Dead man biting, in Turin.


Franz Overbeck’s diary.

8 January, 1889, Turin.

I left Basel on the morning of the 3rd, leaving Ida and the children with promises to be back soon. I took the train to Bern and from there waited for the sleeping car to Turin. The journey was uncomfortable but uneventful. It was not the first time I spent the night in a Pullman wagon, so I was prepared for all the shaking and the noise, and I did not wake more than two or three times. In the morning I carried my bag – hastily packed, with a few items of clothing, and the medicines I had saved up for this very occasion – straight to the house on via Carlo Alberto where I was expected. The Finos were friendly and hospitable as ever but – unsuprisingly – greatly over-wrought. Senior Fino had put on weight since I had last seen him, and that, together with the current situation, seemed to have taken its toll on his health. His eyes were not as vivacious as they’d once been, and there was a distinct lack of joy about his demeanour. Seniora Fino was unchanged, her hair perhaps a little more unkempt than usual, her pinny tied a little less straight, but the same smile on her face and in her eyes. Both looked exhausted which I could not avoid putting down to the fact that Fritz’s behaviour had worsened over the past few days, and that he kept them awake most nights with his playing and chanting. They took my bag and sat me down with a cup of dark, oily coffee, and, while his wife went to order breakfast, Senior Fino informed me in hushed tones that on the previous night he had found my friend naked in the corridor, screaming wildly and chasing after the house cat. I understood then that he must want him out, and I begged him to let us stay a few days which he agreed to, provided I brought a psychiatrist to see Fritz and that I followed his advice to the letter.

After a restorative breakfast of ham and rolls, I at last went up to Nietzsche’s room. I found him awake, impatient to see me, and at the same time irritated that I had come, asking me what could be so important that I should have left my bourgeois comfort to travel at such short notice. He wore his glasses lopsided, and it was a while since his hair had been washed or combed. His mustache needed attention and I could read on it the menu of his last few meals. I resolved to have a barber come see him on that day. He claimed to be well, if tired. He was sedating himself as much as possible, signing his own prescriptions for chloral hydrate. He was burning with a low fever but seemed entirely coherent so that I dismissed my worst fears.

That afternoon, he felt well enough to step out, so after the barber’s visit and a much needed bath, we walked together to the piazza at the end of our via. Leading up to the Piazza Carlo Alberto the road was straight, and mostly uninteresting, lined with tall houses very much like the Fino’s. Nietzsche walked slowly, with the support of my arm on one side and a cane on the other. He spoke very little, saving his breath, I thought, for the exercise. In that however, I was mistaken. His silence was most probably the effect of evil, incoherent thoughts brewing in his head. As we were nearing the piazza, Fritz became agitated. His chin was bobbing up and down and from his mouth issued a low growl. A coachman was attempting to move a recalcitrant horse from the middle of the road, whipping it amidst much shouting and pushing from surrounding traffic. My friend, who was in the process of crossing to the center of the piazza, stopped in his stride, and, letting go of my arm ran to the horse, and threw himself at the beast’s neck, screaming. Two policemen who had come to help move the horse along, grabbed and pulled until man and horse were separated. The horse’s neck was bleeding, and a chunk of flesh was lose. The evidence was on my friend’s face for all to read: he that had bitten the horse. The policemen stepped back in horror and the coachman started screaming abuse at us. Quickly I took from my coat pocket what currency I was carrying and distributed it between the three men, promising the coachman more if he came to find me on the morrow. The policemen, pacified by my generosity, agreed to help me take Fritz home. I assured them that a psychiatrist would come the very next day, which the Finos confirmed. The shadow of the Turin goal was beginning to lure in my mind.

When Dr Turina, a friend of the Finos, came on the following morning, my friend refused to let him enter his room, shouting in bad French that he was not sick. We did our best to describe his symptoms, but I refrained from sharing any of their history, as I did not want my friend to be sent off to an asylum here in Turin. Also, I had been briefed to be discreet about certain aspects of the disease, and although my loyalty was first to my friend, I did not want to go directly against the advice of Martha Freud. Turina, seeing he could not help us, suggested that I seek help from the German consul on the grounds that my friend might react better to one of his compatriots. Assenting, I walked there after finishing the late lunch that Seniora Fino had prepared for Turina and myself, and making sure that Nietzsche had taken a sufficiently strong dose of chloral to keep him in bed until I returned.

On my arrival at the Consul’s house, I was met straightaway by a Dr Bettman, who presented himself and said he would assist me. He was a neat looking man of average height, the only thing remarkable about him being his bright orange hair. I found it convenient that the Consul, who had only just heard of my request, should be able to come up with someone so very quickly, supposing that Bettmann had been in the process of conducting business of his own at the Consul’s house and offered his services there and then. But because I had not heard his name before, and would not trust a stranger completely in this sad affair, I asked Bettmann that he give some indication of his credentials. “I am a dentist” he said. I must have looked shocked, for his pale face reddened and he added, “Frau Professor Freud sends me”. I brightened immediately: “Then you are indubitably the man I want to see, I said. Forgive me for having doubted you”.


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