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Timeline: Marx, Nietzsche and Freud

Updated Tuesday 24th May 2016

Explore the lives and works of Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud with our interactive timeline.

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Marx, Nietzsche and Freud

Explore the lives and works of Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud. 

By Berthold Werner, CC BY-SA 3.0
Karl Marx birthplace in Trier, Germany

Marx is born in Trier

June 1818

Marx was born in the city of Trier, on the western border of what is now Germany. Trier was a small but prosperous city on the banks of the Mosselle River. His parents enjoyed life as a well-to-do Jewish middle class family, his father being a successful barrister. They had high hopes that their son Karl would follow his father in a successful career in this profession. The house he was brought-up in testifies to the relatively affluent style of his parents. Karl Marx Haus is still standing and is now a museum open to the public.

Trier might have been a small and quiet backwater of a place but its recent history and geographical location at the centre of historic border disputes and wars between France and, what was then, Prussia, meant that it was not until the Prussian defeat of Napoleon’s France in 1814 that the city came to be finally under Prussian control and subsequently a part of what became Germany. Yet the historic legacies of the period of French control were to directly shape Marx’s family. The ideals of the French Revolution of 1789 were especially influential on Heinrich Marx, not least because revolutionary France had celebrated the ideal of liberty, which also applied to Jewish people in France. Life was to be very different under the control of the autocratic and authoritarian Prussian regime where being Jewish now marked Marx’s family as outsiders. His father was to lose his job as a barrister and was forced thereafter to convert to Christianity. In these ways the life of the young Karl was being forged by the period of revolutionary upheaval that had gripped much of Europe following the French Revolution, an event that the Prussian authorities were terrified would be repeated in the Prussian Empire.

Marx's Education 1834-1843


Marx's formative years sees a number of important events that will help to shape his life and which will come to inform his later writing. He attends University in Bonn, then moves to Berlin in 1836 to study law at Berlin University (now Humboldt University Berlin). But in Berlin, much to his father’s annoyance, he switches to studying philosophy and soon becomes involved with the Young Hegelians. This was a group of philosophy students and graduates who were heavily influenced by the ideas of the late great German philosopher, Georg Hegel (1770-1831). Hegel’s philosophy was to excite the young Marx and would play a key role in shaping his ideas, not least the idea of history as a progressive force. He was soon to reject Hegel’s ideas as an idealist. The seeds of his subsequent arguments were already being sown. From Berlin he subsequently graduates from the University of Jenna with a Doctorate in Philosophy. Following his studies he marries Jenny von Westphalen on June 19 1843.

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Marx the Campaigning Journalist - 1840s to 1860s


While a student in Berlin, Marx was increasingly regarded by the Prussian Authorities as a dangerous subservice, particularly his ideas that were directly opposed to the authoritarian rule of the Prussian regime. From 1842 he was to find a living as a journalist. But he was not interested in any sort of run of the day reporting that was the bread and butter of much of journalism at the time but saw, through journalism, a way to publicise his radical ideas, not least of free speech and of liberty. As editor of the Cologne based Rheinische Zeitung the campaigning zeal of his writing and the anti-authoritarian nature of his ideas once again saw him come to the attention of the Prussian authorities. Marx was now a marked man and over the years that followed he was to frequently move across Europe, to Paris, then to Brussels and ultimately on to England and to London, in order to escape the attentions of the Prussian police. During this time he wrote for a number of German and English language newspapers including for The New York Tribune, where his concern with free speech in Europe and elsewhere was to win him many admirers. But in a European context, Marx was now very much identified as a trouble-maker who was determined to further the cause of revolutionaries across much of the continent. His journalistic output did not only evidence his growing skills as a gifted writer but also provided a context for him to hone his ideas, ideas that would soon come to the fore in his wider writings and publications. In 1842, while in Cologne, he was to meet the man who would become his lifelong collaborator and closest ally, Friedrich Engels. 

The birthplace of Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche's Birth in Rocken

November 1844

In his fictional autobiography Ecce Homo Nietzsche wrote: "My own time has yet to come; some are born posthumously." This turned out to be an accurate assessment of his future fame. In real life, Nietzsche was born on 15 October 1844 in the small town of Röcken. He was the first son to Franziska and her husband Karl Ludwig, Lutheran pastor of Röcken. Nietzsche’s sister Elisabeth was born in 1846 and his younger brother Ludwig in 1848. Then disaster struck. Within two years his father and his younger brother died. Within weeks the family moved to the town of Naumburg where Nietzsche’s mother lived until her death in 1897. At the time of Nietzsche’s birth, Röcken was part of the Kingdom of Prussia. After the Second World War it belonged to the GDR, and since the reunification it is part of the German federal state Saxony-Anhalt.

sjiong - Flickr

From Writer to Revolutionary: Marx’s Early Works


Against the backdrop of tremendous economic, social, political and cultural change, Marx and Engels worked to try and make sense of the world that was being shaped by the forces of what became understood as industrial capitalism. It is perhaps difficult for us today in the early part of the 21st Century to grasp and make sense of the profound changes taking place in the mid-nineteenth century across much of Europe and beyond. This was a period of major change, including revolutionary change in France, in Italy and across different regions in the European continent. Marx and Engels were in touch with many of the most radical groups dotted around key European cities, not least in Paris. Paris was the cradle of revolutionary ideas and it is now understandable why Marx sought refuge there out of reach, he mistakenly thought, of Prussian police and spies. While still producing shorter journalistic pieces, both Marx and Engels were beginning to produce much deeper works that reflected their developing ideas about the forces that were both propelling and shaping European societies. In 1845 Marx writes the Theses on Feuerbach. Marx was influenced by some of Ludwig Feuerbach’s (1804-1872) work. Feuerbach, another German Philosopher, has inspired Marx with his critique of the role of religion in society but Marx soon felt that he didn’t go far enough and it was not religion per se that was the cause of so many of the problems facing society, but the ways in which society appeared to be ordered to benefit the privileged few. Religion, Marx was subsequently to write in 1843 in another work criticising Hegel, ‘is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people’. This quote is among the most famous of Marx’s phrases to this day. However, its importance is that it evidences Marx’s increasing focus on the material conditions of life. Together with Engels, The German Ideology of 1846 reflected this materialist approach to understanding society, critiquing the idealism of what they termed the idealist philosophies that had dominated thinking until that time. In another of his famous quotes, in the Theses on Feuerbach, he was to condemn much of existing philosophy for its implicit conservatism. In words that are renowned to this day….. The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it…..

1848 Revolution


In 1848/9 a series of political revolutions rolled over Europe. In what would later become the German Empire, Prussia manages to defeat those who wanted to establish a democratic and unified German nation state. Röcken was only peripherally affected. Nietzsche later mentions the year 1848 as important: “Important to me was the year of 1848. I soaked up new impressions: I got to know war when hussars were given quarters. But our town got spared by the wider revolution […]”

Marx: Manifesto of the Communist Party


The 1840s were a period of further revolutions across Europe. In 1848 a series of significant upheavals had gripped different European societies, sending the ruling classes into a profound fear that their world was at an end. While these revolutions were largely unsuccessful, in France revolutionaries in Paris overthrew the monarchy and proclaimed a republic. For Marx and Engels the revolutionary upheavals demonstrated that people had a capacity to change society. But it was also clear that the ruling classes were determined to hold onto power whatever it took, deploying the oppressive forces of the state to crush rebellion. This revolutionary decade was also to shape the ideas of Marx and Engels in other ways. But this is was not simply an academic exercise, but a concern to build the forces that could finally transform European society, that is industrial capitalism. For Marx and Engels, the growing industrial working class of Europe, the proletariat, were the only force capable of such a profound revolutionary overthrow.

Understood to be among the foremost radical thinkers of their time, it is no surprise that Marx and Engels were in late 1847 commissioned by the Communist League to write its manifesto, laying down the main conditions for the overthrow of society. This relatively short work, written in two weeks, is arguably among the most famous books ever published. To this day the Manifesto of the Communist Party, the Communist Manifesto, continues to be sold the world over and remains in huge demand.

The Manifesto is not just a book, but a call to action. It is a call above all for revolution led by a vanguard of committed communists working with the industrial working classes. Importantly successful revolutions, Marx and Engels claimed, had to ‘come from below’; in other words, they had to be the product of the active agency of the oppressed masses and could not successfully be imposed from above. Class struggle is identified as the motor force of historical change. As the opening line of the Communist Manifesto proclaims: ‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles’. The role of the Manifesto was to arm the new revolutionary working class movement across Europe with the ideas that would help to further the class struggle of the working classes. Capitalism, they believed, was ultimately contributing to its own downfall. ‘Our epoch’, they argue, ‘the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinct feature: it has simplified class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other — Bourgeoisie and Proletariat’.

The Communist Manifesto contains most of the key elements of Marx and Engels thinking at this time. Importantly, their method for studying society, a method they saw as scientific, historical materialism, was able to deconstruct society, expose its inner workings, identify its contradictions, and ultimately point the way to the historic victory of the oppressed working class. While the debate rages until this day as to the likelihood of this happening, nonetheless these ideas are returned to generation after generation by millions of people the world over as a means of not only analysing and understanding society, but as a means of fuelling the forces that seek its overthrow. The ideas contained in the 1848 Communist Manifesto remain, over 150 years later, ideas to ‘transform our world’.

Marx in London


In late 1849 Marx sailed to London with Jenny and their four young children. Hounded by Prussian spies and refused leave to live in many other European capitals, London offered Marx his only route to a place that was beyond, though not entirely, the grasping hands of Prussian authorities. In many respects Marx was one of a significant number of emigres from different parts of Europe who fled to England and to London in particular to escape persecution, oppression and in some cases, death, in other parts of Europe. Life in London might have been safer for Marx in some respects, but in others it offered a life that would be gripped by personal and family hardship, tragedy and impoverishment. On numerous occasions it was Engels who maintained the family financially. He had returned to work at his family’s textile factory in Manchester, thereby securing an income, much of which went to the Marxs in London. London was hugely expensive for the Marxs, at least in comparison with Germany and other parts of Europe they had resided in.  It was entirely down to Engels that the family did not end-up destitute. Marx’s life as a political activist did not slow down and the poverty he and his family faced did not detract him from the many months, weeks and hours expended in the British Library and elsewhere honing his ideas and committing them to the many published works that were to follow.

David Harvey Lecture on Capital

Marx and the Critique of Political Economy: Capital and the source of Profit


During his time in London, Marx worked relentlessly in developing his ideas about the inner workings of capitalist society. Numerous publications marked his time in London. But these were not simply about philosophising or a hobby. His work was to expose the very workings and nature of capitalist society in an effort to help bring about its very downfall. Among his most famous works are the three volumes that comprise Capital. It is here that Marx’s more developed analysis and explanation of the central driving forces of capitalist society. In particular Marx is concerned to provide a critique of political economy, which is bourgeois political economy, and the writings of great economists such as Adam Smith (1723-1790) and David Ricardo (1772-1823).

Marx argued that these classical economists had provided useful insights as to the nature of capitalism but their arguments were limited by their support for capitalism and could not access the hidden aspects of capitalist society. As such their analysis remained very much at a surface level. In seeking to move beyond the limitations of the then existing political economy, Marx focused on the material basis of capitalist society: the organisation of production. In particular he was concerned to demonstrate that the source of all surplus, that is the source of profit, was the worker. This worker was exploited by the capitalist and in return for their labour and hard-working efforts, received a wage. But this wage did not equate to the value of what the worker had produced, hence creating a surplus profit which was appropriated by the capitalist.

These ideas lie at the heart of Marx’s analysis: capitalism is a system of economic exploitation in which the product and value produced by the worker is effectively stolen by the boss, the factory owner, capitalist, as profit. This not only drove capitalism – but would eventually create the conditions where it would be ripe for overthrowing by these exploited working class masses. It is this emphasis on exploitation which distinguished Marx’s perspective from that of mainstream economics, as much today as during the period in which he was writing.

By Jiří Jurečka - Author archive, CC BY 3.0,
Freud's Birthplace

Freud is born

June 1856

Freud was born in the town of Freiburg in Moravia which is now part of the Czech republic but was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was born into a Jewish family and his father (Jacob, a wool merchant) and mother (Amalia) rented a single room in a Locksmiths house. Later in life Freud described his early childhood in Freiburg as somewhat idyllic, with unforgettable impressions of its marvellous forests, but the family left for Vienna 1859 after their business collapsed during an economic crisis, and after Sigmund’s baby brother had tragically died. 

The school attended by Nietzsche

Nietzsche’s school “Pforta”

November 1858

Nietzsche passed the tough entrance exams to the prestigious private school “Pforta”, an hour on foot from his home town Naumburg. Founded in the thirteenth century as a Cistercian monastery, Pforta became an elite school in the sixteenth century. The famous German poet Klopstock, the Kantian philosopher Fichte, and the mathematician Möbius are among the famous alumni of the school. It is in Pforta that Nietzsche received his formative education and his baccalaureate in 1864. He was less interested in maths and the sciences but he excelled in German language and literature, philosophy, theology, Latin and Greek. The school had its own museum with reproduction of Ancient Greek and Roman statues of Dionysos and Apollo and the famous Laokoon group. One of the school’s teachers, Benndorf, remembered that already at a very young age Nietzsche stood out in philosophical and aesthetic discussions that followed extracurricular lectures on Greek sculpture.


Nietzsche discovers Schopenhauer

November 1865

In September 1864 Nietzsche started university in Bonn. During his first semester he was officially registered in the Faculty of Theology. He attended lectures on a wide variety of subjects among them Church History, the Roman playwright Plautus, Politics, and the History of Art. He was increasingly disillusioned with theology, so he changed to the Philosophical Faculty (in the spring of 1865) to study philology and philosophy. He also decided to change universities and move to Leipzig. There he discovered the philosophy of Schopenhauer who argued in The World as Will and Representation that (a) all of reality, including human beings, were the manifestations of a relentlessly striving force, Will; (b) human life amounts to little more than suffering, suffering from endless egocentric cycles of desire (for food, sex, power, fame, etc.) that can never be satisfied. Only in the experience of great art, and an ascetic denial of one’s desires, can the force of Will be weakened. Nietzsche later comes to reject Schopenhauer’s philosophy, but when he first read him, he recalled: “I understood him as if he had written for me”.

Herbert Glarner

Nietzsche's Professorship in Basel without a PhD

March 1869

During his time at university Nietzsche already published a number of reviews and extensive articles, first on the Greek poet and ethicist Theognis and then on the biographer of Greek philosophers, Diogenes Laërtius. Both were publications in a reputable philological journal and the latter won him a public award from Leizig University. On 12 February 1869 Nietzsche received an official letter from the local government of Basel that he had been called to the Chair in Classical Philology at the University of Basel. This happened before he had even written a doctoral dissertation, which he had been planning to write on Kant’s Critique of Judgement. In March 1869 the University of Leipzig awards Nietzsche his doctorate, based solely on the strength of his previous publications.

Nietzsche's participation in Franco-Prussian War

August 1870

On 15 July 1870 the French parliament voted to go to war against Prussia. Nietzsche, who did his military service in 1867–8 which was cut short by a riding accident, decided to join the Prussian war effort as a medic. After only 10-day training as a paramedic he was deployed and got some first-hand experience of the horrors of war. He was close to the battles at Wörth and Metz, and the day before Napoleon III is defeated and captured by Prussia on 2 September 1870 he and a fellow medic were ordered to pick up wounded soldiers. During the two-day transport of wounded soldiers Nietzsche got sick and in the city of Karlsruhe he was diagnosed with dysentery and diphtheria. He recovered quickly and leaft the military hospital on 14 September 1870.

The Paris Commune

William I is proclaimed German Emperor in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, France (painting by Anton von Werner)

Foundation of the German Empire

February 1871

Following the Franco-German War, the King of Prussia, Emperor William I. was officially proclaimed Emperor of the Germany Empire at Versailles.

© Foto H.-P.Haack - Antiquariat Dr. Haack Leipzig → Privatbesitz

Nietzsche's 'The Birth of Tragedy' is published

February 1872

Nietzsche’s first book, The Birth of Tragedy was published by the Leipzig publishing house E. W. Fritzsch. Nietzsche had high hopes that it would be well received. Richard and Cosima Wagner, his close friends since their first meeting in 1868, liked the book so much that they recommended he send a copy to the King of Bavaria. But his academic peers, among them his former professor and powerful philologist Friedrich Ritchl no longer recognized their scientifically-minded, high-achieving former student and colleague. In a letter Ritchl referred to the book as a Wagner and Schopenhauer inspired “Kunstmysterienreligionsschwärmerei”, which could be translated as ‘nonsensical enthusiasm for a mystery-religion that venerates art’. In one of the most critical reviews, Wilamowitz-Moellendorf, a younger colleague asked Nietzsche “to step down from the lectern” to protect the future of classical philology.

Freud goes to university


Freud started his studies in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Vienna at the age of 17. During his University years he was taught and inspired by various experts including Franz Brentano (founder of descriptive psychology), the physiologist Ernst Brücke and the psychiatrist Theodor Meynert. At the age of 19, he spent a month in Carl Claus’s zoology research station in Trieste dissecting about 400 eels in the hope of discovering their testicles. He failed, but to his credit this was a quest that had been repeatedly failed since Aristotle’s days, since eels grow testicles only when needed, and this is rare.  He was awarded his MD in 1881 and the following year started his medical career in Vienna General Hospital. 

Context - Darwin’s challenging ideas about the ongoing evolution of all organic life were highly influential, and Freud very much took them to heart as part of an atheism that would stay with him throughout his life.

Nietzsche's 'Human, All Too Human' — A Book for Free Spirits

June 1878

Following the publication of a number of smaller articles and longer essays such as his four Untimely Meditations, Nietzsche published his second book entitled Human, All Too Human. It is his first book written in what would become his trade-mark, concise, aphoristic style, i.e. short observations of sometimes only one or two sentences or a couple of paragraphs. The book consisted initially of 638 of such aphorisms. In Twilight of Idols, Nietzsche later called the aphorism “the form of ‘eternity’”, best suited for his ambition “to say in ten sentences what others say in a book, — what other people do not say in a book …”. In Human, All Too Human Nietzsche turned away from a Wagner and Schopenhauer-inspired romanticism towards a naturalistic treatment of many of humankind’s most revered beliefs, e.g. about morality.

The Nietzsche-Haus in Sils Maria

Nietzsche's thought of “eternal return”

September 1881

In the small town of Sils Maria in Switzerland Nietzsche wrote down, for the first time, his notorious idea of “eternal return” or “eternal recurrence”. From then on he regarded this thought as crucial to his philosophy, most of all for an understanding of Thus spoke Zarathustra, which he published in instalments between 1883 and 1885. In its first published formulation, in The Joyful Science, eternal return was presented as a thought experiment that invites people to reflect on how much they value their own lives. One way to ask the question Nietzsche proposes was like this: Is my life, as I have lived it until today, and as I plan to live it, the kind of life that I would be willing to repeat again and again, infinitely many times? Nietzsche thought that asking this question, even if only hypothetically, can change the way people live their lives.

Paasikivi - Own work - CC BY-SA 4.0
Memorial to Karl Marx, East Highgate Cemetery, London

Marx's Death

April 1883

After his wife's death in December 1881, Marx developed a catarrh that kept him in ill-health for the last fifteen months of his life. He eventually died of pleurisy and bronchitis, aged 64. He was buried in Highgate Cemetary in London, where around 10 mourners attended. He died a stateless person. 

Friedrich Engels spoke at his funeral, and his speech included the passage:

'On the 14th of March, at a quarter to three in the afternoon, the greatest living thinker ceased to think. He had been left alone for scarcely two minutes, and when we came back we found him in his armchair, peacefully gone to sleep—but forever.

Marx's last words before dying were "Go on,Get Out! Last words are for fools who haven't said enough."' 

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André Brouillet's 1887 A Clinical Lesson at the Salpêtrière depicting a Charcot demonstration

Freud is inspired by Charcot


Freud won a fellowship grant that enabled him to visit the famous Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris where the renowned neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot was experimenting with the use of hypnosis and suggestion in the treatment of patients diagnosed with hysteria. Freud was impressed and sufficiently inspired to translate Charcot’s lectures into German. Charcot considered this treatment of hysteria as a branch of neuropathology, but Freud saw in the use of hypnosis a potential methodological gateway to the mind.

Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche

Marriage of Nietzsche’s sister

June 1885

Nietzsche’s sister Elisabeth married the anti-Semitic and nationalistic secondary school teacher Bernhard Förster. Nietzsche was in Venice at the time and did not attend the wedding that his sister organized deliberately on the day of Wagner’s birthday. Nietzsche and his sister had grown apart. Not only did he disapprove of her relationship with Förster, he also despised their plan to move to Paraguay to found a supremacist Germanic community under the name of Nueva Germania. Elisabeth and Förster left for Paraguay in early 1886. When the project fails, Förster commited suicide in 1889  — Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche finally returned in 1893. As is well known, she later welcomed Hitler at the Nietzsche-Archive in Weimar.

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Nietzsche's “Nihilism”

October 1885

“Nihilism” becomes an important concept for the late Nietzsche. He anticipated a crisis that will follow the gradual decline of Christianity. He called this crisis “nihilism”, from Latin ‘nihil’, meaning ‘nothing’: all values are null and void. In a famous notebook entry in 1885 he wrote: “Nihilism stands at the door. Whence this most uncanny of all guests?” — His hypothesis regarding its origins was this: because truthfulness, a desire for absolute truth, has been one of Christianity’s highest values, this desire for believing only what is true has turned against itself and now undermines Christian dogmas themselves. That all moral values such as altruism, humility, compassion are null and void is the fallout of this crisis: “backlash from “God is the truth” to the fanatical belief that “All is wrong”.

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Sigmund Freud’s family in 1898

Freud Marries Martha Bernays


At the age of 30 Freud proposed to Martha just a few weeks after first meeting her, so it seems that this was a case of ‘love at first sight’. However, because Freud was rather poor they remained engaged for nearly four years. Much of this time Martha – who was 10 years Freud’s junior - lived in Hamburg, which was some distance away, and so the two lovers kept in touch by post. During this period, Sigmund and Martha wrote practically everyday, exchanging well over 1000 letters, many of which have been preserved. These show something of Freud’s insecure, obsessive and jealous character, not to mention his growing interest in taking cocaine. They marry in 1886, and in the same year Freud establishes himself in a private medical practice in Vienna as a consultant on nervous diseases.

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Freud and Fliess

Freud begins correspondence with Fliess and collaboration with Breuer


Freud develops his exploration of hypnosis and persuades an old friend, Josef Breuer, to resume his use of hypnosis to cure hysteria, and thus to deepen their collaboration (which would result in their book ‘Studies in hysteria’). In the early 1880s, Breuer had treated a patient known as Anna O and had found open discussion of personal issues to be therapeutic (Anna O famously referred to this as the ‘talking cure’). In 1887 Freud also began an important 15 year phase of correspondence with Wilhelm Fliess, a brilliant but unstable physician based in Berlin. Both collaborations fed into Freud’s growing theoretical system and gave him confidence in his developing ideas.

Nietzsche - The Genealogy of Morality

December 1887

Nietzsche often had financial troubles. He published Beyond Good and Evil in August 1886 but even after the Leipzig Book Fair, by May 1887, only just over 100 copies had sold. In a letter to his friend Köselitz, Nietzsche mentioned that people have complained that his works are too hard to understand. He hoped that The Genealogy of Morality, subtitled “A Polemic” would help his readers understand his thesis that Christianity, allegedly the religion of “selfless love” has its origins in the hateful resentment by the weak and oppressed against their powerful oppressors. He wrote this short “polemic” in less than twenty days, this time not in aphorisms but in the form of three essays. — As becomes clear from his letters, he hoped that The Genealogy might get people to buy a few more copies of his earlier writings.

David Wen Riccardi-Zhu
The house Nietzsche stayed in while in Turin (background, right), where he is said to have had his breakdown.

Nietzsche's collapse in Turin

January 1888

On a piazza in the Italian city of Turin, at the end of 1888, Nietzsche was overcome by his compassion for a horse that had been badly beaten by the driver of a horse-drawn carriage. Nietzsche embraced the horse and broke down. Two municipal policemen had to take him home. — There are doubts about the veracity of the story but it hasn’t gone away. Nietzsche never recovered from whatever happened in Turin and in the first few days of January 1889 his mental heath deteriorated. He was seen dancing and singing alone in his room, playing Wagner on the piano, and signs notes and letters with “Dionysos” and “The Crucified”. He spent the next several months in mental hospitals, first in Basel (10–17 January 1889) and then in Jena (18 January – 24 March 1890).

Freud at forty: Freud’s father dies, serious self-analysis begins, and the term ‘psychoanalysis’ is born.


The phrase die Psychoanalyse first appeared in print in a paper published in 1896 entitled “Zur Ätiologie der Hysterie” (“on the aetiology of hysteria”). As well as being the year Freud turned 40, 1896 was also the year that Jacob Freud, Sigmund’s father, died. Freud described feeling completely uprooted by this bereavement, and over the months that followed he engaged in a sustained phase of sometimes painful self-analysis. This included analysing his own dreams and attending to difficult and vague memories. For example, he reflected on how much his own strong personal ambitions came from an insecure desire to live up to what he perceived to be his father’s (disappointed) expectations. By carefully attending to his own experience, Freud developed techniques and gained insights that would inform his maturing scientific theories. 

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Title page of Freud's book Die Traumdeutung

Freud publishes “The Interpretation of Dreams”


Some say that “Die Traumdeutung” (in English “The Interpretation of Dreams”) was the first proper psychoanalytical book, and certainly Freud rated it his most important work. It represented the coming to fruition of years of study and self-questioning and contains an abundance of creative insights. In this book, dreams are presented as a disguised fulfilment of unconscious wishes, many of which are sexual in nature. Over the next few years this basic thesis would be extended in a series of works including “The psychopathology of everyday life” (1901), “Three essays on sexuality” (1905) and “On the sexual theories of children” (1908).

Nietzsche’s Death

September 1900

From May 1890 onward Nietzsche lived under the care of his mother back in Naumburg. When his mother died in July 1897, his sister took him to Weimar. There, in the Villa Silberblick, he died on 24 August 1900. During this time four more works that Nietzsche had already written are published: Twilight of Idols (January 1889), Nietzsche contra Wagner (February 1889), Zarathustra Part IV (1892), and The Antichrist (1894).

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The forgery of “The Will to Power” by Nietzsche's sister


Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche was in charge of the “Nietzsche Archive”, which she herself founded during the final years of her brother’s life. She published excerpts from her brother’s notebooks. With the help of three editors she manufactured the book entitled “The Will to Power. An Attempted Transvaluation of all Values”. Her publication loosely followed some of Nietzsche’s own plans for a book project of the same title, a project he had abandoned in 1888. — It took until the second half of the twentieth century for a historical-critical edition of Nietzsche’s works and notebooks to appear. It showed the extent to which Elisabeth’s forged “Will to Power”, which was in no way representative of Nietzsche’s unpublished notes and thoughts.

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The Committee in 1922 (From left to right): Otto Rank, Sigmund Freud, Karl Abraham, Max Eitingon, Sándor Ferenczi, Ernest Jones, and Hanns Sachs

Psychoanalysis consolidates and grows as a movement


Starting in the Autumn of 1902, a small group of interested scholars and friends were invited to discuss psychology and neuropathology at Freud’s apartment on Wednesday evenings (the so-called “Wednesday Psychological Society” included Wilhelm Stekel, Alfred Adler, Max Kahane and Rudolf Reitler, all Viennese physicians of Jewish origin). By 1906 there were 16 members, including Otto Rank as secretary, and there was international interest from a number of Swiss psychiatrists such as Ludwig Binswanger, Carl Jung and Eugen Bleuler (who directed a mental hospital in Zurich). In 1906 the “Wednesday Society” was renamed the “Vienna Psychoanalytic Society”. The internationalisation of psychoanalysis is marked by a 1908 meeting in Salzburg and by a 1909 lecture tour of the US by Freud and Jung. 

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A phase of disagreement amongst the ranks of Freud’s inner circle


Freud was rather zealous in promoting psychoanalysis, and did not easily tolerate alternative ideas. This inevitably led to disagreements. He had fallen out with Breuer after the publication of “Studies in Hysteria” (1895), and with Fliess in 1900/1901. But trouble really started after 1907. Kahane broke with Freud in 1907, Adler in 1911 and Jung in 1913. Freud, now into his fifties, was sensitive to these points of disagreement, and in his 1914 essay “On narcissism” he weaves a skilful argument as to why his own theory is better than that of Adler (with his idea of ‘masculine protest’) and Jung (with his non-sexual ‘libido’). 

The mature phase of Freudian theory


For Freud, 1920 – just two years after the end of the Great War - was a year of personal turmoil, but also of intellectual deepening. His daughter Sophie –often considered his favourite - died in a flu epidemic and Freud discusses feeling depressed for the first time. Some regard his 1920 essay “Beyond the pleasure principle” as ushering in a final phase of Freud’s thought, and a phase in which Freud meditated profoundly on the dark side of life. In this essay, the compulsion to repeat is treated as an instinct, and the focus on libido is replaced by a theory of two instincts: eros (a life instinct) and thanatos (a death instinct). This allows him to grapple with the problem of ‘destructiveness’ that life had made unavoidable for him. 

By Rup11 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Freud's last home, now dedicated to his life and work as the Freud Museum

Freud flees to England after Hitler annexes Austria


On 12 March 1938 Hitler’s troops marched into Vienna. 10 days later the Gestapo paid a visit to Freud’s apartment, ransacking the kitchen and stealing money. Shortly afterwards, Freud’s daughter Anna was taken in for questioning.  Thanks to the help of influential admirers and sympatheisers, Freud was able to negotiate the escape of his immediate family and himself and so, at the age of 82, Freud moved to London.

By Stephencdickson - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Sigmund Freud's ashes at the Golders Green Crematorium

Freud dies

October 1939

Freud dies in London in the summer of 1939, the same year that his book “Moses and monotheism” was published. He had been suffering with cancer of the jaw for 16 years. His funeral urn bears the image of Dionysus, the God of intoxication, fertility and divine ecstacy who according to myth faced down Thanatos in order to bring Semele, his mortal mother, back from the underworld.  

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