Of the Three Metamorphoses
So after a deep prologue, we are on to Zarathustra’s speeches. Some are worth talking about more than others. This particular one deserves some digging.
We find three basic symbols for the spirit: The camel – the strong dutiful conscience-bearing form, the lion – the destroyer of old values, and the child – the creative self-reliant will.
The camel aspect of spirit is somewhat obvious and explained, as a beast of burden who wishes more burdens on itself. All of the “Or is it this:” lines show us self-chosen hardships. These things that could easily be avoid in life but should be pursued for the sake of the self, to weigh down the spirit. Keep in mind Nietzsche’s notion of spirit.
Consider the lion and the dragon in the second metamorphosis:
In myth, the lion is a beast often symbolizing strength and pride, so those aspects are obvious. But there is a connection to Persian, known for heraldic lions, and also the biblical connection. There are references to Jesus as a lion in Revelations. Nietzsche’s intent? Probably.
The dragon, in the New Testament, is an aspect of Satan. In Zoroastrianism, there are also lots of mention of dragons as references to evil. To Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, the great dragon is the keeper of old values. Could this be a mockery of Christianity and its “evils” and rules? Definitely. But also, what’s important in the symbol of the dragon is that he is both serpent and eagle which symbolizes good and evil, the knowledge of Eden, or the “Thou shalt” that needs to be vanquished to make way for the new value system.
I think Nietzsche intended a reverence to Jesus here, as the lion – the destroyer of the Old Testament values, Ten Commandments; not in the Christian religious sense, but in the psychological and mythological sense. As fanatically anti-Christian as Nietzsche had become in his later years, it was not beyond him to pay homage to any important aspect of Jesus on the same level of Dionysus, Buddha, Lao-Tzu, et al.
And on to the child:
“The child is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelled wheel, a first movement, a sacred “Yes.”
This is a very loaded line, rich with symbolism that is ongoing in the book. This is the first mention of the self-propelled wheel which is an important symbol for this book and for Existentialism itself. The cosmic wheel of time in Indic religions is the revolving macrocosm. For an individual and for Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, I picture this to be an internalized microcosm, to be the will, the driving force, of one’s own universe as the child and the last human, to be self-propelled, a self-reliant being ready for evolution, an ultimate answer for existentialism.
I need to mention quickly Ralph Waldo Emerson since I think of him every time I use the words pertaining to self-reliance.
After Thus Spoke Zarathustra in The Portable Nietzsche, you can find a segment of a letter to one of Nietzsche’s few true friends, Franz Overbeck. In this letter dated 1884, two years after Emerson’s death, Nietzsche talks of Emerson with great reverence. He mentions having an essay of Emerson translated into German. At the end he writes, “As it is, in Emerson we have lost a philosopher…”
In the 19th century, Emerson wasn’t considered a philosopher, and I think even now some so-called real philosophers think the same. It doesn’t surprise me that Nietzsche recognized it. I know there has been scholarly research into the matter of Nietzsche discovering Emerson which I’ll have to look into.
If you haven’t read the essay Self-Reliance or others, I recommend it. It’s a great piece of Americana literature with excellent suggestions for being a better human. There is much of the child’s metamorphosis of spirit in Emerson but without the lion’s destruction of values.