In this article, I explore Nietzsche’s account of the origins of the ascetic ideal in his Genealogy of Morality (GM). I offer a reading of his claim that this ideal springs from an instinctive response to the sicknesses he describes as “physiological inhibition and exhaustion” (GM III:13), arguing that these sicknesses are primarily nervous conditions found among the priestly class who come up with the ascetic ideal, and periodically among “large masses of people” (GM III:17). The historical frequency of the latter outbreaks accounts for the popularity of the ideal. But the origin story is very much about the ascetic priest, and it is a story Nietzsche tells in bits and pieces over the course of the Genealogy. This article integrates these bits and pieces into one cohesive account. Finally, I consider how the priest’s more innocent ascetic lifestyle suggestions respond to the twin conditions of inhibition and exhaustion.

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