes
that in Turin “I go everywhere in my student coat, now and then slap someone on the back, and say:
siamo contenti? Son dio, ho fatto questa caricatura” (“Is everything good? I am God, this farce is my
creation,” KGB 3.5.1256).
105
That is, The Satyricon. William Arrowsmith describes the work as “the curious blending of prose with
verse and philosophy with realism,” a satiric genre “invented by the Cynic philosopher Menippus of
92 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
subtlety in his mixture of vulgar and “educated” Latin; such indomitable
good spirits that leap with grace and malice over all anomalies of the ancient
“soul” – I could not name any book that makes an equally liberating
impression on me: the effect is Dionysian. In cases in which I find it
necessary to recuperate quickly from a base impression – for example,
because for the sake of my critique of Christianity I had to breathe all too
long the swampy air of the apostle Paul – a few pages of Petronius suffice me
as a heroic remedy, and immediately I am well again.106
This passage prompts my question because Nietzsche rarely cites a specific
title, preferring only authors’ names, and because it would seem a peculiar
coincidence that he was planning at one time to cite this ancient satire – and
lavish it with praise, even calling it Dionysian – in a book, Ecce Homo, that is
itself satiric, in the ancient, amoral tradition, and composed by a
“Dionysian philosopher” no less. So why omit the reference to The
Satyricon? One should not guess at the decisions of an artist for keeping
or scuttling composed passages, but if Nietzsche wished to protect his
uniqueness, then he may not have wanted to share the limelight with
Petronius, nor allow the surmise that he influenced Nietzsche – as he no
doubt did. Whether the cause of omission or not, the variant establishes that
Nietzsche had Petronius in mind during the composition of Ecce Homo,
that he admired and enjoyed The Satyricon in particular, and that we are
justified in wondering about parallels between the two.
Nietzsche publicly praises Petronius in Beyond Good and Evil: “A
German is almost incapable of presto in his language; thus also, as may be
reasonably inferred, of many of the most delightful and daring nuances of
free, free-spirited thought. And just as the buffoon and satyr are foreign to
him in body and conscience, so Aristophanes and Petronius are untranslat-
able for him” (BGE 28). Nietzsche here associates Petronius with the satyr,
and praises his style in words usually reserved for his own. The passage also
shows that Nietzsche made the traditional association of the satyr with
satire.
The Satyricon contains three principal episodes: an itinerant philoso-
pher’s love troubles, an absurdly sumptuous feast, and discussions of war
Gadara” (“Introduction,” in Petronius, The Satyricon, trans. William Arrowsmith (London:
Penguin, 1994), v–xviii, at viii). For Relihan, Petronius is parodying and “depicting moralists
themselves as the primary social evil” (Ancient Menippean Satire, 98).
106
Walter Kaufmann translates Nietzsche’s draft variant in Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, 339–40. (The text
given in KGW for this passage, 8.24.1.7, varies slightly from the source used by Kaufmann, namely:
Friedrich Nietzsches Werke des Zusammenbruchs, ed. Erich F. Podach (Heidelberg: Wolfgang Rothe,
1961), 236–37.) (And Nietzsche had jotted the following hypothetical book title in a notebook of two
years earlier: “The Dionysian Philosopher / A Menippean Satire / by Friedrich Nietzsche,” KGW
8.5.93.)
Why I Am So Clever 93
on a sea journey that goes awry, leaving the protagonists to embark on a
“legacy” scam. Of course, Ecce Homo concerns an itinerant philosopher
without love, numerous discussions of food and intellectual battle, and
constitutes a literary scam, one might say, to create Nietzsche’s own
legacy.107
Section 4 of “Why I Am So Clever” continues Nietzsche’s discussion of
and high praise for other literary artists. Of Heinrich Heine: “He possessed
that divine malice without which I cannot imagine perfection: I estimate the
value of men, of races, according to the necessity by which they cannot
conceive the god apart from the satyr” (EH 2.4). Of Shakespeare: “When I
seek my ultimate formula for Shakespeare, I always find only this: he
conceived of the type of Caesar . . . I know no more heart-rending reading
than Shakespeare: What must a man have suffered to have such a need of
being a buffoon?” (EH 2.4). Nietzsche’s view of Shakespeare and Heine
shines light upon his self-conception. Nietzsche admires Heine’s view of
life’s highest type, a type that Nietzsche believed himself to personify: a
combination of saint and satyr, as we have seen. And “divine malice” puts us
in mind of the Greek gods, prone to see human beings as players in a game
devised for their own amusement. Speaking of the divine, Bakhtin notes
that satire’s “carnival laughter” can be traced to forms of ritual laughter
thought to have “reproductive force,” a laughter designed to compel deities
to “renew themselves.” Directed at the gods, this sanctioned laughter was
invoked during times of crisis. As such, “ridicule was fused with rejoicing” –
a phrase that helps to capture Ecce Homo’s uncanny tone.108 “Divine malice”
captures Nietzsche’s literary art as well, something both high-minded and
cheerfully cynical. As for the Shakespeare passage, it could well have been
written as follows: “When I seek my ultimate formula for myself, I always
find only this: he conceived of the type of Zarathustra.” Nietzsche treats
suffering as part of his own inspiration, of course, but note how he views
buffoonery as the literary result of intense suffering. As Shakespeare sub-
limated his suffering through the comic in Nietzsche’s analysis, so Nietzsche
sublimated his own through satires of philosophy and the buffoonery we see
in Ecce Homo.109
The reference to Heine alerts us to Nietzsche’s affinity for satirists once
more, and he marks the association by invoking the satyr. Heine’s Germany,

107
Petronius was made the “Arbiter of Taste” by Nero. Ecce Homo treats taste as tantamount to wisdom,
as I discuss in connection to EH 2.8 and in the Conclusion.
108
Bakhtin, Dostoevsky’s Poetics, 126–27.
109
Or what are the hyperbole, the jokes, the exclamation marks, the wild contrasts, the irony, the
chapter titles?
94 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
a Winter’s Tale, for example, skewers provincial Prussian life with a master’s
touch. Heine shared Nietzsche’s dismay with things German, including the
language. “Everything German affects me like an emetic,” Heine wrote.
“German speech splits my eardrums. At times my own poems nauseate me,
when I see they are written in German.”110
Section 5 concerns Richard Wagner and the German state. Nietzsche
celebrates his days with Wagner the man. “I’d let go cheap the whole rest of
my human relationships” (EH 2.5). For Wagner’s nationalist fans and
German culture he has only derision, however. “As far as Germany extends,
she corrupts culture” (EH 2.5). The tone of Nietzsche’s treatment evidences
his principle of attacking a cause and not a person, and supports his earlier
claim to repay enmity with gratitude. And Nietzsche praises French culture
in a telling way: “There is nowhere else that people have such passion for
questions of form, such seriousness about the mise en scène” (EH 2.5). As
Nietzsche habitually aligns himself with the French in matters of taste, this
remark points to his similar attention to literary form – uncommon among
German philosophers, to say the least.
Nietzsche once understood Wagner as someone un-German, but
changed his mind. He gives ultimate praise to Tristan und Isolde in section
6, precisely as a piece of Romantic decadence. “The world is poor for
anyone who has never been sick enough for this ‘voluptuousness of hell’”
(EH 2.6). Nietzsche concludes by calling Wagner “the great benefactor of
my life,” linking the composer to himself this way: “We are related by virtue
of having suffered more deeply (from each other too) than people of this
century are able to suffer” (EH 2.6).
Now comes a rare lowering of the persona’s mask in Ecce Homo. “I am
and will always be a misunderstanding” among Germans, Nietzsche writes
(EH 2.6). Ecce Homo’s Foreword had opened with the claim that
Nietzsche’s book presents “who I am,” and its section 1 ends with the
plea: “Above all, do not mistake me for someone else!” (EH Foreword 1). But
here, Nietzsche already despairs of any good result. I call this a lowering of
the mask because the author spies out from behind the book’s persona to
contradict some previous, theatrical pronouncement.111 Here the contra-
diction rests upon Nietzsche’s cynicism toward being understood, thus
undercutting Ecce Homo’s fame fantasy.

110
Letter to Christian Sethe, 14 April 1822 (Heine, Poetry and Prose, 343).
111
Hodgart identifies this as a common move in satire (Satire, 130–31). Dropping the mask also helps
generate irony.
Why I Am So Clever 95
Nietzsche treats various composers in section 7 under the heading of
recreation and recovery, praising several at the expense of contemporary
German ones. Nietzsche also reprises the allusion to the season of fall:
“What I really want from music . . . that it be cheerful and profound, like an
afternoon in October. That it be distinctive, exuberant . . . full of grace and
dirty tricks” (EH 2.7). Ecce Homo was composed largely in October 1888.
Another shift in form closes section 7: an impressionistic poem that
describes Nietzsche’s reaction to hearing music travel across Venetian
waters, but that seems here to pose a melancholy question about his
philosophic corpus: “My soul, a stringed instrument, / Secretly sang a
barcarole, / Moved by invisible forces / Trembling with bright bliss. / –
Did anyone hear?” (EH 2.7).
A vivid and subtle treatment of decadence propels section 8 of “Why I
Am So Clever,” as Nietzsche returns to the question of stimuli reaction.
This discussion folds in what Nietzsche has been intimating about food
and matters of wise selection. Nietzsche first considers “the instinct of
self-preservation,” or self-defense. “The usual word for this instinct of
self-defense is taste. It commands us not only to say No when Yes would
be ‘selfless’ but also to say No as rarely as possible” (EH 2.8). The clever-
ness of Nietzsche’s taste lies in detaching itself from conditions and
people that would require self-defense, since every such measure is
“energy wasted on negative ends” (EH 2.8). Nietzsche’s example shows
the pervasiveness of his thoughts on the subject. “Suppose I stepped out
of my house and found, instead of quiet, aristocratic Turin, a small
German town: my instinct would have to cast up a barrier to push
back everything that would assail it from this pinched and flattened,
cowardly world . . . Wouldn’t this compel me to become a hedgehog?”
(EH 2.8).
Nietzsche makes the question of taste far more significant than one of
preference. Instead, it becomes a critical question of response to stimuli, and
energy expended either for self-defense or creative production. He states this
contrast as one between living as an agent or a “mere reagent” (EH 2.8).
Consider the scholar, for example.
When they don’t thumb [books], they don’t think. They respond to a
stimulus (a thought they have read) whenever they think – in the end,
they do nothing but react. Scholars spend all of their energies on saying
Yes and No, on criticism of what others have thought – they themselves
no longer think. The instinct of self-defense has become worn-out
in them; otherwise they would resist books. The scholar – a decadent.
(EH 2.8)
96 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
Matters of taste have become matters of self-defense, which turn once more
on the proper regard for all kinds of stimuli.112 “Proper regard” depends on
the role certain stimuli play, Nietzsche observes. If one exercises intellectual
talent (not mere scholarship, as here), then books act best as recuperation to
the thinker; he or she avoids them otherwise.
How we regard stimuli is the genuine locus for Nietzsche’s conception of
living well. And Ecce Homo argues that a philosophical explication of taste is
the key. The best thinkers cultivate tastes that control stimuli. Innumerable
choices are made in accordance with the instinct of self-defense, so that all
energy may be expended in positive, creative directions. Bad taste is deca-
dent, yes. But in Ecce Homo and Nietzsche’s philosophy this means much
more than has been supposed.113
Section 9 offers the prospect of learning more about the subtitle of Ecce
Homo, that is, “the real answer to the question, how one becomes what one is”
(EH 2.9). Nietzsche says that his answer will touch on “the masterpiece of
the art of self-preservation – selfishness” (EH 2.9). Nietzsche links selfishness
to the unconscious organization of one’s own diverse nature, and his view of
“self-preservation” accords with the previous, more general description of
spiritual self-defense, which Nietzsche called an instinct. He then describes
selfishness as the subterranean silence in which a great task becomes
organized in and by the body before welling up to consciousness. In the
case of a great goal, “nothing could be more dangerous than catching sight
of oneself with this task. To become what one is, one must not have the
slightest idea what one is . . . The whole surface of consciousness – con-
sciousness is a surface – must be kept clear of all great imperatives” (EH 2.9).
Nietzsche seems to mean that conscious self-knowledge can defeat the
superiority of the unconscious organization of a thinker or artist. Note
the contrast with Socrates’ favorite Delphic motto, “Know thyself,” long
thought the provenance of successful philosophers.114

112
Nietzsche refers at the opening of the section to self-defense as operative in “the choice of nutrition,
of place and climate, [and] of recreation” (EH 2.8).
113
These and similar discussions of taste and decadence might be thought to support the claim that
Nietzsche’s axiology was essentially aesthetic. Nietzsche’s position, instead, consists of a proto-
physiological treatment of taste and decadence as signs of physical (which also means spiritual,
intellectual, geistlich) conditions. That is, Nietzsche’s discussion of taste is his discussion of wisdom.
114
Many count the turn to modernity, of course, as resting upon internal Cartesian wanderings.
Nietzsche’s contrarian attitude about the value (and possibility) of self-knowledge shines through
in his brief review of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground. He writes to Heinrich Köselitz (7
March 1887) that the Russian’s book is “a stroke of true psychological genius – a terrible and cruel
mockery of the Delphic ‘know thyself,’ but tossed off with such ease, audacity, and joy in his superior
powers, that I was completely drunk with delight” (KGB 3.5.814). Dostoevsky writes in the novel: “is
Why I Am So Clever 97
As for his own unconscious organization, Nietzsche likes what he sees in
Ecce Homo’s retrospective mirror. His life reveals an organization of self, the
gathering of necessary preconditions for the task of revaluating all values, a
slow perfecting and coherence of “even contrary capacities,” and a super-
fetation of “qualities and finesses” that made his life and work possible (EH
2.9).115 The answer to the subtitle’s question? Nietzsche became who he was
unknowingly.
Nietzsche’s praise for the unconscious operations of body and instinct
stands oddly beside Ecce Homo’s method of autobiographical self-
consciousness, but this contrast between our conscious and unconscious
selves further mirrors the initial contrast of saint and satyr (EH Foreword 2),
with Nietzsche again preferring the primitive side. In this sense, Nietzsche
does not associate himself with the spiritual ‘transparency’ of philosophy,
but with the darker drives of satire, the subversive thinker’s genre.
Still, there seems something peculiar about all Nietzsche’s unconscious
talk in a would-be autobiography. If consciousness “has to be kept free from
all of the great imperatives,” why is Nietzsche regularly announcing them
(for example, in EH Foreword 1)? Two answers spring to mind. One,
Nietzsche considers Ecce Homo a look backward, so his creative work is
done; consciously identifying its purposes raises no risks. Two, Ecce Homo’s
“cheerfulness” includes being a playful, contradictory narrator. Another
example? In the same section, Nietzsche writes: “you will not detect any
trace of struggle in my life, I am the opposite of a heroic nature.” But several
pages back he was “warlike by nature” (EH 1.7), challenging philosophical
problems “to single combat,” his life the valiant overcoming of intense
suffering, pity, the death of God, and German food.116

it possible to be absolutely honest even with one’s own self and not to fear the whole truth?
Incidentally, I’ll mention that Heine maintains that faithful autobiographies are almost impossible,
and that a man is sure to lie about himself. In Heine’s opinion, Rousseau, for example, undoubtedly
told untruths about himself in his confession and even lied intentionally, out of vanity” (Notes from
Underground, trans. Michael R. Katz, 2nd edn (New York: W. W. Norton, 2001), 28).
115
In this section Nietzsche suggests that “the task” has already been largely achieved. He considered The
Antichrist at one time the first book, and then the so-called entirety of the revaluation of all values. He
says in Ecce Homo that he completed the revaluation on 30 September – the completion date of The
Antichrist – and took “the leisure of a god along the Po” (EH 12.3). (See also Shapiro, Nietzschean
Narratives, 144–46.) But the content of Nietzsche’s book in genus – its attempt to change or reverse
the esteem and estimation of certain received values, be it by revaluing Greek or Roman virtues or the
sharp attack on Christian ones – is little different from the type of program carried out in each of
Nietzsche’s books. Indeed, the program is not so different from what (at least unconsciously) every
philosopher does, that is, revalue. Nietzsche perhaps differs by the depth, scope, consciousness, and
parodic hyperbole of his efforts.
116
Section 9 also contains a statement contradicted by his correspondence, or Nietzsche writes with
poetic hyperbole when he says: “I have never wished for anything. Someone over the age of forty-four
98 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
The discussion of Ecce Homo’s subtitle continues in section 10 through an
elaboration of selfishness.117 It offers a fascinating defense of Ecce Homo as a
whole.
I shall be asked why I have really narrated all these little things which
according to the traditional judgment are matters of indifference: it will be
said that in doing so I harm myself all the more if I am destined to fulfill great
tasks. Answer: these little things – nutriment, place, climate, recreation, the
whole casuistry of selfishness – are beyond all conception of greater impor-
tance than anything that has been considered of importance hitherto. It is
precisely here that one has to begin to learn anew. Those things which
mankind has hitherto pondered seriously are not even realities, merely
imaginings, more strictly speaking lies from the bad instincts of sick, in the
profoundest sense injurious natures – all the concepts ‘God,’ ‘soul,’ ‘virtue,’
‘sin,’ ‘the Beyond,’ ‘truth,’ ‘eternal life’. . . But the greatness of human
nature, its ‘divinity,’ has been sought in them . . . All questions of politics,
the ordering of society, education have been falsified down to their founda-
tions because the most injurious men have been taken for great men –
because contempt has been taught for the ‘little’ things, which is to say for
the fundamental affairs of life . . . (EH 2.10)
This striking passage cleaves Nietzsche away from traditional methods of
evaluation in philosophy, and again attacks his cultural enemies on the
broadest possible scale. Everyone, for millennia, has been looking for
wisdom in the wrong place, in imaginary worlds of thought. Nietzsche’s
life of suffering taught him to look instead at the ‘trivial’ matters of body,
diet, climate, recreation, and so on. Thus Ecce Homo has inverted the
subjects of philosophy for matters of taste. Indeed, Ecce Homo imagines a
new world in which ‘the little things’ become the mark and measure of
value, not religious or philosophical ideals.
Ecce Homo also plays games; consider two passages in section 10. The first
sounds like a straightforward claim: “The pathos of poses is not a compo-
nent of greatness; anyone who needs poses is false . . . Beware of picturesque
people” (EH 2.10). Aside from the mounting evidence that Nietzsche’s Ecce
who can say that he never tried to get honor, women, or money!” Although by no means covetous,
Nietzsche sometimes wished for and pursued all three; after two failed marriage proposals, he once
entertained the notion of securing a rich wife, a plan hatched by Malwida von Meysenbug. Nietzsche
wrote to his sister that he would give up his professorship by Easter 1878, “provided we bring off the
other arrangement, i.e. marriage with a suitable and necessarily well-to-do woman” (Hollingdale,
Nietzsche, 109). This lark seems not to have been pursued, however. That he wished for his work to be
honored is indisputable; he is alert to the smallest of book reviews and notices, even summarizing
them in Ecce Homo (EH 3.1). As to grounds for honor, in section 10 of the current chapter he writes:
“I have better claims to the word ‘great’ than any other mortal” (EH 3.10).
117
Nietzsche had said at the beginning of section 9 that selfishness (“the art of self-preservation”) was
involved in answering the subtitle’s question.
Why I Am So Clever 99
Homo persona is not shy about posing, we have a second passage just a few
lines down that virtually tells us to read the first ironically: “I do not know
any other way of handling great tasks than as play: as a sure sign of greatness,
this is an essential presupposition” (EH 2.10). This sly juxtaposition might
remind us of Montaigne’s preface to his autobiographical Essays: “I want to
be seen here in my simple, natural, ordinary fashion, without straining or
artifice.” Two sentences later he writes: “Had I been placed among those
nations which are said to live still in the sweet freedom of nature’s first laws,
I assure you I should very gladly have portrayed myself here entire and
wholly naked.” But he was not placed “among those nations,” so Montaigne
in effect telegraphs that he will not in the Essays be seen in his “natural,
ordinary fashion, without straining or artifice,” as he claims that he wanted
to be.118 Nietzsche, too, strikes a pose against posing.
“Why I Am So Clever” began with Nietzsche saying that he had not
wasted himself on “questions that were not” (EH 2.1). In this final section,
Nietzsche’s cleverness consists in knowing what is important. His entire
disgust with most of philosophy and all of Christianity comes to this: these
disciplines have no idea what is important for creating a good human life.
Our first good is health, and the second is whatever comes of it. Because
Nietzsche holds a person to be body entirely, not ‘mind’ and ‘body,’ his
goods refer naturally to mental, emotional, and spiritual health – but this is
physical by his analysis. Thus the “little things” that affect the body are
transformed into the big things. And if philosophy pursues wisdom, it will
pursue them. (And not just ideas about them.)
So Nietzsche attends to diet, climate, and particulars of nutrition, recre-
ation, medication, and the greater understanding of sickness and paths to
recovery. If Nietzsche represents what some call the ‘death of philosophy,’ it
is not because he has wrecked it, or destroyed all possible moorings, but
because he shows how there are more significant things to investigate in
philosophy than we have imagined. He is changing the subject, not trying
to end the pursuit.
Theologians and idealists presume to treat the most important questions
by way of phantom causes and cures; their work provides evidence for
thinking that their unearthly, anti-body philosophies were an unconscious
attack on life, a way of taking revenge on our mortality. Nietzsche contrasts

118
The Complete Essays of Montaigne, trans. Donald M. Frame (Stanford University Press, 1958), 2.
Nietzsche quoted, read, and admired Montaigne by the evidence of published works and corre-
spondence. Notice that Nietzsche calls the autobiographical Ecce Homo an “essay” (EH Foreword 2),
the genre invented by Montaigne, and that the Frenchman’s words on self-portrayal could be
Nietzsche’s: “I do not portray being: I portray passing” (Montaigne, Essays, 611).
100 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
himself in section 10 with the tradition, ladling on the poetic invective:
“When I compare myself with people who have been honored as first so far,
then the difference is palpable. I do not even consider these supposedly
‘first’ people to be people at all, – to my mind they are human waste,
excrescences of disease and vengeful instincts: they are nothing but disas-
trous, fundamentally incurable non-humans who take revenge on life . . . I
want to be the opposite of all this” (EH 2.10).119
“Why I Am So Clever” concludes as follows: “My formula for greatness
in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be other than it is,
not in the past, not in the future, not in all eternity. Not merely to endure
that which happens of necessity, still less to dissemble it – all idealism is
untruthfulness in the face of necessity – but to love it . . .” (EH 2.10).
Nietzsche casts his passionate serenity as the antithesis to the sickly idealism
that characterizes so many philosophers. Idealists want (and imagine) things
other than they are because, in Nietzsche’s formulation, they cannot
actually engage the world as it is. They are intellectual cowards.
But did Nietzsche live this passionate serenity? His polemics do not prove
the contrary. Criticism need not imply an escape; it may aim to achieve
some better condition. Still, why write a largely polemical corpus if one does
not want things otherwise? Perhaps Nietzsche would be more honest if he
called amor fati a creative formula of affirmation, a way to recover from a life
of suffering. But that sounds like idealism.
Why then, according to our author, is Nietzsche so clever? He did not
squander his energies, he learned the importance of devising his own diet,
he learned the importance of locale and climate, and the importance of
choosing the right means of recreation and recovery (that is, the right
authors and composers). Of course Nietzsche means the right selections
for him, choosing those things that promote his health in all senses. Overall,
the principle of his selection is selfishness, self-preservation and self-
defense – or, if you like, self-love. “The customary word for this self-
defensive instinct is taste,” he writes (EH 2.8).120 Hence Nietzsche is clever
because he has good taste; particular and personal taste; beneficial taste.
This means, in turn, that he has mastered the art of controlling stimuli and,
119
One of satire’s basic techniques, invective requires “elegance of form to set off grossness of content,”
and the best satirists use it sparingly for shock effect (Hodgart, Satire, 130). Nietzsche employs
vitriolic language at the very moment when traditional opinion stands most against him.
120
Nietzsche was quite fond of La Rochefoucauld’s Maxims, in which the Frenchman frequently speaks
of amour-propre, variously translated as self-interest or self-love; its discussion makes up his longest
maxim (#563). About self-love’s power, La Rochefoucauld writes: “one might reasonably conclude
that its desires are kindled by itself alone rather than by the beauty or value of the things desired,
which are given their price and their luster by its taste alone” (Maxims, 113).
Why I Write Such Excellent Books 101
equally significant, the avoidance of stimuli that could diminish his
powers.121
Nietzsche counts himself clever, as well, because of the unconscious
workings of his creative mind, the natural welling up of his thinking and
writing. Finally, Nietzsche is so clever because he knew what counts, the
little things of life that are everything: the body and its environment,
psychology, and physiology. Nietzsche is so clever because he looked at
human beings instead of just their ideas and ideals; he conceived the
physical people behind them, living particular lives.
Nietzsche’s cleverness in this chapter also revolves around his idea that
thinking is a kind of digestion. The intestines are to food, on this model, as
the brain is to the rest of the body (and the environment generally).122 Thus
diet is critically important. The brain unconsciously amalgamates its own
type of experiential food and brings forth relative degrees of either spiritual
nutrition or waste. Nietzsche’s attention to the little things, then, is ulti-
mately attention to the greatest thing: a well-formed creative human being
and a thinker in love with life. This greatest thing is possible by selfish
attention to which little things lead you uniquely to your own highest
health. This personal methodology of forming the best kind of human life
is how Nietzsche understands wisdom. What shall I eat? What shall I read?
Where shall I walk, and with whom? These questions posed by an actual
body precede and determine any answer to, What shall I do? My taste will
determine what I can accomplish in life.

Why I Write Such Excellent Books


Nietzsche cared about how his books were received. So he begins with the
“question of their being understood or not understood” (EH 3.1). He suffers
no illusions here either: people ignore his books, or misunderstand them.
His discussion of awful interpretations seems both lighthearted and tinged
with sardonic astonishment. But if his self-praise has been warranted, he
now needs an explanation for this lack of good readers. His explanation is
straightforward: Nietzsche’s contemporaries are not smart or sensitive
enough; they lack a discernment of philosophical history, its crisis and
future. “When Doctor Heinrich von Stein once honestly complained that

121
Nietzsche writes: “This I have seen with my own eyes: natures gifted, rich and free already in their
thirties ‘read to ruins,’ mere matches that have to be struck if they are to ignite – emit ‘thoughts’” (EH
2.8).
122
This does not mean to set the brain apart from the body; Nietzsche’s talk of physiology often suggests
that he understands thinking as an activity of the entire body.
102 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
he understood not one word of my Zarathustra, I told him that was quite in
order: to have understood, that is to say experienced, six sentences of that
book would raise one to a higher level of mortals than ‘modern’ man could
attain to” (EH 3.1).
Nietzsche’s contemporaries, he claims, have no experience to compare
with what they read on the page.
Ultimately, nobody can get more out of things, books included, than he
already knows. What one has no access to through experience one has no ear
for. Now let us imagine an extreme case: that a book speaks of nothing but
events which lie outside the possibility of general or even of rare experience –
that it is the first language for a new range of experiences. In this case simply
nothing will be heard, with the acoustical illusion that where nothing is
heard there is nothing . . . (EH 3.1)

Nietzsche’s philosophy is transfigured experience, not impersonal truth-


telling. Hence, others do not comprehend Nietzsche because they have not
had similar experiences – an advantageous interpretation of unpopularity.
But the passage provides a glimpse into Nietzsche’s theory of good reading:
to read Nietzsche well requires shared experience. We will consider the con-
sequences of this idea in a moment.
Comprehensible lack of fame or not, Nietzsche paints a self-parodying
picture of indifference to his literary reception by immediately undercutting
that indifference. Early in section 1 he says that he will treat his incompre-
hensibility “with all the carelessness it warrants” (EH 3.1). Near the end of
the section he writes, “You will have to forgive my complete lack of curiosity
about reviews of my books” (EH 3.1). In between, and even once more after
this remark, Nietzsche discusses five book reviews and alludes to even more
of them. His melodramatic “non legor, non legar” (“I am not read, I will not
be read,” EH 3.1) would, by the evidence of this buffo section, best conclude:
“but oh how I wish to be read!” The entire section turns on itself, laughing.
Nietzsche continues the joke by remarking that, outside Germany, there
are “even real geniuses among my readers.” The section then contrasts
Nietzsche’s foreign style and sensibility with that of “Europe’s flatland,
Germany” (EH 3.2). The section concludes strangely, as follows: “We all
know, some even know from experience, what a longears is. Very well, I
dare to assert that I possess the smallest ears. This is of no little interest to
women – it seems to me they feel themselves better understood by me? I am
the anti-ass par excellence and therewith a world-historical monster – I am, in
Greek and not only in Greek, the Anti-Christ” (EH 3.2). What does this
mean? And why the phrase, “in Greek”? The reference to the ass is no doubt
Why I Write Such Excellent Books 103
twofold. Nietzsche alludes to Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part 4, in which
an ass appears now and again to say, “I-a, I-a,” looking and sounding like
“Ja-Ja” in German (that is, “Yes-Yes” or “Yeah-Yeah”). Zarathustra’s “Higher
Men” worship this ass, despite the paucity of the animal’s vocabulary. And
Nietzsche’s reference to Greek very likely alludes to the Greek story recounted
in Lucian’s The Ass or Apuleius’ The Golden Ass, both classical satires with
which Nietzsche was well acquainted. Kathleen Higgins argues that
Nietzsche modeled Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part 4, after these texts, The
Golden Ass more particularly.123 For purposes of understanding the Ecce Homo
passage, we need a little knowledge of the ass’s primary metaphoric aspect in
Thus Spoke Zarathustra. It functions as an ass.
More important is the ass’s relationship to the “Higher Men.” They
worship the beast because it offers little but affirmation and assent to the
world. This characterizes their ignorant mouthing of Zarathustra’s teach-
ings. The “Higher Men” praise the ass as follows: “What hidden wisdom it
is, that he wears long ears and says only Yea and never Nay! Has he not
created the world after his own image, that is, as stupid as possible? / The
ass, however, brayed ‘Ye-a’” (Z 4.17.2). In Part 3 (“On the Spirit of
Gravity”), Zarathustra relates the ass to a remark about taste and
discrimination.
Verily, I also do not like those who consider everything good and this world
the best. Such men I call the omni-satisfied. Omni-satisfaction, which knows
how to taste everything, that is not the best taste. I honor the recalcitrant
choosy tongues and stomachs, which have learned to say ‘I’ and ‘yes’ and
‘no.’ But to chew and digest everything – that is truly the swine’s manner.
Always to bray Ye-a – that only the ass has learned, and whoever is of his
spirit. (Z 3.11.2)
To be an ass in Thus Spoke Zarathustra is a foolish thing. A decadent thing.
Return now to the passage that concludes section 2 of “Why I Write
Such Excellent Books.” To describe himself as the “anti-ass par excellence”
re-emphasizes what we have seen in Ecce Homo on the matter of taste.
Nietzsche’s excellence lies in making wise discriminations. He has good
taste. This means that he resists stimuli and practices a beneficial selfishness.

123
Kathleen M. Higgins is the first to identify Menippean satire in Nietzsche’s work – in Thus Spoke
Zarathustra, Book 4 (Higgins, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987),
Chapter 7). She also reminds us that Nietzsche spoke on satire as a classics student in Leipzig. (The
text of that presentation, “The Cynic Menippus and Varronian Satire,” is lost.) Roger Hollinrake
argues that Nietzsche specifically satirizes Wagner in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Nietzsche, Wagner, and
the Philosophy of Pessimism (London: Allen & Unwin, 1982), 70, 76, 136).
104 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
What does this entail? Foremost, it entails the rejection of Christianity, that
philosophy of the indiscriminate, that piece of bad taste that would forgive
all, justify all, patronize all. Nietzsche is an anti-Christ because he is an anti-
ass. To put it another way: being an anti-ass is logically prior to and requisite
of being an anti-Christ. And beside this silliness, the passage contains the
explicit but well-hidden allusion to classical satire already mentioned.
The longears remark I wish to trace, as well, to Persius’ Satires. After
worrying about what he can say in Nero’s Rome, the exuberant author
writes: “All the same, I should. I will. I’ll bury it / in this little book. What
I’ve seen, I’ve seen: / EVERYONE HAS ASS’S EARS.”124
That being an anti-ass allows one to understand people better seems
obvious enough, but why Nietzsche claims that his “small ears” allow him
to understand women in particular seems unclear – unless he alludes to
another metaphoric tradition that made the ass a symbol of lust.125 In that
case, could Nietzsche mean that he understands women better because –
from the saintly side of his psyche – he is unclouded by lust for them?
Maybe that explains why Nietzsche writes in the same section: “I cannot
make myself solemn, I can achieve embarrassment at best” (EH 3.2).
Nietzsche gives a first answer in section 3 for “Why I Write Such
Excellent Books.” “I come from heights that no bird ever reached in its
flight, I know abysses into which no foot ever strayed” (EH 3.3). Nietzsche’s
second answer: his style communicates the variety of his mental experiences
(his “inward states”). He summarizes his work with an intriguing statement.
“Altogether, there is no prouder and at the same time subtler type of book:
here and there they achieve the highest thing achievable on earth, cynicism;
they have to be conquered with the most delicate fingers as well as the
bravest fists. Every frailty of the soul excludes one once and for all, even
every kind of dyspepsia: one must not have any nerves, one needs a cheerful
digestion” (EH 3.3). What does Nietzsche invest in the word cynicism?
Nietzsche was familiar by training with the Greek Cynics, the traditional
founders Antisthenes and Diogenes of Sinope. Ancient Cynics held excel-
lence (areté) to be the only good, its essence being self-control and a severe

124
Persius, Satires, trans. Richard Emil Braun (Lawrence, KS: Coronado, 1984), 1.67. Translator
Richard Braun in a note cites the Scholiast as recording that ass’s ears “proverbially indicate fools,
since the fable tells us that the foolish Midas had ass’s ears” (106); Sullivan notes in The Satyricon that
King Midas “was afflicted with ass’s ears for a wrong decision as judge in the musical contest between
Apollo on the lyre and Marsyas the satyr on the flute” (Petronius, The Satyricon, trans. J. P. Sullivan,
rev. edn (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986), 205). The story also appears in Ovid’s Metamorphoses
(11.153–93). (Nietzsche quotes a Latin phrase without citation from the Satires of Persius in UM 3.6.)
125
Sullivan notes this in Petronius, The Satyricon, 188.
Why I Write Such Excellent Books 105
independence.126 The Cynics developed no system of philosophy – instead
professing a purely practical wisdom. Modern cynics differ, since they
undercut the claims to virtue of others by considering all human motives
selfish. Still, the common element comes from the skepticism of ancient
Cynicism, an independent and heterodox philosophy. The ancient creed
expressed a deep distrust of law and social norms, rejecting any notion that
human greatness was possible in the sociopolitical arena. Cynics held that
nobility of soul depended instead on independence from conventional
values, if not on an outright withdrawal from social life.
Nietzsche evokes the ancient Cynic’s skepticism, independence of
thought, and indifference to social ideals, and favors personal areté and
self-control. And Nietzsche perfects his radical writing, he says in our Ecce
Homo passage, when it displays the skepticism and independence of cyni-
cism. Relevant to Ecce Homo’s form, the first two satirists in history were
said by tradition to be Archilochus and a Cynic philosopher, Menippus of
Gadara.127
We should explore further Nietzsche’s idea that cynicism distinguishes
his writerly excellence. He writes about cynicism in a Beyond Good and Evil
chapter entitled “The Free Spirit,” in respect to the philosopher as a searcher
after knowledge. The section begins: “Every choice human being strives
instinctively for a citadel and secrecy where he is saved from the crowd, the
many, the great majority – where he may forget ‘men who are the rule,’
being their exception” (BGE 26). But a desire for knowledge drives this
person outside. Nietzsche describes a complex typology of cynicism in the
long excerpt that follows, a passage that throws considerable light on how he
views his achievement as a writer in Ecce Homo.
The long and serious study of the average man . . . constitutes a necessary part
of the life-history of every philosopher . . . If he is fortunate, however, . . . he

126
Areté is a skill or excellence, having a wider scope than its common translation, virtue. Aristotle
mentions the areté of shipbuilding, for example.
127
Archilochus was a hereditary priest of Demeter (goddess of the fall harvest), renowned for inventing
iambic meter to avenge a wrong through invective verse (performed with license at the festival).
People long believed that his artful words killed his enemies (Elliott, Power of Satire, 7–8). He lived
c. 650 bce in the time of Greek curse tablets – written abuse thought to have vengeful effects on one’s
enemy, if the cause was just. The other founding pillar of satire was the Cynic philosopher,
Menippus of Gadara (c. third century bce), much celebrated and imitated by Varro. Indicatively,
Plato sought to end the practice of curse tablets, and his Republic would have banned iambic poets
from holding any citizen up for laughter (Elliott, Power of Satire, 9). Relihan even considers Book 10
of Plato’s Republic “the primary impulse for Menippean satire” and “the force that both motivates
and encircles the genre in its eight-hundred-year history” (Ancient Menippean Satire, 11). Of course
Nietzsche consistently and thoroughly inveighs against Platonic moralizing – another reason for him
to take the Cynics’ and satirists’ side.
106 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
will encounter suitable shortcuts and helps for his task; I mean so-called
cynics, those who simply recognize the animal, the commonplace, and ‘the
rule’ in themselves, and at the same time still have that degree of spirituality
and that itch which makes them talk of themselves and their like before
witnesses – sometimes they even wallow in books, as on their own dung.
Cynicism is the only form in which base souls approach honesty; and the
higher man must listen closely to every coarse or subtle cynicism, and
congratulate himself when a clown without shame or a scientific satyr speaks
out precisely in front of him.
There are even cases where enchantment mixes with the disgust – namely,
whereby a freak of nature genius is tied to some such indiscreet billygoat and
ape, as in the case of the Abbé Galiani . . . It happens more frequently, as has
been hinted, that a scientific head is placed on an ape’s body, a subtle
exceptional understanding in a base soul . . . And whenever anyone speaks
without bitterness, quite innocently, of man as a belly with two require-
ments, and a head with one; whenever anyone sees, seeks, and wants to see
only hunger, sexual lust, and vanity as the real and only motives of human
actions; in short, when anyone speaks ‘badly’ – and not even ‘wickedly’ – of
man, the lover of knowledge should listen subtly and diligently; he
should altogether have an open ear wherever people talk without indigna-
tion. (BGE 26)
This passage is key to understanding Nietzsche’s “highest type” of cynicism
that he applies in Ecce Homo to the best parts of his books, a cynicism that
stands as the “highest thing achievable on earth” (EH 3.3).
The highest-minded type of people, to Nietzsche, seek refuge from
their spiritual inferiors. When this highest type loves knowledge, seclusion
would prevent direct learning about the average person. Fortunately, there
are some “base souls” who speak frankly, honesty, and with a lack of
indignation about the life and motivations of themselves, the average
person. Some have even written books. Human beings are motivated
only by “hunger, sexual lust, and vanity,” claim such cynics. Nietzsche
calls them “so-called cynics” because they are not Cynics in the classical
sense, nor in Nietzsche’s higher sense of the word. The so-called cynics are
useful to the lover of knowledge because they convey knowledge of the
average person. This implies that Nietzsche believes their judgment is
insightful to a point, but falsely reductive. But clearly, being “cynical” is
not of itself any sign of the overall character or spiritual rank of a person. It
can be a positive attribute even in an otherwise base soul, however,
because Nietzsche considers its unsentimental power of discernment to
provide useful observations about the run of humanity. Two types of low-
souled cynic are further characterized: the clown without shame and the
scientific satyr.
Why I Write Such Excellent Books 107
The clown without shame and the scientific satyr are slightly higher types
of cynics. In both, “enchantment mixes with the disgust” (BGE 26). This
means that they have found a higher standpoint from which their cynical
conclusions are enchanting; perhaps they find them ironically amusing, or
they are entranced by the dark subject matter, or they enchant us by their
mode of expressing disgust. The first kind of this mixed cynic occurs when
by “a freak of nature genius is tied to some such indiscreet billygoat and ape”
(BGE 26). The second is the more frequent inverse of the first, when “a
scientific head is placed on an ape’s body, a subtle exceptional understand-
ing in a base soul” (BGE 26).
What should we conclude from all of this? When you place a “scientific”
head on an “ape’s body,” you cannot separate off the head (the soul) as
defining a person while ignoring “the body.” Genius has to mean genius-
bodied, for Nietzsche, which in turn means that someone is “high-souled.”
Such a person may still be an indiscreet billygoat, an ape, in respect to
temperament and mode of expression, however. Another case occurs when
a scientific temperament and mode of expression is tied to an ape’s body – in
other words tied, says Nietzsche, to a base soul. He revalues the body by
using it to define types and ranks of soul. This implies that what we honor
stems unconsciously from a body, not spontaneously or at the command of
a mind or soul. “The body is inspired, let us leave the soul out of it” (EH
9.4). A genius body pays careful heed to stimuli; this has been Nietzsche’s
wisdom and cleverness – his good taste.
Return now to Nietzsche’s idea that he writes such good books because
he sometimes achieves a higher cynicism (EH 3.3). What kind of cynic is
Nietzsche? He does not mean cynicism in the modern way – he rejects its
pessimism that base motives are the only motives. Instead, we must con-
clude it seems that Nietzsche is the next step up from the mixed cynics of
Beyond Good and Evil. Nietzsche would be genius in body and head. This
reading seems plausible until we recall that Nietzsche has said he often plays
the buffoon (in the parallel he draws, for example, to Shakespeare), and we
see this in Nietzsche’s writing itself.128 That would make Nietzsche’s
cynicism a new, higher kind of buffoonery: a writing that encompasses
philosophical insight and playfulness while engaging the dangerous, fright-
ening aspects of the human condition. This cheerful cynicism would be a
unique style and pathos in the history of philosophy, but its buffoonery

128
See the discussion of Nietzsche’s use of “buffoon” in Kathleen M. Higgins, “Zarathustra is a Comic
Book,” Philosophy and Literature, 16 (1992), 1–14, at 8–12.
108 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
points psychologically to Nietzsche’s intense suffering. As Nietzsche theor-
ized in Shakespeare’s case, the buffoon’s style is compensatory (EH 2.4).
Nietzsche’s cynicism is “the highest achievement on earth” because of its
realism about human motivation and mortal life, coupled with creative
energy and the vigorous pursuit of areté. Like the modern cynic, Nietzsche
does not delude; like the ancient Cynic, he is a disciplined master of self-
styled virtues who holds the world’s orthodoxies at bay. And Nietzsche
conveys this cynicism by satire, the legacy style of Cynicism’s founder,
Menippus.
Nietzsche concludes section 3 by imagining “the perfect reader [who]
always turns into a monster of courage and curiosity; moreover, supple,
cunning, cautious; a born adventurer and discoverer” (EH 3.3). The perfect
reader is attentive and subtle; the perfect reader appears to be a Nietzsche,
seeking recreation and recovery in Ecce Homo from his own work, resting in
the last days before the end.
Finally, section 3 employs another aggressive, mocking trope common to
many famous satires: animals standing in for people. Counting the last
sentence of the previous section and the single paragraph that constitutes
section 3, Nietzsche likens himself to an anti-ass and a high-flying bird, and
his opponents to asses, guinea pigs, and cattle. Animal rhetoric can succeed
as mockery by presenting a living thing with the life functions and other
shared traits of human beings, but without minds or autonomy (by com-
mon reckoning). Are these unfair, irrelevant attacks in place of arguments?
No they are not, because we are not in a forensic context. Understanding
Nietzsche depends on grasping his tone and style. To isolate his doctrines
from their tonal context is unfortunate because Nietzsche’s style instructs us
on how best to understand them. Perhaps this explains why Nietzsche
repeatedly discusses the style of his writings in Ecce Homo while pleading
that we not misunderstand him. “Nota bene!” he seems to be telling us. In
this instance, what academic philosophers call uncharitable ad hominem
arguments, satirists call wit.
Section 4 discusses this art of style and its understanding. Nietzsche
writes:
To communicate a state, an inward tension of pathos, by means of signs,
including the tempo of these signs – that is the meaning of every style; and
considering that the multiplicity of inward states is exceptionally large in my
case, I have many stylistic possibilities – the most multifarious art of style that
has ever been at the disposal of one man. Good is any style that really
communicates an inward state, that makes no mistake about the signs, the
tempo of the signs, the gestures . . .
Why I Write Such Excellent Books 109
Good style in itself – a pure folly, mere ‘idealism,’ on a level with the
‘beautiful in itself,’ the ‘good in itself,’ the ‘thing in itself.’ (EH 3.4)
Style is an ordered verbal expression of an author’s physiological states.129
And good style, Nietzsche claims, actually communicates an inward state.
This understanding contrasts for Nietzsche with the idea of any abstract
definition of style, that is, a definition that eschews the author and considers
textual form and features alone – for example, a text’s coherence, unity,
sonority, rhythm, and the like.
On Nietzsche’s account of style, how would we know good style when
we saw it? The answer seems inescapable: we cannot know, since we are not
privy to an author’s inward states, and hence cannot know whether these
states have been communicated by the style of writing employed. Another
odd consequence: confused writing may really communicate a confused and
incoherent inward state, making it by this definition a piece of “good style.”
Nietzsche continues straightaway: “Always presupposing that there are
ears – that there are those capable and worthy of the same pathos, that
there is no lack of those to whom one may communicate oneself” (EH 3.4).
This clarifies things somewhat. A good style not only mirrors a state, but in
fact communicates a state to a reader. Nietzsche’s definition makes a require-
ment on the reader as much as the writer. This is good style, and we are
good readers, if a state or pathos becomes communicated. Nietzsche’s defi-
nition presupposes that there are readers who are “capable and worthy of the
same pathos”; to them Nietzsche’s style is revealed. Good style means: we
have experienced that as well. In the next paragraph Nietzsche says that
Zarathustra has not found listeners. “And until then there will be nobody to
understand the art that has been squandered here” (EH 3.4).
Nietzsche’s remarks on style have significant implications for the art of
interpretation. On his account, good reading requires detailed knowledge
and experience similar to the knowledge and experience expressed in a text.
Good reading depends on an unwinding of the author’s intention as
evidenced by the text. Finally, reading to understand is sympathetic, not
creative. For the reader, interpreting well is becoming conscious oneself of a
text’s presuppositions, its nascent knowledge, its laws and experience.
Hence, Nietzsche’s contemporary readers did not recognize his thoughts
and style because they did not recognize the experiences behind them; these
thoughts were not part of their world. Consequently, they read badly;
Nietzsche’s states of mind were not communicated.

129
Every inward state is a physical state, for Nietzsche, so style is a function of the body.
110 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
What will a good reader attend to? Nietzsche remarks that he has a
“number of new and unheard of artistic devices,” and “the most multi-
farious art of style that has ever been at the disposal of one man” (EH 3.4).
This claim shows how seriously Nietzsche took his literary art. Abstruse
parody and satire are sophisticated genres with a myriad of techniques,
characterized by mixing forms that engage a literary tradition and presup-
pose a literate reader.130
Attentive people will see Nietzsche as “a psychologist without equal,”
claims Nietzsche in section 5, and read him “the way good old philologists
read their Horace” (EH 3.5). Good interpretation is detailed and situational;
it looks deeply into word choice, intention, and context. Philologists are
classicists, but they are literal lovers of the word, first. Nietzsche’s reference
to Horace, of course, alludes to the pre-eminent Roman poet, famous for
the brilliant concision of the Odes and Satires. If we read Ecce Homo the way
we read Horace, what should we expect?
Nietzsche next details the psychological probity that he claims animates
his “excellent books”; he says that he has uncovered the “naïve blunders” of
the populace and the philosophers, “for example, the belief that ‘unegoistic’
and ‘egoistic’ are opposite, while the ego itself is really only a ‘higher
swindle,’ an ‘ideal.’ – There are neither egoistic nor unegoistic acts: both
concepts are psychological absurdities” (EH 3.5). No shorthand description,
for Nietzsche, provides a typological motive for any act, consistent with his
earlier critique of universal moral prescriptions. This stance accords with
Frye’s observation about satire, that it strives to show “an infinite variety of
what [people] do,” to subvert the efforts of systematizers.131 Hence,
Nietzsche’s attack on Christian selflessness does not imply that Nietzsche
champions the egoist. Rejecting one half of a mutually definitive binary
does not mean that the other stands ready as the right explanatory concept.
Nietzsche does not endorse psychological egoism. Nor does he adopt the

130
In music, parody is the practice of reworking an already established composition, especially incor-
porating material from other works. This literally describes Ecce Homo because Nietzsche reworks an
already established composition (his philosophic corpus), incorporating new and old material,
quoting from his works in new contexts, reinterpreting his ideas, and so on. Similarly, Hutcheon
argues that literary parody depends upon an author’s re-encounter with a textual past – although
usually not his own, as in Nietzsche’s book. “Parody is . . . repetition with critical distance,” she
writes; that is, a “form of inter-art discourse” (Theory of Parody, 6, 2). But, unlike satire, Hutcheon
argues that parody is “not always at the expense of the parodied text” (5) – as when Nietzsche turns to
his own books. Still, she holds that “ironic inversion is a characteristic of all parody,” and that
“parodic satire” is a particularly common form that parody takes (6). Of course, Nietzsche hotly
contests most of the philosophic tradition he re-encounters.
131
Frye, Anatomy of Criticism, 229.
Why I Write Such Excellent Books 111
relative, the apparent world, or the body (sans soul) instead of their pre-
viously valued contraries.
Instead, Nietzsche’s revaluating project attempts to enrich or complicate
the word-picture of human beings, in part by showing how the traditional
words err. Actually, he revalues the slandered word of a contrary by enfold-
ing the persuasive power of its privileged rival, even to the extent that the
disparaged word of the pair is not chosen over its contrary. Instead, its entire
context is rethought and revalued. So Nietzsche does not say, “the soul is a
fiction; throw it away in favor of body.” Ecce Homo says in effect: “the body
is a truth; what does that mean for the soul?” Nietzsche explains this in
Beyond Good and Evil:
Between ourselves, it is not at all necessary by that same act [of rejecting the
idea of soul as ‘indestructible, eternal, indivisible’] to get rid of ‘the soul’ itself
and thus forgo one of the oldest and most venerable of hypotheses . . . But
the road to new forms and refinements of the soul-hypothesis stands open:
and such conceptions as ‘mortal soul’ and ‘soul as multiplicity of the subject’
and ‘soul as social structure of the drives and emotions’ want henceforth to
possess civic rights in science . . . [By rejecting the superstitious definition,
the new psychologist] sees that, by precisely that act, he has also condemned
himself to inventing the new – and, who knows? perhaps to finding it.
(BGE 12)
Likewise in Ecce Homo, Nietzsche does not abandon the words egoistic and
unegoistic; he transforms them. Given the task to revalue the ‘little things’
of life in Ecce Homo, he rhetorically celebrates the so-called egoistic, at the
expense of the so-called selfless drives. And notice how he conflates invent-
ing with finding in the Beyond Good and Evil passage, because our finding is
an inventing – made into a finding.
Nietzsche criticizes moral interpretations, as section 5 continues, for
having “falsified all psychologia through and through” (EH 3.5). Then begins
a brief discussion of women, the alleged danger of emancipating them, and a
vehement objection to the moral poisoning of sexual love. Of women, he
writes: “Has my answer been heard to the question how one cures a
woman – ‘redeems’ her? One gives her a child. Woman needs children, a
man is for her always only a means” (EH 3.5). The remarks on women in
Ecce Homo point to and closely echo what I take to be a largely metaphorical
treatment in Beyond Good and Evil, in which Nietzsche contrasts spiritually
abortive with ‘childbearing’ women, and so-called idealists seeking emanci-
pation with the “eternally feminine” women whom Nietzsche actually
considers of the “first rank” (BGE 232–39). Metaphorical or not, however,
the comments here are Nietzsche’s most reactionary in Ecce Homo. He
112 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
somehow finds the overcoming and fighting spirit in feminist women to be
mere “vengeance,” not the very revaluing he otherwise advocates.132
Christian morality of sex is a kind of “anti-nature” or, “if you prefer
pretty words, idealism” (EH 3.5). Nietzsche deplores “every kind of con-
tempt for sex” to conclude section 5, and remarks that he would apply “vice”
and “sin” to how moralists degrade the sexual root of life (EH 3.5). This
discussion evinces Bakhtin’s view that satire is about “the stripped down pro
et contra of life’s ultimate questions,” not the pedantic wrangling over moral
terminology that constitutes so much of what passes for ethics in philosophy
today.133
Nietzsche describes the dream of his intellectual life to conclude “Why I
Write Such Excellent Books”; it configures his work once more as anti-
prescriptivist. He quotes from Beyond Good and Evil to “give an idea of me
as a psychologist.” “The consummate philosopher has a genius of the heart
from whose touch everyone walks away richer, not having received grace
and surprise, not as blessed and oppressed by alien goods, but richer in
himself, newer to himself than before, broken open, blown at and sounded
out by a thawing wind” (EH 3.6). This would make Nietzsche’s writing not
didactic, but exemplary. Like Socrates on his better days, Nietzsche’s ideal
philosopher eschews knowledge and shows us a method and manner for
thinking ourselves.134 Given Nietzsche’s rhetorical onslaught, however,
perhaps this all-too-touching notion looks more like an ideal than a prac-
tice. Still, the courageous reader that Nietzsche has described might see in
Ecce Homo an exemplum of high-spirited play, cynicism and satire, if one
has had the similar experience of laughing at the pieties of grave philosophy.
Let us complete this involved discussion of Ecce Homo’s third chapter.
According to our author, why did Nietzsche write such excellent books? His
books are excellent because they speak a new language of philosophic
experience, and because their author is an anti-ass par excellence, that is,
he discriminates in all matters of taste. In addition, they excel because they
demand a spiritually rich reader to be understood and experienced, and
because Nietzsche writes them in a multiplicity of controlled styles that

132
Hodgart counts women as one of the three most common satiric topics (Satire, 79). (The other two
are politics and the church.) Others have done well to complicate the discussion of Nietzsche’s view
of women, however (see, e.g., Higgins, Comic Relief, Chapter 4, in which she argues that Nietzsche is
a forebear of feminist philosophy).
133
Bakhtin, Dostoevsky’s Poetics, 116.
134
“I admire the courage and wisdom of Socrates in everything he did, said – and did not say. This
mocking and enamored monster and pied piper of Athens, who made the most arrogant youths
tremble and sob, was not only the wisest talker who ever lived: he was just as great in his silence”
(GS 340).
Why I Write Such Excellent Books 113
mirror his inner states. They are excellent books because they have a
psychological profundity, and because they perform instead of dissertate.
They show how we could proceed as thinkers for ourselves, instead of giving
us something that we must consume or refuse – and either way be done
with – as dogmatic philosophies do. Nietzsche’s goal to be a better teacher
by acting as the spur instead of the horse aligns with his use of satire, for this
multi-layered style goads and exhorts us to think against the status quo.
Satire is also well suited to mirror Nietzsche’s nuanced inner states and
internal contrasts: the form’s irony reveals and deflects, attacks and celebra-
tes, thunders and laughs. Nietzsche has said that his books sometimes
achieve cynicism of the ancient stripe, the “highest thing achievable on
earth” (EH 3.3). If true, Nietzsche’s achievement arrives on the hawkish
wings of the first Cynic, Menippus, the very nom de guerre of satire.135
Nietzsche’s character-trait chapters end in Ecce Homo with “Why I Write
Such Excellent Books,” and he now writes ten short chapters about his
previous works.136 His treatments do not summarize; they introduce,
preface, comment, reflect, interpret, and locate.137 In considering a book
he recalls his state of body-mind, and the place, tenor, and time of each
book’s composition, its core formulations, style, and pathos. Why? What do
these recollections accomplish, exactly?
Of course, Ecce Homo does not provide the only occasion for Nietzsche to
ponder his previous books. Remember that Nietzsche wrote new prefaces
for four of his books a year or two previously (for The Birth of Tragedy,
Human, All Too Human, and Daybreak in 1886, and The Gay Science in
1887). How do these new prefaces differ from Nietzsche’s book treatments
in Ecce Homo?138 In particular I want to examine how these similarly

135
Bakhtin coined the term Menippean satire, and this name for ancient satire is now canonical.
Nietzsche’s lost lecture on ancient satire concerned Menippus and Varro, and he refers to Menippus
in a letter to Erwin Rohde of 9 November 1868 (KGB 1.2.599).
136
In the original German edition of Ecce Homo, the ten discussions of Nietzsche’s books fall under the
Chapter 3 heading of “Why I Write Such Excellent Books,” but I treat them as separate pieces
because they have titles and their own numbered subparts.
137
Hutcheon observes that since the twentieth century, “art forms have increasingly appeared to distrust
external criticism to the extent that they have sought to incorporate critical commentary within their
own structures in a kind of self-legitimizing short-circuit of the normal critical dialogue . . . The
modern world seems fascinated by the ability of our human systems to refer to themselves in an
unending mirroring process . . . Even scientific knowledge today seems characterized by the inevi-
table presence within itself of some discourse on its own validating principles” (Theory of Parody, 1).
138
Richard Schacht excludes Ecce Homo’s discussion of its author’s previous books in his discussion of
Nietzsche’s retrospective efforts, on the grounds that the earlier prefaces span Nietzsche’s “philo-
sophical maturity” instead of his “final frenzied months” (Making Sense of Nietzsche: Reflections
Timely and Untimely (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995), 243). This exemplifies how Ecce
Homo has been marginalized – even in a case where its discussion would be germane and fruitful.
114 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
retrospective works illuminate our present subject, that is, the meaning of
Ecce Homo. By comparing these treatments to each other, we will see even
more clearly how Ecce Homo continues a unifying and satirizing project that
extends across the thinker’s career as he came to understand it through
critical moments of reflection.
In discussing each of Nietzsche’s self-treatments in Ecce Homo, I will
focus on three questions: How do Nietzsche’s discussions of his books
operate as interpretations of those books? How do his discussions evince
Ecce Homo’s satiric form? And what do they tell us about Ecce Homo’s role in
shaping how we read Nietzsche’s larger body of work?

The Birth of Tragedy


“What was really important in the essay was ignored,” Nietzsche writes of
The Birth of Tragedy in section 1. What is Nietzsche’s interpretation of the
book’s importance? “‘Hellenism and Pessimism’ would have been a less
ambiguous title – suggesting the first instruction about how the Greeks put
pessimism behind them, how they overcame it” (EH 4.1). So The Birth of
Tragedy’s philosophical answer to the problem of pessimism, as Nietzsche
reads it in 1888, constitutes his first book’s core. He interpreted Attic tragedy
as the Greek answer to pessimism. But Nietzsche does not replay the
arguments in The Birth of Tragedy; instead, he identifies the motivation
and the meaning of his first book. “I had discovered the only likeness and
parallel to my own innermost experience which history possesses – I had
therewith become the first to comprehend the wonderful phenomenon of
the Dionysian” (EH 4.1). This centering idea illustrates the manner of
Nietzschean interpretation and its relationship to philosophical knowledge.
The genesis of The Birth of Tragedy was not historical curiosity, but
Nietzsche’s need to explore his own psyche by means of a historical parallel.
He was assailed by pessimism in his own life, but had reached some kind of
solution. Because this was his own experience, Nietzsche claims, he was able to
comprehend the Dionysian in Greek culture. He understood an external
phenomenon because of his own precondition.139 He did not learn to
overcome his own pessimism by studying Greek tragedy, rather, he under-
stood the latter because he had experienced its analogue in himself. Thus
Nietzsche understands philosophical knowledge to parallel and illuminate

139
Nietzsche has used the same model for good readers: they must have some internal analogue already
in place to understand what they read (EH 3.4).
The Birth of Tragedy 115
the particular self that inquires, and the self clarifies and enlarges its own
conception by way of that inquiry.
The essential character of Nietzsche’s entire philosophy, according to
Ecce Homo, appears in The Birth of Tragedy. He identifies its two innova-
tions: a psychological analysis of the Dionysian as the Greek means of
overcoming pessimism (and as the root of Greek art), and his understanding
of Socrates as a decadent who prized rationality at any price. In Socrates,
Nietzsche saw the wrong kind of answer to the question of pessimism,
namely, an ill-advised faith in reason, enshrined by Plato’s false formulas
(that knowledge begets virtue, that virtue begets happiness, and the idea of
‘the good in itself’). Nietzsche instead saw “morality itself as a symptom of
decadence” in The Birth of Tragedy, while finding “in the Dionysian symbol
the ultimate limit of affirmation” (EH 4.1).
Familiarity with The Birth of Tragedy invites the question: Where is the
Apollonian symbol in Nietzsche’s backward glance? In The Birth of Tragedy,
Nietzsche understood the Dionysian as turning the gruesome madness,
cruelty, and fatality of the world into musical intoxication, thus sundering
all distinctions, even of self and world. The Apollonian was the sheen of
beautiful appearance and the joy in artifice, order, and distinction. Attic
tragedy momentarily reconciles the two drives, which become terror made
beautiful. In Nietzsche’s later conception, however (exemplified, he says, by
Thus Spoke Zarathustra), the Dionysian appears as a uniquely philosophical
pathos: it has The Birth of Tragedy’s Dionysian concept at its heart, and
beautiful art and affirmation on its face. Nietzsche quotes a passage from
Twilight of the Idols that describes this recombinant Dionysian as follows:
The natural freedom of the emancipated spirit “stands in the midst of the
universe with a joyful and trusting fatalism, in the faith that only what is
separate and individual may be rejected, that in the totality everything is
redeemed and affirmed – he no longer denies . . . But such a faith is the
highest of all possible faiths: I have baptized it with the name Dionysus” (EH
4.3). Nietzsche’s Dionysian pathos is tragic in the way of Attic tragedy itself,
as an uncanny form of horror and affirmation. As such, Dionysian becomes
Nietzschean shorthand for a tragic philosophy that embraces the terrors of
existence in beautiful ways – in artful, philosophical, funny, and joyful
ways. Thus Nietzsche’s writing style, to be Dionysian, must create aesthetic
pleasure and a dark beauty to convey otherwise despairing truths. While
Hodgart notes that all satire protects and offers partial escape from the
dangerous truths that animate the form,140 Nietzsche’s existential challenge
140
Hodgart, Satire, 12.
116 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
creates a unique species of literature, epitomized by and configured through
Ecce Homo. Nietzsche’s books use satire to make the essential absurdity of
human life come into view – not beautifully as in Attic tragedy, but
comically. Both kinds of art guard us against despair while acknowledging
grim truths of living a human life.
Socrates killed a philosophical art form that had overcome pessimism.
Attic tragedy succeeded by acknowledging the horrors of existence and
embracing them artistically and psychologically, but Socrates scorned
this patho-logical art and successfully replaced it with his own moral and
scientific scheme of logical analysis and justification. Like many philos-
ophers, Nietzsche never considered Socrates to have been entirely suc-
cessful. Unlike previous thinkers, Nietzsche considered Socrates’ very
attempt to have been naïve and unwise. Nietzsche’s interpretation of
Socrates as a decadent thinker stands as a seminal moment in his
thinking life. It marks the beginning, he tells us, of his long suspicion
of exclusively rational attempts to overcome pessimism at the human
condition. Can we specify how Socrates went wrong, according to
Nietzsche?
Socratic decadence engendered one monstrous assumption: that
humanity needs saving. Socrates thought that human worth depended
on the ability to rationally justify our actions, emotions, decisions, and
states of mind. Socrates thus blinded himself to extra-moral, extra-rational
considerations and modes of interpretation. His rational mania sought a
cure to his own peculiar maladies, but overreacted to their threat. In
Socratism, Nietzsche observed, only the virtuous people who could
explain their virtue deserved our highest praise. This idea engendered a
moral philosophy that repudiated the Dionysian tragic world view –
because Socrates could neither face nor endure dark, irrational,
Dionysian truths. Hence, Socrates began what Christianity completed:
the moralization of all hermeneutic schemes, built on the view that
humanity requires justification by thought. This is the pre-eminent object
of satire in Nietzsche’s work, and he contests it not only with reason, but
with art, humor, and passion.
Nietzsche sought to undo this Socratic heritage, to “assassinate two
thousand years of anti-nature and desecration of humanity” (EH 4.4).
Because he rejects the moral response to imperfection and death,
Nietzsche writes, “I have the right to understand myself as the first tragic
philosopher – which is to say the most diametrically opposed antipode of a
pessimistic philosopher. Nobody had ever turned the Dionysian into a
The Birth of Tragedy 117
philosophical pathos before: tragic wisdom was missing” (EH 4.3).141
Nietzsche’s tragic wisdom will embrace the world of our experience, includ-
ing its confusion and pain. Hence tragic wisdom seeks to (1) affirm destruc-
tion and death; (2) affirm opposition and war; (3) affirm an endless
becoming, rejecting any fixed concept of being.142
Notice too how Nietzsche refers in the passage above to his philosophical
pathos, not to positions or doctrines. To read him well means attending to
his style and way of proceeding more than to philosophic destinations,
because style more than doctrine creates an encompassing pathos.143 This
mirrors Nietzsche’s claim in the Beyond Good and Evil passage that he
quotes in Ecce Homo, that his goal as a teacher was to inspire our thinking,
not convince us of his (EH 3.6).144
Nietzsche’s philosophy begins with his repudiation of the Socratic, moral
answer to pessimism. That is the meaning of The Birth of Tragedy for
Nietzsche. This idea then motivates his critiques of Christianity and mod-
ern culture, because both perpetuate the decadence begun by Socrates. Ecce
Homo understands and completes this arc because Nietzsche achieves a
critical distance from which he is able to resituate his work. All is presaged in
The Birth of Tragedy as he now understands his first book. The issues
surrounding Attic tragedy generated all of the weight-bearing questions of
his subsequent thinking life. This interpretive move begins a unifying
process for his corpus that continues throughout Ecce Homo. Nietzsche
wrote to Georg Brandes (4 May 1888): “I’ve found enough energy to survey
my overall conception from top to bottom, in such a way that the incredible

141
Nietzsche refers to “the affirmative pathos par excellence, which I call the tragic pathos” (EH 9.1).
Tragic wisdom opposes pessimism because it affirms all aspects of life, not fleeing into the ideal,
where dark truths are denied, ultimately or in principle. Philosophies of the ideal are misnamed
‘optimistic,’ in Nietzsche’s view, because they ironically express genuine pessimism by assuming that
we cannot face truth without lying to ourselves about it. Hence the ‘optimism’ of moral laws, God’s
justice, heaven and hell, social utopias, and so on. Thinking that we stand in need of salvation
constitutes the genuinely pessimistic view of humanity.
142
Nietzsche’s contingent, anti-idealist philosophy is long-standing, but the last of these points comes
into particular focus in Twilight of the Idols, where being concepts are identified as ‘timeless’
abstractions from which philosophers have drained all life and reality, while becoming concepts are
contextual and contingent on the goals of particular people (TI 3.1).
143
In a letter to Georg Brandes of 2 December 1887 (KGB 3.5.960), Nietzsche wrote: “Finally – and this,
most likely, darkens my books – there is in me a distrust of dialectics, even a distrust of giving reasons
for and against.” Griffin observes that satire shows a frequent “preference for inquiry, provocation, or
playfulness rather than assertion and conclusiveness,” and that “argument about satire-as-inquiry
accords with the claim that one of satire’s pleasures is the speculation into which its readers are led”
(Satire, 186).
144
Or as Luce Irigaray writes on behalf of Nietzsche and her own work: “it can be a light for those who
walk in the path of fidelity to themselves” (“Ecce Mulier? Fragments,” in Peter J. Burgard (ed.),
Nietzsche and the Feminine (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1994), 316–31, at 319).
118 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
variety of problems spreads out beneath me in clear outline. This requires a
degree of strength I’d almost given up hope of having. It all hangs together;
for years now everything’s been on the right track.”145
Nietzsche has described a self-revelatory method of philosophical inquiry
at work. His intellectual forays parallel his prior, inner experiences. With
the Dionysian, Nietzsche found the external model congruent to his own
thoughts on overcoming pessimism. Comprehending and overcoming his
own pessimism toward human life is the reason for his philosophy, the
spiritual sickness for which his philosophy was a “will to health” (EH 1.2).
Nietzsche takes special pains to describe the pathos of his tragic philos-
ophy that overcame pessimism. In section 3 of Ecce Homo’s treatment of The
Birth of Tragedy, he quotes Twilight of the Idols:
Saying Yes to life even in its strangest and hardest problems; the will to life
rejoicing over its own inexhaustibility even in the very sacrifice of its highest
types – that is what I called Dionysian, that is what I understood as the
bridge to the psychology of the tragic poet. Not in order to get rid of terror
and pity, not in order to purge oneself of a dangerous affect by its vehement
discharge . . . but to be oneself the eternal joy of becoming, beyond all terror
and pity – that joy which includes even joy in destroying. (EH 4.3)
Nietzsche’s interpretation of The Birth of Tragedy identifies a deep continu-
ity with his subsequent thinking. He locates the genesis of his great prob-
lems and philosophical adversaries, and reads the work as the outward
manifestation of his own internal, psycho-physical processes.146 The dis-
cussion also shows that Nietzsche saw himself as pursuing unpleasant truths
from the beginning. And to attack Socrates as decadent is like starting your
career as a plumber with an attack on pipe fittings. More importantly, Ecce
Homo’s discussion of The Birth of Tragedy allows Nietzsche to reclaim the
book from Wagnerians by laying out his foremost goal as a thinker: to
overcome pessimism by other than moral or rational-scientific means.147
Recall now that Nietzsche published other retrospective thoughts about
The Birth of Tragedy just two years earlier than Ecce Homo’s composition.

145
KGB 3.5.1030.
146
This exemplifies a Nietzschean habit: he reads other philosophers as he reads himself, inferring from
the printed page certain psycho-physical processes of the author.
147
Nietzsche also rejects the Socratic optimism that in The Birth of Tragedy he traces through to modern
science, “that thought, using the thread of causality, can penetrate the deepest abysses of being, and
that thought is capable not only of knowing being but even of correcting it” (BT 15). This response to
pessimism fails for Nietzsche as well, because the project is impossible, and rests on the unhealthy
premise that life needs fixing.
The Birth of Tragedy 119
Comparing this short work to Ecce Homo’s treatment highlights Nietzsche’s
reconfiguration project even more sharply.
The retrospective preface to The Birth of Tragedy, entitled “Attempt at a
Self-Criticism,” consists of seven sections, and Nietzsche structures his
discussion of the book on three planes: narration about the past – the
causes, challenges, and results of his first work; a present-day assessment of
the book’s qualities; and the marking of The Birth of Tragedy’s central
questions and concerns as contiguous with Nietzsche’s questions and con-
cerns of sixteen years later. I take these intersecting planes in order.
Nietzsche structures his discussion of The Birth of Tragedy’s literal
composition, in outline, as a classically structured drama, with an instigat-
ing event that spurred the book, a complicating set of problems that increase
the tension and threaten The Birth of Tragedy’s composition in the middle,
and a victorious completion and synthesis that constitute the drama’s end.
“Attempt at a Self-Criticism” lays out this structure in its first paragraph.
Nietzsche describes the basis of his book there as follows: “it must have been
an exceptionally significant and fascinating question, and deeply personal”
(BT Preface 1). Then Nietzsche describes the time, location, and historical
circumstance of his book’s composition – during the Franco-Prussian war
of 1870–71 (in which Nietzsche served as an orderly) – presenting these
events as obvious impediments to the writing of a book. Next he introduces
his own psychological condition as a challenge to The Birth of Tragedy’s
completion: he was a conflicted and “musing lover of enigmas,” a young
man simultaneously “very bemused and beriddled” who endured, near the
end, a “month of profoundest suspense.” Yet as we expect, and to close the
preface’s first paragraph, Nietzsche writes that he “attained peace with
himself,” and “completed the final draft of The Birth of Tragedy out of the
Spirit of Music” (BT Preface 1). Hence Nietzsche presents the writing of his
first book as a drama in three acts.
But what does Nietzsche think of The Birth of Tragedy now, as a
completed book? The second plane of his retrospective preface is a candid,
critical, and humorous judgment of his first book’s numerous faults. In 1886
he finds The Birth of Tragedy “marked by every defect of youth, with its
‘length in excess’ and its ‘storm and stress’” (BT Preface 2). In the third
section, his criticism only increases: Nietzsche writes that
today I find it an impossible book – I consider it poorly written, ponderous,
embarrassing, with fantastic and confused imagery, sentimental, in places
saccharine to the point of effeminacy, uneven in tempo, without the drive to
logical clarity, very convinced and therefore disdainful of evidence, even
distrustful of the relevance of evidence, a book for initiates, ‘music’ for those
120 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
dedicated to music, those who are bound together from the start on the basis
of rare aesthetic experiences, ‘music’ as a recognized sign to close relations in
artibus [the arts] – an arrogant and rhapsodic book that sought to exclude
right from the beginning the profanum vulgus [profane crowd] of the
‘educated,’ even more than from the ‘mass’ or the ‘people.’ (BT Preface 3)
These criticisms treat the book in two specific respects: as a piece of
discourse in respect to audience, and as a piece of art. (They also show
that Nietzsche was happy to fire stinging salvos at himself and not just at
other writers – a rarer trait than we might imagine.) In respect to discourse
and audience, Nietzsche views The Birth of Tragedy as arrogant and exclu-
sionary, treating its readers as already on its author’s side, thus not needing
persuasion by evidence and argumentation – instead, as fellow-initiates in
some kind of musician’s cult. The expected audience for a professor of
philology’s first book, classicists, receives no consideration in The Birth of
Tragedy as Nietzsche now sees it. And elsewhere he writes that his work is
“perhaps for artists with analytical inclinations” – not what most publishers
would want to hear about a book’s target audience (BT Preface 2).
As a piece of literary art, The Birth of Tragedy does have an uneven pace;
passages meant to rush us along by inspired association stop short at the ill-
fitting use of Kant and Schopenhauer (sometimes pressed into a Hegelian
framework of historical synthesis), while confused imagery meant to illustrate
the Apollonian and Dionysian in Greek art often makes Nietzsche’s terms less
clear. By category alone the two principal terms are imagined as art deities,
tendencies, artistic energies, and art impulses of nature, and become associ-
ated not only with dreams and intoxication, respectively, but with the urge for
self-knowledge and illusion in the Apollonian, and with primordial unity and
seeing oneself as a work of art in the Dionysian. Nietzsche regrets the book’s
form, too – instead of living in its halfway house of rhapsodic scholarship, he
wishes he had chosen one style or the other. “What a shame that I did not
dare speak then as a poet: perhaps I had the ability! Or at least as a philologist”
(BT Preface 3). He also wishes that he had not “spoiled the magnificent
problem of the Greeks” by “mixing it up with the most modern problems!”
(BT Preface 6). This aesthetic and intellectual concern shows once more how
Nietzsche wants his works to succeed as intellectual art – showing not just
inquiry and insight, but an organic unity that announces and emphasizes
them as artifice. This illustrates how Nietzsche underlines his labor as the
making of truths in the human sense, not a fanciful discovering of them as
science and philosophy most often pretend.
Nietzsche’s current judgment has negatively focused on the idiosyncratic
audience for his first book, and the book’s aesthetic properties. Notice how
The Birth of Tragedy 121
this ignores The Birth of Tragedy from a philosophical or forensic point of
view; Nietzsche exhibits no interest in assessing the truth or plausibility of
his position sixteen years on, he never mentions its scholarly reception or
defends it against the same, and does not quote any of the work positively to
prove a point. In other words, Nietzsche does none of the things that most
scholars would do had they the chance to reintroduce an academic book. Is
there another way to say this? Nietzsche actually reflects on his own faults.
The third plane of Nietzsche’s retrospective preface to The Birth of
Tragedy configures the book’s central questions and concerns as contiguous
with Nietzsche’s present-day interests. Despite its flaws, Nietzsche admires
the questions he raised in his first book, and considers them still to animate
him. He has by no means “become a stranger to the task which this
audacious book dared to tackle for the first time: to look at science
[Wissenschaft] from the perspective of the artist, but to look at art from the
perspective of life” (BT Preface 2).148 This puts The Birth of Tragedy in a vast
context, and emphasizes Nietzsche’s view that his books are more about
vantage points and ways of seeing than they are about what is seen.
Nietzsche understands his works as lines of inquiry, not propositions to
defend. This matches his skepticism about settled knowledge and highlights
his thinking life as continual, driven by inquiry. Section 4 of his preface
consists of twenty questions. He treats many of them in The Birth of
Tragedy, but others stem from this work and incite Nietzsche in the present.
He concludes the section: “We see that the book was burdened with a whole
cluster of grave questions. Let us add its gravest one: What, seen in the
perspective of life, does morality mean?” (BT Preface 4). This takes us rather
beyond The Birth of Tragedy, but Nietzsche has shown in this section how
one question leads to the next.
The retrospective urge of 1886 creates continuity with the later Nietzsche.
“The great Dionysian question mark remains standing” (BT Preface 6), and
his first book “already betrays a spirit who will one day fight at any risk
whatever the moral interpretation and significance of existence” (BT Preface
5). For the third time this presents Nietzsche as building a bridge between
The Birth of Tragedy’s concerns and the entire rest of his philosophy.
Nietzsche identifies the persistent relevance of the book’s key programs:
that we understand science as an artistic project, and art as reflecting life’s
larger interests; question the status and role of morality; and use art to

148
Wissenschaft also means scholarship; the word consists of Wissen (knowledge – academic or scientific),
and schaffen (to create, to make). So a Wissenschaftler is a “scientist” or “scholar” but literally, a
knowledge-maker.
122 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
consciously fight against the moral interpretation of our own existence.
Nietzsche is trenchant about The Birth of Tragedy’s significance on this third
point. Although he mentions the “hostile silence” of the work toward
Christianity, he highlights how his first work “announced, perhaps for the
first time,” a philosophy that “dared to place morality in the world of
phenomena and thus . . . under ‘deceptions,’ as appearance, delusion,
error, interpretation, contrivance, art” (BT Preface 5). Notice how this
connects The Birth of Tragedy to the famous remark in Beyond Good and
Evil that “there are no moral phenomena, only moral interpretations of
phenomena” (BGE 108), and thus how the retrospective preface helps carry
an idea across his life’s work. Nietzsche does not place himself into periods
early, middle, and late. Instead, he shows how certain ideas and questions
continually spur his efforts.
Nietzsche uses the final section of the “Attempt at a Self-Criticism” to
create a comic scene that allows him to laugh at himself. Were his earlier
self-criticisms not enough, he now invents an additional critic who charges
him with hypocrisy after Nietzsche has ranted against German
Romanticism. This critic admonishes, “But my dear sir, what on earth is
romantic if your book is not?” And “is not your pessimist’s book itself anti-
Greek and romantic, even something ‘as intoxicating as it is befuddling’?”
(BT Preface 7). Nietzsche then has this character quote the most embarrass-
ing passage from The Birth of Tragedy as Nietzsche now sees it, a passage that
culminates with the question: “Would it not be necessary for the tragic man of
this culture, self-educated for what is serious and frightening, to desire a new
art, the art of metaphysical comfort, tragedy as his own proper Helen of
Troy”? (BT Preface 7). After the offending passage ends with a couplet from
Goethe’s Faust, the present Nietzsche cannot stand any more. “‘Would it
not be necessary?’ . . . No, three times no! O you young Romantics: it would
not be necessary! But it is very likely that it will end up – that you will end
up – being ‘comforted’ . . . as romantics end up, as Christians. No! You
should learn the art of this-worldly comfort first; you should learn to laugh,
my young friends, if you wish so much to remain pessimists” (BT Preface 7).
Hence Nietzsche allowed his critic to mock him for falling under the spell of
otherworldly desires in The Birth of Tragedy, which allows the present man
to condemn the passage, that is, his former thinking. Thus Nietzsche’s
preface is not merely an attempt at self-criticism, it is a success. He
genuinely makes fun of himself – and how often do we see that among
the learned?
Now let us compare Ecce Homo’s treatment of The Birth of Tragedy with
the retrospective preface of two years earlier, and reflect on the significance of
The Birth of Tragedy 123
the similarities and differences. The two treatments of Nietzsche’s first book
are alike in two ways that I wish to highlight, and different in two ways. They
are alike in identifying key ideas that Nietzsche still admires, and by seeing the
book as deeply personal. They are different because the latter emphasizes
psychological instead of aesthetic features, and positive qualities and grounds
for hope instead of faults and despair at German culture.
In Ecce Homo’s treatment of The Birth of Tragedy, as with the “Attempt at
a Self-Criticism,” Nietzsche finds innovative ideas in his first book that he
still admires and that still animate him. In the Ecce Homo remarks,
Nietzsche is “the first to see the real opposition” in the Greek culture: a
“degenerating instinct turning against life with subterranean vengefulness”
versus a formula “for the highest affirmation, a yes-saying without reserva-
tion, even to suffering, even to guilt, even to everything questionable and
alien about existence” – that is, the Dionysian (EH 4.2).
The Ecce Homo treatment views The Birth of Tragedy as quite personal,
not only in Nietzsche’s discovery of a historical analogue to his way of
coping with pessimism as earlier discussed, but in the projection of his own
psychology onto Wagnerism, so that “when I was describing Dionysian
music I was describing what I heard – that I instinctively had to translate
and transfigure everything into the new spirit I bore inside me” (EH 4.4).
This interprets The Birth of Tragedy as an unconscious self-discovery in the
guise of scholarship.
The two retrospective treatments of The Birth of Tragedy do well to avoid
covering the same ground; only the references to the Franco-Prussian war
and Nietzsche’s view of the essential and persisting elements of his first
book – misunderstood by its primary audience – remain similar in expres-
sion. But in the Ecce Homo treatment, Nietzsche emphasizes psychological
instead of aesthetic qualities of The Birth of Tragedy. He writes that his book
“provides the first psychology” of the Dionysian phenomenon among the
Greeks (EH 4.1), and describes even the psychological prerequisite for being
able to understand the opposite of the Dionysian, i.e., Christian decadence.
“To understand this requires courage” and “a surplus of strength,” while
“decadents need the lie” (EH 4.2). Nietzsche then remarks on the peculiar
psychology of self-knowledge that ran covertly under its nominal topic.
“This is the strangest kind of ‘objectivity’ there can be: an absolute certainty
about what I am was projected onto a chance reality – the truth about
myself spoke from a terrifying depth. On page 71 Zarathustra’s style is
described and anticipated with trenchant assuredness” (EH 4.4).
Finally, while the “Attempt at a Self-Criticism” multiplied its candid
criticisms of The Birth of Tragedy, the Ecce Homo treatment omits most
124 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
negative assessments, and Nietzsche cites four specific passages that he finds
“world-historic” (said three times), and a fourth “magnificent expression”
that anticipates “the event that is Zarathustra” (EH 4.4). Nietzsche declines
any tirade against German culture in the Ecce Homo remarks and, unlike in
the preface of 1886, he writes that out of The Birth of Tragedy “speaks an
immense hope. Ultimately I have no reason to retract my hope in a
Dionysian future for music” (EH 4.4). This contrasts with the “Attempt
at a Self-Criticism” where he had written: “in the intervening years I have
learned to consider this ‘German spirit’ without any hope and without
mercy – also with contemporary German music [which is] a narcotic that
both intoxicates and spreads a fog” (BT Preface 6).
So what do we make of this preface comparison? The similarities between
the two point to Nietzsche’s pride in his first book’s innovations that, even if
hurt by serious faults, provided questions and insights that span his entire
corpus – from The Birth of Tragedy in 1872 to the Nietzsche of 1886, and to
Ecce Homo’s reckoning in 1888. And both prefaces underscore another
continuous trait and interpretive method in Nietzsche: the interpretation
of philosophy as unconscious autobiography.
The differences between the two prefaces are ones of emphasis, not
fundamental assessment. In the main they allow Nietzsche’s prefaces to
avoid redundancy and to repay the effort of reading them both. The later
treatment’s personal, psychological significance fits well with Ecce Homo as
a putative autobiography, while its greater emphasis on positive traits – and
Nietzsche’s professed hope and confidence that a Dionysian music will
one day emerge – aligns with Ecce Homo’s often celebratory and affirmative
tone.
We might close by pointing out the hyperbolic humor and self-parody
of calling moments of his first book “world-historic,” especially when he
opened his preface by saying that “to be fair to The Birth of Tragedy (1872),
several things will have to be forgotten” (EH 4.1). This matches the stirring
way Nietzsche concludes the “Attempt at a Self-Criticism” – as a call to
laugh at himself. Because Ecce Homo reveals and configures the Nietzschean
corpus as philosophic satire, we should not be surprised to find common
features of irony and self-reflective parody elsewhere, especially in prefaces
that are meta-moments for the books they introduce. Nietzsche had con-
cluded his earlier retrospective preface by invoking Zarathustra: “This
crown of the man who laughs, this rose-wreath crown – I have placed this
crown on myself,” and “laughter I have pronounced holy: you higher men,
learn – to laugh!” (BT Preface 7). On this scale, Ecce Homo shows the
advance of Nietzsche’s education.
The Untimely Ones 125

The Untimely Ones


Nietzsche’s chapter concerning his Untimely Meditations covers its four essays:
“David Strauss, The Confessor and Writer”; “On the Use and Disadvantage of
History for Life”; “Schopenhauer as Educator”; and “Richard Wagner in
Bayreuth.” Nietzsche reads them in Ecce Homo as signposts toward his own
self-conception. The first essay displays, Nietzsche says, his “ruthless con-
tempt” for German culture: “without meaning, without substance, without
aim: mere ‘public opinion’” (EH 5.1). The second essay decries “our kind of
traffic with science and scholarship,” identifying an empty “historical sense” as
deleterious to purposeful life (EH 5.1). He pays special attention to the essays
on Schopenhauer and Wagner, and understands them in a psychologically
self-projecting way. The discussion of the Wagner essay actually begins in the
fourth section of the Birth of Tragedy chapter: “At every psychologically
decisive spot I am only talking about myself, – you can put my name or the
word ‘Zarathustra’ without hesitation wherever the text has the word
‘Wagner’” (EH 4.4). And at the end of the first section of theUntimely
Meditations chapter proper, he writes: “In the third and fourth Untimely
Ones, two images of the hardest self-love, self-discipline are put up against
all this, as pointer to a higher concept of culture, to restore the concept of
culture – untimely types par excellence, full of sovereign contempt for every-
thing around them that was called ‘Empire,’ ‘culture,’ ‘Christianity,’
‘Bismarck,’ ‘success’ – Schopenhauer and Wagner or, in one word,
Nietzsche” (EH 5.1). Thus he does not describe Schopenhauer and Wagner,
but his own task: to create meaning, to fend off despair, to seek out even
terrible truths by himself, as a living example of culture. Nietzsche under-
stands his work as symbolic of self-love and self-discipline. Schopenhauer and
Wagner in his essays serve Nietzsche’s interest in becoming himself.
But is Nietzsche warranted to find himself in the third and fourth
untimely meditations? We should notice an important caveat Nietzsche
offers in section 3: we are not to identify the contemporaneous author of the
Untimely Meditations with Schopenhauer and Wagner. Instead, the essays
on these men were, respectively, “a vision of my future,” they “registered my
innermost history, my becoming. Above all, my pledge! . . . What I am today,
where I am today . . . oh, how far from all this I still was at that time! But I
saw the land” (EH 5.3). Nietzsche characterizes the essays, then, as a “happy
gaze out onto a future that won’t remain just a promise” (EH 5.3). Hence
any easy substitution of their names for Nietzsche’s is not quite right.
Instead, Nietzsche in the early 1870s used Wagner and Schopenhauer as
126 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
ciphers for his own imagined future. Does a self-important Nietzsche do
the same in Ecce Homo, perhaps? Does he imagine being understood?
Celebrated?
Nietzsche has interpreted his first two books as transfigured records of
past experience, and oblique prophecies of future ones. Ecce Homo even
begins with an explicit appeal to the future: “In the expectation that soon I
will have to confront humanity” (EH Forward 1). As Nietzsche was writing
himself backward by reviewing his intellectual history, he was just as
urgently projecting himself and his works’ reception into an imagined
future. Notice the diction here. His look to the future is a “happy gaze” at
a “land” to which Nietzsche is traveling, a land that will not remain a mere
promise. Not only does this satirize the biblical idea of a promised land for
the Israelites (Genesis 17.8, Deuteronomy 6.3), it echoes the satiric trope of
fantastic journeys that fills the works of satirists from Aristophanes to
Petronius to Swift and Voltaire. So Nietzsche does not imagine just any
future in Ecce Homo, but a fantasy future in which the world recognizes his
greatness, world history is split in two, a gift to humanity is received, and his
eternal fame assured. Aside from its witty, cynical, playful, tragic, polemical
thrusts, Ecce Homo consists of a Nietzschean encounter with the past that
inscribes a satiric vision of the future. The vision? “Let us look forward a
century and assume that I have succeeded in my attempts to assassinate two
thousand years of anti-nature and desecration of humanity” (EH 4.4).
But what of Nietzsche’s specific, self-projecting claim in this section?
Review some descriptions of Schopenhauer and Wagner from the Untimely
Meditations itself. Are they really Nietzsche-in-the-future passages? (1)
Schopenhauer “is honest because he speaks and writes to himself and for
himself, cheerful because he has conquered the hardest task by thinking,
and steadfast because he has to be” (UM 3.2). (2) In the example of
Schopenhauer, the philosopher “serves himself as a reflection and brief
abstract of the whole world” (UM 3.7). (3) Of Wagner: “The desire for
supreme power, the inheritance of earlier years, is wholly translated into
artistic creativity; now he speaks through his art only to himself and no
longer to a ‘public’ or folk, and struggles to bestow upon it the greatest
clarity and capacity to conduct such a mighty colloquy” (UM 4.8). (4)
Wagner’s essays “are attempts to comprehend the instinct which impelled
him to create his works, and as it were to set himself before his own eyes; if
he can only manage to transform his instinct into knowledge, he hopes the
reverse process will take place within the souls of his readers” (UM 4.10).
Such passages do seem to concern Nietzsche’s self-conception more than
their supposed subject. The third and fourth passages read as descriptions of
The Untimely Ones 127
Nietzsche’s philosophical life and works of the future, Ecce Homo in
particular. Self-referential, too, seems Nietzsche’s contention about
Wagner, that a spiritual necessity flows from him and finds form, and
that an unconscious physiological world of experience – that is, a sum of
instinctual drives and responses – seeks a transfiguration into knowledge
(not any obvious concern of Wagner). And the production of philosophy is
the “setting himself before his own eyes” (UM 4.10) according to
Nietzsche’s book reviews. In these terms, Ecce Homo is paradigmatic
Nietzschean philosophy, not his problem child as generations of scholars
would have it.
Nietzschean pedagogy from the mid 1870s receives a pithy summation in
the second half of the fourth passage: the professor hopes that any knowl-
edge he conveys through his writings (reading Wagner as Nietzsche) will be
transformed into instinct for his readers. This notion of incorporating ideas
like free-thinking and affirmation until they become instinctual begins a
teaching theme that Nietzsche raises again in Ecce Homo, and treats in
Beyond Good and Evil; hence it recurs across the span of his thought.
Nietzsche writes to become who he is, but also to guide others. He does
not merely critique society; he wants to help form a genuine European
culture of independent, creative people by setting an example.
Nietzsche’s concern for his reception often reappears in Ecce Homo. He
races through seven contemporary reviews of Untimely Meditations. Calling
his essays “four assassination attempts” in section 2, Nietzsche sees the
reviews as having inspired fear of his polemical powers, such that “people
have left me alone” (EH 5.2). This gave him a freedom of speech he enjoyed
thereafter. He ends the section by invoking Stendhal: With these essays “I
had put into practice one of Stendhal’s maxims: he suggests entering society
with a duel” (EH 5.2). Nietzsche elaborates in the section that “Heaven for
me is ‘in the shadow of my sword’” (EH 5.2). Tropes of fighting and killing
one’s adversaries (or audience) are common among comics and satirists,
creating an ironic antagonism with the reader they seek to please. Also recall
that verbal powers able to kill an adversary are the basis of satire’s origin
myth, according to Elliott.149 Finally, this Ecce Homo section evinces the
idea that satires intentionally disrupt their own logic, for Nietzsche presents
an admixture of cavalier fighting metaphors and clearly recollected concern
for book reviews of fourteen-odd years prior. Nietzsche cannot be indif-
ferent to his works’ reception. Except when he is.

149
Elliott, Power of Satire, 7–8.
128 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
Nietzsche employed Wagner and Schopenhauer as a “semiotic” for
himself, and said that we could exchange Wagner for Nietzsche in every
“psychologically decisive spot” (EH 4.4). In the third section of Ecce Homo’s
“The Untimely Ones,” the Ecce Homo persona says that “the most elemen-
tary aspect of Wagner’s nature” was “a talent for acting” (EH 5.3). This
should encourage us to think about what kind of role Nietzsche plays in
Ecce Homo. Or what series of roles.
As a last example of Nietzsche’s backward and forward self-projection,
consider a passage from Untimely Meditations (UM 4.1) to which Nietzsche
refers: “We know that at times of exceptional danger, or in general at any
decisive turning-point of their lives, men compress together all they have
experienced in an infinitely accelerated inner panorama, and behold distant
events as sharply as they do the most recent ones” (EH 4.3). Although
nominally about Wagner and appearing in 1876, this uncanny passage
seems to presage Ecce Homo itself and its panoramic view of Nietzsche’s
life and work, composed at a decisive point just prior to his loss of sanity.

Human, All Too Human


The description of Human, All Too Human in Ecce Homo consists of six
sections. They discuss Nietzsche’s effort to free himself from every kind of
idealism, the book’s genesis in unfavorable Bayreuth, an awakening to false
modesty about his vocation, the deliverance and return to himself that a
deathly illness in 1876 afforded him, the postal crossing of the book with
Wagner’s text for Parsifal that symbolized their divergent paths (one to a
realist’s amorality, the other to an idealist’s piety), and an interpretation of a
passage from the book that now signifies for Nietzsche the certainty of his
philosophical task.
Four aspects of Human, All Too Human stand out in Nietzsche’s analysis:
the role of circumstance in his writing; the “coming to reason” about his
nature that the book embodies; the book as evidence of a hard-won free-
dom; and a consciousness of his work and future path as a thinker.
Nietzsche invokes Voltaire, the original dedicatee of Human, All Too
Human, as “a grandseigneur of the spirit” (EH 6.1), giving two poetic images
to explain the method of the book that matches Voltaire’s kind of sarcastic,
free inquiry.150 First, Nietzsche speaks of how he goes “with torch in hand”

150
Voltaire’s satire Candide skewers the philosophical optimism of Leibniz – especially the German’s
idea that due to God’s nature there must exist a pre-established harmony that logically means we live
in the “best of all possible worlds.”
Human, All Too Human 129
to the “underworld of the ideal” to illuminate its folly. Second, he writes that
“one mistake after another is calmly put on ice.” The “ideal is not refuted, it
is frozen to death” (EH 6.1). Both images invoke death, and Nietzsche refers
to an underworld journey. By characterizing his earlier book as such a
journey, and dedicating it to Voltaire, Nietzsche seems to locate Human,
All Too Human in a satiric tradition. Traveling to the underworld on a
polemical mission is common in the genre; the protagonist can engage the
past directly and, if you like, kill it again. Nietzsche’s remark about freezing
ideals instead of refuting them stands out, too. This highlights why
Nietzsche often prefers literary tools over argumentation to achieve his
desired effects. Logical analysis may disprove an idea, but that falls well
short of drawing away its power in the human world. Nietzsche uses satire
and other literary wiles to steal away an idea’s life, its heat and motion.
Nietzsche recalls how Human, All Too Human was begun amid the
cultural schmaltz of Wagner’s Bayreuth festival. Nietzsche saw Wagner
become a “Wagnerian,” draping himself with “German ‘virtues’” (EH
6.2). Nietzsche writes in section 2: “I dragged around my melancholy and
contempt for Germans like a disease – and from time to time I’d write a
sentence into my notebook, under the general title “The Plowshare” – hard
psychologica that can perhaps still be found in Human, All Too Human”
(EH 6.2).151
Nietzsche does not, however, expend any energy in Ecce Homo to
describe his disillusionment with and rejection of Wagnerian art. He
reads this period instead as a self-awakening.
I noted a total aberration of my instincts of which particular blunders,
whether Wagner or the professorship at Basel, were mere symptoms. I was
overcome by impatience with myself; I saw that it was high time for me to
recall and reflect on myself. All at once it became clear to me in a terrifying
way how much time I had already wasted – how useless and arbitrary my
whole existence as a philologist appeared in relation to my task. I felt
ashamed of this false modesty. (EH 6.3)
Nietzsche’s use of “instincts” here is subtle. We might understand such
instincts (of which Nietzsche believes himself alternately aware and
unaware) as shorthand for something like Aristotle’s talk of habituated
character traits, but with a physiological spin. Nietzsche claims that certain
151
The Plowshare was the working title of Human, All Too Human, then of Daybreak. On another
occasion, the title A Psychologist’s Leisure was changed to Twilight of the Idols. Nietzsche was
convinced by Heinrich Köselitz to adopt the grander titles; see the note in Nietzsche: A Self-
Portrait from His Letters, ed. and trans. Peter Fuss and Henry Shapiro (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1971), 56; and Hollingdale, Nietzsche, 14–15.
130 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
enthusiasms and his professorial vocation were an “aberration” of his
instincts because they proved foreign to Nietzsche’s character. In other
words, Nietzsche does not posit the existence of a true self with congenital
instincts that run counter to idealism; rather, his own life now shaped by Ecce
Homo shows how the philology career and Wagner intoxication were
aberrations of character. Nietzsche interprets Human, All Too Human,
then, as the first sign of what became his “instinctual” character. This aligns
with Ecce Homo’s subtitle, “How to Become What You Are.”
Nietzschean wit blossoms in sections 2 and 3, as when he opines that
“someone should take a real Bayreuther and have him stuffed [with] the
label: this is the sort of ‘spirit’ the ‘Reich’ was based on” or when amidst
Wagnerian nonsense he cries out: “A kingdom for one sensible word!” (EH
6.2). And Nietzsche ends section 3 by gamely describing himself and others
who fell under the spell of Wagner’s music as having suffered from ill-
chosen professions. Such a life required one to “anaesthetize feelings of
hunger and monotony.” And people “crave Wagner like an opiate, – they
forget themselves, they lose themselves for a moment . . . What am I saying!
For five or six hours! ” (EH 6.3).
Nietzsche makes his calamitous health in 1876 integral to the interpreta-
tion of his philosophical work. He writes in section 4:
Here it happened in a manner that I cannot admire sufficiently that, precisely
at the right time, my father’s wicked heritage came to my aid – at bottom,
predestination to an early death. Sickness detached me slowly: it spared me
any break, any violent and offensive step. Thus I did not lose any good will
and actually gained not a little. My sickness also gave me the right to change
all my habits completely; it permitted, it commanded me to forget; it
bestowed on me the necessity of lying still, of leisure, of waiting and being
patient. – But that means, of thinking. (EH 6.4)
Nietzsche’s illness allowed and created a new freedom in his life. In
unflattering shorthand: Nietzsche was so sick that he had no alternative
but to be himself. This dovetails with his definition of decadence as the
inability to restrain oneself from reacting to stimuli. Had it not been for the
enforced weakening of his entire body, Nietzsche suggests, he would never
have been capable of the spiritual break that required such encompassing
changes in his way of life. This idea repeats a narrative motif in Ecce Homo,
the transforming of a curse into a blessing. This storyline underscores the
pragmatic success of Nietzsche’s wisdom, as with satirists like Horace who
champion the simple ways that work over the theoretical ones that fail.
Nietzsche next recounts how he sent copies of his polemical book to
Wagner just as the composer sent him the libretto to his Christian-inflected
Human, All Too Human 131
opera, Parsifal. Nietzsche writes: “Didn’t it sound as if swords were cross-
ing?” (EH 6.5). While Wagner’s last opera reanimated Christian themes,
Human, All Too Human revealed Nietzsche’s ever sharper antagonism to
the faith.
Section 6 contains another interesting case of Nietzsche interpreting
Nietzsche. He directly explicates a passage from his previous book, again
finding in it the masked expression of his own self-discovery via Paul Rée,
and a vision of his philosophical future.

How I thought about myself at this time (1876), with what tremendous
sureness I got hold of my task and its world-historical aspect – the whole
book bears witness to that, above all a very explicit passage. Only, with my
instinctive cunning, I avoided the little word “I” once again . . . The passage
reads: “What is after all the main proposition that one of the boldest and
coldest thinkers, the author of the book On the Origin of Moral Feelings (read:
Nietzsche, the first immoralist) has reached on the basis of his incisive and
penetrating analyses of human activity? ‘the moral man is no closer to the
intelligible world than the physical man – for there is no intelligible
world . . .’ This proposition, grown hard and sharp under the hammer
blow of historical knowledge (read: revaluation of all values), may perhaps
one day, in some future – 1890! – serve as the ax swung against the
‘metaphysical need’ of mankind – but whether that will be more of a blessing
or a curse for mankind, who could say? But in any case as a proposition of
immense consequences, fruitful and terrible at the same time, looking into
the world with that Janus face which all great insights share.” (EH 6.6)

This interpretation intends to identify the origin and essence of Nietzsche’s


philosophical task. What is the meaning of this “main proposition,” and
how does it embody Nietzsche’s goal as a thinker?
The proposition makes two kinds of claim, about modes of interpretation
and “the world.” I suggest that the “moral man” and the “physical man”
embody modes of interpretation. The first mode makes phenomena intelligible
by assigning moral terms, the second by means of science makes phenomena
intelligible by assigning causal, predictive terms. The claim about “the world”
holds that no independently existing intelligible world exists for truthful
interpretation or modeling. The “main proposition” expresses these claims by
means of a comparison between the two modes of interpretation commonly
thought to compete for rational assent. It says that neither is superior to the
other as regards truth, because no referent exists by which they can be
compared. The immediate implication: intelligible world has meaning only by
way of an interpretation. That is, interpretation itself makes phenomena
intelligible; they have none of their own. There is no truth of the world.
132 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
Nietzsche reads the two claims of this proposition in Human, All Too
Human as ideas that much of his subsequent philosophy pursues. This
marks Ecce Homo as the interpretive effort to unify Nietzsche’s philosophy
by identifying ideas in earlier works and projecting them forward. Nietzsche
could have combed his early books for ideas he never pursued again, then
written an autobiographical story of outgrowing dead ends. (Such an
interpretive theme does arise in other Ecce Homo contexts, but not in his
book treatments.) Instead, Nietzsche finds threads in the early books and
traces them into the present. This conceives and signals his philosophy as
unified. Or, more to the point and purpose of Ecce Homo, it performs this
unification.
Nietzsche’s classical conception of art requires organic unity, and he
considers his books to be art. “What is the sign of every literary decadence?
That life no longer dwells in the whole” (CW 7). This may account for his
interest in tying his work together, while admitting numerous false steps in
his early life (educational emphasis, profession, diet, living locations, and so
on) that he overcomes. Of course, Nietzsche said that he is a decadent and
its opposite (EH 1.2), which informs the style of Ecce Homo, one that pulls
and stretches on both sides of this tension.152
The retrospective prefaces that Nietzsche wrote for Human, All Too
Human in 1886 are worth comparing to the book’s treatment in Ecce
Homo because they dovetail and differ in ways that illuminate Nietzsche’s
retrospective method and purpose. After discussing these two prefaces in
some detail, I will place them beside their Ecce Homo cousin to see how the
three look together.
Were we to entitle Nietzsche’s first new preface for his third book we
might call it, “Growing Up Nietzsche: What Makes Me So Sad and Yet
Grateful.” It consists of eight sections that together tell a story in which to fit
the book it introduces. And with all seriousness, the preface is an affecting
and insightful tale that illuminates – in Ecce Homoesque fashion – how to
think about the relation between Nietzsche’s life and his philosophic art.
The story in outline: Nietzsche reports that he has been told that all of his
books – from The Birth of Tragedy through The Untimely Meditations,
Human, All Too Human and up to his latest at the time, Beyond Good and
Evil – are “a schooling in suspicion, even more in contempt” (HH
Preface 1). This causes him to think about the intellectual pathos or feelings
that attend his work and that arise in his readers; he lists these as reserve,

152
Hutcheon notes that unlike most genres, which strive to harmonize their elements for a “totality of
meaning,” parodies often do not, sometimes even satirizing this goal (Theory of Parody, 2–4).
Human, All Too Human 133
mistrust, suspicion, and contempt, but also courage and audacity. Overall,
his “profound suspiciousness” has created a “disparity of view” that puts him
at odds, it seems, with all the world. Nietzsche admits, with sadness, that it
“condemns him who is infected with it” to those “fears and frosts” of a
painful isolation (HH Preface 1). Because of this situation, Nietzsche had to
invent friends with whom he could “laugh and chatter,” and he says that
this explains the subtitle of Human, All Too Human, “A Book for Free
Spirits” (HH Preface 2). No free spirits existed to keep him company, so
Nietzsche had to invent them. His story continues by describing how his
dream and hope for such companions could one day come true – and the
rest of his preface will describe, he says, “under what vicissitudes, upon what
paths, I see them coming” (HH Preface 2).
Nietzsche’s prefatory story then describes the prerequisite for a free spirit,
namely, “a great liberation” (HH Preface 3). In turn, this great liberation can
occur when a person has first been imprisoned, especially by certain kinds of
ideas and feelings. For those people “of a high and select kind,” these
imprisoning ideas “will be their duties: that reverence proper to youth,
that reserve and delicacy before all that is honored and revered from of old,
that gratitude for the soil out of which they have grown, for the hand which
led them, for the holy place where they learned to worship – their supreme
moments will fetter them the fastest, lay upon them the most enduring
obligation” (HH Preface 3). This sounds like a boy under the wing of a
Lutheran pastor, perhaps?
Shock and rebellion come next in the story that Nietzsche tells, and this
marks the start of the “great liberation” that will foster the free spirit.
Nietzsche writes that “the youthful soul is all at once convulsed, torn
loose, torn away – it itself does not know what is happening. A drive and
impulse rules and masters it like a command . . . a vehement, dangerous
curiosity for an undiscovered world flames and flickers in all its senses”
(HH Preface 3). Soon enough such a person will exclaim, “‘Better to die
than to go on living here’ . . . and this ‘here,’ this ‘at home,’ is everything it
had hitherto loved!” (HH Preface 3). In short, Nietzsche became a
teenager.
The preface now describes the traits and consequences of this angst and
liberation. Newly freed from the reverence and holy feelings of home,
the liberated prisoner now seeks to demonstrate his mastery over things! He
prowls cruelly around with unslaked lasciviousness . . . With a wicked laugh
he turns round whatever he finds veiled and through some sense of shame or
other spared and pampered: he puts to the test what these things look like
when they are reversed. It is an act of willfulness, and pleasure in willfulness,
134 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
if now he perhaps bestows his favor on that which has hitherto had a bad
reputation. (HH Preface 3)
Although we can imagine this to describe one’s first night of debauchery,
Nietzsche understands the philosophical significance of such an awakening
experience in a way that few young people with hangovers can manage,
let alone pursue.
Behind all this toiling and weaving – for he is restlessly and aimlessly on his
way as if in a desert – stands the question mark of a more and more perilous
curiosity: ‘Can all values not be turned round? And is good perhaps evil? And
God only an invention and finesse of the Devil? Is everything perhaps in the
last resort false? And if we are deceived, are we not for that very reason also
deceivers?’ (HH Preface 3)
These questions indicate that the great liberation augurs the birth of a free
spirit.
As the liberation story continues, as skeptical thoughts about value
“tempt him and lead him on, even further away, even further down,”
there arises another consequence – a most awful consequence – following
close behind. “Solitude encircles and embraces him, ever more threatening,
suffocating, heart-tightening, that terrible goddess and mater saeva cupidi-
num [wild mother of the passions]” (HH Preface 3). The more Nietzsche
freed himself from his past and his home and the values of his religious,
moral, academic, and German upbringing, the more he alienated himself
from his family, friends, fellow scholars, fellow thinkers, and fellows, period.
But this dreary story has an inner pocket of happiness. Or at least of a
perspicacious skill, hard won.
In addition and no doubt related to his isolation, Nietzsche suffered a
slew of terrible illnesses during most of his adult life and during the latter
1870s in particular, which leads to the next twist in the story: the experience
of a slow, slow recovery, and the philosophic advantages it brought. These
“long years of convalescence, years full of variegated, painfully magical
transformations [are] ruled and led along by a tenacious will to health that
often ventures to clothe and disguise itself as health already achieved.” The
result? A free spirit who “lives no longer in the fetters of love and hatred,
without yes, without no,” who becomes “spoiled, as everyone is who has at
some time seen a tremendous number of things beneath him” (HH Preface 4).
This bird-like perspective became indispensable for seeing the very issues that
gave Nietzsche’s life meaning, and his philosophy its objects of pursuit.
The next revelation when you convalesce from a terrible illness comes
from how you see yourself and your traits. In a terrible illness and solitude,
Human, All Too Human 135
the victim has “been beside himself: no doubt of that. Only now does he see
himself – and what surprises he experiences as he does so!” (HH Preface 5).
In Nietzsche’s case, he became grateful for the things most “close at hand.”
What “bloom and magic they have acquired!” For example? – “the spots of
sunlight on the wall!” (HH Preface 5). But this attention to and love of little
things in life, it turns out, means something profound. Nietzsche puts the
result this way: “to remain sick for a long time and then, slowly, slowly, to
become healthy, by which I mean ‘healthier,’ is a fundamental cure for all
pessimism” (HH Preface 5). A long physical suffering has caused a psycho-
logical reinvention, and Nietzsche is grateful.
Nietzsche’s prefatory story ends with a final consequence of his great
liberation, and it touches upon a rare piece of coming-to-self-consciousness.
After a sufficient convalescence has given him some strength, the long-
isolated person “now dares to ask” for the purpose of such suffering,
and hears in reply something like an answer. ‘You shall become master over
yourself, master also over your virtues. Formerly they were your masters; but
they must be only your instruments beside other instruments. You shall get
control over your For and Against and learn how to display first one and then
the other in accordance with your higher goal . . . You shall see with your
own eyes the problem of order of rank, and how power and right and
spaciousness of perspective grow into the heights together.’ (HH Preface 6).
This completes the arc of Nietzsche’s story – his relation to his own virtues.
As a boy, Nietzsche’s Christian virtues were his masters. As he suggests, they
fetter the pious person by commanding a set of “unbreakable” duties (HH
Preface 3). But when a free spirit understands the malleability of moral
values, understands their human source, and their wealth of other than
moral purposes, then it becomes possible to see one’s own virtues in the
same light. At the same time, this frees one to posit – even, to realize – that
other higher (and more humane?) tasks than moral acting and judging exist,
other tasks that are more worthy of us.
After Nietzsche finishes the free-spirit genesis story (at the end of section
6), he takes the last two sections of his preface to reflect on the meaning of
the story; first widely as to his task, then narrowly as to where Human, All
Too Human fits in the narrative. He observes: “This is how the free spirit
elucidates to himself that enigma of liberation, and inasmuch as he general-
izes his own case ends by adjudicating on what he has experienced thus:
‘What has happened to me,’ he says to himself, ‘must happen to everyone in
whom a task wants to become incarnate and ‘come into the world’” (HH
Preface 7). This shows Nietzsche’s awareness of how his writings, including
136 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
the preface we are reading, emerge from his own experience – transfigured
and generalized. We learn as well that his philosophic task only emerged
because of his great liberation. We might also notice with downcast eye that
Nietzsche twice mentions that he still talks to himself, that he still makes up
friends with whom to converse.
Nietzsche now reflects on how his task came to consciousness, and
suggests why these retrospective moments (in prefaces, as in Ecce Homo)
play a unique role in his intellectual life. He writes:
The secret force and necessity of this task will rule among and in the
individual facets of his destiny like an unconscious pregnancy – long before
he has caught sight of this task itself or knows its name. Our vocation
commands and disposes of us even when we do not yet know it; it is the
future that regulates our today. (HH Preface 7)
This shows Nietzsche as significantly ignorant of himself and his efforts for
long stretches of time; he does not choose his goals, nor the means. Yet the
details of his life have a latent logic, ordered by the unconscious pregnancy
that secretly holds the meaning of his intellectual labors. And because the
future “regulates our today,” Nietzsche reveals that he can only understand
his philosophy once he has learned what its future turned out to be. Such insight
occurs, we now realize, only when Nietzsche looks backward at his work
from an adequate distance, and when he knows in the present what his
thoughtful gestation had been leading to, that is, what he gave birth to. Said
another way, Nietzsche can understand himself only here, in retrospective
prefaces, and in Ecce Homo most of all.
Nietzsche now identifies to what the labor of Human, All Too Human
was leading.

Given it is the problem of order of rank of which we may say it is our problem,
we free spirits: it is only now, at the midday of our life, that we understand
what preparations, bypaths, experiments, temptations, disguises the problem
had need of before it was allowed to rise up before us, and how we first had to
experience the most manifold and contradictory states of joy and distress in
soul and body . . . cleansing everything of what is chance and accident in it
and as it were thoroughly sifting it – until at last we had the right to say, we
free spirits: ‘Here – a new problem! Here a long ladder upon whose rungs we
ourselves have sat and climbed – which we ourselves have at some time been!’
(HH Preface 7)

Nietzsche had good reason to call this, written in 1886, the “midday” of his
life, but in under three years his writing life was over. And “only now” (that
is, with the sufficient distance of time), he says, can he understand how the
Human, All Too Human 137
various details and experiences of the earlier era, captured by the earlier
book, had actually led to an intellectual problem unrealized at the time. But
how does Nietzsche understand this problem now?
As we have seen, the retrospective preface to Human, All Too Human tells
the story of a youthful love for home and its treasured values, a young man’s
rebellion and deeply traumatic illness, and a slow recovery, still in progress.
This experience – sad and painful as it was – constituted the necessary
precondition for an intellectual pregnancy unknown then but understood
now, ten years later. The experience that Nietzsche’s preface relates taught
him, above all, the malleability of values. Given this revelation, the question
that rises to consciousness amounts to this: How shall I order values? and to
what end? This is the problem of the order of rank of values. It is a
philosopher’s problem, but in Nietzsche’s hands this means that it is an
artist’s problem, because the malleability of values means that values can be
shaped and reshaped, colored and shaded, via the art of language and
persuasion. And because values are human artifice and invested with feeling,
they can be made to serve any manner of ends – and the artist, the
philosopher, must decide.153
In Ecce Homo, Nietzsche tells us how he orders values, and why. He puts
the ‘little things’ of his physical environment very high on the rank of
values, and he puts grand metaphysical theories – both religious and
philosophical – very low. And why this order of rank? First, because it
was Nietzsche’s necessary means to overcome sickness and pessimism, and
because his order of values promotes his understanding of health (both
literal and figurative) as the power to further inquire and create, that is, to
renew our desire to live.
Returning to Human, All Too Human’s first preface, Nietzsche concludes
his reflections with a humorous invitation to the reader. The last section
begins: “– No psychologist or reader of signs will have a moment’s difficulty
in recognizing to what stage in the evolution just described the present book
belongs (or has been placed – )” (HH Preface 8). This clever sentence, it
seems to me, does three interesting things. It tells us how to read the preface
we are now completing; it says that we have read an evolutionary tale, so we
are right to see a man who adapted to changing circumstances and made the
most of even harsh conditions. Next it challenges us to be a quick “reader of
signs” so that we understand where Human, All Too Human fits in the seven

153
For Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche “turns philosophy into an art, the art of interpreting and evaluating”
(Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. Hugh Tomlinson (New York: Columbia University Press,
1983), 197).
138 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
stages that Nietzsche’s preface has described. These stages are (1) love and
homeland security, (2) rebellion and value reversal, (3) the great liberation,
(4) isolation and illness, (5) free-spiritedness, (6) slow convalescence and
return of love for the world, and (7) knowledge of one’s task. In this telling,
Human, All Too Human bears witness to stages two through five, while
Nietzsche in 1886 has experienced stage six in the years that saw the
completion of Daybreak, and stage seven with the preface we are now
reading (even while he still lives under aspects of his earlier conditions).
Nietzsche’s challenge to the reader thus explains how this preface serves to
introduce Human, All Too Human: it outlines an intellectual biography that
spans at least twenty years, thus locating the book in a particular and
personal context that discourages us from taking the work as dogmatic
philosophy. For Nietzsche, this context should allow us to understand the
work in something like the way that he now does. Without the preface, he
implies, we would be as lost in the isolating trees as Nietzsche was at the
time of his book’s composition, not knowing its forested purpose.
The third aspect of the sentence that opens the last section of Nietzsche’s
preface is the marvelous parenthesis, “(or has been placed – ).” This reminds
us that Human, All Too Human has been made the subject of Nietzsche’s
own artifice by way of his preface. We would be wrong, in other words, to
think that Nietzsche’s third book “belongs” where it does of itself, as if this
were some observable phenomenon. No, the book now sits as it does in the
story Nietzsche tells because he placed it there. This underlines Nietzsche’s
view of art and value – that how we view and evaluate something rests in our
hands. Here Nietzsche has not merely seen how to understand Human, All
Too Human, he has decided how to understand it, and the creation of this
preface is that decision in action. We also know that such decisions, to be
wise, must promote Nietzsche’s conception of his own health, and by
analogue, the health of a culture. How will his artistic and philosophic
decisions shape his culture’s values, and by what art?
Turn now to the second retrospective preface that appends to volume
two of Human, All Too Human. It consists of seven sections that sketch
Nietzsche’s philosophy of composition, give a different way of viewing the
intellectual crisis he described in the first preface, and illuminate Nietzsche’s
interest in describing himself as a set of antitheses – a leitmotif of Ecce Homo
that here assumes a unique significance.
Nietzsche outlines his philosophy of composition to open the preface to
Human, All Too Human’s second volume with extremity and concision:
“My writings speak only of my overcomings: ‘I’ am in them, together with
everything that was inimical to me, ego ipissimus [my very own self], indeed,
Human, All Too Human 139
if a yet prouder expression be permitted, ego ipsissimum [my innermost self]”
(HH Second Preface 1). And yet,
it has always required time, recovery, distancing, before the desire awoke
within me to skin, exploit, expose, ‘exhibit’ (or whatever one wants to call it)
for the sake of knowledge something I had experienced and survived, some
fact or fate of my life. To this extent, all my writings, with a single though
admittedly substantial exception [The Birth of Tragedy], are to be dated
back – they always speak of something ‘behind me’ . . . (HH Second
Preface 1)
Here we have three propositions that outline what I call Nietzsche’s
philosophy of composition. The first is the striking claim that Nietzsche’s
books contain both Nietzsche’s self (his ‘I’), but also what is inimical to that
self. This suggests that we cannot read Nietzsche’s work as merely contain-
ing ‘his’ views, but as containing views against which he struggles. What
does this mean? In the usual picture of a philosophy’s exposition, a thinker
takes up “inimical” things in order to refute them, and presents his own
views as superior to those mistakes of philosophers past. But that is not what
Nietzsche describes here. Instead, the passage characterizes Nietzsche’s
books as records of his overcomings – not over others, but over himself.
This means that Nietzsche’s self consists of ideas and feelings and inclina-
tions that he strove to surmount, to be free of, to leave behind, and below, –
along with those ideas and feelings that helped accomplish the surmount-
ing, the liberating, the carrying on, the climbing upward. And Nietzsche’s
books? They display this inner clash of ideas and feelings and inclinations –
which is the nature of Nietzsche to his core, to his “innermost being.” In
this sense, Nietzsche’s books do not signify a final victory of certain aspects
of self over others, but testify to the struggle itself and to a unifying détente.
And yet, a unifying détente is itself a self-overcoming, for otherwise
Nietzsche would twist in psychic distress, experiencing the antagonism of
his variegated inheritance of German, Christian, and modern ideas and
values, his deep attraction to certain classical ones, and his own efforts to
form a philosophy to overcome pessimism and flourish.
The next idea in Nietzsche’s opening to his second preface is how he
overcomes himself. He gives us four verbs – to skin, exploit, expose, or
“‘exhibit’ . . . some fact or fate of my life” (HH Second Preface 1). What does
it mean to “skin” a fact of your life? First it means that the fact has died, is
already experienced and now in the past, and that the writing can only get at
the surface of this fact, not the meat of it. It further suggests a hunter’s
detachment and efficient behavior toward a dead animal, and not perhaps a
fond remembrance for the life taken. This detachment, Nietzsche says,
140 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
“always required time, recovery, distancing” (HH Second Preface 1). Note too
how this metaphor captures the claim of self-overcoming, for Nietzsche wields
the knife on himself. Take for example the case Nietzsche provides in Ecce
Homo’s treatment of Human, All Too Human: his attendance at the inaugural
Bayreuth Festival. Nietzsche lived this fact with the full physical presence of
the human animal in a complex environment, overfull with sounds, bits of
conversations, memories, music, the feel of matted grass, the sun and shadows,
the minor breeze, the smell of trees, the look of the costumes, the stone in
one’s shoe, the taste of sausage with fennel, and the rest.
Enough: in the midst of all this I headed off for a few weeks, very suddenly,
despite the fact that a charming Parisian woman tried to console me; I made
my excuses to Wagner with just such a fatalistic telegram. In a spot buried
deep in the Bavarian Forest, Klingenbrunn, I dragged around my melan-
choly and contempt for Germans like a disease – and from time to time I'd
write a sentence into my notebook . . . nothing but harsh psychologica, which
can perhaps still be rediscovered in Human, All Too Human. (EH 6.2)
Here Nietzsche gives us his compositional method as practiced. At the
festival he observed a horde of people who had deluded themselves by
appropriating Wagner as something especially German, giving Nietzsche
a “profound sense of alienation” (EH 6.2). He thus literally distances
himself from the experience, seeks isolation. This explains why Nietzsche
says that all of his books but one are “to be dated back – they always speak of
something ‘behind me’” (HH Second Preface 1). Then, with his thoughts
afflicting him like an illness, he writes. That is, he writes about what he has
fled and left behind. He kills it and skins his experience. Given this model,
we can say that Ecce Homo will exploit the experience of having been
Nietzsche.
The second Human, All Too Human preface – to the book’s second
volume – gives a more personal and upsetting way of seeing the intellectual
crisis identified in the first. Now Nietzsche describes how Wagner revealed
himself to be a decadent Romantic with Parsifal, a man who “sank helpless
and shattered before the Christian cross.” With enough distance to reflect,
Nietzsche writes that
this unexpected event illumined for me like a flash of lightning the place I
had left – and likewise gave me those subsequent horrors that one feels who
has passed through a terrible peril unawares. As I went on alone, I trembled;
not long afterwards I was sick, more than sick, I was weary of the unending
disappointment with everything we modern men have left to inspire us, of
the energy, labor, hope, youth, love everywhere dissipated . . . My task –
where had it gone? (HH Second Preface 3)
Human, All Too Human 141
This makes Nietzsche’s experience at Bayreuth the point of crisis, but like
his earlier discussion of unconscious pregnancy, an experience only under-
stood by tracing out where it led. As Nietzsche tells the dire tale, it led to his
own kind of physical and psychological shattering: the loss of his task, his
purpose, his meaning in life. Nietzsche’s purpose had been connected, as
The Birth of Tragedy testifies, to the rebirth of tragedy in Wagner’s music.
“What? was it now not as if my task had withdrawn from me, as though I
would for a long time to come cease to have any right to it? How was I going
to be able to endure this greatest of privations?” (HH Second Preface 3).
Nietzsche now understands Human, All Too Human as the “monument” to
this crisis (HH First Preface 1). He most grievously did not know what to do
with himself.
And so the question now in 1886: How did Nietzsche regain his sense of
purpose? How did he find a new task? The first preface to Human, All Too
Human answered this question by speaking of the great liberation,
Nietzsche’s rebellion from the values and feelings of the past, and the
concomitant insight that values could be shaped to various ends. But
Nietzsche’s answer in the second preface becomes more pointed and
perspicacious. Now Nietzsche understands the road back to his purpose
as paved with self-inflicted and necessary suffering. “Henceforth alone and
sorely mistrustful of myself, I thus, and not without a sullen wrathfulness,
took sides against myself and for everything painful and difficult precisely
for me: thus I again found my way to that courageous pessimism that is
the antithesis of all romantic mendacity, and also, as it seems to me today,
the way to ‘myself,’ to my task” (HH Second Preface 4). In other words,
Nietzsche had been fooled by his own fondest hopes for Wagner and
cultural rejuvenation, but he would not be fooled again. To punish himself
or, better, to school himself against such fuzzy love and idealism, Nietzsche
became a sharpened critic of all pretty things, all sonorous invocations that
evinced not joy and optimism but a giving up, a packing in, a desire for bilk
and bedtime. But as a sick man, and a Romantic man, Nietzsche very much
wanted these things. He wanted to believe and luxuriate in aesthetic
splendors, but he had seen through them, which means he had seen through
himself. Were he to regain a worthy life, he would have to fight himself.
Hence his life’s struggle is not simply with Christianity and Germans and
errant philosophy per se, but against these things within himself. The road
to Nietzsche’s task went through Nietzsche’s heart and guts.
Nietzsche’s second preface to Human, All Too Human understands its
author as the obstacle to Nietzsche’s higher health and purpose in life. After
Nietzsche describes the difficulty of his struggle with sickness, especially of
142 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
“appearing cheerful, objective, inquisitive, above all healthy and malicious”
when he was none of these things (he calls this the “good taste” of the
invalid), he now sees how his efforts were repaid.
All this finally resulted in a great spiritual strengthening, an increasing joy
and abundance of health. Life itself rewards us for our tough will to live, for
the long war such as I then waged with myself against the pessimism of
weariness with life, even for every attentive glance our gratitude accords to
even the smallest, tenderest, most fleeting gift that life gives us. Finally our
reward is the greatest of life’s gifts, perhaps the greatest thing it is able to give
of any kind – we are given our task back . . . (HH Second Preface 5)

Nietzsche met his sickened self in the dark forest, apparently, and the
healthy Nietzsche won.
Given the analysis of Nietzsche’s two retrospective prefaces to Human,
All Too Human, how do they compare to Ecce Homo’s treatment? The three
discussions of Nietzsche’s first book are alike in two ways that I wish to
underline, and different in two ways. They are alike in viewing Human, All
Too Human as marking a crisis, and in seeing Nietzsche’s illness in positive,
even transformational terms. They differ in that Ecce Homo structures the
discussion of Nietzsche’s third book in relation to Richard Wagner in Ecce
Homo, rather than by the intellectual and compositional biography we
outlined above, and gives more attention to the particularities of Human,
All Too Human itself than to the expansive scene-setting of two years earlier.
Together they throw more light on the purpose and value of Nietzsche’s
retrospective writings even while they emphasize different ideas for what
now counts as the “main proposition” of Human, All Too Human.
In Ecce Homo’s treatment of Human, All Too Human, as with the retro-
spective prefaces, Nietzsche understands his third book as the product of a
physical and psychological trauma. Ecce Homo’s initial description runs:
“Human, All Too Human is the monument to a crisis” (EH 6.1). His first
preface viewed this crisis in wide focus, generically panning across his child-
hood, adolescence, and young adulthood to explain first the pressure and then
the release of exogenetic values. As Nietzsche suggests, his personal experience
can be fairly rendered in general terms because every generation faces some-
thing like a crisis of the form: Will I embrace the values and ways of life that
have surrounded me thus far? (And we are well to ask this of ourselves, even
now.) His second preface, however, described the crisis as the loss of his task –
a task once interwoven with Wagner’s faith in the power of art.
The three retrospective views of Human, All Too Human stand alike in
their positive view of Nietzsche’s terrible illness of the time. In the first
Human, All Too Human 143
preface of 1886, Nietzsche credits his illness not only with acting as a
“fundamental cure” for all pessimism, but with having transformed his
relationship to his own virtues. Formerly they ruled him, now he rules
them. This change occurred because Nietzsche’s illness detached him from
himself as a person obligated to do certain things, to believe certain things.
His illness thus gave him a view from outside his own condition; it was
literally an ec-static experience and perspective, and Nietzsche shows grat-
itude for it. In Ecce Homo’s discussion of the book, Nietzsche’s illness “came
to my assistance in a way I cannot admire enough, and just at the right
time” – it saved him, he says, “from making any break, from taking any
violent, offensive step” in what became his great liberation (EH 6.4).
Literally Nietzsche means that he was able to retire from his professorship
and withdraw from Wagner (and other friends and associates) without
hurting their feelings or causing ill will, because his illness provided the
reason for – it forced – his withdrawal. Without it, Nietzsche would either
have had to break with his profession and friends by implicitly insulting
their values and ways of life, or perhaps he never would have achieved the
liberation that led to the Nietzsche we know today.
All three of Nietzsche’s backward glances at Human, All Too Human view
the book as evidence of a crisis, but how they do so creates a first significant
difference between them. In Ecce Homo’s treatment, Nietzsche renders his
crisis in more literal terms than he had two years earlier, linking the book to a
host of specific places, people, events, and times. That is, Nietzsche in 1888
constricts the focus point to the book’s composition itself, beginning “amid
the weeks of the first Bayreuth Festival” and ending when Nietzsche sent
Wagner his completed book and by a “meaningful coincidence” received
simultaneously from Wagner “a beautiful copy of the text of Parsifal” (EH
6.5). In between this beginning and end to producing Human, All Too
Human, Nietzsche relates first his miserable experiences at Bayreuth in
contrast to earlier days with Wagner at Tribschen, notes the “fatalistic tele-
gram” he sent to mark his necessary flight from the unbearable Wagnerian
cult, his seclusion in “the Bavarian Forest at Klingenbrunn” where he wrote
psychological observations in a notebook (EH 6.2), describes how he wrote all
of Human, All Too Human’s “essentials in Sorrento,” and reveals that he
finished the book “during a winter in Basle” by dictating the work, with a
“head bandaged up and in pain,” to “Mr. Peter Gast” (né Heinrich Köselitz),
who also “made corrections.” So Köselitz served as “the actual writer,”
Nietzsche jokes, “while I was just the author” (EH 6.5). All of this partic-
ularity gives Ecce Homo’s discussion a vibrant grittiness, complementing the
more general context supplied by the prefaces of two years earlier.
144 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
Other kinds of particularity find their way into Ecce Homo’s discussion of
Human, All Too Human not found in the retrospective prefaces, and we
should think about the effect of this difference. While the prefaces of 1886
had discussed the book’s subtitle, the Ecce Homo section gives a gloss on the
book’s title, its dedication, and its working title (“The Plowshare”).
Nietzsche describes the work aesthetically, contrasting it to his first two
books: “The tone, the timbre is completely different: people will find the
book clever, cool, perhaps harsh and mocking” (EH 6.1). In one sense, these
details can be explained by our knowledge that Nietzsche had a copy of
Human, All Too Human in front of him when he wrote Ecce Homo, while he
tells us he did not when writing the earlier prefaces, but I think we can
suppose once more that Nietzsche sought to provide a different view in Ecce
Homo so that all three accounts could be read to some advantage. Speaking
of which, what do we make of these three in comparison overall? Can they
improve our understanding of Ecce Homo?
Let us entertain a handful of ideas in these three treatments: the idea of
looking back at one’s own projects, the necessity of art in Nietzsche’s
conception of psychological health, his nomination of two different ideas
as singly important and central to his third book (as he describes the work
ten and then twelve years later), the idea that Nietzsche’s writings testify to
an internal struggle with aspects of himself that require overcoming if he is
to be healthy or wise, and the vital connection between retrospection and
perspectivism that emerges when we reflect on the three treatments of
Nietzsche’s work together.
Assay now a telling and doubling moment in Ecce Homo’s description of
Human, All Too Human. As Nietzsche looks back at the book a dozen years
later, he tells of a moment in that past when he also looked back ten years.
He writes:

All at once it became terribly clear to me how much time had already been
wasted – how useless, how arbitrary my whole philologist’s existence
appeared when set against my task . . . Ten years behind me when quite
simply the nourishment of my spirit had been at a standstill, when I had learnt
nothing more that was usable, when I had forgotten a ridiculous amount
about a hotchpotch of fusty erudition. (EH 6.3)

This retrospection within a retrospection covers the years 1866–76, and


explains how a backwards-looking moment then (in 1876) created a life-
changing realization that helped spur the creation of Human, All Too
Human and its great liberation, a process Nietzsche describes as a “a ‘return
to myself ’” (EH 6.4). Hence Nietzsche’s retrospective moments shape his
Human, All Too Human 145
past work and experience in ways that inspire his life and work in the
present. And Nietzsche’s manner of evaluating his own books mimics in
distillate form his books themselves, which are always ready to trace out
historical forms to shape our present view – of Christianity, of morality, of
the Greeks, of philosophy, of ourselves.
The shaping of the past in retrospective moments is an artistic process.
We select a few details and ignore a mountain more that stand behind them.
We shape the details to follow a form that we borrow or invent, and even the
same details can be ordered to match any number of narrative structures.
Finally, we cannot help but shape the account itself and the details involved
through an emotional template, even the cool and detached mode of the so-
called objective report. All of this is obvious. But why do this, to what
purpose? Nietzsche employs such art, he says, to “recover” from himself as
an isolated, suspicious thinker. “I have sought shelter in this or that – in
some piece of admiration or enmity or scientificality or frivolity or stupidity;
and why, where I could not find what I needed, I had artificially to enforce,
falsify and invent a suitable fiction for myself (and what else have poets ever
done? and to what end does art exist in the world at all?)” (HH First Preface
1). Not only does this remark cast Nietzsche as a poet – an artist with
words – but it configures many Nietzschean topics as mere “shelters” from
his more psychologically taxing inquiries. Hence various admirations or
enmities, or the desire to be scientific or frivolous or stupid, have not been
serious pursuits per se, but ways to restore him. “And to what end does art
exist in the world at all?” he asks rhetorically. Nietzsche here turns art into a
curative for our psychological ills, and whole categories of pursuit merely aid
his recuperation. Nietzsche explains: “I might be reproached for having
employed a certain amount of ‘art,’ a certain amount of false-coinage: for
example, that I knowingly-willingly closed my eyes before Schopenhauer’s
blind will to morality . . . likewise that I deceived myself over Richard
Wagner’s incurable romanticism . . . likewise over the Greeks, likewise
over the Germans and their future – and perhaps a whole long list could
be made of such likewises?” Nietzsche now sees all of these cases as “cunning
in self-preservation,” as evidence of “reason and higher safeguarding” (HH
Preface 1). All of which underlines the remarkable degree to which
Nietzsche sees art and self-deception and his sanity aligned.
A provocative case of shaping the past in retrospect occurs when we
consider how Nietzsche sees the “main proposition” of Human, All Too
Human in the first preface, compared to its main idea identified in Ecce
Homo. In 1886, Nietzsche says that the heart of his third book is the “great
liberation” that led to him becoming a “free spirit,” which in turned allowed
146 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
him to grasp his genuine object of analysis: “the problem of order of rank”
(HH Preface 6). But in 1888, Nietzsche says that the heart of his third book
is the idea that “the moral man is no closer to the intelligible world than the
physical man – for there is no intelligible world” (EH 6.6). Has Nietzsche’s
recent reading of Human, All Too Human changed his mind? Is he right in
1886 but mistaken two years later? Or the reverse? Or can we show that the
core idea of his third book is something else, unrealized by Nietzsche? But
these questions are nonsensical. By the principles that Nietzsche has out-
lined, he has chosen and shaped the details of the past to accord with a
present need. In 1886 Nietzsche had completed Beyond Good and Evil and
was preparing to write On the Genealogy of Morals. When he looks back at
Human, All Too Human, he needs inspiration for the present project. He
finds it. He sees that this idea of how to order values has occupied him
already, unconsciously, for ten years. This shaping of the past inspires him
because it imagines the present man as entirely ready to tackle the problem.
But in 1888 when Nietzsche writes once more about his third book, On the
Genealogy of Morals, The Case of Wagner, Twilight of the Idols, and The
Antichrist are successfully behind him, and Nietzsche has been thinking
about the revaluation of all values. Hence he now sees a different proposi-
tion as central to Human, All Too Human – an idea that creates an affinity
with the dismantling of any “intelligible” world that Nietzsche carried out
in Twilight of the Idols, Chapter 4 (“How the ‘Real World’ At Last Became a
Myth”). Once more this shows how Nietzsche shapes his previous work as
contiguous with more present concerns, and thus a spur to current and
future projects.
In the second preface of Human, All Too Human, Nietzsche previews an
Ecce Homo preoccupation when he writes that “my writings speak only of
my overcomings: ‘I’ am in them, together with everything that was inimical
to me” (HH Second Preface 1). Aside from pressing down the sustenato
pedal of ‘philosophy as autobiography’ heard elsewhere, his analysis in the
second preface helps us better understand what Ecce Homo is up to. Because
Nietzsche came to understand himself as the real obstacle to wisdom and
flourishing, it makes sense that one day Nietzsche would be required to do
something very difficult and dangerous: write Ecce Homo. The following
remark from Human’s second preface concerns Nietzsche’s third book. But
can I make it stand as a description of his last original composition?
So I, as physician and patient in one, compelled myself to an opposite and
unexplored clime of the soul, and especially to a curative journey into strange
parts, into strangeness itself, to an inquisitiveness regarding every kind of
Daybreak 147
strange thing . . ., a certain amount of cynicism, perhaps . . . but just as surely
a great deal of capricious happiness, capricious cheerfulness, a great deal of
stillness, light, [and] subtler folly.” (HH Second Preface 5)
In certain and significant respects, Nietzsche’s expansive and warring
psyche became his own undiscovered country; Nietzsche became his own
task. And that task could only culminate in Ecce Homo.
As this comparison of prefaces has I hope made clear, Nietzsche’s retro-
spective vision and his perspectivism are closely linked. Change Nietzsche’s
circumstances, and his present needs for writing will change, and likewise
the art he will use to shape the past to benefit him in the present. Thus we
have more reason to think that interpreting how Nietzsche reads his
previous works spotlights the present man who interprets. Nietzsche inti-
mates in Ecce Homo, as we have seen, that he knows his creative life to be
drawing to its close. Thus the author of Nietzsche’s last original composi-
tion knows that he shapes his work not only for his own well-being, but for
ours. For if we have suffered and are grateful like Nietzsche, then Ecce Homo
will likewise be just our kind of folly, frivolity, and artful restoration.

Daybreak
The chapter on Daybreak clarifies Nietzsche’s purpose in writing Ecce Homo
by showing how his fourth book’s intention fits within his overarching task
in philosophy. “With this book my campaign against morality begins” (EH
7.1), Nietzsche writes. Of its intended effect: “If one takes leave of the book
with a cautious reserve about everything that has so far attained honor and
even worship under the name of morality, this in no way contradicts the fact
that the whole book contains no negative word, no attack, no spite – that it
lies in the sun, round, happy, like some sea animal basking among rocks”
(EH 7.1). Here Nietzsche has identified an intellectual state of character (a
“cautious reserve”) as the book’s intention, and a peaceful kind of description
as the means. As we saw, Nietzsche understands his books to arise from
complex physiological states; here he repeats the desire to communicate
such states, and to have them affect his readers in an analogous way. Hence
Nietzschean texts instruct by method and example, with the goal of forming
intellectually strong, curious, and self-seeking people – not subscribers to
his philosophic doctrines.154

154
Philosophical elucidations of Nietzsche have overwhelmingly focused on his doctrines instead of his
books. Commentators both on and off the European continent have chosen doctrines (eternal
148 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
Daybreak marks a beginning to the effort preconceived in The Birth of
Tragedy: the attempt to interpret life without Judeo-Christian moral terms,
and to redeem life by denying that it requires redemption.
‘There are so many dawns that have not yet broken’ – this Indian inscription
marks the opening of this book. Where does its author seek that new
morning, that as yet undiscovered tender red that marks the beginning of
another day? In a revaluation of all values, in a liberation from all moral
values, in saying Yes to and having confidence in all that has hitherto been
forbidden, despised, and damned. This Yes-saying book pours out its light,
its love, its tenderness upon ever so many wicked things; it gives back to
them their ‘soul,’ a good conscience, the lofty right and privilege of existence.
Morality is not attacked, it is merely no longer in the picture. (EH 7.1)
This passage could form a bridge over the hermeneutical confusions that
pass under any good understanding of Nietzsche’s meaning as a thinker.
Here Nietzsche’s goal, the direction and development of his intellectual life,
and the nature of the revaluation of values come together. The dream of a
hermeneutical mode thoroughly purged of moral terms and pre-formed
responses to the bad in life defines Nietzsche’s philosophic task, his reval-
uation of experience. Naturally, such work involves both attacking current
modes and exemplifying new ones. Nietzsche’s style of cheerful aggression
suits both goals.
Nietzsche reads Daybreak and other previous works as having done what
he now calls his task: the reinterpreting of human life and value through
other than moral categories. Despite the mnemonic hyperbole of the phrase,
we might forgive Nietzsche his “revaluation of all values.” Any attempt to
read human life without recourse to moral formula – from entirely other
perspectives, in psychological, physiological, or aesthetic terms for exam-
ple – is to revalue even those values that once depended on moral modes of
reading for their character and rank as values. Revaluing ‘bad traits’ is
required too, as when Nietzsche praises lust and greed and other passionate
recurrence, will to power, the Übermensch, amor fati, the free spirit, the sovereign individual, the
Dionysian, genealogy, immoralism, perspectivism, et al.) and sought by their study to establish
Nietzsche’s significance and philosophical contribution – and to prove the unity or its absence
across his corpus. (And when they do not find enough meat on the bones of their choosing, they
scavenge Nietzsche’s notebooks.) But Nietzsche’s doctrines are means, not ends. They appear in
particular works, briefly, and then mostly disappear – without receiving anything like a thorough
presentation or defense. Indeed, Nietzsche is suspicious of doctrines per se. “After all, you know well
enough that it cannot be of any consequence if you of all people are proved right; you know that no
philosopher so far has been proved right, and that there might be a more laudable truthfulness in
every little question mark that you place after your special words and favorite doctrines (and
occasionally after yourselves) than in all the solemn gestures and trumps before accusers and law
courts” (BGE 25). Indeed, Nietzsche never devoted a book to a doctrine, but experimented with
different ways to pursue and critique philosophy – as his books and Ecce Homo attest.
Daybreak 149
ambitions on the basis of their energy. Still, Nietzsche’s phrase is only
superficially about which things are valued; it is really about whence values
come, and upon which evaluative perspective they depend. The phrase does
not entail any claim to ‘invent’ new values, except in the sense that
Nietzsche can realize new grounds for values – as when he celebrates
something he admires, or persuades and exhorts us to see some idea or
question or trait as valuable.
Take honesty. In a moral interpretation, the value of honesty rests upon
its virtual efficacy: other moral ends are achieved when someone honestly
admits transgressions, makes agreements, informs others of intention,
danger, and so on. And in monotheisms, honesty is attributed to the
godhead; the divine does not deceive, and we are godlike when we imitate
this trait. But Nietzsche asks: Is there a non-moral way to understand
honesty? Can it still be valued? Should it be? In which contexts? How
could one revalue this value? Nietzsche’s answer is not the citation of a new
moral perspective or even the radical twist of an old one, by which true
values x, y, and q are rationally defended (or demonstrated in any other
fashion). Instead, he shows how honesty could be valued from an amoral
perspective, for example, psychologically. Honesty could be valued because
of the mental strength it requires and fosters. Nietzsche valued honesty
because it proved him capable of facing the ugly underneath in human
history, allowing him to face and integrate the hard truths and the tragic
in life.155
Nietzsche’s revaluation of honesty stands outside of moral criteria,
beyond good and evil. Hence he is an immoralist not because he decries
moral values in kind (although he often attacks specific precepts for specific
reasons), but because he denies the value of their traditionally unconditional
ground, and laments the historical damage they have done to our way of
seeing ourselves and the world: that is, seeing ourselves as perpetually
flawed. Nietzsche would redeem us from requiring redemption.
Nietzsche equates the revaluation of all values in the Ecce Homo passage
with one phrase: the liberation from all moral values. This liberation puts us
in a position to affirm existence in every form. And notice on the previous
155
In the larger Nietzschean picture, honesty could be thus related to intellectual courage. Nietzsche
counts this as a good, but not morally so. (For a helpful distinction between ethics and morality in
Nietzsche, see Parker, “A Reading of Ecce Homo,” 302–03. In brief, we do well to remember that
ethics is a larger normative domain than morality – which it contains – so Nietzsche’s critique of
morality can itself be ethical, that is, concerned with human goods.) Honesty also derives its value,
traditionally, from an unproblematic notion of truth, a truth aligned in Plato and Christianity with
goodness and the divine. Nietzsche rejects such a view, so honesty will be valued by him from other
perspectives.
150 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
page (in Ecce Homo’s treatment of Human, All Too Human), how revalua-
tion of all values was equated with “the hammer blow of historical knowl-
edge” (EH 6.6). What knowledge? As The Birth of Tragedy shows, this is the
knowledge that we have other ways to evaluate. The Attic art form of tragedy,
for example, proved to Nietzsche that the Greeks were able to value even the
most gruesome aspects of existence, not morally degrade them or lie them
out of existence with ideal worlds. Even the Greek gods suffer, but they are
no less in love with life for all that. In contrast, the moral interpreter always
seems to find life lacking, even finds some (great number of) people
damnable. Nietzsche characterizes his own work as the attempt to give
back to all moralistically defined ‘wicked things’ their “‘soul,’ a good
conscience, the lofty right and privilege of existence” (EH 7.1). This
would constitute a ‘redemption’ of life by philosophy, not by a god’s
sacrifice.
Moral thinking is, foremost, a way of understanding. “There are no
moral phenomena” Nietzsche writes in Beyond Good and Evil, “only
moral interpretations of phenomena” (BGE 108). So other ways of under-
standing can emerge if Nietzsche succeeds in undercutting morality’s
perceived value. Moral thinking understands Cesare Borgia, for example,
as categorically evil. But Nietzsche sees an extraordinary human being. Such
an estimation sounds Christ-like in its ‘forgiveness’ from a moral stand-
point, but Nietzsche means his approach to be great-souled and grounded
by a realist, not a supernatural perspective. To interpret things morally
forecloses understanding and often seems to forbid further thinking. To
morally determine people as depraved allows us to dismiss everything else
about them. Nietzsche’s perspectivism, contrariwise, allows for alternate
models of understanding. And where moral interpretation necessarily
excludes or damns, Nietzsche sought to affirm; hence doctrines such as
eternal recurrence and amor fati. Ironic, then, Nietzsche’s wicked
reputation.156
Nietzsche further distinguishes his goal as a philosopher in the second
section of Ecce Homo’s discussion of Daybreak.
My task, to prepare a moment of supreme coming-to-oneself on the part of
mankind, a great noontide when it looks back and looks forward, when it
steps out from the dominion of chance and the priesthood and poses the
question why? to what end? for the first time as a whole – this task follows of
necessity from the insight that mankind is not of itself on the right path, that

156
Nietzsche has been morally castigated from the beginning. Not only for the obvious reasons, it seems
to me, but so that he would not be understood.
Daybreak 151
it is absolutely not divinely directed, that under precisely its holiest value-
concepts rather the instinct of denial, of decay, the decadence-instinct has
seductively ruled. (EH 7.2)
Nietzsche’s books mean to effect a cultural moment: a moment when
questions of Why? and, To what end? are asked seriously about human
beings. Nietzsche thinks that asking these questions will make necessary a
revaluation of values in response, so badly have we ignored the questions or
botched the answers for millennia. His work inspires these questions and
the thinking that would follow. Nietzsche’s work, like all satire, is never
merely about fun and games.
Nietzsche’s train of thinking runs from cultural diagnosis to interpretive
cure. Humanity has been served badly by those people and values hitherto
called the holiest: those chiefly subsumed under the lie of selflessness (an
unwise and contorted, guilty and repressed kind of self-serving). The ‘self-
less’ values are nihilistic because they diminish the likelihood of human
greatness, which Nietzsche takes to arise through the assertion of healthy
self-love: selfishness with a good conscience. By Nietzsche’s analysis,
Christianity and its remnant forms slander the self-centered, ignore the
body when not castigating its drives, fear knowledge, and overall increase
the likelihood of human depression and failure – a failure that they predict,
cause, confirm, and only pretend to redress.157 Moral evaluation is the
means.
The morality of selflessness is a pernicious mode of interpretation that
enervates all who ‘sin,’ attacking the very drives of living creatures. And
Christianity metaphorically ends all life by preaching ‘the end of the world’
and a ‘last judgment’ – with everlasting moral consequences. Nietzsche
fights this by promoting interpretive options. “With Daybreak,” he writes,
“I first took up the struggle against the morality of unselfing” (EH 7.2).
Nietzsche’s self-seeking is a modern alternative to the Christian moral one.
It raises the question of particular taste and value as against universal ones to
which we always come up short.
Nietzsche also attacks philosophers in the second section, parenthetically
referring to them as “hidden priests” who likewise promote a decadent
morality (EH 7.2). We cannot dispute that philosophers have shilled for
Christianity, no doubt often for self-serving reasons, but Nietzsche’s mali-
cious comment cuts deeper because it hints at a long-standing hypocrisy:
the false independence of ‘the wise.’ While philosophers flatter themselves

157
That is, Christianity is the illness for which it purports to be the cure.
152 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
that they freely pursue the truth in contrast to religious folk restrained by
faithful demands, Nietzsche’s work frequently demonstrates how philoso-
phers have adopted the metaphysical and moral rubrics of Plato and
Christianity (that “Platonism for the masses”). Thus Nietzsche’s books
can be read as a long satiric attack on the history of Western philosophy –
which remains obsessed with knowing and judging.
Contemplate now the clever and grinning retrospective preface of 1886
that Nietzsche composed for Daybreak. It cuts a different figure from his
Ecce Homo treatment by placing the book in a German intellectual tradi-
tion, and by organizing its remarks on the book’s author and topic around
two classical myths: of Trophonius and Circe. After explicating this earlier
and alternative view of Daybreak, I will compare its treatment with that in
Ecce Homo to underscore Nietzsche’s reconfigurative urge.
As in the retrospective prefaces to Human, All Too Human, Nietzsche’s
method of assessing his previous work in Daybreak’s case likewise has more
to do with establishing its larger context than with replaying its details or
evaluating its reception. He does this by describing how philosophers have
approached the subject of morality and by following out a line of German
pessimism that leads to him. “Hitherto, the subject reflected on least
adequately has been good and evil: it was too dangerous a subject . . . In
the face of morality, as in the face of any authority, one is not allowed to
think, far less to express an opinion: here one has to – obey!” (D Preface 3).
As a result, the status and unquestioned value of morality has been ignored –
even while philosophers have sought to give it ever more security and
stability. What have these efforts come to? Nietzsche answers rhetorically,
“Why is it from Plato onwards every philosophical architect in Europe has
built in vain? That everything they themselves in all sober seriousness
regarded as aere perennius is threatening to collapse or already lies in
ruins?” (D Preface 3). He has Kant answer: “‘because they had all neglected
the presupposition for such an undertaking, the testing of the foundations, a
critique of reason as a whole’” (D Preface 3). But Nietzsche undercuts the
entire Kantian attempt to stabilize morality with a parenthesis: “(– and
come to think of it, was it not somewhat peculiar to demand of an instru-
ment that it should criticize its own usefulness and suitability? That the
intellect itself should ‘know’ its own value, its own capacity, its own
limitations? Was it not even a little absurd? – )” (D Preface 3). He then
quotes Kant to show that the Prussian dogmatist was motivated not by truth
but another purpose, namely: “to level and make firm the ground for . . .
majestic moral structures (Critique of Pure Reason ii, p. 257)” (D Preface 3).
Nietzsche concludes: “to create room for his ‘moral realm’ [Kant] saw
Daybreak 153
himself obliged to posit an indemonstrable world, a logical ‘Beyond’ – it was
for precisely this that he had need of his critique of pure reason!” (D Preface
3). Nietzsche now wonders why Kant did not seek naturalistic grounds for
morality, and answers as follows: “In the face of nature and history, in the
face of the general immorality of nature and history, Kant was, like every
good German of the old stamp, a pessimist; he believed in morality, not
because it is demonstrated in nature and history, but in spite of the fact that
nature and history continually contradict it” (D Preface 3). Nietzsche then
traces this German pessimism back to Martin Luther’s faithful rage against
reason, a view captured in that “perilous” conclusion that has long made a
“profound impression,” Nietzsche says, on the German soul. And what is
this intentionally irrational position? Credo quia absurdum est – believe it
because it is absurd.
We might now expect Nietzsche to distinguish himself and Daybreak
from this line of German thinking. Instead, he puts himself within it. “We
Germans of today,” he writes, remain “even in the realm of logic, pessi-
mists” (D Preface 3). And Nietzsche springs his charming trap.
Perhaps German pessimism still has one last step to take? Perhaps it has once
again to set beside one another in fearful fashion its credo and its absurdum?
And if this book is pessimistic even into the realm of morality, even to the
point of going beyond faith in morality – should it not for this very reason be
a German book? For it does in fact exhibit a contradiction and is not afraid of
it: in this book faith in morality is withdrawn – but why? Out of morality! (D
Preface 4)
Nietzsche explains this by saying
that a ‘thou shalt’ still speaks to us too, that we too still obey a stern law set
over us – and this is the last moral law which can make itself audible even to
us . . . namely, that we do not want to return to that which we consider
outlived and decayed, to anything ‘unworthy of belief,’ be it called God,
virtue, truth, justice, charity; that we do not permit ourselves any bridges-of-
lies to ancient ideals. (D Preface 4)
What moral motive, then, endures in Nietzsche? It seems to be that he
requires his objects of belief to be worthy of reverence, that is, to be true and
to be good. But as Nietzsche’s inquiries and satiric journeys show over and
over, we find less and less to revere when we put people and history under
rational scrutiny; we instead find the human, and the all too human. Hence
Nietzsche faces up to the contradiction of Daybreak: by its faith in reason –
namely, that reason by its very operation is a good, and productive of further
goods – the book has withdrawn its faith in morality. But “faith in reason,”
154 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
Nietzsche writes, “is, as faith, a moral phenomenon” (D Preface 4). Thus
Nietzsche’s moral imperative, to be truthful and good in one’s rational
thinking, has led to the frequent conclusion that there are no sure grounds
to be truthful and good.
This understanding of how Nietzsche places Daybreak in a German
intellectual tradition of morally motivated pessimism toward reason allows
us to fathom two classical allusions that organize the retrospective Daybreak
preface in a remarkable way. Nietzsche’s preface begins, “In this book you
will discover a ‘subterranean man’ at work, one who tunnels and mines and
undermines” (D Preface 1). After describing the unpleasant working con-
ditions that the metaphor suggests, Nietzsche asks: “Does it not seem as
though some faith were leading him on, some consolation offering him
compensation? As though he perhaps desires this prolonged obscurity . . .
because he knows what he will thereby also acquire: his own morning, his
own redemption, his own daybreak?” (D Preface 1). After planting this seed
that a ‘faith’ is spurring him on, Nietzsche concludes section 1 by writing of
his Daybreak-writing persona as follows: “He will return, that is certain: do
not ask him what he is looking for down there, he will tell you himself of his
own accord, this seeming Trophonios and subterranean, as soon as he has
‘become a man’ again. Being silent is something one completely unlearns if,
like him, one has been for so long a solitary mole” (D Preface 1). What does
all this mean?
Trophonios is an ancient Greek chthonic deity or hero, that is, one who
dwells underground. Two legends surround him and the founding near
Levadia in Boeotia of his prominent cult and his rituals that align with
Orphic eschatology. In one tale, Trophonios is the son of Apollo who
became renowned with his brother, Agamedes, as an architect and builder.
After completing the temple to Apollo at Delphi, they asked the god for
payment. Apollo told them to do whatever they wished for seven days and
on the eighth day they would receive their reward. They did as they pleased
under this divine sanction, and on the eighth day they were found peace-
fully laid out, dead.
In another tale of Trophonios, the brothers designed a royal treasure
room for King Hyrieus, but secretly engineered a stone in the design that
only they knew how to remove. Using this knowledge to gain entry, they
stole little by little from the king. To catch the thieves Hyrieus set a trap
inside the treasury, and one night ensnared Agamedes. Being unable to free
him, and to prevent the king from discovering their identity, and to protect
himself from a sibling who might implicate him when tortured, Trophonios
cut off his brother’s head and escaped with it unscathed. But his liberation
Daybreak 155
was short-lived: the earth opened to swallow Trophonios and his secret.
When the Boeotian townspeople later suffered a plague, Apollo com-
manded them to consult the oracle of Trophonios for atonement, but no
one knew where it was. At last a shepherd followed a swarm of bees into a
hole in the ground to discover an underground cave where Trophonios
appeared to him, announcing that he was a god and that this was his oracle.
The cult of Trophonios was active for several centuries. Jane Ellen
Harrison, relying on the second century ce firsthand account of
Pausanias, writes that its rituals included drinking from wells of forgetful-
ness before visiting the god underground, and from wells of memory after-
ward when the inquirer was returned to the surface.158 Walter Burkert
describes the descent that initiates made: “After long preparations, the
inquirer at the oracle is led at night time into a vaulted chamber from
which a whirlwind miraculously carries him through a small aperture above
the ground; when he returns he is unable to laugh.”159 Within the cave, the
inquirer put questions to Trophonios, but the entire experience was appa-
rently a terrifying one. Inquirers were frequently paralyzed with fright, such
that the ancient saying “to descend into the cave of Trophonios” meant to
be horribly afraid, to lose one’s wits. Harrison describes the experience:
The ritual that follows is of course a descent into the underworld, the man
goes down into the oven-shaped cavity, an elaborate artificial chasm, enters a
hole, is dragged through by the feet, swirled away, hears and sees ‘the things
that are to be’, he comes up feet foremost and then the priests set him on the
seat, called the seat of Memory, which is near the shrine. They question him
and, when they have learnt all they can, give him over to his friends, who
carry him possessed by fear and unconscious to the house of Agathe Tyche
and Agathos Daimon where he lodged before. Then he comes to himself
and, one is relieved to hear, is able to laugh again.160
What then does Nietzsche mean when he compares himself to Trophonios,
and when he likens Daybreak to being underground? I will divide the
analysis in two; reflecting first on Nietzsche as Trophonios, then on
Nietzsche as an inquirer at the cult of Trophonios.
When Nietzsche compares himself to Trophonios, he compares himself
to what may seem an ambiguous figure of rare talents and mixed fate. In
both tales Trophonios is an audacious character; he asks a god for payment

158
Jane Ellen Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (Princeton University Press,
1991), 578.
159
Walter Burkert, Greek Religion, trans. John Raffan (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,
1985), 115.
160
Jane Ellen Harrison, Prolegomena, 579.
156 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
after building a temple in one instance, and cleverly steals from a king in the
other. Thus he uses considerable areté (a cultivated excellence or skill) to
transgress authority, and kills his kin from a realist (and severe) analysis of
endangerment in the second tale. And what kind of price does he pay for his
daring deeds? In the first story, as the ancients understood it, he was blessed
by Apollo – at least in the god’s fashion. Seven days of divine permission to
act with impunity, followed by a peaceful death – this was how gods
understood what mortal beings would be wise to hope for from life. In
the second story, although the earth swallows Trophonios unawares, he
becomes a god, revered as a source of oracular wisdom. In both cases the
ancients would understand these tales to suggest that the gods look with
favor on the bold and the skilled. When Nietzsche compares himself to
Trophonios, then, he configures himself as a transgressive figure in respect
to authority, but one whose very excellence and courage in hazardous
enterprises should win our praise – even if he does live hidden underground.
And Nietzsche’s act of comparing himself to Trophonios is itself
Trophonic: an implicit call for us to consider Nietzsche a source of under-
ground wisdom to whom we owe a pilgrimage.
Although Nietzsche calls himself a seeming Trophonios, he also encour-
ages us to read him as an inquirer at the cultic site, as when he writes that he
“will return” (D Preface 1), that his journey underground could easily have
become “a funeral oration,” and that he “will tell you himself” what he was
looking for underground. This language points to Nietzsche as an initiate
of the cult who has endured – in Daybreak – the “hazardous enterprise” of
descending underground where he “tunneled into the foundations”
of morality (D Preface 2). How then do we read Nietzsche as an inquirer
of the cult?
Remember that the cult of Trophonios frames its ritual in relation to
memory and forgetting. A person wishing for an oracular answer to a
question must first drink from the spring of forgetfulness as part of a
purifying ritual in preparation for the descent. This posits the human
mind as cluttered or made unclean by memories that could block the
reception of wisdom. After the encounter, the inquirer drinks from the
well of memory to retrieve the god’s words, as inquirers have lost their senses
and need help in recovering them. Both Ecce Homo and Nietzsche’s retro-
spective prefaces are bound up with memory and forgetting, of necessity,
and their author knows that his own wisdom and well-being depend on
what he will remember about his past experiences, and how he will shape
those memories. Hence Nietzsche’s retrospective texts present him at the
moment of emerging from the cave of his own past. What did he see down
Daybreak 157
there, and what did he hear? Was it frightening? What wisdom accrues from
his experience, and can we learn from it too?
Nietzsche plays with his cultic analogy. He opens the second section of
Daybreak’s preface like this: “And indeed, my patient friends, I shall now
tell you what I was after down there – here in this late preface that could
easily have become a funeral oration: for I have returned and, believe it or
not, returned safe and sound” (D Preface 2).161 And what was Nietzsche
doing down there in the architect-cum-god’s cave? “At that time I under-
took something not everyone may undertake: I descended into the depths, I
tunneled into the foundations,” and “commenced to undermine our faith in
morality” (D Preface 2). That is, Nietzsche attempted an even more auda-
cious and transgressive enterprise than Trophonios. He acted as an anti-
architect of morality.
Following the cult’s ritual, we realize that Nietzsche’s preface to Daybreak
performs the cultic priest’s task: to record and decipher the half-coherent
ravings of the initiate when he emerges from underground. However,
because Nietzsche was himself “a ‘subterranean man’ at work” in his fourth
book, he both remembers a harrowing experience, and interprets the words
of his earlier self. The plumb line goes even deeper, however, when we
consider that Daybreak was itself a deciphering of Nietzsche’s first-order
experiences of thinking about morality. That is, Nietzsche has descended
and ascended to Daybreak’s material depths three times when we arrive at
Ecce Homo, his final “seat of Memory.”
Nietzsche said in Daybreak’s preface that although he has been under-
ground, he “will return,” that he will tell us what he saw once he “has
‘became a man’ again,” and that he “unlearns” silence as a solitary man (D
Preface 1). Now we can say with some confidence that Nietzsche refers here
to the cult’s founder and to the experience of the inquirer who undergoes
the cultic ritual: to the habit of solitary men and deities who speak aloud
their words of wisdom because they otherwise want for company, and to
“becoming a man” as the regaining of one’s wits after the ritual’s terrifying
ordeal. Thus Nietzsche’s first allusion configures Nietzsche as both the
oracular man-god and the trembling inquirer.
In the midst of locating Daybreak within a pessimistic strain of German
thought, Nietzsche deploys a second classical allusion in his retrospective

161
Aside from the usual frights and danger involved, Pausanias reports that local people said that once an
unworthy man was killed during the descent (Description of Greece, trans. W. H. S. Jones and
H. A. Ormerod, 5 vols., Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1918–
35), 9.39.12).
158 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
preface that reifies his philosophic point that moral premises and prejudices
have too often transformed cool-thinking philosophers into thoughtless
mammals. After observing how morality has “at its command every kind
of means of frightening off critical hands and torture-instruments,” he then
describes its powerful “art of enchantment” (D Preface 3). He writes: “For
morality has from of old been master of every diabolical nuance of the art of
persuasion.” And for “as long as there has been speech and persuasion on
earth, morality has shown itself to be the greatest of all mistresses of
seduction – and, so far as we philosophers are concerned, the actual Circe
of the philosophers” (D Preface 3). While Nietzsche continues with examples
of what he means from Plato, Kant, Hegel, and himself – as we have seen – I
want now to explore what it means to call morality the Circe of the
philosophers. I mean to show that Nietzsche’s allusion not only makes his
charge more nuanced, pointed, and memorable, but helps to unify his
retrospective preface by melding with the Trophonios allusions we have
outlined. In this way it works its own rhetorical charm in just the way
Nietzsche has warned us about, so we must follow on with caution if we
hope like Odysseus to return home to a dominion of our own.
Circe is daughter of Helios the sun god; she lives on the island of Aeaea
and is renowned in ancient lore for her seductive powers, sorcery, and a
lively response to being spurned in love. She turned one unwilling lover,
Picus, into a woodpecker, and another, a rival for the love of Glaucus, into a
hideous sea monster. But The Odyssey gives a more attractive account, and
we need to think about how or whether Nietzsche understands himself (or
other philosophers) as Odyssean figures. In Book 10 the wandering seafarers
come upon
the home of Circe
the nymph with lovely braids, an awesome power too
who can speak with human voice,
the true sister of murderous-minded Aeetes.
Both were bred by the Sun who lights our lives;
their mother was Perse, a child the Ocean bore. (10.148–53)162

When Odysseus sends a scouting party to her palace, the men witness wild
animals strangely tame and becalmed outside, animals whom “she’d
bewitched” with “magic drugs” (10.232). This gave the men pause, until
deep inside they heard her singing, lifting
her spellbinding voice as she glided back and forth

162
All quotations of The Odyssey are trans. Fagles.
Daybreak 159
at her great immortal loom, her enchanting web
a shimmering glory only goddesses can weave. (10.242–45)

Even though Odysseus’ men fell victim to man-eating giants in a similar-


looking palace at their last island stop, here “Circe opened her gleaming
doors at once and stepped forth / inviting them all in, and in they went, all
innocence” (10.253–54). Seating them grandly and fixing them something
to drink, “into the brew she stirred her wicked drugs / to wipe from their
memories any thought of home” (10.259–60). Once drugged, she struck
them with a wand, transforming them into swine even while their minds
remained human. But the prudent Eurylochus had remained outside;
after witnessing the horror, he ran to tell Odysseus. Armed with an
antidote from Hermes and detailed instructions for how to deal with
Circe when she offered herself to him, Odysseus determines to rescue
his pig-men. Nonetheless Hermes tells him: “Well, I warn you, you won’t
get home yourself / you’ll stay right there, trapped with all the rest”
(10.315–16).
With his divinely provided antidote Odysseus overcomes “the witch’s
subtle craft” (10.320), then brandishes his sword per Hermes’ instructions.
Odysseus recounts Circe’s response: “She screamed, slid under my blade,
hugged my knees / with a flood of warm tears and a burst of winging words”
(10.359–60). After peppering him with questions about his home and
lineage, she says: “I’m wonderstruck – you drank my drugs, you’re not
bewitched! / Never has any other man withstood my potion” (10.362–63).
“You have a mind in you no magic can enchant!” (10.365). Realizing who he
is, she then says, “Come, sheathe your sword, let’s go to bed together /
mount my bed and mix in the magic work of love – / we’ll breed deep trust
between us” (10.370–72). At this critical moment Odysseus lays out his
fascinating fear:
So she enticed
but I fought back, still wary. ‘Circe, Circe,
how dare you tell me to treat you with any warmth?
You who turned my men to swine in your own house and now
you hold me here as well – teeming with treachery
you lure me to your room to mount your bed,
so once I lie there naked
you’ll unman me, strip away my courage!
Mount your bed? Not for all the world. Not
until you consent to swear, goddess, a binding oath
you’ll never plot some new intrigue to harm me!’
Straightaway
160 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
she began to swear the oath that I required – never,
she’d never do me harm – and when she’d finished,
then, at last, I mounted Circe’s gorgeous bed. (10.372–85)
We might reflect on what has happened thus far, languidly, and consider
how Odysseus interprets these events. This detail will prove valuable in
understanding how Nietzsche uses this classical allusion to call morality the
Circe of philosophers.
Circe has the power to make men less than human, and animals less than
fierce. In particular her drugs can make men forget any thought of home – a
serious obstacle to the Odyssean quest, and a fitting way to demotivate any
further effort to accomplish difficult things in life. But Odysseus was given
the antidote to her drugs, and a method to achieve his own ends – by violent
threat and by extracting an oath from Circe to do him no harm. Still, what
has really happened in the foreplay of Odysseus and Circe? To Odysseus,
resisting Circe’s drugs does not end his endangerment. He reads her bed-
time offer as a risk to his masculinity (or humanity?), and to his courage, for
the evidence seems clear enough: Circe has the power to literally take a
man’s humanity away, to turn him into an animal. And her magic drugs
have wiped the memory of home from the minds of Odysseus’ men.
Neither of these effects followed from a sexual liaison, but the seafarers
did act to sate their hunger, and were innocently oblivious to danger. But
Odysseus has already resisted the bewitching drug that had the psycholog-
ical effect of demotivating his men, so why is the great hero still afraid of
Circe? One interpretation seems obvious: the story is an allegory of family
life or civilization itself, and Odysseus fears that Circe’s sexual offer implic-
itly tempts him to stay with her and raise children – to be tamed, to ‘settle
down.’ To the heroic mind this might be thought of as an ‘unmanning,’
even a ‘feminizing’ and loss of courage. At least, this would seem to accord
with Odysseus’ agitated response to a goddess wanting a romp. But how
does Circe understand their encounter?
Circe did attempt to drug Odysseus and turn him into a pig. But she was
ignorant of his identity when she did so. Perhaps in her experience men are
already porcine, so there was little difference when she transformed them.
But when Odysseus becomes the first to resist the drug’s effects – drugs,
remember, that make you forget about home – she deduces at once that this
exceptional man must be the great Odysseus (whose arrival had been
prophesied to her by Hermes). Once she knows whom she has in her
palace, Circe’s actions and attitude entirely change, and remain changed.
Indeed, the oath exacted by the hero looks superfluous: Circe never wishes
Daybreak 161
harm to Odysseus, takes no steps to prevent his departure a year later, and
gives him a great deal of guidance and divine aid both before he leaves and
when he returns to see her once more after traveling to Hades (as she
instructed him to do). So we do well to examine how Circe understands
what Odysseus considers a dangerous enticement. Reconsider what the
goddess says: “Come, sheathe your sword, let’s go to bed together /
mount my bed and mix in the magic work of love – / we’ll breed deep
trust between us” (10.370–72). Instead of Conspiracy Plan B, as Odysseus
reads it, Circe suggests that violence and suspicion be set aside in favor of
lovemaking. Put simply, Circe wants a close bond with the great Odysseus,
and sexual intimacy could create and symbolize this bond of trust between
them. But Odysseus misses this chance by requiring an oath – like threats of
violence, another fear-based method of persuasion – to which the goddess
has no objection and no doubt a rueful smile. Overall the exchange makes
Odysseus rather ridiculous because, as he would know, gods and goddesses
break oaths with mortals when it suits them, so he is as vulnerable with an
oath as without one when lying naked with Circe. Truly, given her superior
power, only Circe’s admiration and affection for Odysseus keep him from
harm, not anything that Odysseus induces her to do.
Circe’s intimate invitation was the reverse of a trap – it offered the basis of
a deeper trust. But Odysseus seems made for the bloody fray (or has been
remade by it), and he proves incapable of framing a relationship with Circe
on anything but the strategic (if in the end farcical) threat of force.163 And
yet, ancient commentator Heraclitus Paradoxographus (first century ce)
held that Circe, as Mary Lefkowitz relates, “was not a goddess but a
courtesan who managed to entice and conquer everyone, including
Odysseus.”164 Was he right? Should philosophers fear Circe after all?
Once Circe changes the pig-men back into human beings, she offers
luxurious comfort and feasting to all, and Odysseus says that “her urging
won my stubborn spirit over” (10.447). Even more, the hero convinces the
rest of his crew to indulge, exhorting them: “Then hurry, all of you, come
along with me / to see our friends in the magic halls of Circe, / eating and
drinking – the feast that flows on forever” (10.469–71). When they arrive,
Circe invites them to eat “till the same courage fills your chests, now as then, /
when you first set sail from native land, from rocky Ithaca!” (10.550–51).

163
The poem underlines the hero’s default style when Odysseus later ignores Circe’s sage advice about
Scylla by fighting the sea scourge, costing the lives of six men.
164
Mary Lefkowitz, Greek Gods, Human Lives (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005), 212.
162 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
Notice how her language counters Odysseus’ fear that Circe was someone
intent on stealing away the courage of men. And yet . . .
After a year of comfort and feasting and Circean pleasure, it appears as
though the Trojan War veterans will not be returning home after all. And
Odysseus, not his men, needs the rousing.
But then, when the year was gone and the seasons wheeled by
and the months waned and the long days came round again,
my loyal comrades took me aside and prodded,
‘Captain, this is madness!
High time you thought of your own home at last,
if it really is your fate to make it back alive
and reach your well-built house and native land.’ (10.517–23)
Only with this upbraiding does Odysseus approach his host, and he now
becomes the one hugging someone “by the knees.” And
the goddess heard my winging supplication:
‘Circe, now make good a promise you gave me once –
it’s time to help me home. My heart longs to be home,
my comrades’ hearts as well. They wear me down,
pleading with me whenever you’re away.’ (10.531–35)

Without delay the “lustrous goddess” tells Odysseus to “stay on no more in


my house against your will. / But first another journey calls. You must travel
down / to the House of Death and the awesome one, Persephone”
(10.538–40). “So she said,” reports Odysseus, “and crushed the heart inside
me” (10.546). But after Circe gives Odysseus expert guidance to the under-
world, and procedures for speaking to Teiresias the seer, she sends him on
his way with sacrificial lambs and fair winds. And after Odysseus travels
with success to the underworld, he sails back to Circe and gives her a full
report. She then tells him to set sail for home the next day, and says she “will
set you a course and chart each seamark, / so neither on sea nor land will
some new trap / ensnare you in trouble, make you suffer more” (12.28–30).
This she does, outlining various perils and telling her lover how to avoid
them. When the divine guidance is complete, Odysseus recounts from
shipside: “At those words Dawn rose on her golden throne / and lustrous
Circe made her way back up the island” (12.154–55).
And where has she left us? What can we say now about Circe as
metaphor? On the ‘trapping enticement’ model of their relationship,
Odysseus seems to have fallen prey to Circe’s charms. While he avoided
the initial transmogrification, and exacted an oath meant to protect him
from harm, he in due course succumbed even more thoroughly than his
Daybreak 163
men did. As proof, they must identify their captain’s own madness;
Odysseus is the one who has forgotten about home. In this interpretation,
Odysseus has been conquered by sensual pleasure as Heraclitus claims.
However, just as Circe has a better understanding than Odysseus does
about his own journey, so too has she a better understanding than
Odysseus about their relationship. By Circe’s superior lights, Odysseus is
a grateful, admiring, exceptional, and long-suffering mortal who deserves
her love. Although Odysseus proves incapable of understanding their
physical intimacy as the basis of trust, he does come to accept and benefit
from the love and goodness of Circe.
The masterful intricacy of Homer’s portrait of Circe lends this allusion
by a trained philologist a similar splendor and complexity. When Nietzsche
says in Daybreak’s retrospective preface that morality is the Circe of the
philosophers, and when he later includes himself in the German line of
thinkers who journey on, still, under a moral faith in reason, we have good
cause to conclude that Nietzsche’s metaphor is well chosen. For consider: if
morality is Circe, we can view her relationship to philosophers in two ways.
In the traditional and Odyssean way, morality enchants and seduces phil-
osophical rigor, keeping it away from its fateful journey home to scientific,
cool, and amoral truths. But in the Circean way, morality loves philoso-
phers, and only her guidance can return them safely to a “well-built home”
that consists of wisdom, not just knowledge. For if Circe is right that we do
well to trust her intimately, wisdom is not the amassing of knowledge but its
selective use, born of love for what is good, for what benefits us. Circe gives
just such goods to Odysseus, and Nietzsche has exactly this conception of
philosophy, as we have seen, when he describes why he is so wise in Ecce
Homo. He has good taste in knowledge, and puts it to good account.
Finally, notice that Odysseus does not benefit as much as he might have
done from Circe because of the suspicious interpretive model he applies to
their encounter. Because he sees her as ‘enticing’ and a ‘witch’ who lays
‘traps,’ he thereby ‘succumbs’ to her and never entirely overcomes his
anxiety and wariness. He also abjures Circe’s advice on several occasions
in his subsequent seafaring, and pays a heavy toll of suffering each time. Had
Odysseus accepted Circe’s sexual trust and her superior understanding,
there would have been no ‘succumbing’ at all – only admiring affection,
pleasure, and loving guidance.165 Circe needs nothing from Odysseus but
provides him with indispensable knowledge for the hero’s journey home.

165
Irigaray contemplates Nietzsche’s own deficient understanding of the feminine in Marine Lover of
Friedrich Nietzsche, trans. Gillian C. Gill (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991). She writes
164 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
Morality can sometimes be good that way, at least when it comes of
particular love and particular knowledge.
We are now in a position to compare Ecce Homo’s treatment of Daybreak
with Nietzsche’s retrospective preface. As should be clear, Ecce Homo’s
treatment cuts a more general figure than the earlier piece; it does not locate
Nietzsche’s fourth book in the detailed and specific way that we see in the
1886 preface, but focuses more on the book’s tone, and draws more points of
continuity with Nietzsche’s corpus. For example, in Ecce Homo Nietzsche
writes that “with Daybreak I first took up the struggle against the morality
of unselfing oneself,” and says that the book was preparatory to his ongoing
task of spurring us to ask the question “‘why?’ what for?’ as a whole”
(EH 7.2).
The tone of Nietzsche’s language about Daybreak in Ecce Homo provides
the greatest contrast with his earlier preface. While the earlier piece spins out
an elaborate image of cave dwelling, digging like a mole, mining, and
alludes to classical cult rituals, Ecce Homo provides an animal image almost
in every way the opposite of the subterranean one. In 1888 Nietzsche writes
that the book “lies in the sun, round, happy, like some sea animal basking
among rocks. Ultimately I was myself this sea creature: practically every
sentence in the book was conceived, captured in that riot of rocks near
Genoa” (EH 7.1). This views Daybreak from a bright and affirming angle, as
when Nietzsche calls it his “yes-saying book” (EH 7.1). Such contrasts
between Ecce Homo and the corresponding retrospective preface are now
familiar, and this one, too, fits the pattern. By taking a different tack toward
his previous work, Nietzsche underlines the cheerful and positive tone of
Ecce Homo (why dwell on dirty work underground?), and he emphasizes the
artistic and philosophic premise of all his backward looking: that the past
must be shaped, and it ought to be shaped to benefit our current situation.
Given that Nietzsche has emerged from underground, he now feels com-
pelled to leave us a record – for, as Pausanias reports, “those who have
descended into the shrine of Trophonios are obliged to dedicate a tablet on
which is written all that each has heard or seen.”166 And if at first Nietzsche
lost his ability to laugh, as terrified inquirers were said to do upon emerging
from their ordeal, he likewise regained his humanity by laughing in Ecce
Homo at the painful experiences of his past. In light of such good humor,
I can only ask: Who now is Odysseus, and who is Circe at the shore?

that woman, as another kind of being, “has yet to enlighten him,” then asks: “did it ever occur to him
to say ‘yes’ to her? Did he ever open himself to that other world? For him it doesn’t even exist. So who
speaks of love, to the other, without having even begun to say ‘yes’?” (190).
166
Pausanias, Description of Greece, 9.39.14.
The Gay Science 165

The Gay Science


Nietzsche writes only about a page on The Gay Science in Ecce Homo. He
aligns the book with Daybreak, “an affirmative book, profound but bright
and benevolent” (EH 8.1). He refers to four parts of the book: a poem, the
conclusions of the fourth and the third book, and to “The Songs of Prince
Free-as-a-Bird,” especially to “The Mistral.”167 The first three references
point to eternal recurrence and Zarathustra. The poetic songs, writes
Nietzsche, “call to mind quite explicitly the Provençal concept of ‘gaya
scienza,’ that union of singer, knight and free-spirit” (EH 8.1). Nietzsche
associates Zarathustra and himself with his kind of tripartite person: a
singing poet, a warrior, and an independent thinker who cuts against the
grain.
Nietzsche attends to The Gay Science’s poetry instead of any prose
analysis. He alludes to the final poem in The Gay Science (“The Mistral”)
to establish his kinship to French Provençal culture, and to underline his
interpretation of the book and Daybreak as happy alternatives to moral
hermeneutics. With this poem, he writes, “I dance right over morality” (EH
8.1). Nietzsche’s remark shows that he does not care to disprove morality,
but to leave it behind. Moral interpretations have failed Nietzsche as a
means to overcome his pessimism because they interpret human beings as
broken and sinful, preternaturally in need of saving. As such they are
fundamentally pessimistic. By affirming life as it is, Nietzsche means to be
a genuinely optimistic philosopher.
Nietzsche wrote a more expansive retrospective preface to The Gay
Science in 1886, and we would do well to compare it to Nietzsche’s scant
remarks here. We have already seen in Ecce Homo the idea of philosophy as
the art of transposing physical states of the body “into the most spiritual
form and distance” (as the preface to The Gay Science famously has it, GS
Preface 3), and the view that interpreting philosophical works, accordingly,
is the “unconscious disguise of physiological needs under the cloaks of the
objective, ideal, [and] purely spiritual” (GS Preface 2).168 Here then instead

167
Not “To the Minstrel” as Norman inadvertently has it in her translation of Ecce Homo (Nietzsche,
The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols, and Other Writings, 123). The poem addresses itself
to the French winter wind.
168
Nietzsche reworks and abbreviates these remarks to open his Epilogue to Nietzsche Contra Wagner,
an epilogue that otherwise consists of sections 3 and 4 of The Gay Science’s preface, repurposed to
help contrast Nietzsche with his professed antipode. Of the link between his illness and his
philosophy, he writes: “And as to my prolonged illness, do I not owe much more to it than I owe
to my health? To it I owe a higher kind of health, a sort of health that grows stronger under
everything that does not actually kill it! – To it, I owe even my philosophy” (NCW Epilogue 1).
166 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
I will highlight three ideas that throw further light on Ecce Homo in artistic
and genre terms, namely, Nietzsche’s thoughts on celebrating artifice in
place of truth; his ideas about the purpose of a preface; and his under-
standing of The Gay Science as a saturnalia that performs and announces
future parody.
Like Daybreak, Nietzsche reads The Gay Science as “the gratitude of a
convalescent,” showing every sign of the “intoxication of recovery” (GS
Preface 1). And “from such severe illness” one “returns newborn, having
shed one’s skin, more ticklish and malicious, with a more delicate taste for
joy, with a more tender tongue for all good things, with merrier senses,
joyful with a more dangerous second innocence, more childlike, and at the
same time a hundred times subtler than one had ever been before” (GS
Preface 4). As a result, Nietzsche reports a change in his view of art. “How
the theatrical cry of passion now hurts our ears,” he writes. “No, if we
convalescents still need art, it is another kind of art – a mocking, light,
fleeting, divinely untroubled, divinely artificial art that, like a bright flame,
blazes into an unclouded sky. Above all an art for artists! In addition we
know what is first and foremost needed for that: cheerfulness – any cheer-
fulness my friends! As artists, too, we will know this – I would like to prove
it” (GS Preface 4). To explain, Nietzsche writes that “we nowadays learn as
artists to forget well, to be good at not knowing! And as for our future, [you
will hardly find us again wanting] by all means to unveil, uncover, and put
into bright light what is kept concealed for good reasons” (GS Preface 4).169
Here Nietzsche links five ideas: how the fleeting and subtle in art now please
him more, that such art requires cheerfulness to create, that cheerfulness
requires forgetfulness, that some truths are better kept veiled, and that
Nietzsche will prove he is the kind of artist he has been describing.
Given our attention to Nietzsche’s four retrospective prefaces and the
prefatory functions of Ecce Homo, our ears prick up at the way Nietzsche
describes prefaces themselves to open his 1886 discussion of The Gay Science.
“This book,” he writes, “may need more than one preface; and in the end
there would still remain room for doubt whether someone who has not
experienced something similar could, by means of prefaces, be brought
closer to the experience of this book” (GS Preface 1). This presents a concise
theory of prefaces, if you will, revealing that Nietzsche has a specific goal
when he writes them. For him, prefaces attempt to bring us closer to “the
experiences” of a book. How so? And how could they do this more than

169
“We no longer believe that truth remains truth when one pulls off the veil; we have lived too much to
believe this” (GS Preface 4).
The Gay Science 167
the experiences themselves that, in this formulation, appear to constitute
the book itself?
As we have seen, Nietzsche’s prefaces bring us closer to the experiences of
their respective books by being retrospective – the author’s distance gives
him a view of experiences that were, he tells us, largely unconscious at the
time. Second, if we consider the ontological status of prefaces, they would
seem to be a kind of threshold literature. I mean that they exist midway
between the book proper and the world ‘outside’ the book. They present
the author as a person separate from the book, reflecting upon it, yet of
course that reflection appears as writing in the book we are reading. This
unique threshold feature of prefaces allows the skillful writer to get at the
preconditions of a book. For Nietzsche these are the particularities of his
physical and psychological being, his location, his goals and self-conception
at the time of composition, his needs in the present, and so on. But
Nietzsche multiplies the theoretical number of prefaces that would be
necessary to bring us closer to his experience – unless we have already
experienced something similar. That is, Nietzsche’s prefaces mean to go
beneath and prior to the book they introduce, painting a picture of ever
more personal experiences. Still, more prefaces might not bring us closer to
the experiences sui generis that led to a specific work. I say “led to” instead of
“constitute” because we know from this Gay Science preface that Nietzsche
views a work of philosophy not as the straight record of experience, but as
the art of transfiguring experience into “the most spiritual form and dis-
tance” (GS Preface 3). And as to this artistic distance, Nietzsche writes in
The Gay Science proper: “We must rest from ourselves occasionally by
contemplating and looking down upon ourselves, and by laughing or
weeping over ourselves from an artistic remoteness: we must discover the
hero, and likewise the fool, that is hidden in our passion for knowledge; we
must now and then be joyful in our folly, that we may continue to be joyful
in our wisdom!” (GS 107). And Ecce Homo? Because Ecce Homo exists as the
only work dedicated to a contemplation of his complete corpus, we can see
that one of its prime functions is prefatory in the way described. Ecce Homo
is threshold literature for Nietzsche’s entire philosophy.
The third and final feature of The Gay Science’s retrospective preface
concerns the book as a saturnalia and parody that, in line with Nietzsche’s
desire for a “cheerful” and “mocking” art, announces more of the same to
come. He writes: “‘Gay Science’: this signifies the saturnalia of a mind that
has patiently resisted a terrible, long pressure . . . and is now all of a sudden
attacked by hope, by hope for health, by the intoxication of recovery. Is it
any wonder that in the process much that is unreasonable and foolish comes
168 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
to light?” (GS Preface 1). This presents Nietzsche’s book as a saturnalia
celebration of unrestrained merriment, a winter Roman holiday to honor
Saturn, the god of agriculture thought to rule in a bygone golden age of
plenty. And you might notice the etymology: satura – full, the same word
found in the Latin origin of our word satire: a lanx satura, a full dish.
Nietzsche has said that The Gay Science is a saturnalia of the mind. He
continues: “This entire book is really nothing but an amusement after long
privation and powerlessness, the jubilation of returning strength” (GS
Preface 1). And most telling of all, he concludes section 1 as follows:
But if anyone could, he would surely pardon even more than a bit of
foolishness, exuberance, ‘gay science’ – for example, the handful of songs
that have been added to the book this time, songs in which a poet makes fun
of all poets in a manner that is hard to forgive. Alas, it is not only the poets
and their beautiful ‘lyrical sentiments’ on whom this resurrected author has
to vent his malice: who knows what kind of victim he is looking for, what
kind of monster will stimulate him to parody it?170 Incipit tragoedia [the
tragedy begins], we read at the end of this suspiciously innocent book.
Beware! Something utterly wicked and mischievous is being announced
here: incipit parodia [the parody begins], no doubt! (GS Preface 1)
Beware, yes, no doubt! These pregnant remarks of 1886 identify The Gay
Science as parodic, while promising more of the same. And what kind of
monster will stimulate Nietzsche to parody most and last of all? Nietzsche
himself, his life, his works, the author, the philosopher, the artist of Ecce Homo.
To compare Nietzsche’s retrospective preface to Ecce Homo’s glancing
treatment of The Gay Science can be made a simple task, for the 1886 effort
does so much work that the very short gloss of two years later more simply
reiterates the book’s cheerful and affirmative nature, linking it to both
Daybreak and Thus Spoke Zarathustra in this regard. Nietzsche underlines
the consistency of his Gay Science interpretation by saying that “in almost
every sentence profundity and mischief go hand in hand” (EH 8.1). We
should remember this formula.

Thus Spoke Zarathustra


Nietzsche considers this work his only inspired masterpiece. A nomadic
philosophy of self-love, hesitant teaching, struggle and affirmation – and a

170
Not “what kind of monster will stimulate him to pardon it?” as Nauckhoff unfortunately has it in
The Gay Science: With a Prelude in German Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs, ed. Bernard Williams,
trans. Josefine Nauckhoff (Cambridge University Press, 2001).
Thus Spoke Zarathustra 169
parody of the Bible and an imitation of Menippean satire specifically in
Book 4 – Thus Spoke Zarathustra receives the longest book treatment in Ecce
Homo, and has already been quoted and alluded to many times. Nietzsche
regards this work as the pinnacle of his achievements. Why?
Nietzsche begins in the first of eight sections with the time and location
at which he conceived of the eternal recurrence, and of Zarathustra as a
philosophical type. “I was possessed to the highest degree by the affirmative
pathos par excellence, which I call the tragic pathos” (EH 9.1). Nietzsche’s
writing here in Ecce Homo is breathless; he describes vigorous walks,
weather, and a change in his musical taste. Nietzsche’s details locate Thus
Spoke Zarathustra by way of physical specificity, and he links his works
together by noting that Zarathustra’s “fundamental thought” – eternal
recurrence – is announced in The Gay Science (GS 341, 342).
Then comes a curious aside in which Nietzsche identifies the author of
a poem that he had set to music: “Miss Lou von Salomé,” a “young
Russian woman who was my friend at the time.” He praises the poem
and quotes its last line: “If you do not have any more happiness to give me,
well then! You still have pain . . .” (EH 9.1). Nietzsche then notes a
misprint in his score for the oboe part. From the sublime to the ridiculous,
surely! If we still expected anything like a normal autobiography out of
Ecce Homo, this passage would clear our heads. Nietzsche’s relationship to
Lou Salomé was most likely the closest thing to a love affair Nietzsche ever
experienced; he was entranced by her free-spiritedness and intellect, and
they got along famously for some months. Soon after their meeting he
wished to marry her, and planned to live with her and friend Paul Rée even
after Nietzsche’s marriage proposal to Lou was declined. Instead, she and
Paul ditched Nietzsche like the odd man out that he was, and he never saw
her again. He was devastated. The quoted poem cryptically tells us as
much, if his correspondence did not. That this sole public mention of Lou
is thoroughly gracious and yet almost trivial invites several questions. Why
does Nietzsche not discuss this unrequited love affair, and why are its
effects not listed in the section’s discussion of Thus Spoke Zarathustra’s
eighteen-month compositional “pregnancy”? A probative answer should
be consistent with Ecce Homo’s unusual form.
Ecce Homo is not Nietzsche’s autobiography, but his parody of the form;
it constitutes a fantasy of his future reception as an author, and a satiric
attack on his philosophic and cultural enemies. While the work illuminates
his thinking life through lean interpretations of his previous books, Ecce
Homo also aims to enhance Nietzsche’s standing and establish grounds for a
fame that he can only imagine and project. To discuss failed romances, and
170 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
his personal life generally, would not further this goal.171 And Ecce Homo
parodies autobiographies by being unreliable and woefully incomplete
about its author’s life.172
Returning to Zarathustra as a type, Nietzsche describes its “physiological
presupposition” (EH 9.2). The second section consists of metaphors and
adjectives that appertain to “great health.” The tragic philosophy can only
be embraced by the most enthusiastic and psychologically strong and
curious mind. Nietzsche interprets Thus Spoke Zarathustra as a man’s
struggle to possess such health and strength, as the precondition for an
all-affirming philosophy. Nietzsche conceives this as his own story. He
quotes from the end of The Gay Science’s fifth section about a dangerous
kind of health, one that always seeks to test its strength, particularly when
set against moral standards of thought and action. Such health is strong
enough to live outside the ready-made meanings of morality, and pursue the
ferly as a mark of strength. Still, we might wonder: Why not pursue sex and
pleasure beyond good and evil? Nietzsche’s saintly side and social awkward-
ness precluded such a choice, it seems, but a positive reason exists for his
avocation as well. Nietzsche in effect follows a heroic Greek model of
greatness that we find in the Homeric epics, the Iliad in particular: the
warrior who gains glory by facing a great enemy with courage in single
combat. In such a world, poets celebrate the man who lives for the bloody
fray (so, Achilles), and they mock the lover (so, Paris). Ecce Homo makes
plain that Nietzsche experienced his own life as an almost perpetual battle
against pain and threatening ideas. It thus constructs Nietzsche as an
intellectual Achilles, glorious in battle, fated to an end that revealed his
limit.
In the second section, Nietzsche multiplies his allusions to mythical and
dangerous travels, in the satiric tradition. He mentions the Argonauts,
shipwrecks, undiscovered lands, vistas, and “a world so over-rich in what
is beautiful, strange, questionable, terrible, and divine that our curiosity and
our thirst to possess it have veered beyond control” (EH 9.2). No wonder he
ends the section by writing that with Zarathustra, “the tragedy begins . . .”
But of course a tragic philosopher for Nietzsche is an affirming philosopher,
in love with life in all its forms.

171
In Montaigne’s words: “I cannot keep a record of my life by my actions; fortune places them too low.
I keep it by my thoughts” (Essays, 721).
172
As noted above, Nietzsche admired Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground because it mocked the
Delphic project to “know thyself” (KGB 3.5.814).
Thus Spoke Zarathustra 171
Nietzsche now reads Thus Spoke Zarathustra in a remarkable way con-
cerning its literary form. “The ideal of a human, superhuman well-being
and benevolence . . . will often enough appear inhuman – for example, when
it places itself next to all earthly seriousness heretofore, all forms of solem-
nity in gesture, word, tone, look, morality, and task as if it were their most
incarnate and involuntary parody – and in spite of all this, it is perhaps only
with it that the great seriousness really emerges” (EH 9.2). Here Nietzsche
says that he reads Thus Spoke Zarathustra as if it were an involuntary parody
of previous forms of solemnity. What does this mean?
Parody rests upon irony’s bifurcated meanings, so Nietzsche claims that
Thus Spoke Zarathustra accomplishes two different things by presenting its
nobler conception of well-being. First, like other grave gestures and words,
it embodies a literary solemnity (since a parody must be akin to its object of
parody), but second, it ‘accidentally’ humbles those other forms and makes
them laughable – by surpassing them in genuine significance and solemnity.
But because Nietzsche claims that he had no such intention, the book’s
resulting parody is involuntary, but no less a parody for that. (There may be
some Nietzschean cleverness here in disclaiming intention, however, for
Thus Spoke Zarathustra employs conscious parody in many instances. And
Nietzsche writes “incipit parodia” in The Gay Science’s preface, seeming to
introduce the book.) The same idea of an “involuntary parody” can be
applied to Ecce Homo. This would align Nietzsche with Dostoevsky who, in
Bakhtin’s view, does not proclaim satiric parody but fully inhabits the
genre.173

173
Bakhtin, Dostoevsky’s Poetics, 178. In letters, Nietzsche characterizes Ecce Homo in various ways. To
Franz Overbeck, 13 November 1888: Ecce Homo is “of the utmost importance, containing some
psychological and even biographical reflections on me and my writings: immediately I’ll be visible.
The tone of the work is cheerful and fateful [heiter und verhängnisvoll], like everything I write” (KGB
3.5.1143). To Heinrich Köselitz, 30 October 1888: “I discuss myself with all the psychological
‘cunning’ and cheerfulness possible: I cut a figure entirely different from the prophet or moral
monster. Here too the book may do some good. Perhaps it will prevent my being mistaken for my
complete opposite” (KGB 3.5.1137). To Georg Brandes, 20 November 1888: “I’ve now told my own
story with a cynicism that will become a part of world history. The book is called Ecce Homo and is a
ruthless attack on the Crucified One” (KGB 3.5.1151). To August Strindburg, 8 December 1888: “here
and there I wrote [Ecce Homo] in the style of a Prado.” Nietzsche refers to a contemporary French
criminal, calling him “more than a match for his judges, even his lawyers, in self-control, wit, and
bravado” (KGB 3.5.1176). To Carl Fuchs, 27 December 1888: “Everything considered, dear friend,
from now on it no longer makes sense to speak or write about me. With Ecce Homo, the work being
printed now, I’ve answered the question of who I am once and for all. From here on no one should be
concerned with me, but only with why I am here” (KGB 3.5.1214). To Köselitz, 13 November 1888:
“Ecce Homo sprang from me . . . in a good mood and in the ancient style of self-glory” (KGB 3.5.1142).
To Köselitz once more, 25 November 1888: In Ecce Homo “I have placed myself beyond the truths of
the day, beyond humanity, which could serve only as a codex, a comedy. By the way, the book is full
of jests and mischief [Scherzen und Bosheiten]” (KGB 3.5.1157).
172 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
So, what kind of parody functions in Ecce Homo? And what is parodied?
Let us enlarge our earlier hypothesis about this mocking quasi-
autobiography by offering the idea that Nietzsche has invented a form we
might call philosophical satire. Philosophical satire parodies philosophy
itself by treating its concerns and methods with playfulness and ridicule,
with the intent to illuminate its follies, and to clear the way for alternative
means and answers to its questions, and for new questions altogether.
Nietzsche wants to dispense with philosophy’s theo-moralistic inheritance
and its fey solemnity, in favor of experimentation and wit.174 And yet,
Nietzsche still promotes a genuine gravity about how to live the good life,
namely, by attending to the literal body and to its intellectual diet, and by
creating an affirmative pathos toward every aspect of existence – beyond
good and evil. Unlike most philosophers, Nietzsche also wrote to create
literary art and pleasure for his readers, even as – or more likely because – he
walked down the darkest paths alone. And because Ecce Homo animates the
whole of his corpus by design, we might consider the distinct possibility that
philosophical satire is the Nietzschean style.
Nietzsche analyzes his own style with particular acuity. Beginning in 1886
with the writing of new prefaces and culminating in Ecce Homo, his survey
of past works put him in quite a good mood. And his health, he reports, was
its best in years. As a result, Ecce Homo contains innumerable cheerful hints
about Nietzsche’s own golden fleece, this aggressive and sly style that
accomplishes exactly what a smiling tragic fighting philosopher would
want: demolition of his foes and laughter for his friends.
Section 3 of Ecce Homo’s treatment of Thus Spoke Zarathustra includes a
famous description of inspiration, Nietzsche’s involuntary and tempestuous
feeling “of freedom, absoluteness, power.” His outpouring of thought,
metaphor, and image made the composition of Thus Spoke Zarathustra
proceed at an amazing pace: “I never had any choice” (EH 9.3). Nietzsche
takes no causative credit for what he considered his greatest work, and
claims this kind of inspiration (becoming a mere medium) for this book
alone. Still, we have seen him discuss the unconscious operation of latent
purposes in his other books, something realized only in retrospective
moments.

174
E.g., Pierre Klossowski suggests that “the doctrine of the eternal return is conceived as a simulacrum
of a doctrine, whose parodic character gives an account of hilarity as an attribute of existence” (Such a
Deathly Desire, trans. Russell Ford (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2007), 121). Klossowski does not
pursue the idea, however, and his principal work claims that eternal return destroys the coherence of
knowledge, self, and reality – sans any allusion to either hilarity, or hilarity (Klossowski, Vicious
Circle).
Thus Spoke Zarathustra 173
Nietzsche further details the literal location of Thus Spoke Zarathustra’s
composition and his physical strength at these times: “my muscular agility
has always been greatest when my creative power has flowed most abun-
dantly. The body is inspired: let us leave the ‘soul’ out of it” (EH 9.4). This
revaluation of terms privileges the physical, of course, dovetailing with Ecce
Homo’s contention that the “little things” that affect the body become the
significant things like the inspiration of a book. Nietzsche describes the
work’s use of metaphor as well: “Here you ride on every metaphor to every
truth.” He seems to have had a surreal semiotic experience in which he no
longer knew what a metaphor was; images merely arrived that were “the
closest, simplest, most fitting expression” (EH 9.4).
Nietzsche felt desolate after completing Thus Spoke Zarathustra, how-
ever; it seemed to confirm how disconnected he was from other human
beings. He recounts the profound distress that came before and particularly
after the book’s composition in section 5, but does not mention the break
with Salomé as the chief cause. Instead, the emphasis falls on the intimate
relationship between physical states and the creative, thinking process. And
Nietzsche attributes a growing mistrust and poorer digestion to those
necessary defensive expenditures of strength that are “presupposed by
every creative deed, every deed that comes from the most personal, inner-
most, deepest part of one’s being” (EH 9.5). And he admits that he has an
“absurd susceptibility of the skin to pinpricks, a kind of helplessness in the
face of everything small” (EH 9.5) – an oblique reference, perhaps, to the
manner in which Paul and Lou left him behind.
Now Nietzsche makes a nice joke encapsulating the self-parody and
praise that make up Ecce Homo. Of the pain he suffered in and around the
composing of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he writes: “You pay a high price for
being immortal: you have to die several times during your life” (EH 9.5).
On one reading, this recasts the Romantic saw that great artists suffer for
their work, but read ironically, it means that the only version of immortal-
ity Nietzsche will experience is the unenviable one of many deathlike
experiences. This renders Nietzsche’s adult life as a series of unearthly
moments between life and death, as if he lived the fantastical situation
of the satirist who travels between worlds and sees things reserved for the
very few.
Inedibly nectareous praise of Thus Spoke Zarathustra comprises section 6.
He writes that the book “stands altogether alone. Let us leave the poets
aside: perhaps nothing at all has ever been done out of a like superfluity of
strength” (EH 9.6). With the Zarathustra persona, Nietzsche claims to have
created a new model for human greatness of character. “The halcyon, light
174 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
feet, the ubiquity of wickedness and exuberance and whatever else is typical
of the type Zarathustra has never been dreamed of as essential to greatness”
(EH 9.6). As with other innovations, it often falls first to the creator to make
the case for their value.
The interest of this section lies in what it suggests about Nietzsche’s
conception of the Dionysian by which he often characterizes his philos-
ophy. Twice he equates all of Zarathustra’s traits to his refigured tragic
and philosophic pathos. This incomparable type, he writes, is distin-
guished by its control over contrary qualities. “He contradicts with every
word, this most affirmative of all spirits; all opposites are in him bound
together into a new unity.” Zarathustra is “the wisest soul, to which
foolishness speaks sweetest, the soul that loves itself the most; in which
all things have their current and counter-current and ebb and flow” (EH
9.6). This “spaciousness” of soul garners Nietzsche’s highest praise. The
strength and greatness of such a soul lies in its ability to experience more,
to hold more, to see and imagine more. Not only to know “the highest,”
but to be willing and able to descend to human depths and understand; to
know the interlocking and etiologic exchange between one’s good and
bad, one’s strength and weakness – denying only that which does not
affirm. Of course the greatness that Nietzsche describes matches his Ecce
Homo self-description: he is a man who came to encompass and master his
contrary states and, in spite of pain, learned to live for the sake of human
excellence.
Nietzsche’s unctuous praise falls mainly to Zarathustra as a positive
human type. Nietzsche admires this creative and positive template more
than any demolition work against Christianity, Germany, or philosophy.
He has said several times that his philosophy strives to usher in a new
pathos, and a new, healthier culture. So we must conclude that Nietzsche
saw the right image as more effective at inspiring change than any philo-
sophical doctrine, perhaps because while the latter may win assent in
abstraction, an image more readily inspires emulation and practice by
being sensory and concrete.
Nietzsche now attends to more literary features of Thus Spoke
Zarathustra, its “dithyrambic” form, for example, which he claims to have
invented (EH 9.7). He quotes The Night Song, described as the lament of
Zarathustra that his enlightenment and power condemn him to a life
without another’s love. (Such is the alienation that Nietzsche described of
himself after completing the work.) That Nietzsche quotes this song sug-
gests a continuing emotional desolation. Still, he marks it a victory that the
melancholy of a “Dionysus” yet “becomes a dithyramb” (EH 9.7); that is,
Thus Spoke Zarathustra 175
that he translated his pain into a linguistic dance of good spirits.175 The same
could be said of Ecce Homo. Recall that Nietzsche wrote in the foreword that
he meant the book to describe his painful, dichotomous nature in a cheerful
and philanthropic way (EH Foreword 2).
Although Nietzsche’s ecstatic mixed verse-prose form in Thus Spoke
Zarathustra is unique, the dithyramb is an ancient Greek poetic form
with which he was familiar. Philoxenus of Cythera is the most famous
dithyrambic poet (435–380 bce), author of a notorious work called
“Cyclops,” a scathing satire. In this work, the king of Syracuse has ordered
the author to work in the quarries for refusing to praise his bad regal poetry,
so Philoxenus avenges himself by writing the dithyramb. (The king had
only one good eye.) Aligning Thus Spoke Zarathustra’s dithyrambic form
and Philoxenus of Cythera links Nietzsche’s work once more to ancient
satiric forms. And Nietzsche referred to even his earliest works as satiric. He
wrote to Brandes (19 February 1888): “Just a few remarks on my first fruits
(the juvenilia and Juvenalia).” He gives as an example his polemic against
David Strauss (UM 1), with its “mocking [of Strauss’s] senilities” (KGB
3.5.997), while the parenthetical remark alludes to the work of the Roman
satirist Juvenal.
Nietzsche relates Thus Spoke Zarathustra in the final section of Ecce
Homo’s treatment to his philosophy overall. “On one occasion
Zarathustra strictly defines his task – it is also mine – the meaning of
which cannot be misunderstood: he is affirmative to the point of justifying,
of redeeming even the entire past” (EH 9.8). Nietzsche had no illusions
about his own success at this goal, however; Ecce Homo makes this clear.
Not only does he admit his decadence, he shows that his revaluations
continue in the book itself.
Nietzsche saw his affirmative ideal of eternal recurrence in a cultural
future, not in the achievement of one nineteenth-century man. He con-
cludes this chapter by quoting Zarathustra on humanity’s prospects. “Now
my hammer rages fiercely against its prison. Fragments fly from the stone:
what is that to me! / I will complete it: for a shadow came to me – the
most silent, the lightest of all things came to me! / The beauty of the
overman came to me as a shadow: what are the gods to me now!” (EH 9.8).
Nietzsche explains this passage by implicitly distinguishing between the

175
In another context, Nietzsche displays his high consciousness of the transformation process. “If I
don’t invent the alchemist’s device for making gold out of this – crap, I’m lost,” he wrote to Franz
Overbeck on 25 December 1882. The “crap” refers to “a war of conflicting impulses” and “passions,”
as well as the “humiliating memories” of the break the previous summer from his friends Paul Rée
and Lou Salomé (KGB 3.1.365).
176 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
accomplishment of his affirmative ideal and its necessary preparation:
“Among the decisive preconditions for a Dionysian task is the hardness of
the hammer, joy even in destruction. The imperative ‘become hard,’ the
deepest certainty that all creators are hard, is the actual mark of a Dionysian
nature” (EH 9.8). The joy of erections and seminal contributions aside – but
not aside, as a creative image – these passages summarize the meaning of
Nietzsche’s favorite text as he understands it. The contrast and intertwining
of “contradictory words” in the section, from the ultimate expression of
affirmation to the violent attack on the morality of unselfing, capture the
economy of Zarathustra’s spirit. Like Nietzsche’s personal satyr and saint,
this dual spirit affirms the destruction that makes its future possible. As
Nietzsche says in Twilight of the Idols: “If one wills an end, one must also
will the means to it” (TI 9.40).
This final section on Thus Spoke Zarathustra contains another riddle,
stemming from Nietzsche’s description of the Zarathustra poem, “The
Night Song.” “Nothing like this has ever been composed, ever been felt,
ever been suffered before: this is how a god suffers, a Dionysus. The answer to
this sort of dithyramb or solar solitude in the light would be Ariadne . . . Who
besides me knows what Ariadne is!” (EH 9.8). Maybe we do by noting how
Nietzsche referred to himself as Dionysus and Richard Wagner’s wife Cosima
as Ariadne, in a letter dated the day of his breakdown in January 1889.176
Ariadne was the daughter of Minos, who in myth aided Theseus to escape the
Minotaur’s labyrinth by the use of her thread, who loved but was abandoned
by him and later wed Dionysus. Although complicated by various versions,
an interpretation of Nietzsche’s allusion seems not difficult to come by at first,
especially in consideration of (1) “The Night Song,” (2) another poem
entitled, “Complaint of Ariadne,” and (3) Nietzsche’s veiled love for
Cosima.177 The poem quoted from Zarathustra speaks of a person being
unloved, and longing to love; that is, Nietzsche. The “Complaint of Ariadne”
is one of Nietzsche’s Dionysian Dithyrambs, a tortured love poem in which
Ariadne seeks Dionysus’ affection. At its conclusion, Dionysus says:
Be wise, Ariadne! . . .
You have little ears; you have ears like mine:

176
To Cosima Wagner, 3 January 1889: “Ariadne, I love you. – Dionysus” (KGB 3.5.1242a).
177
Nietzsche mentions her twice in Ecce Homo: “Frau Cosima Wagner is by far the most noble nature;
and so as not to say too little, I will say that Richard Wagner was by far the man most closely related
to me . . . Everything else is silence” (EH 1.3). The other mention: “The few cases of higher culture
that I have found in Germany were all of French extraction, above all Frau Cosima Wagner, by far
the leading voice that I have heard in questions of taste . . .” (EH 2.3). (The ellipses are Nietzsche’s in
both quotations.)
Thus Spoke Zarathustra 177
Let some wisdom into them! –
Must one not first hate oneself, in order to love oneself? . . .
I am your labyrinth . . . (DD 7)
The “Complaint of Ariadne” seems to stand, then, as a Nietzschean fantasy
in which Cosima unravels the secret of his love for her, and realizes that he is
her “ultimate happiness.” Hence the riddle in Ecce Homo reveals the sad
thought that Cosima could have offered Nietzsche a loving thread with
which to escape his cold solitude. But she did not.178 And that decadent
composer husband of hers was so famous – oh cruel comical fate! Could such
an Oedipal figure be killed? For the attempt, we have Nietzsche Contra
Wagner.
Nietzsche interprets Thus Spoke Zarathustra by a method of personal
context description. Along with its implications for Nietzsche’s understand-
ing of truth and the philosophical enterprise, this method shows how he
understood interpretation as intimately tied to intention – both of the
author and of the reader. Interpretation occurs by highlighting a work’s
origin, purpose, and its larger physical and psychological context. And we
must consider the intention of the reader, because Nietzsche has said that
good reading comes from shared experiences, ways of seeing, and a similar
feeling shared by author and reader, so that a book’s pathos can be felt by
the reader as well. If we do not understand the pathos of a Nietzsche book,
we do not understand that book.
Consider too the themes of the Thus Spoke Zarathustra chapter in terms
of Ecce Homo. Nietzsche’s last original composition outlines the necessary
preconditions for understanding Nietzsche’s work because it provides con-
text description, concern for differing states of the body, the pathos of self-
celebration instead of confession, and teaching by example. Moreover,
Nietzsche’s style of interpretation in Ecce Homo unifies the disparate ele-
ments and his own experience spanning sixteen years of authorship. Thus
Nietzsche’s last original book attempts to make of Nietzsche’s thinking life
an artistic whole, reading his books thematically to find the strains of his
task as he came to understand it: the overcoming of moral hermeneutics and
the recovery of health in the face of desolation and suffering. And Nietzsche

178
For a novel interpretation of the poem, see the first chapter of David Krell’s Postponements: Woman,
Sensuality, and Death in Nietzsche (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986). H. A. Reyburn
also takes a stab at untangling Nietzsche’s thoughts about the Minotaur legend. On his reading,
Nietzsche conceived of himself (in various plans for an unwritten drama) as Theseus in order to kill
the Minotaur (Wagner), then became Dionysus so as to marry Ariadne (Cosima) who had been jilted
by Theseus (now standing for Wagner) (H. A. Reyburn, with H. E. Hinderks and J. G. Taylor,
Nietzsche: The Story of a Human Philosopher (London: Macmillan, 1948), 477–81).
178 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
has good cause to celebrate Thus Spoke Zarathustra because the book’s
protagonist does the most to bring laughter to the pursuit of wisdom.179
“What has been the greatest sin here on earth? Was it not the saying of him
who said: ‘Woe to those who laugh!’” (Z 4.13.16). “This crown of laughter,
the rose-wreath crown: to you, my brothers, I throw this crown. Laughter I
have pronounced holy: you higher men, learn – to laugh!” (Z 4.13.20). Satire
is a philosophical choice about what wisdom should look like, and what it
should feel like.

Beyond Good and Evil


Nietzsche now begins an allegro pace toward the completion of Ecce Homo;
Beyond Good and Evil and On the Genealogy of Morals receive very short
treatments. He begins the former chapter with another thought on how to
construe his corpus. “The task for the immediately following years was as
clear as it could be. Now that the affirmative part of my task was done, it was
the turn of the denying, the No-saying and No-doing part: the revaluation of
existing values themselves, the great war – the evocation of a day of
decision” (EH 10.1). Here Nietzsche divides his works into a before and
after in respect to Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The books that came before are
like a spiritual pregnancy and precondition to the moment of philosophical
exemplification in Zarathustra. The books afterward turn to ground-
breaking and destruction, now understood as preparatory to a culture-
wide revaluation and overcoming of morality that Nietzsche’s thinking
foreshadows. He also hopes to catch readers with these later books as with
hooks, but ends the section with humor. “It was not my fault if nothing was
caught. There weren’t any fish” (EH 10.1) This alludes to Mark 1.17: “And
Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.’”
Nietzsche alludes to The Satyricon by Petronius, as well, in which an

179
Nietzsche also writes that a great artist can only reach the “the final summit of his achievement”
when “he knows how to laugh at himself” (GM 3.3). For treatments of laughter’s central place in
Nietzsche’s thought, see Higgins, Comic Relief, and two articles by Lawrence J. Hatab. Hatab argues
that Nietzsche adopted the Greek understanding of how tragic and comic drama “expressed a two-
sided affirmative response to negation, limits and finitude” (“Laughter in Nietzsche’s Thought: A
Philosophical Tragicomedy,” International Studies in Philosophy, 20/2 (1988), 67–83, at 67), that
Nietzsche’s view flows from the Dionysian insight that “form (whether natural or cultural) is not
substantial” (70), and hence that for Nietzsche, “laughter is, among other things, a most positive
form of tragic affirmation, an affirmative appropriation of the negative limits of ‘being’” (72). Hatab
identifies the ability to laugh at oneself as the highest form of laughter for Nietzsche, as it “shows a
freedom from fixation and affirms a willingness to sacrifice form-ality; it overcomes what Nietzsche
called the spirit of gravity and is able to enjoy a surrender of structure” (73). (See also Hatab’s
“Nietzsche as Tragicomic Satyr.”)
On the Genealogy of Morals 179
itinerant teacher is told that “like a fisherman he has to bait his hook . . .
otherwise he’s left on the rocks without a hope of their biting,” and to
Lucian’s satire in Greek of hypocritical philosophers, “The Fisher.”180
Nietzsche employs another analogy to capture how Beyond Good and Evil
was his day of devilish rest in relation to Thus Spoke Zarathustra. “It was
God himself who assumed the form of a serpent and lay under the tree of
knowledge at the end of his day’s work: this is how he recuperated from
being God . . . He had made everything too beautiful . . . The devil is just
God’s leisure every seventh day” (EH 10.2). This blasphemously funny
comparison fits with Ecce Homo’s other comic attacks on Christianity and
makes explicit a quieter theme in the book: the cyclic nature of Nietzsche’s
life and work. Several times he describes how certain works came out of
(read, after) great illnesses and suffering, but the weak periods themselves
were times of recovery and recuperation, not composition – especially given
the severity of Nietzsche’s migraines, near blindness, and other maladies.
But here Nietzsche reads Beyond Good and Evil as recuperation from being
too happy, from making things “too beautiful.” Nietzsche’s life cycle moved
from strength and authorial good-naturedness to illness and the polemical,
in both physical and philosophical terms. Of Beyond Good and Evil, he says:
“there is not a single good-natured word in the whole book . . . All this is
recuperation” (EH 10.2). This illustrates once more how the distancing
aggression of satire helps Nietzsche recuperate from his abysmal inquiries.
Overall, Nietzsche paints Beyond Good and Evil as a morning after made
harsh and visceral, a tactile and reason-filled awakening from the poetic
dream of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Like the frequent remarks meant to unify
the ideas and goals of his work, Nietzsche’s hermeneutic question in Ecce
Homo for Beyond Good and Evil is more explicit: Where does the latter book
fit in the psychological economy of his life as an artist? Nietzsche analyzes
the book’s motivation and intention in this broader perspective, in light of
the effort to overcome decadent moral responses to pessimism. If Thus
Spoke Zarathustra veered toward the Romantic ideal, Nietzsche’s devil
would have its due.

On the Genealogy of Morals


Nietzsche’s interpretation of this book differs from the contextualizing and
locative practice used for the previous books. Instead, he focuses on the

180
Petronius, The Satyricon, trans. Sullivan, 38; The Works of Lucian of Samosata, trans. H. W. and
F. G. Fowler, 4 vols. (Oxford University Press, 1948), vol. i, 206–30.
180 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
rhetorical substructure and polemical intention of these essays.181 He
describes them initially as follows: “The three essays of which this
Genealogy consists are in regard to expression, intention and art of surprise
perhaps the uncanniest things [Unheimlichste] that have ever been
written . . . Each time a beginning which is intended to mislead, cool,
scientific, even ironic, intentionally foreground, intentionally keeping in
suspense. Gradually an increasing disquiet . . . then very unpleasant truths
becoming audible” (EH 11.1). What is meant here?
Nietzsche calls his essays the Unheimlichste, the weirdest, the eeriest.
Other senses of the word include strange, sinister, terrible, creepy,
unearthly, spine-tingling, and scary. This is an unusual word to describe
philosophical writing. We can discern the reason for Nietzsche’s choice by
reflecting on the other things he says about these essays, first, that their
strangeness resides in the “expression, intention and art of surprise.” In
outline, Nietzsche has said that his essays use an ironic and misleading
expression, one intended to lull us into detaching ourselves from the subject
matter, which then allows him to surprise us with a terrible truth near the
end of each essay. Thus, Nietzsche structures On the Genealogy of Morals to
produce a psychological affect – of surprise, yes, but more especially a
frightening surprise. In other words, Ecce Homo reveals that On the
Genealogy of Morals is something of a philosopher’s ghost story – three of
them, actually. To see this clearly, consider Nietzsche’s structural descrip-
tion in more detail.
Nietzsche writes that each essay begins in a way intended to mislead. In
each essay he describes his subject in a mundane way that seems quite
unlikely to engage us emotionally, let alone to be frightening. For example,

181
Various scholars have made use of Ecce Homo’s comments in treatments of On the Genealogy of
Morals, including Lawrence J. Hatab, Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality: An Introduction
(Cambridge University Press, 2008); Christopher Janaway, Beyond Selfishness: Reading Nietzsche’s
Genealogy (Oxford University Press, 2007); Ken Gemes “‘We Remain of Necessity Strangers to
Ourselves’: The Key Message of Nietzsche’s Genealogy,” in Christa Davis Acampora (ed.),
Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals: Critical Essays (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield,
2006), 191–208; David Owen, Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s
University Press, 2007); and Daniel Conway, Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals: A Reader’s
Guide (London: Continuum, 2008). In general they take Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo comments about the
structure of On the Genealogy of Morals to heart, then employ parts of the description to partly guide
their study. Understanding Ecce Homo’s purpose, however, means that Nietzsche casts his earlier
works as satires of philosophy; hence we might recall the subtitle to On the Genealogy of Morals,
namely, “A Polemic.” Hence Nietzsche does not conceive the work as a contribution to “moral
theory” as so many wish it to be. As Johnson makes clear in Nietzsche’s Anti-Darwinism, Chapter 4,
Genealogy attacks those English philosophers and scientists who have bungled the genealogy of
morals – an attack effected by Nietzsche with a mixture of historical analysis, hyperbole, imagined
dialogues, and irony.
On the Genealogy of Morals 181
Nietzsche’s first essay will treat the long-ago origins of morality, and he
initially describes something he calls quite boring, namely, English psychol-
ogists of morality. Still, Nietzsche hints at his destination by remarking that
there are “bitter, hateful, repellent, unchristian, immoral truths” in the
world (GM 1), though he does not yet say what they are in the case of
morals. Likewise in a modern thriller we might begin on an ordinary day,
walking through a meadow, but the author will make mention of the dark
forest at the edge.
And how does Nietzsche mislead us about the dark truths to come? He
does so in one obvious fashion: by withholding them; the three essays do
not disclose their thesis statements, their central claims. But the essays also
mislead by their opening tone. As Nietzsche says, he misleads by being
“cool” and “scientific” (EH 11.1). That is, he writes in a way that sounds
objective and merely descriptive, hence detached, and this allows us to feel
detached from the subject matter, too. Nietzsche intentionally keeps affect
out of the picture. If you intend to surprise and frighten someone, you do
well to keep their emotions – at least initially – unengaged. A cool and
scientific manner lulls us into thinking that the topic will not affect or
move us.
Nietzsche next remarks that the openings to his essays are ironic. Of
course this makes sense: his cool, scientific approach is ironic because moral
matters are usually felt to be important and personal to most people, and
because in reality Nietzsche is passionately engaged with the subject and its
significance. And irony informs the essays because in each case – as
Nietzsche says explicitly – there is a seeming answer to his question, and a
genuine answer, and the genuine answer is tied to and contravenes (where it
does not contradict) the widely believed and seeming one. In accord with
this idea of an essay having multiple levels of meaning, Nietzsche writes that
his Genealogy essay openings are “intentionally foreground” (EH 11.1).
Though he describes the origins of moral ideas, he withholds the significance
of those origins, and the disturbing idea that our present day moral thinking
remains connected to those origins.
Nietzsche says that the essays keep us in suspense – a telling word that
once more suggests a tale meant to frighten us. By hinting at scary things
but withholding key ideas until we have become emotionally invested and
filled with questions, Nietzsche has constructed the Genealogy essays as
rhetorical exercises in psychological suspense. Indeed, all of the essay traits
Nietzsche provides go toward creating suspense, including the etymological
and historical hints about where Nietzsche is actually headed, yet balanced
by an evenhanded accounting of the benefits and drawbacks of, for example,
182 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
the slave revolt in morals. And notice how Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo treatment
does not focus on the content of these essays; it focuses on the experience of
reading them – that is, it emphasizes them as existing in time as a process for
us, the readers.182
Finally, Nietzsche refers to “the increasing disquiet” leading to “unpleas-
ant truths” that characterizes the Genealogy essays (EH 11.1). All good ghost
stories increase the tension a reader feels, an effect achieved by the careful
supply of enough information to make us curious and uneasy, but not so
much that we relax from knowing the conclusion. Of course, good ghost
stories stay in the memory because they shake us emotionally, because they
show us frightening things behind the mundane, behind the familiar, even
behind the good – just where we had not thought to find them. What if
someone did the same for moral systems themselves?
Nietzsche admires On the Genealogy of Morals in Ecce Homo for its
rhetorical power to toy with an unsuspecting reader. Yet Nietzsche plants
clues if we read closely; at the outset he critiques the English psychologists
(and philosophers generally) for lacking any historical sense (GM 2) and for
being naïve about morality as “given,” but he allows a slow gathering of
evidence and hypotheses to bring us face-to-face with a truly terrible
possibility: that our morality is bankrupt – even on its own terms – and
that all moralities are designed for power, not goodness. If you did not see
this coming (and philosophers are painfully dense on this point even now),
you will be frightened indeed.
Nietzsche lists three quite unpleasant truths of the three Genealogy
essays, contrasting them in each case with the current belief on the matter
in question. Each of these ideas stands as the organizing principle of its
respective essay, the disturbing surprise of Nietzsche’s crafted thriller. The
first essay reveals the psychology of Christianity, its birth and sustenance
provided by a spirit of ressentiment and not, says Nietzsche, “by the spirit.”
The second essay gives the psychology of conscience, “an instinct of
cruelty turned backwards after it can no longer discharge itself outwards”
(EH 11.1); it is neither the internal voice of God nor any moral intuition.
The third essay describes the source of what Nietzsche calls the “ascetic
ideal” (the notion that the highest type of life and activity is sacrificial); its
power, its harm, and its nihilistic decadence. It has flourished through the

182
In this way our experience of reading the essays mimics how Nietzsche’s own ideas emerge: moving
from inchoate experience and a latent stage of unknowing development to a later process of
“becoming conscious” – a process revisited and heightened in retrospective moments like prefaces
and Ecce Homo.
On the Genealogy of Morals 183
lack of a competing ideal; thus its prevalence is “faute de mieux [for want
of anything better],” and “not because God is active behind the priests”
(EH 11.1).
Nietzsche’s third essay argues that the “ascetic ideal” has dominated our
conception of higher culture because of our will’s horror of a vacuum: the
impossible condition of having no meaning to life whatsoever (GM 3.1).
Nietzsche writes in Ecce Homo that his philosophy provides the “competi-
tion” that the ascetic ideal (the “detrimental ideal par excellence”) has lacked.
Hence Nietzsche heralds “the advent of Zarathustra,” the “counter-ideal”
(EH 11.1). Near the close of his one-section treatment of On the Genealogy of
Morals, he writes: “I have been understood. Three decisive preliminary
studies of a psychologist for a revaluation of all values” (EH 11.1). This
interpretation of the book ties its intention to the larger goal of affirming
existence by dismantling the decadent ideal that impoverishes it: the ascetic
ideal of self-denial, a “will to the end.” Nietzsche’s polemic unmasks this
moral ideal to awaken the philosophical alternatives.
Consistent with his stance in The Birth of Tragedy and his warring
remarks in Ecce Homo, Nietzsche’s analysis of On the Genealogy of Morals
points to his view that the Greek notion of contest (agon) can invigorate
culture. Hence, he reads the book as having subverted a Judeo-Christian
cultural heritage by revealing the origin and psychology of its degenerate
values. If On the Genealogy of Morals succeeds, we will feel compelled to
resist the ascetic ideal, seeking out an amoral and enlivening stance as
antipode.183 Notice, too, that On the Genealogy of Morals does not ‘disprove’
Christian morality or the ascetic ideal; it satirically reduces their status as
values by unmasking their origin in slave resentment and by outlining the
hypocrisy of the so-called religion of love.

183
In Ecce Homo Nietzsche simplifies Genealogy’s third essay by attending only to the ascetic ideal as
understood and practiced by the priestly type. In the essay itself, he examines the wide variety of
functions that the ideal serves for artists, scholars, the Christian flock, and philosophers. For
philosophers it brings some benefits, e.g., “a sense and instinct for the most favorable preconditions
of higher spirituality” (GM 3.1). Yet no positive aspect of the ascetic ideal makes an appearance in Ecce
Homo’s treatment, perhaps for several reasons. It would muddy the waters here by seeming to align
Nietzsche with the priestly enemy, and its absence better contrasts Zarathustra – the counter-ideal –
to the pilloried ascetic one. This rhetorical choice also unifies the corpus more clearly, though at the
expense of another Ecce Homo theme, the contrast of Nietzsche as decadent and its antipode. It seems
that Nietzsche used the ascetic ideal of his youth and academic training to achieve philosophic success
(living his hermit’s simple life does reserve energy for thinking, and makes stimuli control rather
more possible). Again this would seem to show that “he exploits bad accidents to his advantage”
(EH 1.2).
184 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary

Twilight of the Idols


Nietzsche treats this text in three very short sections. He also refers to The
Antichrist in this chapter, the only book of Nietzsche’s, besides the collected
previous writings comprising Nietzsche Contra Wagner and Dithyrambs of
Dionysus, that does not receive its own heading in Ecce Homo. The first
section describes Twilight of the Idols in terms of its tone: “cheerful and
fateful,” a “demon that laughs.” He further calls it “rich in substance, more
independent, more overthrowing – more wicked” (EH 12.1). He recom-
mends the book if one wants to know how “upside-down” things were
before him. He explains the title as follows: “That which is called idol on the
title-page is quite simply that which has hitherto been called truth. Twilight
of the Idols – in plain terms: the old truth is coming to an end” (EH 12.1). Of
course Nietzsche places truth here in a temporal context, not a timeless one.
Next he employs a growth metaphor.
The second section reprises the image of autumn and fruit to describe the
nature of this book as Nietzsche now sees it.
A great wind blows among the trees and fruit is falling everywhere – truths.
The work contains the squandering of an all too rich autumn: you stumble
over the truths, you even crush a couple to death, – there are too many of
them . . . But you do not get hold of things that are questionable any more,
you get hold of decisions. I am the first to have a measure for ‘truths,’ I am
the first to be able to decide. (EH 12.2)
This book description suggests several aspects of Nietzsche’s use of truth
language. First he configures truth as something we choose as much as
discover. Which truths do we pick from the trees? Nietzsche does not much
argue over the truth of the old idols; instead, he attacks their value, their
intention, their ripeness. The phrase the old truth is coming to an end suggests
that truths have life spans, and that we could witness (or cause) the death of
a ‘living’ truth. How does that happen?
Truth killing in Nietzsche’s sense can occur by rendering mute the real
force of a truth: its value status and perspectival foundation. When
Nietzsche gives cause to understand Christianity as a slanderous, revengeful
account of life founded on the perspective of socially and psychologically
weak and resentful people, for example, he does not thereby ‘disprove’
Christianity, he does something more: he begins the actual process by which
a truth dies and becomes replaced: by questioning and undermining its
function and the value or current relevance of its particular, historical origin.
But to destroy a truth is also to observe new conditions and participants, to
Twilight of the Idols 185
identify higher ends or new intellectual demands. That is, hastening the
‘death’ of a truth provides a chance to fill the vacuum. Nietzsche seems to
have understood this process by seeing how value animates our sense of
truth. This insight allowed him to accelerate the aging process of truths by
attacking their value, and it holds the key to harvesting new ones, as the
metaphor implies. This helps explain why he prefers a literary form like
satire to a forensic one like philosophy, because people can be persuaded on
normative issues by more varied considerations than logic, and a varied style
can move us by ethos and pathos, not just logos.
And what of Nietzsche’s distinction between truths that fall, lie about,
and are trodden upon, on the one hand, and those one picks on the other?
The difference between the two appears to be the difference in how we
regard them. The truths that lie about are questionable in the metaphor. All
things are questionable, Nietzsche suggests, until personally appropriated.
They are questionable because we have no sense of them in practice, as food.
“But those one gets one’s hands on are no longer questionable, they are
decisions” (EH 12.2). That is, we make a truth no longer questionable by
having decided upon it. In other words, subjectively appropriated truth is
no longer questionable, arguably, because one has decided to endow a truth
with value. “Only I have the standard for ‘truths’ in my hand, only I can
decide” (EH 12.2). This remark suggests that Nietzsche means to highlight
the individual character of one’s values, and hence, of one’s truths. The
italicized can seems in defiance of those who feign objective, value-neutral
interpretations of the world, as if truths or values could be expressed in
universal form – one of the long-standing tasks, not coincidentally, of
philosophy. But Nietzsche’s metaphoric treatment here suggests that a
truth functions to affect understanding, feeling, and action only insofar as
we value and ground it by our decision to select it, by our decision to make it
such.184 This in turn makes Ecce Homo a record of truths Nietzsche has
decided upon concerning the meaning of his corpus.
Section 2 also plays another variation of Nietzsche’s favorite satiric tune
in Ecce Homo: the comically serious inversion and parody of God and Jesus.
After tipping us once more with the lanx satura allusion to abundant
autumn fruit, he refers by opposition to the “Prologue in Heaven” of
Goethe’s Faust by saying that “it is precisely the good man who has
known least what was the right path” (EH 12.2). In Goethe’s closet
drama, God tells Satan the reverse about Faust by saying that “a good

184
Naturally this metaphor is not conclusive about Nietzsche’s ‘theory of truth’ (if he can be said to have
had such a thing), but it sounds certain pragmatic notes worth listening to, I think.
186 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
man, in his darkest impulses, remains aware of the right path.”185 Nietzsche
closes the section by saying that “only starting with me did hopes, tasks,
prescribed paths for culture exist again – I am a bearer of glad tidings” (EH
12.2). This parodies a Gospel preaching of Jesus (Matthew 24.14), and
Gospel literally means “good tidings.” Although clear enough in the telling,
the passage itself veils these references from readers who do not read
Nietzsche like they read their Horace. But why does Nietzsche allude
when he could denote? Nietzsche writes about the question of being under-
standable in The Gay Science:
All the nobler spirits and tastes select their audience when they wish to
communicate; and choosing that, one at the same time erects barriers against
‘the others.’ All the more subtle laws of any style have their origin at this
point: they at the same time keep away, create a distance, forbid ‘entrance,’
understanding, as said above – while they open the ears of those whose ears
are related to ours. (GS 381)186
Nietzsche details his productive autumn in the third section on Twilight
of the Idols, which reads like a northern Italian travelogue. He describes how
he “attacked the tremendous task of the Revaluation in a sovereign feeling of
pride beyond compare and [engraved] sign upon sign in brass tablets with
the sureness of a destiny” (EH 12.3). These constitute the only remarks in
Ecce Homo on The Antichrist. That the book had not yet been published
explains its omission.187
As an interpretation of Twilight of the Idols, Ecce Homo’s chapter empha-
sizes the status of Nietzsche’s truths – ripe fruit of his own fall harvest. A
reader of that book, however, would be forgiven for thinking that Nietzsche
presents himself as just as dogmatically truthful as those he maligns for
presuming to do the same. But as Nietzsche says in Beyond Good and Evil,
all philosophers hitherto have loved their truths, and we have no reason to
believe that philosophers of the future will be any different (BGE 43).
Nietzsche gives his truths every rhetorical advantage in Twilight of the
Idols, including the sound of the absolute. The middling expression and

185
R. J. Hollingdale notes this allusion and translates the lines from Faust in his translation of Ecce
Homo (139).
186
See also the 1886 Preface to Daybreak: “Nowadays it is not only my habit, it is also to my taste – a
malicious taste, perhaps? – no longer to write anything which does not reduce to despair every sort of
man who is ‘in a hurry.’” And, “my patient friends, this book desires for itself only perfect readers and
philologists: learn to read me well!” (D Preface 5).
187
“In the fall of 1888, [Nietzsche] completed the manuscript of The Antichrist, which was initially
intended as the first book of the ‘Revaluation,’ but wound up becoming the entirety of that text.
Thus, the title ‘Will to Power’ was soon abandoned, followed by the second main title, ‘The
Revaluation of all Values.’ Only The Antichrist remained” (Safranski, Nietzsche, 285).
Twilight of the Idols 187
the academic qualification, honest as they may be, frame a demonstrative
style that Nietzsche knew we easily forget.
So Nietzsche plays at proclaiming Truth. Ecce Homo’s treatment of
Twilight of the Idols, however, shows that he remains a theorist of cultural
truths, truths born of all manner of person, picked up or not by society.
“Only I have the standards for ‘truth’ in my hand” (EH 12.2). Nietzsche’s
scare quotation marks confirm the contrast between two ways of regarding
truth. He will use the word, he will play at truth, but saying that “only I have
the standards for ‘truth’” denies anything like the universal character we
commonly ascribe. Instead, truth now designates what persuades and
proves useful to Nietzsche, and what may or may not be taken up by a
culture. His books bring forth truths that are eaten and incorporated, or rot
on the ground. And the metaphor ties this serious philosophical issue to the
satiric tradition of discussing food and character. But the satirist occupies an
ambiguous place in regard to the reader, as Griffin notes, for our literary
host serves the satire itself as an allegorical meal to us, a meal that includes
unpleasant, unhealthy, or even vile comestibles, and may include instances
of forced feeding, gluttony, barbarism, violence, and cannibalism.188 Thus
satire’s lanx satura is a doubled form by which we readers are invited to
partake in the very foods the satirist warns us against. In Ecce Homo, for
example, Nietzsche warns us against decadence and Germany’s deplorable
lack of unity in art, in a satire that is both decadent and a miscellany. That is,
Nietzsche consciously enacts some of the very vices he critiques. “I am a
décadent, I am also its antithesis” (EH 1.2). But his consciousness transforms
an otherwise ignorant hypocrisy into a reflective effort at progress and
affirmation.
Finally, the gate-keeping function of Nietzsche’s style supplies another
motive for the use of satire: it insulates him from innumerable readers who
tend to see only literal propositions in his works – because his parody and
humor depend on discerning irony, which depends on a second or third
level of meaning that subverts the literal through its tone. Without under-
standing Ecce Homo and Nietzsche’s works generally as satire, his ideas most
often can literally mean the opposite of what Nietzsche intends. And if
you will allow me: What of Nietzsche’s celebrated, contentious, strange,
extreme, serious-sounding and ‘monumental’ doctrines? Are they not . . .
parodies of the idea of philosophical doctrines? For example, does the overman
satirize and comically explode the notion of a heroic ideal? Does perspec-
tivism satirize and comically explode the idea of epistemology? Does the
188
Griffin, Satire, 190–97.
188 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
eternal return satirize and comically explode the desire to affirm life and
escape mortality? Does the will to power satirize and comically explode the
idea of ethics, and metaphysics?

The Case of Wagner


Nietzsche’s treatment of this “Turinese Letter of May, 1888” is strange on
several counts. First, he spends only the first of four sections on the book
itself; second, he lambastes the Germans far more than Wagner; and third,
he discusses it out of chronological order (it was written before Twilight of
the Idols). On all counts – why?
This Ecce Homo chapter gives the very least idea of what its respective
book is like. The Case of Wagner is Nietzsche’s funniest book, even though
its subject is serious; the title-page motto is ridendo dicere severum: say what
is somber by laughing – a variation of a phrase from Nietzsche’s admired
satirist, Horace.189 The humor comes at Wagner’s expense; his opera plot-
lines and characters are described for what they are, ridiculous, and a faux-
scholarly figure representing “Wagner’s success incarnate” (CW 6) gives a
destructively witty account of the master’s characteristics. For seriousness,
the book offers a disheartening analysis of modern music and the arts,
contrasting any authentic and aesthetic profundity of the past with the
contemporary decadence of pastiche effects. Wagner is Nietzsche’s entrée
into the psychology of what Nietzsche considers a modern decline in art. He
sums up Wagner’s qualities as follows in The Case of Wagner: He shows “the
decline of the power to organize; the misuse of traditional means without
the capacity to furnish any justification, any for-the-sake-of; the counter-
feiting in the imitation of big forms for which nobody today is strong,
proud, self-assured, healthy enough; excessive liveliness in the smallest parts;
excitement at any price; cunning as the expression of impoverished life; more
and more nerves in place of flesh” (CW Second Postscript).

189
The Ecce Homo section on The Case of Wagner also refers in Latin to this motto, which Kaufmann
notes in his translation (Ecce Homo, 317) is a variation of Horace’s “What forbids us to tell the truth,
laughing?” (Satires, 1.24). The Case of Wagner itself contains satiric parodies of Wagner’s plotlines.
Nietzsche quotes Horace in another book of this period, Twilight of the Idols. He lists Sallust and
Horace as chief inspirations. “One will recognize in my writings, even in my Zarathustra, a very
serious ambition for Roman style, for the ‘aera perennius’ in style” (TI 10.1). This phrase comes from
Odes 3.30, in which Horace refers to his poetry as a monument that will “outlast brass.” And Horace
crowns himself, like Nietzsche, with fame’s laurel (The Essential Horace, 89). Sallust wrote that “the
glory of wealth and beauty is fleeting and perishable; that of intellectual power is illustrious and
immortal” (Conspiracy of Catiline, trans. John Selby Watson (New York: Harper & Brothers,
1899), 1).
The Case of Wagner 189
The cultural critique offered in The Case of Wagner clarifies Nietzsche’s
own conception of art. Less radical than some might wish, Nietzsche makes
unity of purpose and mastery of form the standards of value. His critique
explicates decadence once more as over-stimulation, and the inability to
resist stimuli. Nietzsche makes two other references in the book to “cor-
ruption of the nerves” as the physiological analogue to cultural deca-
dence.190 These observations accord with our analysis of Nietzsche’s
treatment of decadence in Ecce Homo, in which he describes the condition
as physiological. The picture is complicated, however, because Nietzsche
does not make causal claims in either direction. Because he thinks that the
division of phenomena into causes and effects is always arbitrary, and that
conjoined events are not thereby causally efficacious, Nietzsche’s discussion
of Wagner’s art in physical terms (as a sickness and corruption of the nerves)
should be construed not as a claim of the cause or effect of cultural
decadence, but rather as another take on the Wagner phenomenon.191 It
also reveals Nietzsche’s desire to create unity out of his own body of work,
and Ecce Homo is that aesthetic desire in practice. And we see by The Case of
Wagner’s Horatian title-page motto that Nietzsche had the Roman’s con-
ception of satire on his mind: as a mixed form that accomplishes a serious
task through comic means.
The relationship between decadence and the body that Nietzsche
describes in The Case of Wagner reiterates his idea that fatalism is an
antidote. The mixing play of forces that Nietzsche imagines to constitute
the real – his Heraclitean flux of ceaseless becoming – is not susceptible to
any coherent explanation in terms of cause and effect, or possible worlds.
Instead, all fatefully entwines, and eternal recurrence locks everything in
cyclic place. To think otherwise for Nietzsche is a decadence of initial
subtlety, but one that leads in the end to anger at one’s impotence toward
the past. Causal thinking, coupled with free will, erects this temptation
directly. For example, if x is thought to cause ill-effect y, and if I think that I
could have chosen not to have done x, then I am in the position of regretting
and abusing myself for the actual occurrence of y. But this is interpretation,
not fact. An ascending type of human being, in contrast, not only accepts
the past, Nietzsche says, but loves it. Fatalism and the eternal recurrence are

190
CW 5; Postscript.
191
See, e.g., BGE 21; after Nietzsche has decried both “free” and “unfree will,” he writes: “One should
use ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ only as pure concepts, that is to say, as conventional fictions for the purpose of
designation and communication – not for explanation. In the ‘in-itself’ there is nothing of ‘causal
connections,’ of ‘necessity,’ or of ‘psychological non-freedom’; there the effect does not follow the
cause, there is no rule of ‘law.’”
190 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
conceptual aids to the practical goal of living well. Thus amor fati is the
antipode of decadence because it precludes the impotent rage and self-
indulgence of regret. But Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo itself enacts the difficulty;
large-scale affirmation and gratitude grate against angry vehemence toward
small-town Germans.
Nietzsche treats The Case of Wagner itself in the first section alone.
If one is to be fair to this writing one has to suffer from the destiny of music as
from an open wound. – What is it I suffer from when I suffer from the
destiny of music? From this: that music has been deprived of its world-
transfiguring, affirmative character, that it is decadence music and no longer
the flute of Dionysus . . . Supposing, however, that one in this way feels the
cause of music to be one’s own cause, to be the history of one’s own suffering,
one will find this writing full of consideration and mild beyond measure. In
such cases to be cheerful and good-naturedly to mock at oneself as well –
ridendo dicere severum where verum dicere [say what is grave while laughing
where saying the truth] would justify every kind of severity – is humanity
itself. Who really doubts that I, old artillerist that I am, have the ability to
bring up my heavy guns against Wagner? I kept to myself everything decisive
in this matter – I have loved Wagner. (EH 13.1)
What has been said? What does it say about reading Nietzsche? He supplies
two interpretive options for reading this book. The first: if a reader has
experienced music akin to the way Nietzsche has (suffering from its
decline), then The Case of Wagner will be read fairly. As elsewhere,
Nietzsche imagines understanding to come from readers who share the
author’s perspectival ground. This interpretation emphasizes the necessity
of shared value, experience, and intent between reader and author.
Then Nietzsche offers a distinction, introduced by “Supposing, how-
ever.” This second interpretive option again takes an if/then form. Let us
state it this way: if a reader has experienced the cause [die Sache192] of music
in this way (as a Dionysian art of affirmation now corrupted, causing one to
suffer as from a wound), and has experienced the “cause” of music as “one’s
own cause” (as the history of one’s own suffering), then one reads The Case of
Wagner as “mild beyond measure.”

192
The German word can be translated as issue, question, case, matter (as both Ecce Homo translators
Hollingdale and Kaufmann do in the third instance of the word in the paragraph: “everything
decisive in dieser Sache”), subject, problem, and cause (in the sense of a purpose or idea that one
champions). Its underlying meaning, however, is thing or fact. As a prefix, for example, a Sachfrage is
a factual question. As such, the word connotes genuine, as in Sachwert, real value. Sachlich means
practical or objective. So the word translated as cause has considerable shading in the sentences under
review. Translator Duncan Large chooses fate and cause, while Judith Norman opts for problem and
case here in her translation of Ecce Homo (EH 13.1).
The Case of Wagner 191
Nietzsche then states that die Sache of music is like the history of his own
suffering. A better understanding of the passage comes from translating die
Sache as case. Nietzsche means, not that his own life of suffering is a cause to
champion just as music is (the implausible but necessary implication to
draw from the Kaufmann and Hollingdale translation of the word as cause),
but that the historical case of music parallels his own history of suffering.
This takes on greater meaning when tied to Dionysus, as Nietzsche has tied
it. Dionysus represents the inspiration to music-making and affirmation,
and a sacrificial dismemberment. This creates an analogue to Nietzsche’s
own philosophical life: affirmative and lyric in the face of great physical pain
and prescient death. Nietzsche once more brings our attention to how his
philosophy self-projects his own condition, the mapping of his inner states
and needs. Ecce Homo shows how all of Nietzsche’s philosophy has in this
sense been a transfigured autobiography.
This passage clarifies another facet of Nietzschean hermeneutics. We
have two if/then constructions; both concern interpretation. Nietzsche
has said that a reading of The Case of Wagner will take two different forms,
dependent on the degree to which the reader shares the experience and
perspective of the author. So the passage could be paraphrased: “if you are
like me in feeling a change in music from Dionysian affirmation to
modern affectation, then you will read this book fairly, you will under-
stand it as intended. But if you are very much like me, almost to the point
of having the same life experience, you will find it surprisingly mild,
cheerful and restrained.” What does this contrast say about Nietzschean
interpretation?
Nietzsche associates good interpretation with authorial kinship.
Otherwise, why should it matter if I have experienced music as Nietzsche
has, except that such experience allows me to understand his meaning in
The Case of Wagner? If interpretation for Nietzsche were about reaching
independently coherent or clever readings, Nietzsche should hardly think it
necessary for “reading fairly” that one share his particular attitude and
understanding of music. And a third if/then formula can be imagined: “if
you do not suffer from the destiny of music as from an open wound, that is,
if you do not have a similar sympathy for this question, then you will read
my book badly, it will not actually be understood.” As Nietzsche often says,
he writes for those who have ears. This is a principle of interpretation. Given
his remarks on reading The Case of Wagner, we may say it more strongly. For
Nietzsche, to interpret him well is to be like him. In the same vein,
Nietzsche has explained why he is so little understood in the first section
of “Why I Write Such Excellent Books” in Ecce Homo: “Ultimately, nobody
192 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
can get more out of things, including books, than he already knows”
(EH 3.1).
Finally, note this telling sentence from the passage: “In such cases to be
cheerful and good-naturedly to mock at oneself as well – ridendo dicere
severum where verum dicere would justify every kind of severity – is human-
ity itself.” This shows that Nietzsche decided to adopt Horace’s method
(ridendo dicere severum) instead of straight truth (verum dicere) – and he tells
us why. In the case of bitter truths, telling them comically is more cheerful,
thus more humane, more ethical. It also reveals that Nietzsche understands
his method to imply self-mockery, because the author does not take the
grave topic as seriously as it warrants, which means that he does not take his
own treatment of it as seriously, either. This helps us understand the satiric
form of Nietzsche’s treatment of his own life and works in Ecce Homo.
Nietzsche is being humane to himself.
The remainder of the first section and the second, third, and fourth
sections of Ecce Homo’s treatment of The Case of Wagner contain a sustained
criticism of the German people and culture. Nietzsche complains of how
Germans thoughtlessly swallow countless contradictions and opposites.
Does this square with the earlier celebration of his own antitheses? Does
his supposed integration of opposites differ from the opposites he now
identifies in the German psyche: faith and science, the Reich and humility,
Christian love and anti-Semitism?
The difference is first one of consciousness. Nietzsche is aware of his
opposing traits, and strives to integrate them into a larger conception of self.
Ecce Homo takes up a series of contrasts: his tragic philosophy and his
optimism, the overman and a rejection of ideals, affirmation and his attack
on No-sayers, the polemical wars and amor fati, eternal recurrence and
living as a free-spirit. All are philosophically congruent, Nietzsche believed,
in a way that the German hodgepodge culture is not. The latter is contra-
dictory and oblivious – without any higher thought, purpose, or unity. Ecce
Homo argues that Nietzsche’s philosophy is nuanced and unified when
viewed as a whole through autobiographical effort. As we have seen, Ecce
Homo works to establish the intellectual unity of Nietzsche’s philosophical
means and goals – in order, not coincidentally, to establish his greatness as a
literary artist. Nietzsche identifies that principle of unity in the beginning of
Ecce Homo: he sought to overcome illness and pessimism, and his philoso-
phy was a unique will to health.
The second section points up a contrast in how Nietzsche understands
perspective. He criticizes the Germans for their parochial perspective in
matters of history, politics, and culture.
The Case of Wagner 193
It is not just that German historians have entirely lost the greater perspective
on the workings and value of culture, that they are all political (or ecclesias-
tical –) clowns: they have even banned this greater perspective. One has first
of all to be ‘German,’ to have ‘race,’ then one can arbitrate over all values and
disvalues in historicis – one determines them . . . ‘German’ is an argument,
‘Deutschland, Deutschland über alles’ a principle. (EH 13.2)
Cultural health is one of Nietzsche’s paramount values from the beginning
of his published career.193 In contrast to German nationalism, Nietzsche’s
expansive view imagines a united Europe and a unified style of art. His
perspectivism is by no means value neutral. Nietzsche blames German
idealism for “every great cultural crime of four centuries,” namely, (1)
Luther’s restoration of Christianity just when the affirmative style of the
Renaissance was about to triumph; (2) Kant’s and Leibniz’s “formulas for a
right to reject science, for a right to lie” just when a scientific (amoral) way of
thinking was emerging; and (3) the “Wars of Liberation,” which “cheated
Europe out of the meaning, the miracle of meaning, in the existence of
Napoleon” (EH 13.2). Plausible or not as history, Nietzsche each time
contrasts the parochial to larger, more culturally promising perspectives.
Next Nietzsche points out Germany’s absurd chauvinism. Instead of
aiding in the unification of Europe, the Germans have on their conscience
“the most anti-cultural sickness and unreason there is, nationalism, this
névrose nationale with which Europe is sick . . . Does anyone except me
know a way out of this blind alley? . . . A task great enough once again to
unite peoples?” (EH 13.2). This posits the progress of humanity as possible
through an inclusive culture. And notice how cultural failure arises once
more from excessive stimulation, and how parochialism constricts knowl-
edge by constricting modes of interpretation. Nietzsche’s contrasting
“grand view” privileges cultural greatness through a unified artistic and
affirmative pathos toward existence – in its manifold aspects. Thus
Nietzsche’s work involves not only the proliferation of perspectives but
the creation of an aesthetic unity of more favored perspectives. Ecce Homo is
indispensable to this task.194

193
E.g., see the second and third of the Untimely Meditations. “Nietzsche’s highest goal was always the
flourishing of culture” (Safranski, Nietzsche, 70).
194
The majority of postmodern readings of Nietzsche diverge at this point, supposing that Nietzsche
reduces human culture to mere power relations (‘the political’) or something close to incoherence
(‘irrational play’), thus bowing to its ultimate banality. On the contrary, Nietzsche privileges certain
values with great clarity and emphasis; that is, he imbues certain perspectives over others by
choosing, preferring, and celebrating them. Ecce Homo records these decisions, these marks of
Nietzsche’s ‘good taste.’
194 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
Nietzsche now takes up once more the painful issue of his reception, his
readership. He expects to be misunderstood and trivialized by Germans, he
says, and laments their lack of psychological curiosity and seeming fear of
self-reflection. First, he alludes to another saying by Horace by writing that
in Nietzsche’s case, the Germans “will once again try everything to turn
the labor of an immense destiny into the birth of a mouse” (EH 13.3).195
Then he cooks up a deliciously silly satiric reduction of his adversaries to
footless wonders: “They do not have a finger for nuances – poor me! I am
a nuance –, they do not have any esprit in their feet, they cannot even
walk . . . Ultimately the Germans do not have feet at all, they just have legs”
(EH 13.4).
In the latter half of section 4, the matter of Nietzsche’s reception again
comes to the fore. He writes about correspondence from friends concerning
his books. “I have regarded almost every letter I have received as a piece of
cynicism . . . I can guess from the smallest signs that they do not even know
what is written in them.”196 He also remarks that his name in Germany is
“buried under an absurd silence” (EH 13.4). Finally, he mentions that an old
friend has “just written to say that she is laughing at me . . . and this at a
moment . . . when no word can be too gentle” (EH 13.4). Amidst this petite
partie de pitié, Nietzsche puts on an indifferent mask. “I myself have never
suffered from any of this; necessity does not hurt me; amor fati is my
innermost nature. But this does not prevent me from loving irony, even
world-historical irony” (EH 13.4). Never mind that Nietzsche is right about
his future; his fame fantasy seems to fuel Ecce Homo continuously.
Nietzsche completes his attack on Germans by saying that they glue and
‘synthesize’ their ideas together, being incapable of making real distinctions.
He closes by professing a love of his own fate, the general ignorance toward
his books notwithstanding. The disparity between the significance and the
reception of his works in Nietzsche’s lifetime reads now as desperately funny
and acute.
It remains to consider why Nietzsche should discuss Germans more than
The Case of Wagner in this chapter, and why he treated the book out of
order. The first fact may indicate Nietzsche’s desire to create a distance from
all things German in himself, because German means to him pastiche, lack
of style, and a lack of readers. Nietzsche had said earlier that he never attacks

195
Horace, Epistles 2.3 “The Art of Poetry,” 1.139, in The Essential Horace, 245.
196
Nietzsche wrote to Heinrich Köselitz on 14 August 1881: “Finally – if I could not draw strength from
myself, if I had to wait for shouts of encouragement or consolation from others, where would I be!
What would I be! There were indeed moments and times of my life [when] one favorable handshake
would have been the freshest of refreshments” (KGB 3.1.136).
The Case of Wagner 195
personally (EH 1.7), so Wagner here becomes merely a symbol of – more the
occasion for – Nietzsche’s attack on things German. The answer to the
second question could be that Nietzsche wished Ecce Homo’s review of
books to begin and end with discussions of music. Not only does this
balance the book, but it creates another unifying thread in Nietzsche’s
corpus by way of subject: music, its place in culture, and the prospects for
a Dionysian philosophy. Thus Nietzsche’s books paint vistas that lie beyond
the current wasteland of vice and folly; true satire never merely attacks, and
Nietzsche always attacks on behalf of a cause: an affirmative philosophy that
will renew us.
Can we now characterize Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo chapters that discuss his
books? As interpretations, they establish a perspective through which to
understand his works, and this operation reveals Nietzsche’s conception of
philosophy as the effort to invent models of knowledge that foster self-
understanding and self-benefit. Thus his book discussions establish neces-
sary preconditions for good reading. We also learn that Nietzsche considers
his books, not his doctrines, to be his achievements worth remembering.
And in his treatments we see how Nietzsche each time seeks to identify most
of all the feelings he sought to communicate, not the conclusions. We must
think more deeply about why this might be the case.
The great majority of Nietzsche’s putative autobiography consists of his
book reviews. Not only does this dislocate and deform the host genre as all
satires do, but it allows Nietzsche to fashion his books in the image of Ecce
Homo itself. And because Nietzsche is the first comprehensive interpreter of
Nietzsche, he is the first to shape his work in a particular way. The way he
chose to shape his corpus was to view it through a deep, sharp, satiric lens.
Before turning to analyze Ecce Homo’s final chapter, I wish to conclude
this discussion of the ways in which Nietzsche unifies his corpus of previous
books by recapping my case for understanding Nietzsche’s last original
composition as satire.
Ecce Homo parodies and deforms its host genre, autobiography; it attacks
folly, especially Christian morality, German culture, and decadent philos-
ophies; employs the seven techniques cited by Hodgart essential to satire:
unmasking, degradation, parody, wit, reduction (of the victim’s stature or
dignity), invective, and irony;197 offers opposing values to the ones satirized;
intends to amuse and entertain the (right kind of) reader; prefers hyperbole
and ridicule to rational disproofs; abjures pure realism when describing the
follies it attacks – rather, it travesties follies by exaggeration; satirizes the
197
Hodgart, Satire, Chapter 4.
196 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
author in the persona of a philosopher who comes to write a ‘modest’
autobiography; exhibits anger and a desire to avenge wrongs (the perennial
wellspring of satire); creates a fantasy in which the author’s lifelong public
obscurity is replaced in the future by an immense, immortal fame;198 and
undercuts the reliability of the narrator.
Moving to the definitions of the four modern theorists we discussed in
Chapter 2, we see that Ecce Homo, like Nietzsche’s work generally, takes a
militant or aggressive attitude toward experience; dislocates its ostensible
form with intrusions of other material and structures (by quoting from
other works at length, by mixing poetry and aphorism with straight dis-
cursive prose, by espousing ‘philosophical doctrines’ that are consciously
invented, and so on); adopts an intellectual, analytic stance to its subject;
fuses ridicule with humor and celebration; and employs eleven of the
fourteen aspects typical of satire given by Bahktin, including the contem-
plation of the world on a grand scale, moral-psychological experimentation,
and the employment of sharp contrasts that resist the demands of strict
verisimilitude.
In the terms of more conservative satire theorists, Nietzsche’s work
disrupts the normal logic of the rhetorical text it inhabits (within classical
demonstrative oratory, it shifts from polemic to autobiography, book review
to panegyric); commingles praise and censure; uses multiple tones, genres,
and cultural period references; exhibits a degree of anger that is muted or
severe; and combats false or threatening orthodoxies – notably including the
prescriptive and universal presumptions of philosophy itself.

Why I Am A Destiny
The final chapter of Ecce Homo begins as the first had done, with a sentence
about Nietzsche’s future. Nietzsche describes his inevitable fame and intel-
lectual importance in world-historical terms. On the other hand, he empha-
sizes his work as an example of thinking, not a collection of ideas to follow
or reject.
I do not want ‘believers,’ I think I am too malicious to believe in myself, I
never speak to masses . . . I have a terrible fear I shall one day be pronounced
holy. One will guess why I bring out this book beforehand; it is intended to

198
Resa von Schirnhofer recalled a long conversation with Nietzsche about Stendhal in April 1884.
“Nietzsche stressed especially how Stendhal had with astounding certainty announced that he would
become famous forty years later. And in this context he remarked about his own later fame, ‘when
the time is ripe’” (Sander L. Gilman (ed.), Conversations with Nietzsche: A Life in the Words of His
Contemporaries, trans. D. J. Parent (Oxford University Press, 1987), 153).
Why I Am A Destiny 197
prevent people from making mischief with me . . . I do not want to be a saint,
rather even a buffoon . . . Perhaps I am a buffoon. And nonetheless, or rather
not nonetheless – for there has hitherto been nothing more mendacious than
saints – the truth speaks out of me. (EH 14.1)
Nietzsche entertains the possibility that he is a buffoon – why? This stock
character stands in the history of theatre as a truth-teller alienated from
society, and from an audience that finds him or her laughable. Perhaps
Nietzsche’s “world-historical irony” leads him to the buffoonery of Ecce
Homo. At the least, this admission constitutes a dropping of the mask:
Nietzsche explicitly identifies the clownishness of his would-be autobiog-
raphy.199 Operating in the tradition of the dramatic jester (recall that
Nietzsche counted Shakespeare among the profound buffoons), Nietzsche
poses as a living archetype of the knowing fool, outside the nominal world
of law and custom. This separation gives Nietzsche the detached eye, the
multivalenced perspective that marks his peculiar impartiality, so described
in the first chapter of Ecce Homo. Perhaps Nietzsche’s immoralism and
untimeliness made him a buffoon in the public eye, and so he played the
part more completely in Ecce Homo. Had Nietzsche been understood and
embraced, who knows what serious scholarship he might have perpetrated.
Instead, Nietzsche emphasizes his outsider status.
But my truth is terrible; for so far one has called lies truth. Revaluation of all
values: that is my formula for an act of supreme self-examination on the part
of humanity, become flesh and genius in me. It is my fate that I have to be
the first decent human being; that I know myself to stand in opposition to the
mendaciousness of millennia. – I was the first to discover the truth by being
the first to experience lies as lies – smelling them out. (EH 14.1)
Nietzsche’s revaluation project is endemic to self-awareness: the articulation
of unique drives and traits creates a knowing perspective from which
evaluations are made. This makes Ecce Homo a significant revaluation of
values because it marks the author’s final and most sustained attempt at self-
examination. The language is cleverly anti-Christological, posturing
Nietzsche not as the Word made flesh (as John 1.14 has it), but as an example
of self-awareness – a subjective “act” of self-seeking “become flesh.” The last
sentence underscores how truth flows not from God’s logos but from self-
inquiry. Nietzsche connects “discovering truth” (the metaphor of objective
facts that wait for appropriation) with a subjective method of inner expe-
rience. Because he experienced received truths as lies, he speaks of the

199
See the earlier discussion of EH 2.6 on the periodic glimpse behind the satirist’s mask, 94.
198 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
mendaciousness of millennia. Having established his own perspective, he
makes objective-sounding truth claims from that perspective because so-
called objective claims are no different from his own in kind. ‘Objective
truths’ are merely older, more rhetorically persuasive, and no longer peculiar
to the minds of their authors.200
Nietzsche now takes more pains to explain that he is an affirmative
philosopher. The first section of Ecce Homo’s final chapter ends with
Nietzsche’s analysis that the smashing of idols – illusory truths – is nonethe-
less in service of a yes-saying spirit. This can be put simply: to attack harmful
and negative positions is ipso facto affirmative. The section also reprises the
earlier Jesus parody (EH 12.2), “I am a bearer of glad tidings,” emphasizing that
Nietzsche’s philosophy is an ironic subversion of the Gospel. In section 2,
Nietzsche offers another formula for himself as affirmation wed to destruc-
tion, “become man.” He quotes from Thus Spoke Zarathustra concerning the
need to assail values before reforming them.
The third section of “Why I Am a Destiny” clarifies Nietzsche’s choice of
the name Zarathustra. He must explain because “I have not been asked as I
should have been asked,” a sarcastic imagining of the good readers he has
lacked (EH 14.3). This religious founder was
the first to consider the fight of good and evil the very wheel in the machinery
of things: the transposition of morality into the metaphysical realm, as a
force, cause, and end in itself, is his work. But this question itself [why
Nietzsche chose Zarathustra as his philosophical protagonist] is at bottom its
own answer. Zarathustra created this most calamitous error, morality; con-
sequently, he must also be the first to recognize it. (EH 14.3)
These remarks on Zarathustra re-emphasize several Nietzschean themes:
the admixture of decadence and health in heroic natures; history’s central
error understood as the moralizing of reality; and the need for self-scrutiny
as a means to overcome its folly. Self-knowledge – its severe limits
notwithstanding – becomes fundamental for Nietzsche because it pro-
claims our tastes, which in turn ought to generate unique values, unique
truths.
Section 4 of “Why I Am a Destiny” delineates two senses of Nietzsche as
“immoralist.” First, the descriptor negates “a type of man that has so far

200
E.g., someone invented the idea of sin, a subjective truth scribbled or talked about among a small
number of (newly sinful) people. How did this subjective truth become received as truth in a given
culture except by having its origin forgotten, denied, and erased? Nietzsche’s unique truths may
become truth conventionally understood when people experience the value, usefulness, cogency or
beauty of his metaphors and epistemic models. If not, of course, ideas die out.
Why I Am A Destiny 199
been considered supreme: the good, the benevolent, the beneficent.” But
the word also negates “a type of morality that has become prevalent and
predominant as morality itself – the morality of decadence or, more con-
cretely, Christian morality” (EH 14.4). Nietzsche adds a third sense to the
word in section 6: a rising above morality, to suggest that Christianity is
below him. And in section 7, he alludes to being an immoralist again: “I
needed a word that had the meaning of a provocation for everyone” (EH
14.7). Nietzsche stakes his identity and self-understanding on an agonistic
epithet set against the decadence of metaphysical morality. These remarks
demonstrate how thoughtfully Nietzsche makes rhetorical decisions, and
how he considers their affective consequences.
Section 4 continues with a critique of “petty happiness” and the excres-
cent “optimism . . . of the homines optimi” – of the ‘best’ people. To consider
“distress of all kinds as an objection, as something that must be abolished” is
“the niaiserie par excellence,” a “real disaster in its consequences” (EH 14.4).
Nietzsche uses the French term for folly, and builds his critique of the moral
man in the Christian sense around a specific proposition: “To estimate what
a type of man is worth, one must calculate the price paid for his preserva-
tion – one must know the conditions of his existence” (EH 14.4). When
Nietzsche turns to the “good man,” he judges his cost to culture as too high.
Such a type lies unconsciously, being “almost as stupid as [one who]
would . . . desire to abolish bad weather – say, from pity for poor people”
(EH 14.4). The idealist is an unhealthy anomaly in nature, too, by paying so
little attention to one’s physical surroundings. “In the great economy of the
whole, the terrible aspects of reality (in affects, in desires, in the will to
power) are to an incalculable degree more necessary than that form of petty
happiness which people call ‘goodness’; one actually has to be quite lenient
to accord the latter any place at all, considering that it presupposes an
instinctive mendaciousness” (EH 14.4).
But “more necessary” for what? we might ask. More necessary, Nietzsche
answers, for maintaining our sense that existence has not been “robbed of its
great character” (EH 14.4), that is, its ambiguity and uncanny complexity.
You might (not quite) jokingly describe Nietzsche’s position as follows: the
good make the world less poetic, not only because they lyingly reduce its
unfathomable nature to a bathetic battle of Good versus Evil, but because
they deaden the urge to create worlds and other visions of the human.
By Nietzsche’s analysis, decadent moralists salt the ground of the curious
mind, the ground of art and culture, out of a misplaced fear that creative
demands weaken us, and because cultural achievement endangers the
controlling power of Christianity to provide human meaning. In the
200 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
image of its own spiritual, ascetic ideals, Christianity seeks “to castrate
humanity” (EH 14.4). Nietzsche ends section 4 by once more plying himself
as a different kind of Christ figure: “The good are unable to create; they are
always the beginning of the end; they crucify him who writes new values on
new tablets; they sacrifice the future to themselves – they sacrifice all man’s
future” (EH 14.4).
Section 5 characterizes Zarathustra as an anti-ideal; Nietzsche calls him
“the first psychologist of the good . . . consequently – a friend of the evil”
(EH 14.5). Nietzsche then laments the moral man’s attempt to monopolize
truth, and shudders at what has hitherto been considered mankind’s “best.”
He puts Zarathustra (as himself) up against this model. Nietzsche’s ideal is
someone who “conceives reality as it is, being strong enough to do so; this
type is not estranged or removed from reality but is reality itself and
exemplifies all that is terrible and questionable in it – only in that way can
man attain greatness” (EH 14.5).
Nietzsche’s heroic and truth-telling conception of greatness rests on the
dangerous practice of looking as often as possible into the existential abyss.
To survive such vistas, Nietzsche sets his affirmative models of interpreta-
tion against their seeming kin but actual opposite, the decadent optimist
who seeks happy goodness and gentle peacefulness – but denies the abyss.
And in place of proofs for his position, Nietzsche exemplifies his philoso-
phy: he “became what he is” by courage in the face of his own terrible
truths.201
Nietzsche claims in section 6 to be the first philosopher who is a genuine
psychologist. But this made for fear and temptation. “To be first here may
be a curse; it is at any rate a destiny: for one is also the first to despise. – Nausea
at man is my danger” (EH 14.6). Nietzsche underlines what he had iden-
tified in The Birth of Tragedy as the principal motivation for his philosophy:
the attempt to overcome pessimism with eyes open. The profound cynicism
toward the human that emerges from his psychological analyses helps form
the narrative drama of Thus Spoke Zarathustra: much of the protagonist’s
thinking builds toward a confrontation with his “abysmal thought,” disgust
at humanity. The disgust looms even larger in light of the eternal recurrence
that would affirmatively seal human folly in an endless cycle.

201
Of course Nietzsche does not praise truth per se. That would be a piece of idealism, in the manner of
Plato, science, or Christianity. Instead, by saying “only in that way can man attain greatness” (at the
end of EH 14.5), he makes the pursuit of truth an instrumental, not intrinsic good. (In GM 3.27, he
notes the irony of Christianity’s insistence on truthfulness: it turned Christianity against itself.)
Why I Am A Destiny 201
Nietzsche connects knowledge to nihilism in section 6, making plain
why most people feel the urgent need for the lie – for some idealism set
against nihilism. And really, does Nietzsche escape the charge himself?
Nietzsche construes his affirmative teachings as contraries to decadent,
moralizing, ultimately defeatist ones; perhaps they even depend upon the
distinction. But that Nietzsche’s ideals differ in kind from other ideals, as he
proclaims, is more dubious. The Nietzschean rejoinder is twofold: the mark
of value in human life is striving – having the courage to face as much truth
as possible, not telling nothing but truths (“Wisdom sets limits even to
knowledge,” TI 1.5); and second, we can make innumerable distinctions
among types of lies and types of ideals, based on their character: What is
their source, their nature, their intent, their outcome? Nietzsche’s critiques
are fundamentally psychological. “What horrifies me when I look at
[Christian] morality is not the error as an error . . . it is the absence of
nature, the horrible state of affairs where anti-nature itself has been given the
highest honor as morality” (EH 14.6). Nietzsche means to evaluate and feel
differently, not deliver a timeless, replacement truth. This accords with my
contention that Nietzsche’s corpus constitutes a sustained satire of philos-
ophy itself, because nowhere does Nietzsche build a rationally complete
account of anything. “I mistrust all systematizers and avoid them. The will
to a system is a lack of integrity” (TI 1.26); this aphorism captures his
cynicism toward traditional philosophy.
Section 7 of Ecce Homo’s final chapter asks the reader: “Have I been
understood?” (EH 14.7). Nietzsche then elaborates on the axiological crimes
of Christianity, characterized as an attack on life’s fundamental instincts.
He gives several examples, illuminating his own counter-ethos in so
doing.202 Christian morality “taught people to hate the very instincts of
life; that a ‘soul,’ a ‘spirit,’ was invented to disgrace the body; the fact that
people were taught that there is something unclean about sexuality, the
presupposition of life” (EH 14.7). Further, Christian morality “looks for the
evil principle in what is most profoundly necessary for growth, in severe self-
love (this very word constitutes slander); that, conversely, one regards the
typical signs of decline and contradiction of the instincts, the ‘selfless,’ the
loss of a center of gravity, ‘depersonalization’ and ‘neighbor love’ (addiction
to the neighbor) as the higher value – what am I saying? – the absolute

202
Nietzsche offers a rare caveat. “There remains the possibility here that humanity is not what is in
degeneration, only that parasitical type of human, priests, who, with their morality, have lied
themselves into the position of determining values, – who see Christian morality as their means of
wielding power” (EH 14.1).
202 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
value!” (EH 14.7). Ecce Homo constitutes a vigorous campaign for self-love,
then, and promotes the value of self-seeking for a personal taste because this
allows us to grow and thrive. This makes Ecce Homo profoundly immoral by
Christian criteria, as Nietzsche understands them, and “good tidings” in
Dionysian ones. As self-celebratory and consciously selfish, Ecce Homo
testifies to the ‘immoral’ preconditions for creative vitality like no other
book in Nietzsche’s corpus. And the work’s attention to Nietzsche’s phys-
ical circumstances and health puts Ecce Homo beyond good and evil not just
intellectually, but practically. Its strangeness as philosophy stems from
several features, but the customary judgment against its ‘extreme egoism’
disguises a Christian value of millennia: humble selflessness. Ecce Homo still
startles us by personalizing wisdom and celebrating its author. No ancient
Greek or Roman satirist would even blink.
Section 8 begins as 7 did: “Have I been understood?” Nietzsche describes
the uncovering of Christian morality as the destiny of one who splits history
in two. “One lives before him, or one lives after him” (EH 14.8) – another
Christ allusion by way of time’s reckoning.
Nietzsche then turns to characterize his work overall: it has been,
essentially, an analysis of value. “Whoever uncovers morality also uncovers
the disvalue of all values that are and have been believed” (EH 14.8). He
points to the source of a value as the key to its understanding. The para-
mount question is not simply, What is being valued? but Who is valuating?
What is the perspective whence, what is the reason for? Morality intends to
preclude such questions by its universal form. Life beyond good and evil
demands that we answer them for ourselves: a dangerous and difficult
prospect. But such a life holds the promise of genuine human flourishing –
on our own, human terms.
Nietzsche concludes the eighth section of Ecce Homo with such presto
that I breathe faster when reading it. Its sustained rhythmic castigation of
moral terms and their underpinnings views morality as weakening the
adherent and taking attention away from the self and one’s actual needs.
“The concept of the ‘beyond,’ the ‘true world,’ invented to devalue the only
world there is, – to deprive our earthly reality of any goal, reason or task . . .
to oppose with a ghastly levity everything that deserves to be taken seriously
in life, the questions of nourishment, abode, spiritual diet, treatment of the
sick, cleanliness, weather!” (EH 14.8). Echoing the discussion in “Why I Am
So Clever” (EH 3.10), Nietzsche unifies Ecce Homo in this penultimate
section by reiterating the “little things” – details critical to an individual’s
lifelong economy. He decries the lie of free will and sin, counting them
concepts that make “mistrust of the instincts second nature.” The ‘good
Why I Am A Destiny 203
man’ now signifies “all that is weak, sick, failure, suffering of itself” while the
“proud and well-turned-out human being who says Yes . . . is now called
evil ” (EH 14.8). Nietzsche completes the polemic by alluding to Voltaire’s
call to “crush the infamy” of the Christian church: “And all this was
believed, as morality! – Écrasez l’infâme!” (EH 14.8).
Two sentences before the end of Ecce Homo, Nietzsche refers to himself
as “the man certain of the future and guaranteeing the future” (EH 14.8).
Like the first words of Ecce Homo’s foreword, the remark situates
Nietzsche’s last book beyond itself and its author. “Perhaps it is just a
prejudice that I am living at all?” (EH Foreword 1).203
The ninth and final section of Ecce Homo’s last chapter is one line. “Have
I been understood? – Dionysus versus the Crucified ” (EH 14.9).
Nietzsche’s epigram serves several clear ends. It identifies his conception
of battle: his effort to rid humanity of moral terms in order to live by a
spiritualized, all-affirming fatefulness. And it shows Nietzsche living both
kinds of life in full self-possession: satyr and saint, holy immoralist and
sacrificial annihilator. And as we saw in Nietzsche’s preface to Human, All
Too Human (Second Preface 4), such antitheses are endemic to Nietzsche’s
own psyche; they mark the terrain of his self-overcoming. Hence, “Dionysus
versus the Crucified ” not only stands as a statement of value, principle, and
intention, but identifies the living nature of Nietzsche’s own psyche.204 The
scriptural allusions also increase in this final chapter; the mantra that opens
each of the final three chapters – “Have I been understood?” (EH 14.7, 14.8,
14.9) – may be Nietzsche’s own cockcrow and the sound of incipient
tragedy. Or one more parodic inversion of “the crucified.” Or best yet (as
he had wished for Wagner’s last opera only a year before), Nietzsche’s
theatrical closing formula functions as Ecce Homo’s final self-satire, a “par-
ody of the tragic itself” (GM 3.3) – for surely no one can take such dramatic
slogans seriously in a satyr play, in this autobiographical satire of
philosophy.
The epigram further unifies the book from title to end page as a literally
fantastic piece of literary extravagance: Nietzsche as ironic anti-Christ at the
moment of presentation – ecce homo – awaiting our transformative judg-
ment or a Dionysian dismemberment. In one myth of the god, Dionysus is
caught by the Titans and torn to pieces when he pauses to look at his own

203
Nietzsche may be alluding as well to myths about Dionysus’ addled “double birth.”
204
Drawing on a remark by Meta von Salis, P. E. More attributes “the attraction . . . of [Nietzsche’s]
works for the modern world” to their author’s situation as “a man terribly at war with himself” over
the extent of his sympathetic feelings toward others as against the danger of these feelings (Nietzsche
(New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1912), 19).
204 Ecce Homo as satire: analysis and commentary
image. In Ecce Homo’s first chapter, Nietzsche had said, apropos of nothing,
that “while I am writing this, the postman brings me a Dionysus head,” an
obvious image of dismemberment (EH 1.4). That Ecce Homo displays this
circular form from title to final sentence might remind us not only of eternal
recurrence but of another satiric form, the picaresque, in which a rogue or
misfit – too intelligent for his station in life – “receives cruel blows of fate
but gives as good as he gets” (as Hodgart observes), while taking “an amoral,
cynical view of life.” The circular form of the picaresque, moreover, “is the
satiric equivalent of tragic fate.”205
In another version of the Greek myth, Dionysus is enthralled by the
attempt at self-representation, and the god’s pursuers trap his anima in a
mirror. Nietzsche has caught himself in the dangerous rush of self-
reflection, too. And we are his pursuers.

205
Hodgart, Satire, 218, 221.
part iii
What is the significance of Ecce Homo?
Conclusion

How do we react to pain and loss? We turn most often to ways of thinking
that justify and explain our distress, ways that console and give comfort.
What if our suffering continues and deepens? What if the familiar ways of
thinking fail to heal us? What if they come to feel not only ineffective, but
injurious? And what if untold human energy and hope were invested in
these ways of thinking over centuries, and cultures grew to school us in
exactly the wrong ways to react and think about human affliction? What if
these ways were called the flowers of the human spirit: philosophy, religion,
and science?
Nietzsche was confronted as a young person with two persistent experi-
ences: intense emotional and physical pain, and the failure of any known
school of thought to heal him. The pain continued throughout his life, but
he invented a new way of thinking about it.
Ecce Homo is the story of how Nietzsche solved the problem of human
suffering for himself. The problem was solved by returning to an ancient
conception of philosophy as a matter of taste, of selection, of seeking out the
beneficial in the details of life. “The Greeks, who were very subtle in such
things, designated the wise man with a word that signifies the man of taste,
and called wisdom, artistic and practical as well as theoretical and intellec-
tual, simply ‘taste’ (sophia)” (HH 2.1.170). Ecce Homo understands
Nietzsche’s own philosophy as the cultivation of good taste. And his good
taste transformed pain into a worthy life. Nietzsche writes that he has
“turned out well” because he is the sort of person who “has a taste only
for what is good for him; his pleasure, his joy ceases where the measure of
what is good for him is overstepped” (EH 1.2).
But becoming tasteful is no easy task, because the dominant ways of
thinking about how to live are prescriptive and universal: they advise,
persuade, or force us into ways of life without reference to individual
difference.
207
208 Conclusion
Let us consider finally what naïveté it is to say ‘man ought to be thus and
thus!’ Reality shows us an enchanting wealth of types, the luxuriance of a
prodigal play and change of forms: and does some pitiful journeyman
moralist say at the sight of it: ‘No! man ought to be different’? . . . He even
knows how man ought to be, this bigoted wretch; he paints himself on
the wall and says ‘ecce homo’! . . . But even when the moralist merely turns to
the individual and says to him: ‘You ought to be thus and thus’ he does not
cease to make himself ridiculous. (TI 5.6)
Like most of us, Nietzsche was subject to an unheavenly host of advice
about what he ought to do in order to live a good human life – in particular
as a Lutheran, a schoolboy, a soldier, a scholar, a thinker, and as a solitary
man. He got advice about how to manage his health, his love, his money.
When he did not know himself, he swallowed much of this advice, and it
did not sit well. “In actual fact, till my most mature years I always ate badly –
in moral terms, ‘impersonally,’ ‘selflessly,’ ‘altruistically,’ for the good of
cooks and other fellow-Christians” (EH 2.1). Over time, however, Nietzsche
became the man he was by learning how to react to stimuli wisely, to say yes
and no at the right time, in accord with his own taste. Such a person can
turn out well because he “instinctively collects together his sum: he is a
principle of selection, he rejects much” (EH 2.1).
Thus Ecce Homo explains Nietzsche’s rejection of Christianity and most
of philosophy in a radically simple manner: these ways of thinking are in bad
taste. They teach us to eat without thought of our own diet, so they cannot
bring out the best in us.
The other part of Nietzsche’s tasteful wisdom is how to think about the
past. Again this question calls for uniquely calibrated selection. A wise
person “does not believe in ‘bad luck’ or ‘guilt’: he comes to terms with
himself and with others, he knows how to forget, – he is strong enough that
everything has to turn out best for him” (EH 2.1). Like Odysseus, the wisely
strong person will find a way to achieve that difficult and cherished home-
coming – in spite of a harrowing, agonized past. But in this case, Nietzsche
must be the poet who sings of his own travails.
And so, when Nietzsche writes that “I will tell myself the story of my life”
in the second foreword to Ecce Homo, we know that he will tell that story
with peculiar care, because his well-being depends on it. What will he
remember, what will he forget, and how will he view his neglected books,
lost love, and a painful, lonely life? Ecce Homo also understands Nietzsche’s
challenge as a set of sharp inner tensions that he must somehow acknowl-
edge, express, or integrate: Dionysus and the Crucified (14.9), decadence
and its opposite (1.2), ascetic withdrawal from and affirmation of life
Conclusion 209
(3.8, 3.10), sickness and health (1.1), ressentiment and gratitude (1.6; “On this
perfect day”), pity and living free of pity (1.4), gravity and playfulness (3.10),
warrior and victim (1.7, 1.4), saint and satyr (Foreword 2).
Satire is the instrument of Nietzsche’s wisdom. Satire enabled him to
embrace the antagonistic couplings of his own nature, the inner tensions
that both animated and wracked his being. Satire also allowed him a
rapprochement with the dark truths of his own existence, preserving a
necessary psychic distance through humor, and leavening the weight of
his many burdens. Ecce Homo is the culmination of Nietzsche’s effort to
unify his taste, life, and work, and its jovial malice aligns a hard-won
wisdom with laughter – as Nietzsche had long sought to do.1 In a letter to
his professor Erwin Rohde when Nietzsche was twenty-five years old, he
wrote that a presentation he gave on ancient satire had gone well, but
academic success and his newly secured professorship caused in him “the
mixed feeling of a bridegroom to be, joy and annoyance, humor, γένος
σπουδογέλοιον, Menippus!”2 The Greek phrase characterizes Nietzsche’s
humor as “the spoudogelion type.” Derived from Menippean satire, the
spoudogelion is another form of literary satire that mixes jokes and serious
matters together. Nietzsche had been thinking about laughter and wisdom
for over twenty years when he came to write Ecce Homo, and his corpus in
the meantime bears out this lifelong concern.
Satire became Nietzsche’s perfect means to reform philosophy. Like the
ancient satirist Lucian who wrote that it was not philosophy he reviled, “but
some imposters who practiced vile arts in [her] name,”3 Nietzsche’s love and
pursuit of philosophy spurred him to ridicule her imposters from anger at
how they failed him. But Nietzsche does not attack traditional philosophy
with the lifeless tools of argument, but with the stinging felicity of satire: by
hyperbole, by irony, by mockery. He cannot be dispassionate about his
love.
Finally, Ecce Homo underlines how Nietzsche created a philosophy that
sought to create particular feelings, not prove new doctrines. Nietzsche

1
Nietzsche wished to see “the comedy of existence” come into view (GS 1), and strove for the day when
laughter and wisdom would be unified (Z 4.13.16–20). And he understood the critical and subversive
power of humor. The “ascetic ideal has at present only one kind of real enemy capable of harming it: the
comedians of this ideal” (GM 3, 27). Nietzsche further hoped that “as laughers, you may some day
dispatch with all metaphysical comforts to the devil – metaphysics in front” (BT Preface 7). And once
more in the affirmative vein, he writes that perhaps in “the heights of the highest nonsense” we shall
“discover the realm of our invention, that realm in which we, too, can still be original, say, as parodists
of world history and God’s buffoons – perhaps even if nothing else today has any future, our laughter
may yet have a future” (BGE 223).
2
Letter of 9 November 1868 (KGB 1.2.599). 3 Works of Lucian, vol. i, 213.
210 Conclusion
speaks throughout Ecce Homo about pathos and feelings: “my philosophy
has taken up the struggle against the feelings of revengefulness and vindic-
tiveness” (1.5), he favors his own “aggressive pathos” (1.7), speaks ironically
against the “pathos of poses” (2.10), views his writing style as a nuanced way
to convey feeling (3.4), and seeks with the whole of Ecce Homo to describe
his inner tension of saint and satyr in a “cheerful and philanthropic manner”
(Foreword 2). But the highest goal in the realm of feelings is to achieve “the
affirmative pathos par excellence, which I call the tragic pathos” (9.1).
Why is Ecce Homo so concerned with feelings? Because feelings are
critical to living well. What system of thought, what psychology, what
genuine philosophy would ignore human feeling and purport to be wise?
Nietzsche knew all too well that feelings can ruin us, can make living well
impossible. They can also make life worth living. A practical philosophy of
life will include thoughts about how to create and communicate feelings
from which we can learn, and learn to feel well. “To communicate a state, an
inward tension of pathos, by means of signs, including the tempo of these
signs – that is the meaning of every style” (EH 3.4). Ecce Homo reveals how
Nietzsche writes to convey his inner pathos to us through a style designed,
not to convince us in the manner of traditional philosophy, but to inspire us
to feel about things in new ways to our benefit: from disgust at the ugly to
love of the beautiful and an infinitude of pathos in between.
Nietzsche’s writing inspires us to a better life of feeling when the reader
can share in what Nietzsche feels. As Nietzsche read himself into remarks
originally about Wagner in Untimely Meditations (EH 5.3), so we are in a
position to understand Nietzsche’s purpose as the writer of Ecce Homo,
substituting Nietzsche’s name for Wagner’s in what follows. Thus
Nietzsche’s books “are attempts to comprehend the instinct which impelled
him to create his works, and as it were to set himself before his own eyes.”
If Nietzsche “can only manage to transform his instinct into knowledge,
he hopes the reverse process will take place within the souls of his readers”
(UM 4.10).
Nietzsche comprehended the instinct which impelled him to create: his
suffering and pain required a practical philosophy of good taste – wisdom in
choosing the pragmatic details of everyday life – and required as well a
vibrant feeling of affirmation, even in the face of desolation. His literary style
accomplished these things by satirizing philosophy and its lame attempts to
heal us: debunking decadent systems of thought and inspiring readers to feel
how things could be different. If we can transform the self-knowledge and
cheerfulness conveyed by Ecce Homo into our own instinct for life, then we
might share in the practical renewal of philosophy.
Conclusion 211
What is the significance of reading Nietzsche as a satirist? Aside from
enabling us to understand, explain, and enjoy Ecce Homo, reading Nietzsche
as a satirist throughout his corpus (my modest proposal) could have three
simple results. First, we might study and embrace the wit and rhetorical
nuance of his books as integral to his philosophy, instead of isolating his
doctrines; second, we could see Nietzsche’s literary style as a strategic,
protective, and indispensable choice for his philosophic project: the facing
of dangerous truths, and the means to survive them; and third, we could
appreciate how Ecce Homo unifies Nietzsche’s corpus as a satire of Western
philosophy. Nietzsche does not write philosophy, he writes a travesty of
philosophy that shows how our discipline has gone astray by universalizing
its prescriptions and by denigrating our emotions. Nietzsche writes philo-
sophical satire as several ancient satirists did: against philosophy, out of love
for philosophy. Thus Nietzsche is not a philosopher; he is a satirist of
philosophy. And satirizing philosophy constitutes his genuine pursuit of
wisdom.
Ecce Homo recasts Nietzsche’s corpus in its own image. We find a self-
examining, funny, spiritually selfish, recuperative, angry, and skylarking
book that expresses good cheer and an encompassing gratitude – all in the
face of personally dismal stimuli. And Nietzsche shows us how to read his
previous works in the same way. On the other hand, as its doubling title
intimates, Ecce Homo displays Nietzsche the sufferer, an isolated man with a
flash in the eye, eager to shape his legacy and satisfy a sacrificial lust for fame.
Yet Nietzsche’s higher cynicism toward Ecce Homo’s autobiographical
project does, after all, bring comedy to the hallowed halls of the wise. Its
tone is unique, fiercely witty, uncanny.
In the end, Nietzsche could bear more truth than most of us. He grasped
the terrifying danger of God’s death, our precarious place in the world, and
the nihilistic prospects of a semiotic sea without horizon. He also faced his
own life of neglect, pain, and loss. But he fashioned an effective response.
Satire made all of his philosophic art possible, because he learned to write by
the dictum of his Roman hero Horace: ridendo dicere severum – say what is
grave by laughing.
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Aaron Ridley, trans. Judith Norman. Cambridge University Press, 2005.
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Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality, trans. R. J. Hollingdale.
Cambridge University Press, 1982.
Dithyrambs of Dionysus, trans. R. J. Hollingdale. Redding Ridge, CT: Black Swan
Books, 1984.
Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is, trans. R. J. Hollingdale. Corrected edn.
London: Penguin, 1992.
Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is, trans. Duncan Large. Oxford
University Press, 2007.
The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1974.
The Gay Science: With a Prelude in German Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs, ed.
Bernard Williams, trans. Josefine Nauckhoff. Cambridge University Press,
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Index

Note: Because the book concerns Nietzsche’s last original composition and its satiric nature, there exists
no heading for Ecce Homo, nor will you find the entry, “Satire, Ecce Homo and,” as this would run to
scores of citations. Second, for a similar reason, there exists no heading for Nietzsche himself. Finally,
although each of his individual books has a complete entry, you will find Ecce Homo sections devoted to
Nietzsche’s books more readily by consulting the Contents page.

Numbers in italics refer to footnotes.

affirmation, 15, 58, 123, 165, 210 organization of thought done unconsciously
yes-saying, 60, 123, 148, 164, 198 by, 96–97
Altieri, Charles, 10, 61 soul and, 66, 79, 107
amor fati, 15–16, 16, 78, 81, 100, 190 books
ancestry jokes as objects of analysis, 18
Polish, 67, 69 legacy consisting of, 48, 58, 195
Swiss, 68 recreation and, 91
animals, 108 Brandes, Georg, 23, 25, 75
Antichrist, The, 39, 41, 43, 77 Braun, Richard, 104
antitheses, 138 Breazeale, Daniel, 5
Nietzsche’s psyche and, 50–51, 59, 65, 174, 203, 208 Brobjer, Thomas H., 24, 88, 91
Aristophanes, 16, 65, 66, 92 brother (Joseph), Nietzsche’s, 70
Arrowsmith, William, 91 Buddha, 79
art, 43, 120–22, 132, 138, 189 buffoon, Nietzsche as, 197, 209
literature and, 93, 110 Burkert, Walter, 155
need for, 166
Augustine, St., 63–64 Calasso, Roberto, 2
autobiography, parody of, 169–70 Case of Wagner, The, 68, 188–95
Cate, Curtis, 5
Bakhtin, Mikhail, 29–32, 32, 86, 93 Chamberlain, Lesley, 11
becoming and Being, 46–47, 117, 117 cheerfulness, 51, 51, 166, 192
Beyond Good and Evil, 20, 40, 72, 74, 77, 92, Christianity, 104, 151, 151, 199
105–07, 111–12, 122, 148, 150, 178–79, 209 crimes of, 201
Bible Circe, 157–64
New Testament, 39, 178, 197 classics, Nietzsche’s knowledge of, 23, 72
Old Testament, 50, 126 climate and place, 24, 89–90
Birth of Tragedy, The, 20, 62, 75, 114–24, 118, 209 comedy, 20, 171, 178, 211
body comic, the, 20
inspiration located in, 173 understood as, 34
mind and, 66, 99 contest (agon), 82–83
nutrition, diet, digestion, and metabolism of Conway, Daniel, 16–17, 180
considered as thinking, soul, spirit, 79, Cornford, Francis M. 29
87–90, 101 cynicism, 104–08

222
Index 223
Danto, Arthur, 18 Haase, Marie-Luise, 6
Daybreak, 72, 88, 147–64, 186 happiness, 199
decadence, 14, 61, 71, 80, 83 Harrison, Jane Ellen, 155
defined as, 71 Harrison, Robert P., 10, 61
Socratic, 62 Harrison, Thomas, 10, 61
Del Caro, Adrian, 10 Hatab, Lawrence J., 51, 178, 180
Deleuze, Gilles, 137 Hayman, Ronald, 13
Derrida, Jacques, 9–10, 61 health, 99
Dionysian Dithyrambs, 176 philosophy as a will to, 65
Dionysus, 52, 191, 203–04 thinking and, 66
idea of the Dionysian, 32, 92, 115, 174 Hegel, G. W. F., 44, 73
D’Iorio, Paolo, 15 Heidegger, Martin, 9, 9
doctrines, 147 Heine, Heinrich, 43, 65, 74, 88, 93
contrast to living philosophy, 54 hero, 55, 56, 76, 77, 83, 91, 92
parodies of, 187 Nietzsche as, 170
status and purpose of, 69, 117, 148 Higgins, Kathleen, 103, 103, 112
Domino, Brian, 69 Hodgart, Matthew, 27, 52, 53, 82, 90, 204
Dostoevsky, Fyodor, 96, 170, 171 Hollingdale, R. J., 5, 13, 18, 73, 98, 186
Doueihi, Milad, 10, 61 Horace, 30, 110, 188, 192
Dryden, John, 30, 53 Human, All Too Human, 29, 41, 66, 73, 128–47, 207
Hutcheon, Linda, 13, 70, 110, 113, 132
egoism, 110–11, 202 hyperbole, 5, 16, 63
Elliott, R.C., 28, 105
Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 40 ideal, ascetic, 182–83
emotion, 71 illness, 72, 81
feelings, 78, 79, 80, 132, 209, 210 gains from, 61–63, 130
pathos, 12, 51, 71, 82, 109, 117, 177 immodesty, 16, 29
revengefulness, vindictiveness, 80–81 immoralist, Nietzsche as, 198–99
eternal recurrence, 11, 12, 15, 175, 188 insanity, 4, 4, 5, 13, 17
excellence (areté), 104, 174 madness, 12
exercise, physical, 89 mental illness, 5
waning mental health, 4
fame, 29, 75–76, 126, 169, 194, 196, 196 interpretation, 177, 191–92
fate and fatalism, 16, 46, 46, 78, 81, 115, 189 art of, 109–10, 177
father (Carl Ludwig), Nietzsche’s, 59, Irigaray, Luce, 117, 163
59, 130
free spirit, the, 134–36 Janaway, Christopher, 180
free will, 16, 81, 189 Jesus, 41–42, 43, 81
Freud, Sigmund, 13 Johnson, Dirk R., 6, 180
Frey-Rohn, Liliane, 13
Frisch, Shelley, 69 Kant, Immanuel, 74, 74, 152, 193
Frye, Northrop, 30–31, 32, 43 Kaufmann, Walter, 18, 44
Klossowski, Pierre, 9, 61, 172
Gasché, Rodolphe, 10, 61 Koestler, Arthur, 90
Gay Science, The, 20, 41, 43–45, 46, 47, 66, 69, 74, Kofman, Sarah, 10–12, 12, 61, 69
112, 166, 169, 186, 209 Köselitz, Heinrich, 3
Gemes, Ken, 180 Krell, David Farrell, 10, 61
Germany, culture of, 125, 192–95
God, 87, 153, 179 Large, Duncan, 11, 16
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 40, 185 La Rochefoucauld, François, 64, 65, 100
gratitude, 57–59, 62, 77, 135 laughter, 20, 93, 122, 124, 178
Graybeal, Jean, 61 Layton, Max Reuben, 18
greatness, 200 Lefkowitz, Mary, 161
Griffin, Dustin, 30, 30, 54, 117 Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm, 68, 128
Guilhamet, Leon, 30, 33, 43, 59 Leiter, Brian, 16
224 Index
Lichtenberg, Georg, 48 philosophy
little things (of life), 137, 173, 202 artifice of, 120
defense of Ecce Homo’s focus on, 98 self-healing, 65, 85
Lucian, 32, 179, 209 self-reflection as, 127
Ludovici, Anthony, 4 states of the body transposed as, 165
Luther, Martin, 86, 153 subjects of inverted, 98–99
temptation to decadence of, 83
Magnus, Bernd, 7, 7 transfigured experience as, 102, 138–40
Marx, Karl, 74 Philoxenus of Cythera, 175
megalomania, 5, 54, 86 Pilate, Pontius, 41, 41, 81
Menippus, 31, 105 Pindar, 44
Meyer, Matthew, 16 pity, 71, 76
misanthropy, 83–84, 200 Plato, 54, 105
Montaigne, Michel de, 99, 170 Pletsch, Carl, 12
morality prefaces, 23, 25, 25, 113–14, 138
Christian, 79–80, 82, 86, 112, 199, 201, 203 Birth of Tragedy, The, new, 118–22
interpretation by means of, 116 Daybreak, new, 152–64
skepticism toward, 43, 122, 147, 152 function, 167
universalism in, 54, 56, 88 Gay Science, The, new, 165–68
More, P.E., 203 Human, All Too Human, new, 132–42
mother (Franziska), Nietzsche’s, 4, 12, 59–61, 67 psychology, 110
music, 191 Christianity’s inner, 182
conscience and, 182
nationalism, 193 critiques of morality and, 201
Nehamas, Alexander, 14–15, 61 Genealogy’s essays and, 183
Nietzsche Contra Wagner, 165, 177 philosophy and, 200
Nimis, Stephen, 59, 64 self-projection on to Paul Rée, 131
notebooks (Nachlaß), 6–7, 7, 9, 14, 18 self-projection on to Wagner and
nutrition, 88 Schopenhauer, 126–27, 128
diet, 89 publishing, troubles of Nietzsche with, 24–26
thinking and, 88
readers
Odysseus, 158–64 attitude toward, 82
On the Genealogy of Morals, 69, 70, 179–83, 203 dearth of, 28, 48
order of rank, 136–37 misunderstanding by, 28, 101–02, 194
Overbeck, Franz, 3 perfect, 108
overman, 175, 187 reason, faith in, 62, 115, 153
Owen, David, 180 Rée, Paul, 131, 169
Relihan, Joel C., 32, 59, 64, 84, 92, 105
Parker, David, 149 ressentiment, 12, 77–80
parody, 13, 16, 110, 168 retrospection, 47, 97, 136, 156
fantasy and, 27, 28 past shaped by, 144–47
involuntary, 171 revaluation, 47, 63, 65, 79, 111, 148–50, 178
philosophy the object of, 28, 172 self-examination and, 197–98
self, 17, 83, 124, 168, 173 Reyburn, H.A., 177
understood as, 33 riddle, Nietzsche’s descent and, 59–61
Pausanias, 155, 157, 164 Ridley, Aaron, 5, 15–16
Persius, 104
perspectivism, 15, 67, 150, 187 Safranski, Rüdiger, 5, 13, 69, 73
pessimism, 14, 62, 65, 85, 118, 135, 142 Salomé, Lou, 169, 173
German, 153 Samuel, Richard, 13
ideals as signs of, 117 satire
philosophy and overcoming, 200 aphoristic style and, 82
Petronius, 34, 66, 91, 178 autobiography as object of, 70
The Satyricon, 92–93 case in summary for Ecce Homo as, 195–96
Index 225
definition by tradition, 27 Tanner, Michael, 16
etymology of, 52 taste, 66
food and, 88–89, 187 control of stimuli and, 96
Jesus the object of, 41–42, 185–86 self-defense and, 95–96
mixture of literary forms as, 52 subject of philosophy, 98
morality and, 30, 52–53, 54 wisdom as, 14, 66, 96
Nietzsche himself the object of, 29, 192, 203 Thomas, Douglas, 19
Nietzsche’s corpus as, 172 Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 45, 50, 55, 56, 103,
Nietzsche’s objects of, 28 168–78, 209
philosophic method as, 32, 33 tragedy, 16, 117, 150
philosophy the object of, 3, 89, 152, 201, 203, 211 Trophonios, 154–57
protection afforded by, 28, 55, 61, 70 truth, 14, 54, 55
purpose of, 50, 53, 116, 209 advantage rhetorically of, 187
relation to irony, comedy, and parody, 33–34 courage required to face, 55
sanctioned mocking function and, 53 dangers of, 51, 54, 55, 75
similar and different from philosophy, 27 death of a, 185
techniques of, 27, 31–32, 49, 84, 127, 195 decisions about, 185
theories of, 27–35 objective claims and, 198
unreliable narrator and, 64 Twilight of the Idols, 6, 40, 42, 47, 51,
satirist, Nietzsche as, 19, 28, 35, 211 74, 85, 115, 117, 118, 176, 184–88,
satyr, 16, 50, 52, 92, 106 201, 208
Schacht, Richard, 66, 113
Schain, Richard, 72 unity, 82, 120, 132, 189
scholarship Nietzsche provides for his corpus, 19, 23, 117,
decadence of, 95 121, 132, 177, 192
doctrines’ as against books’ importance to, 6, signs of in Nietzsche’s work, 26
18, 147 Untimely Meditations, 44, 45–46, 69, 125–28,
Ecce Homo and, 4, 8–18 175, 210
penchant for literal reading of Nietzsch