A Winter Adventure with Nietzsche: Zarathustra’s Speeches Continued

Thus-Spoke-Zarathustra-Nietzsche-Friedrich-9780140441185Back again for some existential fun time to get us through another melancholy winter.  Picking up where I left off last winter.

On the Teachers of Virtues:

Most of this section is composed of the sage lecturing about sleep and virtues then ending with Zarathustra’s pithy retort.  Let’s take a look at the sleep thing.

What is known about Nietzsche is that he suffered many ailments, and his poor health deprived him of sleep.


  • The Sage is obviously of good conscience and thus sleeps well, but this doesn’t sit well with Zarathustra – “Blessed are the sleepy ones, for they will soon drop off.”  This is against Zarathustra’s Will to Power, obeying one’s morals is just not good enough.  I think of the aphorism Nietzsche wrote, paraphrased (can’t find it right now, I think it is in Twilight of the Idols) – the virtuous obey morals out of fear of consequence.
  • Nietzsche must have known something of Kant’s lifestyle and possibly envied it.  Kant was known to have and promote very rigid sleeping schedules.  In contrast with both sleep and philosophy/morality, Nietzsche, I believe, uses this little speech to bash all religious sages (of good conscience) and secretly Immanuel Kant (Nietzsche bashing Kant’s philosophy is a whole other topic).  But there is a hint of Nietzsche liking his despair, his amor fati (love of fate), and despite his inability to sleep, his will overcame his frailty to produce masterful works of philosophy
  • The greatest line from this speech puts Nietzsche’s ‘Power’ versus ‘Pleasure'(in this sense sleep is a ‘pleasure’) – “And verily, if life had no sense, and I had to choose nonsense, then I too should consider this the most sensible nonsense.”  This line also, naturally, attacks nihilism which Nietzsche was opposed and unfairly gets paired with.

On the Afterworldly:

This is one of the most important sections of this book.  Let’s consider what he is saying about the “afterworldly”.

  • “At one time Zarathustra too cast his delusion beyond man, like all the afterworldly.”  So it’s apparent to Zarathustra, the belief in the afterlife is a delusion.  The word play here is great.  In existential terms, these psychological manifestations are the basis of anything religious, all gods and afterlifes, no religion withheld, and in conclusion do not help us with living none-whatsoever.   “…that dehumanized inhuman world which is a heavenly nothing; and the belly of being does not speak to humans at all, except as a human.”  
  • Zarathustra gives us a solution – Bear your earthly head freely and make meaning of the earth.  This couldn’t get any clear in existential thinking.
  • There is a very Taoist sentiment in Zarathustra’s following advice of his new will, “…to will this way which man has walked blindly, and to affirm it, and no longer to sneak away from it like the sick and decaying.”  So this ‘way’ I take to mean Life, the path we live on, which Taoist’s call the Way or ‘Tao’.  In conclusion – investment of an afterworld subtracts from the actual life, the living, we live in the now.
  • “Zarathustra is gentle with the sick.”  That has personal written all over it.  Even the sick (like Nietzsche himself) can overcome thoughts of afterlife, still embrace the will to power, but the sentiments for heaven, still “betray” one’s life, sick or not.
  • Zarathustra slams the powerful people, or godlike men, who use religious afterlife for their own power, they are very much existentialist, believing in their body as a “thing-it-self” (this is what Schopenhauer called the Will).  We can think of David Koresh or Jim Jones, but it can be more than that.  Any priestly person using the sentiments of an afterlife to feed his/her power from the flock’s fear of death and the hereafter.

On The Despisers of the Body:

But the awakened and knowing say:  Body am I entirely, and nothing else; and Soul is only a word for something about the body.”  In German, the word for soul is ‘Seele’ which can also mean life.  So we know where this is going.

His quotation of a child “Body am I, and Soul”, is an homage to the natural existential framework children possess before they are taught all the hokum of religion.


  • Zarathustra shows the contrast – body as great reason (and Soul is a word for the body) versus a little instrument of the body is called “spirit” (in German – Geist) and a toy for a great reason.  
  • Despisers of the Body, there is a few notions of what he actually means, is one better than the other?  The two that come to mind:  those who mistreat their bodies in a general sense (over-eating, drinking/drugs, laziness), and those who deprive the body of natural functions (think priests who abstain of sex or ascetics who fast excessively).  Whatever the case, the despisers of the body still have to serve the body in some sense or another according to Zarathustra

In sum, the despiser of the body cannot create beyond himself and thus is no bridge to the overman.  Whether it is a abstinent holyman or a drugaddict, neither can create something better, someone who embraces life and the earth and existence.

Thus Spoke Zarathustra: Of the Three Metamorphoses

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.

Side note:

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.