Nietzsche's Love Affair with Turin

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Frederich Nietzsche, the 19th century German philosopher, was in love with Turin. He raved about the city's gelato, its music and its quiet. Robert Rethy, head of the Philosophy Department at Cincinnati's Xavier University, tells Scott Simon about Nietzsche's Turin.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th century German philosopher, very famously declared that God is dead. But he thought that Turin was mighty lively. Nietzsche wrote, Do you know Turin? Now that is a city after my heart, a breath of true 18th century. Palazzi that speak to the heart, not Renaissance fortresses! And the sight of the Alps from the center of the city. I would have never thought that the light could make a city so beautiful.

Robert Rethy teaches philosophy at Xavier University in Cincinnati. He joins us from there. Mr. Rethy, thanks very much for being with us.

Professor ROBERT RETHY (Philosophy Department Chairman, Xavier University): Well, it's my pleasure to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: What did he love about Turin and Italy?

Professor RETHY: He loved the fact that the city streets were not crowded, as they were maybe in Rome or elsewhere. He wrote, Turin is the capital of discovery, the first place in which I am possible. So he liked a calm world. And then his excitement was really intellectual excitement.

SIMON: Now, we know from the excerpt of the letter that we read that Nietzsche treasured the view of the Alps from the centre of Turin.

Professor RETHY: Yes.

SIMON: Is there any evidence that he actually went into the Alps and was a luge racer or anything like that?

Professor RETHY: No. I don't think that he would have really participated in the Olympics, although the Olympics as an idea, were very important to him, or the idea of the Greek Agon the Greek battle, trying to be the best. That was really crucial to his whole philosophical conception, the striving to be best.

SIMON: Could you tell us the rather famous story, as I understand it, about Nietzsche rushing to save a horse.

Professor RETHY: He saw a horse being beaten on the street. It was a normal occurrence, I presume, at that time. And Nietzsche put his arms around the horse and started sobbing. So there's a very significant connection to Nietzsche's own philosophy in that. Nietzsche is a great critic of the morality of pity, as he calls it, and there's Nietzsche himself breaking down under the weights of that pity. And that was probably his last lucid moment. There were...

SIMON: He went into decline after that. What happened?

Professor RETHY: I think that was not really a decline. He had a complete mental failure. His sister took care of him. The usual thought today is that he was a victim of syphilis.

SIMON: It does seem to be Nietzsche by his actions saying, you know, there's a part of my human soul that can't support the philosophy I urge on others.

Professor RETHY: Very, very true, and I think that's irony, but I don't think it's really only an irony. Some people moralize only to hide their immorality. We know a lot people like that. But Nietzsche's immoralism only very imperfectly repressed his moral decency, and this could only express itself fully once he was mad.

SIMON: Mr. Rethy, nice talking to you.

Professor RETHY: Okay. Thank you very much.

SIMON: Robert Rethy is chairman of the philosophy department at Xavier University in Cincinnati. And it's 22 minutes before the hour.

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