Friedrich Nietzsche, Photograph from the series « Der kranke Nietzsche » (The ill Nietzsche) by Hans Olde, between June and August 1899
On January 3, 1889, Nietzsche suffered a mental collapse. Two policemen approached him after he caused a public disturbance in the streets of Turin. What happened remains unknown, but an often-repeated tale from shortly after his death states that Nietzsche witnessed the flogging of a horse at the other end of the Piazza Carlo Alberto, ran to the horse, threw his arms up around its neck to protect it, and then collapsed to the ground.
In the following few days, Nietzsche sent short writings—known as the Wahnbriefe (“Madness Letters”)—to a number of friends (including Cosima Wagner and Jacob Burckhardt). To his former colleague Burckhardt, Nietzsche wrote: “I have had Caiaphas put in fetters. Also, last year I was crucified by the German doctors in a very drawn-out manner. Wilhelm, Bismarck, and all anti-Semites abolished.” Additionally, he commanded the German emperor to go to Rome to be shot, and summoned the European powers to take military action against Germany.
On January 6, 1889, Burckhardt showed the letter he had received from Nietzsche to Overbeck. The following day Overbeck received a similarly revealing letter, and decided that Nietzsche’s friends had to bring him back to Basel. Overbeck traveled to Turin and brought Nietzsche to a psychiatric clinic in Basel. By that time Nietzsche appeared fully in the grip of a serious mental illness, and his mother Franziska decided to transfer him to a clinic in Jena under the direction of Otto Binswanger. From November 1889 to February 1890 the art historian Julius Langbehn attempted to cure Nietzsche, claiming that the methods of the medical doctors were ineffective in treating Nietzsche’s condition. Langbehn assumed progressively greater control of Nietzsche until his secretiveness discredited him. In March 1890 Franziska removed Nietzsche from the clinic, and in May 1890 brought him to her home in Naumburg. During this process Overbeck and Gast contemplated what to do with Nietzsche’s unpublished works. In January 1889 they proceeded with the planned release of Twilight of the Idols, by that time already printed and bound. In February they ordered a fifty copy private edition of Nietzsche contra Wagner, but the publisher C. G. Naumann secretly printed one hundred. Overbeck and Gast decided to withhold publishing The Antichrist and Ecce Homo because of their more radical content. Nietzsche’s reception and recognition enjoyed their first surge.
In 1893 Nietzsche’s sister Elisabeth returned from Nueva Germania (in Paraguay) following the suicide of her husband. She read and studied Nietzsche’s works, and piece by piece took control of them and of their publication. Overbeck eventually suffered dismissal, and Gast finally co-operated. After the death of Franziska in 1897, Nietzsche lived in Weimar, where Elisabeth cared for him and allowed people, including Rudolf Steiner (who in 1895 had written one of the first books praising Nietzsche) to visit her uncommunicative brother. Elisabeth at one point went so far as to employ Steiner as a tutor to help her to understand her brother’s philosophy. Steiner abandoned the attempt after only a few months, declaring that it was impossible to teach her anything about philosophy.
Nietzsche’s mental illness was originally diagnosed as tertiary syphilis, in accordance with a prevailing medical paradigm of the time. Although most commentators regard his breakdown as unrelated to his philosophy, Georges Bataille drops dark hints (“‘man incarnate’ must also go mad”) and René Girard’s postmortem psychoanalysis posits a worshipful rivalry with Richard Wagner. The diagnosis of syphilis was challenged, and manic-depressive illness with periodic psychosis, followed by vascular dementia was put forward by Cybulska. prior Schain’s.Leonard Sax, after a review of the medical evidence, concluded that the slow growth of a right-sided retro-orbital meningioma, not syphilis, is the most plausible explanation of Nietzsche’s dementia. Orth and Trimble postulate frontotemporal dementia, while other researchers proposed a syndrome called CADASIL.
In 1898 and 1899 Nietzsche suffered at least two strokes, which partially paralysed him and left him unable to speak or walk. After contracting pneumonia in mid-August 1900 he had another stroke during the night of August 24–25, and died about noon on August 25. Elisabeth had him buried beside his father at the church in Röcken bei Lützen. His friend, Gast, gave his funeral oration, proclaiming: “Holy be your name to all future generations!” Nietzsche had written in Ecce Homo (at the time of the funeral still unpublished) of his fear that one day his name would be regarded as “holy”.