We can divide Nietzsche’s life into four phases:

Phase 1: 1844 (birth) to 1869 (became a professor of classical philology at the University of Basle)

  • Nietzsche received a tough classical education in Pforta secondary school.
  • He then had an excellent academic career at the Universit of Bonn then Leipzig
  • He became a professor at the age of 24.
  • He taught Greek philology for ten years. He struggled because of workload and lectures.
  • He knew that philology was not his calling, but he embraced it because it welcomed him. Through philology, he read Greek authors:
    • tragedians (Aeschylus, Sophocles)
    • poets (Homer, Hesiod)
    • philosophers (Heraclitus, Anaximander)
    • historians (especially Diogenes Laertius)
  • He was attracted to music at an early age but later fascinated by philosophy.

Phase 2: 1869 to 1979

  • This was a time when Nietzsche experienced numerous troubles in different areas of his life:
    • Health problems: fainting, seizures, headache, eye problems, migraine
    • Professional: critical response to The Birth of Tragedy (1871)
    • Relationships: problems with friends, rejections in marriage proposals
    • Social: He was unable to establish a name in academic and intellectual circles
  • Nietzsche slowly reduced his responsibilities: discharged from one course then gave up lectures at the secondary school. This culminated to a one-year leave. None of these truly worked, but here he discovered long walks and great solitude, which diverted his attention from his health problems. At first he took long six-hour walks in comfortable terrain like lakesides or forests.
    • ‘If only I could have a little house somewhere like this; I would walk for six or eight hours a day, composing thoughts that I would later jot down on paper.’

Phase 3: 1879 to 1888

  • After resigning, he was able to live on the combination of three small grants. He lived modestly, living in small inns and traveling between mountains, the sea, cities, and towns.
  • He became a walker. It was where he did his work.
    • In the summer of 1879, he walked for eight hours a day and wrote texts for the book The Wanderer and His Shadow. Except for a few lines, he scribbled the entire book in six small notebooks.
    • ‘I walk on average an hour in the morning, three hours in the afternoon, at a good pace – always the same route: it is beautiful enough to bear repetition’, March 1888
  • Within this period, Nietzsche wrote his greatest books:
    • The Dawn to On the Genealogy of Morality
    • The Gay Science
    • Beyond Good and Evil
    • Zarathustra
  • For Nietzsche, walking was a precondition to his work. It was not a distraction from work.
    • “We do not belong to those who have ideas only among books, when stimulated by books. It is our habit to think outdoors – walking, leaping, climbing, dancing, preferably on lonely mountains or near the sea where even the trails become thoughtful. Our first questions about the value of a book, of a human being, or a musical composition are: Can they walk? Even more, can they dance?”
  • His work distinguishes Words written outdoors vs indoors
  • By mid-1880s, Nietzsche was no longer walking as well as before due to back pain. His walks started to be shorter and with friends, which decreased his solitude. These walks made him tired. He needed days to recuperate.

Phase 4: 1888 to 1900

He discovered Turin in April 1888. Long walks there enchanted him. He became well and started working again. He walked in the morning then accumulated notes in the evening.

However, in January 1889, Nietzsche exhibited signs of madness and dementia. He was sent to the clinic in Basle then to Jena but did not improved. His mom took him in at Naumburg and cared for him for seven years until his death in August 25, 1900.

Tags: Fruitful


Gros, F. (2014). A Philosophy of Walking. Verso.