Donkeys, Jesus, Don Quixote, Kant, and Other Idiots: Dostoevsky’s The Idiot and Nietzsche’s Antichrist


  • Svetlana Evdokimova Brown University



The essay analyzes Dostoevsky’s concept of idiocy and his interpretation of Christ as compared to Nietzsche and Cervantes. Dostoevsky is not so much interested in the historical Jesus as in the psychological type of Jesus, a topic that would later interest Nietzsche. For both Dostoevsky and Nietzsche, if Jesus is only human, he must be an “idiot” of sorts. For Dostoevsky, “idiocy” is associated with the theological tradition of docta ignorantia. I further  consider how Nietzsche, who, like Dostoevsky, draws on the original meaning of the word “idiot” in his discussion of Jesus, can offer a useful and insightful interpretation of Dostoevsky’s concept of “idiocy” as depicted in his novel. In tracing the connection between Jesus, Don Quixote, and Kant in Nietzsche’s notion of “idiot”, I consider how Nietzsche’s reading of Dostoevsky can help us better understand Dostoevsky’s “perfectly beautiful man”, as Nietzsche’s interpretation of Jesus seems a fairly accurate description of Prince Myshkin. Their respective attitudes toward Don Quixote provide an important additional dimension to their interpretations of the human type of Jesus as an idiot. Although neither Dostoevsky nor Nietzsche explicitly called Cervantes’ foolish knight an idiot, their respective interpretations of Jesus’ “idiocy” are contaminated by their views of Don Quixote. Both viewed him as a kind of failed Jesus figure, and both lamented Cervantes’ satirical portrayal of his lofty “anti-realist”, though perhaps for slightly different reasons. The essay concluded by comparing Dostoevsky’s and Nietzsche’s notions of realism. Both Dostoevsky and Nietzsche were driven by a desperate search for truth and considered themselves realists, though each put a different meaning into a concept. Both Dostoevsky and Nietzsche were fascinated by the figure of Jesus the man and his underlying mental dispositions, and they depicted him equally as a kind of “idiot”. The tragic “yes” of Dostoevsky and the tragic “no” of Nietzsche clashed in their interpretation of the “positively beautiful man” and the question of faith. Both sought to say “yes” to reality, as different as this reality may have been understood by the two thinkers.



donkey/ass,  philosophy, Nicholas of Cusa, Apuleius, The Golden Ass, Nietzsche, Kant, Cervantes, Christ, Jesus, Don Quixote, Holbein, Renan, idiocy, idiot, “learned ignorance”, docta ignorantia, ratio, intellectus, anti-Christ, heroism, reality, realism.