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.

Zarathustra’s Prologue 5-10

Zarathustra’s Prologue: 5


The Ultimate Man is explained here, this is extremely valuable.

There are four questions the last man asks.

  • What is love?
  • What is creation?
  • What is longing?
  • What is a star?

And he blinks.

There is a great explanation by Joseph Campbell about the aspect of the Hindu deity Brahma, the creator god, and the Brahman, the Absolute Reality, that I am going to paraphrase here (Mythos Part 2 Episode Three I believe).

Brahma sits on a lotus that is all of creation and he blinks.  This blinking is a symbol for the On and the Off, Open and Close, Creation and Destruction.  Considering Nietzsche’s broad understanding of Hinduism, I believe this is a reference to that.

Why does he make such references?  Self-empowerment, or The Will to Power.  Like Brahma blinks for the on and off of all of creation, so does the Ultimate Man, for himself and his creation.  He is the jewel in the lotus.  This is the central idea of Existentialism centered on a strong understanding of self-empowerment, not whimsical degradation that is an effect of stark nihilism.

“Formerly all the world was mad,’ say the most refined, and blinks.”

In this section, there is a common aphorism that I don’t think gets used with a full understanding of what it means when it is used out of context.  In context, or with understanding, it is grand.

“I say unto you:  you must still have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star.  I say unto you:  you still have chaos in you.”

Part 6 and 7

Part six offers strong statements for atheism and existentialism which are very obvious.

The death of tightrope walker is caused by the jester which is likened to the devil, and in part seven Zarathustra says – “Humankind is uncanny and still without meaning:  a jester can become man’s fatality.”  The tightrope walker’s acceptance of his fate is valued by Zarathustra, and Nietzsche intended to give praise to those that risk their life and can relish in the fact that there is no afterlife and no devil.  Overcoming this fear of death and wish for an afterlife is a source of The Will to Power.  This will come again and again throughout the book.

Part 8

The jester warns Zarathustra of the people’s hatred of him, the danger of his teachings is more dangerous than the symbolic devil.  There are some interesting strings of ideas in this part.  The corpse as a roast, the tightrope walker as a dead dog, Zarathustra as a thief but not as good as the devil.

Zarathustra puts the corpse into the hollow tree.  Symbolically, he puts his first companion/disciple in the hollow of the World Tree, so that his corpse is sheltered in the hub of existence.  This is also an obvious break in tradition with burial or burning.

Part 9

As a truth-seeking philosopher, Nietzsche could not leave any stone unturned.  Consider.

“Behold believers of all faiths!  Whom do they hate most?  The one that breaks their table of values, the breaker, the lawbreaker; yet he is the creator.”

Part 10

Zarathustra’s animals come in search for him.  The point is made about how the serpent grips the eagle like a friend, not an enemy.  This is most relevant, not just because of Christianity, but all religions.  There is a common connection throughout human history and religion/myth that shows a shifting relationship between the snake and the eagle.   “And when my wisdom leaves me one day – alas, it loves to fly away — let my pride fly away with my folly.”

Now on to the book.  I may only discuss On The Three Metamorphoses for my next post because of its rich meaning, but after that many of these sections will be covered at a time.

Zarathustra’s Prologue: 1-4

Zarathustra’s Prologue:  1

Right away, on the first page of Zarathustra’s Prologue, there is a lot of depth that may not be seen on the first read.

There is reference to the “real” Zarathustra of Persia, as Graham Parkes has pointed out from older texts, this being the thirty year old going to the mountains near a lake.  There are also similarities with Jesus, Buddha, and Nietzsche himself.

Nietzsche was going on forty midway through writing Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and he spent years in the Swiss Alps near a lake in small dimly-lit rooms that could be likened to a cave.

This cave in the mountains near a lake with the sun shining is also the place where the book ends, at the beginning, a nod at Eternal Recurrence.

We get our first gem of Existentialism with this first line of monologue – “You great star, what would your happiness be had you not those for whom you shine?”

This is the meaning of life that Nietzsche supports throughout the book.  Nietzsche was big fan of Schopenhauer, who was a true pessimist, but Nietzsche made his break.  He offers the solution in that first monologue for the dire problem with Nihilism.  What would a human’s happiness be without those he/she helps?  Same for Zarathustra.  What’s the use of his wisdom and knowledge?

The snake and the eagle are Zarathustra’s friends.  There is the obvious connection of Good and Evil there.  But this goes deeper, and I believe Nietzsche understood this, since he was philologist, he knew many ancient religious texts.  Even if he didn’t, he made the connection to worldwide symbolism that each culture treats them differently.

In Zoroastrianism, like Abrahamic religions, the snake is evil and the eagle is good.  Zarathustra at this point, coming out of his cave and greeting the sun, is ready to correct a mistake he had made;  dividing the world in two, good and evil.

There is also another thing to consider here at the cave.  From The Gay Science, Nietzsche says this about Buddha’s Shadow.

After Buddha was dead, his shadow was still shown for centuries in a cave – a tremendous, gruesome shadow. God is dead; but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown. -And we- we still have to vanquish his shadow, too.


We should also consider the story of Buddha and his shadow as I feel it is relevant.  Buddha tamed a destructive dragon in a cave named after Naga Gopala (‘naga’ means snake), a shepherd in a past life, bent on revenge for a slight against him.  The dragon, essentially, is part eagle and serpent.  These are important elements that exist in human myth and psychology, and I feel Nietzsche intentionally put this vast depth into Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

There is a tricky German word here that is very important to the meaning of this book’s philosophy.  Here’s a list of the meanings of untergehen:


  • to sink
  • to perish
  • to go down
  • to founder
  • to be destroyed

The cup is also an important symbol with many mythical meanings, but there is an obvious one I think of in regards to philosophy.  That’s the difference of perception of reality, the old cliché of ‘the cup being half-empty or half-full.’  In Zarathustra’s case, it’s overfull.

Zarathustra’s Prologue:  2

“Zarathustra left alone”, without his two friends, serpent and eagle, good and evil.  This is important.

“Do you not fear being punished as an arsonist?”  The reference to the phoenix, bird of fire and born of ashes, has many relative meanings, such as Eternal Recurrence itself or simpler, the creation and destruction of the self as a human during one’s lifetime.

The saint says, “Does he not walk like a dancer?”  Two things come to mind.  Nietzsche’s famous aphorism – “Life’s a dance.”  And Shiva’s cosmic dance, the dance of creative destruction, or one full turn of the cosmic wheel, not sure if Nietzsche had this in mind.

The saint could be any saint of any religion.  There is a criticism here of such saintly-hood; it is a purely selfish act to have wisdom and enjoy it only for oneself, like the sun shining for itself.

The saint is also the bearer of God’s Shadow, the one that lives on after its death, like Buddha’s shadow.

Zarathustra’s Prologue:  3

In English, our word is ‘tightrope walker’.  In German, it is ‘seiltanzer’, or literally in English, rope-dancer.  This is one of the times I agree with Common’s translation.  The rope-dancer is symbolic of one who balances through life, and the rope is the fine line between Good and Evil.  This is the problem with mankind that Zarathustra wants to bring to light, and since Zarathustra brought this dichotomy to mankind, he would like to be rid of it.

Nietzsche uses one of the words for ghost, ‘gespenst’, which is the more literal form which differs from the other ‘geist’ which holds more weight with this book.  I’m not sure what he meant by ‘plant’ and ‘ghost’.  But it could be simply a reference to evolution, since Nietzsche did admire Darwin, with the final stage evolution of an intellectual person of the time to become a ‘ghost’, or hyperbolically, a scary apparition left behind to haunt the earth, say in books and critical thinking.

In this section, we are introduced with ‘übermensch’, the translation of this word, ‘superman’, has been used and abused so Kaufman uses ‘overman’ and Parkes uses ‘overhuman’.

The symbol of lightning is also an ancient and universal symbol for the heavens and sky-gods.  Not a coincidence here, nor do I think that there are any symbolic accidents in this book.  Nietzsche was well versed in many theological texts of the world.  It is no surprise that the overman is lightning.

Zarathustra’s Prologue:  4

There are many or these “I love him…” lines that represent some of Nietzsche’s aphoristic style of philosophy.

One of my favorites:

“I love him who is abashed when the dice fall to make his fortune, and asks, ‘Am I a crooked gambler?”  For he wants to perish.

I appreciate this concept, it reminds me of the ubiquitous and overused maxim of Nietzsche’s “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  Ignoring the pop music references, we can interpret to mean that suffering  promotes growth.  As humans we know this to be true in abstract and in spirit (Nietzschean sense of the word).  Certainly there are things of suffering that do not make you stronger physically such as frostbite and sunstroke, but spiritually you can become the better for it.

I could dissect many more of these, but I’ll move along.

He closes with the reference to the overman as lightning again of which Zarathustra is the herald.

A Winter Adventure with Nietzsche: Commentary for Thus Spoke Zarathustra: Part One

Hello friends and fellow humans.  Let us prepare for this epic journey.

There are a few things to consider before reading Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra:  A Book for All and None.

  • Make sure your copy is translated by either Walter Kaufmann or R.J. Hollingdale, I’d advise against reading Thomas Commons’ which I think is awful
  • Read Kaufmann’s preface before going into Zarathustra’s prologue, you should know a little bit about who Nietzsche was before reading this book
  • Read slow, even if it’s two pages a sitting
  • Take the time to consider all footnotes and comments
  • If you’re looking to buy a copy and are in Milwaukee, go to Downtown Books, they’ve got a bunch of Kaufmann translations for cheap
  • If you’re at all religious, you will get offended.  But I encourage you to persist.  As literal as Nietzsche was in all other works, Zarathustra is like no other.  It’s a superrich body of prose filled with word tricks and philosophical diamonds, and like the sub-title suggests it’s for all and nobody.
  • I’m not writing this in a proper format for the university, so anything I have to say is either coming from Kaufmann or Hollingdale or is my own original thought

On a personal note:

I received this book when I was sixteen from a guy who talked it up as a life-changing book, a super-hard read, and that Nietzsche wrote the first part in ten days; with all three he was right.   The copy he gave me still exists, without a cover and in the safe hands of a lifelong friend.  Back then, I was a poor reader, so with difficult reading I could barely get through a page.  But I persisted, through the first part at least.  I didn’t finish the entire book until I was in my twenties.  This is partly the cause of why I’m writing this blog, to help some get through the first part.

The first time I had completely finished Thus spoke Zarathustra front to back, I had read the entire book riding the bus fifteen minutes at a time and while sitting on the toilet.  That pace got me through the last half, which was foreign to me the years prior.  For good and fast readers, I definitely suggest slowing it down some. It’s easy to get lost in the beauty of the prose, but if you’re mindful, you can grab up more of the layers of meaning.  Also, I’ve noticed that people don’t retain philosophical concepts when reading fast, myself especially.

Naturally, my perception of the voice in this book has changed drastically over the years, not that this doesn’t happen with everything.  But it is worthy of note because there is a psychological transference that can be insulting at first, especially given the perception of the reader.  No one likes to be criticized, we turn sour and nasty at the sound of it.  And Nietzsche spares no one, including a himself.  All and none.   So if one isn’t ready for criticism of one’s self, culture/religion, and existence, you just might throw the book into the fire as many have in the past.

The Title:

There are several different essays that Walter Kaufmann has written about that includes info on the title, but I’ll sum up what it means in my own version.

Zarathustra was, as you may know, the prophet of Zoroastrianism, an ancient Persian religion.  The key reason for this character is the declaration of the separation of evil, Angra Maiynu, from the all-good universal creator god, Ahura Mazda.  Zarathustra of Persia prophesied that Ahura Mazda will ultimately overcome and the cycle will renew once again.

This is an important choice for Nietzsche for many reasons.  Philosophically speaking, the Zoroastrian Cycle can be likened to Eternal Recurrence which is, simply put:  Matter is finite, time is infinite, thus everything occurs and recurs infinitely.  Eternal Recurrence is an ancient notion that Nietzsche paid homage to.  The Greek concept of ‘loving one’s fate’, amor fati, is expressed in this excerpt from The Gay Science.

I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: someday I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.

This is idea part of the backbeat in Zarathustra.  In my own view, this is an element that keeps Nietzsche weirdly positive, in perspective.  I’ll mention this now and probably bring it up later many times, Nietzsche was not a fan of nihilism, at all.  This is important, I feel, because many/most of the suggestions made by Zarathustra are meant to advise one to destroy their cultural/moral constructs through and through, but drastically unlike nihilism, he gives concrete solutions.  This is a major difference between him and his major influence, Arthur Schopenhauer.

Consider this bit from The Gay Science:

“What if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’ … Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.’ ” 

This isn’t a huge philosophical revelation in terms of Philosophy, but this is a major theme that addresses the metaphysical issue in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.  This is also important because it shows us, in my opinion, why Nietzsche chose to use the symbols he did.  The symbols aren’t just Persian, they’re human.  We see them in all ancient religions, Hinduism and Jainism, Greek and Germanic.   The eagle and the serpent.  The sun and moon.  All these basic things important to our existence as humans.

I’ll try to point out all these gems that might get overlooked if one is getting sucked into the childish beauty of Nietzsche’s prose.  And hopefully, this excerpt helped you begin this journey, my friends who needed the push to dive into this murky book.

The next post will cover Zarathustra’s Prologue which I believe is the most important part of this book.