Ice-cream with the Anti-Christ

NIETZSCHE IN TURIN by Leslie Chamberlain, Quartet pounds 10

THEY SAY that Friedrich Nietzsche, the self-proclaimed Anti-Christ, went mad in Turin. A few days after Christmas in 1889 the philosopher was seen to rush out of his lodgings and tearfully embrace a cart-horse. Nietzsche had been deteriorating for the last six years. His work, which amounted to a full-scale war on contemporary morality, had exploded into unintelligible jottings. One night in Turin the landlord's daughter had heard an unholy ruckus coming out of Nietzsche's room; peering through the keyhole, she saw a man prancing naked in a solitary Dionysian rite; Nietzsche had finally taken leave of his senses.

Several writers have found Nietzsche's encounter with the horse extremely moving and symbolic. Milan Kundera imagined that the Anti-Christ had asked the poor nag to forgive Descartes for believing animals have no souls. In fact it seems likely that Nietzsche was suffering from syphilis; the spirochaetes were making a sponge of his brain, and prompting his off- beat behaviour.

In this fascinating study of the philosopher's last days, Lesley Chamberlain attributes an unearthly quality to the Italian city. The Piedmontese poet Cesare Pavese took his life in Turin, as did Primo Levi. Before either of them, Emilio Salgari (Italy's best-selling author of adventure stories) had disembowelled himself in the green Turin hills. The city is famously symmetrical in design - all streets intersect at right-angles - but this geometry need not square with rational behaviour. Many of De Chirico's surrealist landscapes, with their sinister broken statues and endless colonnades, are portraits of Turin.

By the time Nietzsche arrived there in April 1888, he had already formulated his most esoteric doctrines: "eternal recurrence", "will-to-power", "master and slave morality", "the transvaluation of values". Much of this would appeal to the Nazi race-engineers. Yet Turin seemed to bring out the gentle side of Nietzsche and there is a surprising lack of bitterness in his letters home. From his lodgings in Piazza Carlo Alberto, Nietzsche had a fine view of the Alps and it was a five-minute walk to the opera house. Bizet's Carmen, a thoroughly unWagnerian work, sent Nietzsche into raptures and he saw it no less than 14 times (was this perhaps a sign that all was not well?). He ate ice cream in the gilded cafes along Via Po and marvelled at the city's spacious squares with their 10,860 yards of symmetrical arcades which "shelter you against all weathers".

Lesley Chamberlain exonerates Nietzsche from charges of proto-Nazism or nihilism. The German undermined Western philosophy in order to give his age new values, and did so in a glancing, impressionistic prose which now looks startlingly modern. Chamberlain is good on Nietzsche's feud with Richard Wagner (whose operas he regarded as a vulgar display of Teutonic chauvinism), and she illuminates his massive effect on contemporary music. The atonal rawness of Schoenberg was like the discord of a soon-to-be- shattered Europe foreseen by Nietzsche.

In Turin the philosopher completed his crowning opus, Ecce Homo. He nicknamed the city's one extravagant landmark - the knitting-needle spire of an abandoned synagogue - after this book. According to occultists, Turin forms a magic triangle with Lyons and Prague. Did Nietzsche know of the city's renown as a centre of the supernatural? "Evenings on the Po Bridge: superb! Beyond Good and Evil!" he enthused. Nietzsche now saw himself as the reincarnation of Voltaire, Napoleon and even his arch-enemy Wagner.

What did the Turinese make of this strange, half-blind creature with a walrus moustache? Sadly, it seems that Nietzsche passed through their city more or less unnoticed. After his encounter with the horse, he was sedated and despatched to a clinic in Basel, apparently still wearing his landlord's mitre-shaped night- cap. Nietzsche in Turin provides an excellent primer on the crackpot philosopher. It is entertaining and meticulously researched, and incidentally gives a precise portrait of one of the stranger European cities.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent