I have the Judith Norman translation, which says the following:

"Terrible experiences make you wonder if the people who have experienced them are not terrible themselves."

What people are doing the experiencing, and in what capacity? I felt I understood the previous epigrams in Part 4, but I don't understand this one. Is he saying terrible experiences make you wonder if you yourself are terrible? Is he saying that learning about terrible things someone does to others makes one wonder about the intentions of the doer, i.e. if they have more complex motivations than terror for terror's sake? Or that the victims can still be terrible in other regards? It's so vague to me.

Any ideas?

  • I see him as talking about our intuition that bad events are a judgement, that others or ourselves deserved them in some way, and this helps us ignore the great extent to which things are random.
    – CriglCragl
    Feb 28, 2022 at 10:05
  • 1
    @CriglCragl -- otherwise known as just-world hypothesis, for those unfamiliar.
    – Michael
    Feb 28, 2022 at 13:07
  • One perspective is that who a person “is” determines what happens to them. A terrible being (e.g. someone who bully’s others for fun) may have terrible experiences as they’re self is constructed out of something terrible.
    – dgo
    Mar 17, 2022 at 18:20

3 Answers 3


The German original reads:

Fürchterliche Erlebnisse geben zu raten, ob der, welcher sie erlebt, nicht etwas Fürchterliches ist.

The translation is not bad as such. Maybe a better possibility to put it in English is

When there are [ie. you are confronted with] horrible experiences, it makes you wonder whether the person who has experienced them is not horrible themselves.

Fürchterlich literally is 'something that invokes fear' or 'something you should be afraid of', which is why I think 'horrible' is a better fit since it does not connotate with the casual term 'terrible person'. Here, he basically says you should be wary of people who experienced dreadful things (and consider avoiding contact with them).

This should not be understood as a moral judgement that the persons are going to be bad persons (which would be contrary to the book title), rather that you should be wary of/fear being around them because you may come into contact with feelings of dread/fear/horror through them.

This ties in well with the following aphorism no. 90 that reads:

Schwere, schwermütige Menschen werden gerade durch das, was andre schwer macht, durch Haß und Liebe, leichter und kommen zeitweilig an ihre Oberfläche.

Which I would translate as:

Down-dragged, heavy-hearted humans become lighter through that which drags others down, through hate and love, and thereby temporarily disclose their selves.

In other words: The theme is that what you have to expect from people is formed by their (most extreme) experiences since they will mirror these experiences (no. 89) even to the point that their souls resonate strongest with more of the same (no. 90).

  • @Philipp Klöcking Do you understand why Nietzsche could be right? Why is a person a terrible person if he/she makes a terrible (= fürchterlich) experience?
    – Jo Wehler
    Feb 28, 2022 at 9:35
  • @JoWehler I suspect that that we should understand it as a damaging of the soul by terrible (more literally dreadful) experiences. Fürchterlich should not be understood as a moral judgement in the sense of "bad person" here. That would obviously be wrong considering the very title of the book. Rather as 'bad person to hang around with' like in not exactly pleasant company, producing more dreadful experiences for others.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Feb 28, 2022 at 10:00
  • This idea seems related to law of attraction.
    – Michael
    Feb 28, 2022 at 13:00
  • @Michael Related, maybe, but not the same imho. I do not think that N himself would have subscribed to that idea, nor that it is meant here. 89 is about shunning traumatised people so that you are not traumatised by them sharing their experiences with you, in a way (looking into the abyss etc.). And 90 could be read as the limited ability of depressed people to show empathy for anything other than deep depression.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Feb 28, 2022 at 13:40

I would read this in line with Nietzsche's view of Christianity. It's well-known he had nothing other than contempt for it. Take for example aphorism 168:

Christianity gave Eros poison to drink - he did not die from it, but it degenerated into a vice.

And aphorism 171:

Pity is alnost laughable in a man of knowledge, like tender hands on a Cyclops

After all a while this one-eyed 'dogmatism', a word he loves to use about Christianity begins to grate. What began as a refreshing polemic 'degenerates into a vice'. Nietzsche is not only into thinking 'beyond good and evil', but also 'truth and falsity'. Todays West, which has never been more secular and divorced from Christianity has seen an exponential rise in the use of porn. I take that as a vice, for what man or woman or culture has ever proudly boasted of it? Is this to do with nihilistic athiesm? (Athiesm must nihistic because it is not 'for' something, when it for something, even when it is athiestic, it is something else). Or is it to do with the exponential growth of new media? Perhaps both.

It is traditional in Christianity to express 'pity' for the unfortunate, those that have undergone, or undergoing 'terrible' experiences or caught up in circumstances that are 'horrible'. Pity, as a term, has a long history, meaning:

'Compassion, kindness, and generosity of spirit' (c.1300), 'disposition to mercy', 'quality of being merciful', and 'a feeling of compassion and sympathy aroused by the sorrow or suffering of another' ... Middle English pity could mean 'devout obediance to God' (mid 14th C) ... and pity and piety were not fully distinguished till the 17th C.

Also charity has a long history, meaning:

late Old English, 'benevolence for the poor' also 'Christian love in it's highest manifestation' ... from Latin caritem 'costliness, affection, esteem' from carus 'dear, valued' ... in the Vulgate, it is the Latin word most often used to translate the Greek agape

Agape means love of your fellow men, it is kin to solidarity. The protests against the war in the Ukraine is an expression of solidarity and so agape.

As Nietzsche is a Greek scholar, did he notice the role pity plays in Homer's Illiad? After Achilles kills Hector in the final battle scene, he dishonours it by draggimg his body behind his chariot around the city and it is Zeus himself, moved to pity by Achille's continued abuse of Hector's corpse, that sends Priam, Hector's father, to collect his body from Achille's. Priam clasps Achille's knees and begs for his son's body, and Achilles is 'moved to tears'.

What would Nietzsche say to such 'tender' tears in a warrior like Achilles? Hector's corpse has undergone "terrible experience's", his body in such a "terrible" state that no man would want to look on it willingly. But does Zeus turn away in disgust? No, he expresses sympathy and pity for Hector's degradation and engineers the return of his body to Priam, his father. Is then 'pity laughable in Zeus', the high god of the Greeks? Or are we to say Zeus is not a god of knowledge? It seems to me that Homer understood something about pity that Nietzsche did not.


In The Courier awful things happened to awesome people.

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