Estimated reading time: 12 minutes, 20 seconds. Contains 2469 words (nice)
I remember taking a class on Nietzsche, and my professor offering an insight that stuck with me. In my professor's opinion, the story of Eternal Recurrence was core to understanding Nietzsche's thought. Unfortunately, it seems like too many folks take the idea literally, when it was intended metaphorically.
For a brief summary (from memory. Apologies for any mistakes): Nietzsche relates a story. He's alone writing one night, when an awful demon appears to him. They talk, and the demon, being awful, gives Nietzsche the most terrible curse he can imagine: Eternal Recurrence! That's right, every single aspect of Freddy's life is going to be lived again, the exact same way, for all eternity. What boredom, what misery ,what punishment! The demon sits back, waiting for Nietzsche to collapse in tears.
But instead Nietzsche laughs! "Thank you, visitor, for this gift!" The demon is shocked. But (idealized self-portrait) Nietzsche is delighted. Because he's lived a life of yea-saying, of affirming life, of pursuing his passions, and he can't imagine any greater BLESSING than to get to do it all over again. Living has been his life's reward.
And, for Nietzsche, this fable stands in contrast to (what he viewed as) Christianity. That Christian morality asked you to obey kings, to avoid sins, to retreat from whole sections of life, in order for a reward in the afterlife. But, if God is dead, if the myth is wrong, and you're going through these motions with no afterlife reward, then you've wasted your life. And value system that led you to this is a wasted life.
What I think Nietzsche was getting at was that, even if there is no demon, and there is no Eternal Recurrence, the philosophy still works (In his opinion). If you live your life as if you were going to have to do it all again exactly the same forever, then it doesn't matter what happens after you die. Your life will have been its own reward.