Why Nietzsche is a Destiny: Epicurean Themes in Ecce Homo

Third, Nietzsche actually provides us with a technique for limiting the duration of unwanted bouts of physical suffering. As we know, Ecce Homo delivers a tale of protracted struggle, torment, suffering, and pain. In the telling of the tale, however, Nietzsche displays his command of a perspective from which the totality of his suffering may be understood to be ingredient to his various achievements and self-overcomings. The perspective in question is unmistakably autumnal, focused as it is on the seasonal labors associated with the harvest, and Nietzsche’s birthday provides a “perfect” occasion to pause and survey the fruits of the expired year. As he calmly and coolly recounts the yield of his harvest, we detect no trace of bitterness, disappointment, resentment, or regret. (As if to punctuate this point, he later declares himself “free of ressentiment” (EH “Wise” §6).) In short, his “pain in the flesh” has abated, just as Epicurus predicted it would. He now understands and even affirms the contributions of his suffering to the emergence of the “man” he urges his readers to “behold.”

Hence Nietzsche’s well known adaptation of the Epicurean maxim in question: What does not destroy me makes me stronger (TI “Maxim” §8). Even excruciating pain may be endured if it is regarded in retrospect, and if it is situated in the context of a larger process of growth, maturation, and fortification. Of course, it will not suffice simply to relate any old story that comes to mind, or to concoct an expedient narrative for a particular purpose (à la Scheherazade). Nietzsche’s point here, as he occasionally insists, is that embodiment is the final proof of truth. One’s personal story must fit the incarnate life it narrates, and it must compel our attention by dint of the authenticity it communicates. As Alexander Nehamas has so persuasively suggested, one becomes what one is when one becomes the kind of person who may look back upon the totality of one’s life and say, with Nietzsche, “ecce homo.”[35]

The final moment of triumph arrives when one may sincerely express one’s gratitude for all that life has delivered, pains and pleasures alike. The expression of unmitigated gratitude, or so I offer on Nietzsche’s behalf, is a signal index of the experience of katastematic pleasure that accompanies the cessation of pain. Against this Epicurean backdrop, let us revisit the interleaf epigraph to Ecce Homo:

On this perfect day, when everything is ripening and not only the grape turns brown, the eye of the sun just fell upon my life: I looked back, I looked forward, and never saw so many and such good things at once. It was not for nothing that I buried my forty-fourth year today; I had the right to bury it; whatever was life in it had been saved, is immortal…How could I fail to be grateful to my whole life?—and so I tell my life to myself. (EH “Epigraph”)[36]

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