Only a Few Ancient Books

Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols (trans. Anthony Ludovici)

“What I Owe to the Ancients”:

“In conclusion I will just say a word concerning that world to which I have sought new means of access, to which I may perhaps have found a new passage—the ancient world. My taste, which is perhaps the reverse of tolerant, is very far from saying yea through and through even to this world: on the whole it is not over eager to say Yea, it would prefer to say Nay, and better still nothing whatever…. This is true of whole cultures; it is true of books,—it is also true of places and of landscapes. Truth to tell, the number of ancient books that count for something in my life is but small; and the most famous are not of that number. My sense of style, for the epigram as style, was awakened almost spontaneously upon my acquaintance with Sallust I have not forgotten the astonishment of my respected teacher Corssen, when he was forced to give his worst Latin pupil the highest marks,—at one stroke I had learned all there was to learn. Condensed, severe, with as much substance as possible in the background, and with cold but roguish hostility towards all ‘beautiful words’ and ‘beautiful feelings’—in these things I found my own particular bent. In my writings up to my ‘Zarathustra,’ there will be found a very earnest ambition to attain to the Roman style, to the “ære perennius” in style.—The same thing happened on my first acquaintance with Horace. Up to the present no poet has given me the same artistic raptures as those which from the first I received from an Horatian ode. In certain languages it would be absurd even to aspire to what is accomplished by this poet. This mosaic of words, in which every unit spreads its power to the left and to the right over the whole, by its sound, by its place in the sentence, and by its meaning, this minimum in the compass and number of the signs, and the maximum of energy in the signs which is thereby achieved—all this is Roman, and, if you will believe me, noble par excellence. By the side of this all the rest of poetry becomes something popular,—nothing more than senseless sentimental twaddle.”

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