On Nietzsche’s ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’​: A Living Lighthouse of Invincible Life

David Proud
49 min readSep 27, 2022

‘With the Persian Empire we first enter on continuous History. The Persians are the first Historical People; Persia was the first Empire that passed away. While China and India remain stationary, and perpetuate a natural vegetative existence even to the present time, this land has been subject to those developments and revolutions, which alone manifest a historical condition. The Chinese and the Indian Empire assert a place in the historical series only on their own account and for us (not for neighbours and successors). But here in Persia first arises that light which shines itself, and illuminates what is around; for Zoroaster’s ‘Light’ belongs to the World of Consciousness — to Spirit as a relation to something distinct from itself. We see in the Persian World a pure exalted Unity, as the essence which leaves the special existences that inhere in it, free; — as the Light, which only manifests what bodies are in themselves; — a Unity which governs individuals only to excite them to become powerful for themselves — to develop and assert their individuality. Light makes no distinctions: the Sun shines on the righteous and the unrighteous, on high and low, and confers on all the same benefit and prosperity. Light is vitalizing only in so far as it is brought to bear on something distinct from itself, operating upon and developing that. It holds a position of antithesis to Darkness, and this antithetical relation opens out to us the principle of activity and life. The principle of development begins with the history of Persia. This therefore constitutes strictly the beginning of World-History; for the grand interest of Spirit in History, is to attain an unlimited immanence of subjectivity — by an absolute antithesis to attain complete harmony’.

- Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, (1770–1831), ‘Philosophy of History’

In ‘The Philosophy of History’, Hegel identifies active creative reason (Vernunft) as spirit (Geist) and contends that the world is the intersection of spirit and matter whereby that which distinguishes spirit from matter is the notion of freedom which is a self-contained existence and the essence of spirit whereas matter on the other hand is marked by its dependence upon something external: ‘The nature of spirit can best be understood if we contrast it with its direct opposite, which is matter. Just as gravity is the substance of matter, so also can it be said that freedom is the substance of spirit’. The history of the world (Weltgeschichte) is the consequence of the immersion of spirit in matter and initially this immersion manifests itself in natural regularity but through humanity’s historical development it culminates in the self-consciousness of spirit and this historical process of freedom’s self-consciousness begins with the Persians and the history of Zoroastrian Achaemenid Persia (Achaemenid: of the dynasty ruling in Persia from Cyrus I to Darius III (553–330 BC)), precisely constitutes it would be accurate to say the starting point of world history.

Zoroaster, Iranian prophet, who lived sometime before 400 BC, and who taught an ethical dualism whereby the world is locked in an epic battle between opposing forces of good and evil. He had experienced a revelation by the time he was thirty during a spring festival upon the river bank, seeing a shining Being, who revealed himself as Vohu Manah (Good Purpose) and instructed him concerning Ahura Mazda (Wise Lord) and five other radiant figures. Zoroaster soon after became aware of the existence of two primal spirits, the second being Angra Mainyu (Destructive Spirit) with opposing concepts of Asha (order) and Drui (deception) and he decided to spend his life teaching people to seek Asha. The importance of Achaemenid Persians as the first historical people is conveyed through the Zoroastrian religious system and Zoroaster’s light is the first objectification of the spirit. In the Persian world there was a discernible pure exalted unity, that is to say an essence that departs from the specific existences that inhered within it, free as the light that only manifested that which material bodies are in themselves. The converse of Zoroastrian light is darkness,as its antithesis and in this contradiction there is the beginning of the separation of the immersed spirit from matter in nature and its consciousness of its freedom through the individual human being. The Mazdean light enables the individual human being together with other beings to attain freedom to act in as many ways as their natural propensities permit and Hegel traces a replication of the Zoroastrian space opened up by the antithesis between light and darkness in the political organization of the Persian empire:

‘The Persian Empire is an Empire in the modern sense — like that which existed in Germany, and the great imperial realm under the sway of Napoleon; for we find it consisting of a number of states, which are indeed dependent, but which have retained their own individuality, their manners, and laws. The general enactments, binding upon all, did not infringe upon their political and social idiosyncrasies, but even protected and maintained them; so that each of the nations that constitute the whole, had its own form of Constitution. As Light illuminates everything — imparting to each object a peculiar vitality — so the Persian Empire extends over a multitude of nations, and leaves to each one its particular character. Some have even kings of their own; each one its distinct language, arms, way of life, and customs. All this diversity coexists harmoniously under the impartial dominion of Light’.

- ‘Philosophy of History’

Hegel concluded his reflections upon Persia with the demise of the Achaemenids and does not consider the civilization of Islamic Persia, and with Alexander’s conquest of the Persian Empire the torch of spiritual development is passed to the Greek World and then to the Romans and finally, of course, to the Germans. According to Hegel the Greeks gave a spiritual content to the spiritual form introduced by the Persians and the Romans politicized the Greek content and instituted a tyranny of the spirit which stifled the natural side of spirit, the very side that had discovered its fulfillment in Persian pluralism. And from the Roman world Hegel posited the emergence of self-conscious freedom in the Christian German world, the latter underwriting the plurality of spiritual forms of life, free human activities, that are no longer ‘the substratum of their religious conceptions’, but of ‘free and spontaneous developments from their subjective self-consciousness’ and the Islamic world is reduced to a mere episode in the development of the spirit in the German world:

‘The German Spirit is the Spirit of the new World. Its aim is the realization of absolute Truth as the unlimited self-determination of Freedom — that Freedom which has its own absolute form itself as its purport. The destiny of the German peoples is, to be the bearers of the Christian principle. The principle of Spiritual Freedom — of Reconciliation [of the Objective and Subjective], was introduced into the still simple, unformed minds of those peoples; and the part assigned them in the service of the World-Spirit was that of not merely possessing the Idea of Freedom as the substratum of their religious conceptions, but of producing it in free and spontaneous developments from their subjective self-consciousness’.

- ‘Philosophy of History’

Be all that as it may, Zoroastrian light as the first objectification of the spirit, I am not entirely sure what to make of that idea, perhaps it is somewhat fanciful, but I like it.

‘I lost my world, my fame, my mind’

by Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī (1207–1273)

I lost my world, my fame, my mind —

The Sun appeared, and all the shadows ran.

I ran after them, but vanished as I ran —

Light ran after me and hunted me down.

‘The Lamps of God’, 1922, Winsor McCay

So what was Friedrich Nietzsche’s, (1844–1900), interest in Zoroaster, or Zarathustra? In ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ Nietzsche employs the native Iranian name Zarathustra that had a significant meaning as he had employed the familiar Greek-Latin name in his earlier works and he invented a characterization of Zarathustra as the mouthpiece for Nietzsche’s own ideas about morality albeit through opting for the name of Zarathustra as prophet of his philosophy he was clearly following the paradoxical objective of paying homage to the original Iranian prophet while reversing his teachings at the same time, for the original Zoroastrian world view interpreted being essentially on a moralistic basis and depicted the world as theatre in which the struggle of the two fundamentals of being, Good and Evil, played itself out represented by two antagonistic divine figures, whereas Nietzsche wished his philosophy to be beyond good and evil.

Principal Ideas Advanced

1. Life is the will to power, and he who would truly live must overcome the beliefs and conventions of common men; he must become an overman (or ‘superman’ ).

2. Those who teach the Christian virtues of pity and meekness seek to corrupt man, to destroy his will to power, and to make him submit to those who prosper from the conventional way.

3. Men who do not have the courage to live seek to escape by sleeping, by prizing the soul more than the body, and by seeking peace instead of war.

4. The overman is virtuous when he frees himself from the belief in God and from the hope of an afterlife; he is nauseated by the rabble, and his joy comes from surpassing those who live by false hopes and beliefs.

5. Worship of any sort is a return to childhood; if men must worship, let them worship donkeys if that suits them.

‘Return to the Convent’, 1868, Eduardo Zamacois y Zabala

There is of course some debate over whether Nietzsche shines more brightly as a literary figure rather than as a philosopher and he was certainly a literary master of the German language who influenced such literary luminaries as George Bernard Shaw, (1856–1950), H. L. Mencken, (1880–1956), Theodore Dreiser, (1871–1945), Robinson Jeffers, (1887–1952), Frank Norris, (1870–1902), and Jack London, (1876–1916). He is neither a systematic philosopher in the manner of Hegel nor a meticulous critical philosopher in the manner of Ernst Mach, (1838–1916), the philosopher of science. Nietzsche belongs rather to the tradition of philosophers who wished to tell us how to live, (one thing Nietzsche and Jordan Peterson, (1962 — ), have in common, two screw ups trying to tell the rest of us screw ups how to live), and his injunction is for one to become an individual, (whatever that means), and to follow one’s own desires, (not such good advice), if necessary through the destruction of others, (ok then but what if I get in the way of someone else following their desires? They can destroy me?).

Nietzsche is frequently inconsistent and sometimes contradictory and endeavours to be provocative which as a goal in itself is no great achievement, it is too easy to provoke others, especially so in our modern age, and his critiques of nineteenth century institutions recall those of his contemporaries, Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, (1813–1855), and Fyodor Dostoevsky, (1821–1881), such critiques often appearing to apply to the twentieth century, and the twenty first. His positive doctrine if such it be is rejected by many and is accepted not as Nietzsche devoutly wished by potential leaders but by those hopelessly defeated by modern civilization (rather like Peterson’s adherents). There are three principal themes in ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra, they are the will to power, the consequent revaluation of values, and the doctrine of eternal recurrence. Life is essentially a will to power, the feeling that one is in command of oneself and of the future, and in controlling the future one discovers that the values that most people accept are inadequate and that one must adopt a new or in any cases opposite, set of values, but neither power nor the new set of values is desirable for its consequences. If one were to use power to accomplish some final end, one would no longer need it, if one were to realize the new values, one would no longer need them. For Nietzsche there are no final ends, power and the revaluation of values are good in themselves, and consequently there is no millennium, nothing but an eternal recurrence of people, things, and problems.

These three themes are developed carefully in Thus Spake Zarathustra and Nietzsche’s manner of development will be followed in this exposition as it is both self-conscious and purposive. The main theme in Part One is that the individual stands alone with his or her fate in his or her own hands and he or she can expect no help from others either in this life or in some imagined future life. He or she must make him or herself to use the phrase of the later existentialists. As Part One opens we find that Zarathustra has spent ten years on a mountain in meditation with his companions, his eagle, a symbol of pride, and his serpent, a symbol of wisdom. He has just decided to go into the world of human beings to teach some of the wisdom that he has acquired during his period of meditation.

]When Zarathustra was thirty years old he left his home and the lake of his home and went into the mountains. Here he enjoyed his spirit and his solitude, and for ten years did not tire of it. But at last a change came over his heart, and one morning he rose with the dawn, stepped before the sun, and spoke to it thus:

‘You great star, what would your happiness be had you not those for whom you shine?

‘For ten years you have climbed to my cave: you would have tired of your light and of the journey had it not been for me and my eagle and my serpent.

‘But we waited for you every morning, took your overflow from you, and blessed you for it.

‘Behold, I am weary of my wisdom, like a bee that has gathered too much honey; I need hands outstretched to receive it.

‘I would give away and distribute, until the wise among men find joy once again in their folly, and the poor in their riches.

‘For that I must descend to the depths, as you do in the evening when you go behind the sea and still bring light to the underworld, you over rich star.

‘Like you, I must go under-go down, as is said by man, to whom I want to descend.

‘O bless me then, you quiet eye that can look even upon an all-too-great happiness without envy!

‘Bless the cup that wants to overflow, that the water may flow from it golden and carry everywhere the reflection of your delight.

‘Behold, this cup wants to become empty again, and Zarathustra wants to become man again’.

Thus Zarathustra began to go under’.

— ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’

On the way down the mountain Zarathustra meets a saint who tells him that the way to help people is to stay away from them and to save them through prayer, and at this point Nietzsche announces one of his important ideas, that the individual can expect no supernatural help because God is dead. Zarathustra then reaches a town where, finding a crowd engaged in watching a tightrope walker perform his act, he says to them:

‘I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?

‘All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape.

‘Whoever is the wisest among you is also a mere conflict and cross between plant and ghost. But do I bid you become ghosts or plants?

‘Behold, I teach you the overman. The overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the overman shall be the meaning of the earth! I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes Poison-mixers are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, decaying and poisoned themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so let them go’.

- ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’

Zarathustra thus explains that humanity has evolved from apes but that he or she is still apelike, humanity is poisoned by those who teach that salvation is found not in this world but in the next, and by those who teach the Christian ethics of virtue, justice, and pity. But the people in the crowd are not ready for Zarathustra’s message, they think that he is announcing the tightrope walker’s act. He reflects that they cannot be taught since they are not ready to take the first step toward learning by recognizing that their present beliefs are false and what Zarathustra must find is those ‘who do not know how to live except by going under, for they are those who cross over’. But the tightrope walker falls and is killed. Zarathustra and the corpse are left alone in the marketplace and Zarathustra then realizes that one of his great problems will be to communicate his message to people too indifferent or too stupid to understand him but his purpose remains firm:

‘Human existence is uncanny and still without meaning: a jester can become man’s fatality. I will teach men the meaning of their existence-the overman, the lightning out of the dark cloud of man. But I am still far from them, and my sense does not speak to their senses. To men I am still the mean between a fool and a corpse’.


‘An insight has come to me: companions I need, living ones — not dead companions and corpses whom I carry with myself wherever I want to. Living companions I need, who follow me because they want to follow themselves — wherever I want’.

- ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’

‘Der Astralmensch’ (‘The Astral Man’), 1903, Sascha Schneider

Throughout the rest of Part One Nietzsche expresses a series of more or less disconnected criticisms of the people of his time most of whom are sleepers in virtue of sleep robbing them of thought making them like inanimate objects and imitates death, for humanity uses sleep as a means of escape just as God created the world as a diversion, as an escape from himself. Another sort of escape is found by accepting the injunction to renounce the body and love the soul but the soul is only a part of the body and one must love the whole more than one loves any part. l,ove of the soul to the exclusion of the body is a kind of renunciation of life. Another is the belief that life is full of suffering. So it is, but the overman[woman] will see to it that he [or she] is not one of the sufferers. War brings out many of the best qualities in people, Nietzsche contends:

‘I see many soldiers: would that I saw many warriors! ‘Uniform’ one calls what they wear: would that what it conceals were not uniformly’.

‘You should have eyes that always seek an enemy your enemy. And some of you hate at first sight. Your enemy you shall seek, your war you shall wage — for your thoughts. And if your thought be vanquished, then your honesty should still find cause for triumph in that. You should love peace as a means to new wars — and the short peace more than the long. To you I do not recommend work but struggle. To you I do not recommend peace but victory. Let your work be a struggle. Let your peace be a victory! One can be silent and sit still only when one has bow and arrow: else one chatters and quarrels. Let your peace be a victory’.

‘You say it is the good cause that hallows even war? ‘I say unto you: it is the good war that hallows any cause. War and courage have accomplished more great things than love of the neighbour. Not your pity but your courage has so far saved the unfortunate’.

- ‘ Thus Spake Zarathustra’

The state, another escape from reality, is one of the greatest enemies of individualism, it tells the citizen what to do, how to live, it replaces his or personality with its own, another renunciation of life is dedication to the ideal of chastity. To deny the lust of the flesh is often to affirm the lust of the spirit. Why deny lust? Nietzsche asks. You see how issues arise when you update a philosophical text to be inclusive and switch masculine and feminine pronouns for exclusively masculine ones? And sensuality is a bitch, (die Hündin), apparently:

‘Would that you were as perfect as animals at least. But animals have innocence’.

‘Do I counsel you to slay your senses? I counsel the innocence of the senses. Do I counsel you to chastity? Chastity is a virtue in some, but almost a vice in many. They abstain, but the bitch, sensuality, leers enviously out of everything they do. Even to the heights of their virtue and to the cold regions of the spirit this beast follows them with her lack of peace. And how nicely the bitch, sensuality, knows how to beg for a piece of spirit when denied a piece of meat’.

‘Do you love tragedies and everything that breaks the heart? But I mistrust your bitch. Your eyes are too cruel and you search lustfully for sufferers. Is it not merely your lust that has disguised itself and now calls itself pity?’

‘And this parable too I offer you: not a few who wanted to drive out their devil have themselves entered into swine’.

‘Those for whom chastity is difficult should be counseled against it, lest it become their road to hell — the mud and heat of their souls’.

‘Do I speak of dirty things? That is not the worst that could happen. It is not when truth is dirty, but when it is shallow, that the lover of knowledge is reluctant to step into its waters. Verily, some are chaste through and through: they are gentler of heart, fonder of laughter, and laugh more than you. They laugh at chastity too and ask, ‘What is chastity? Is chastity not folly? Yet this folly came to us, not we to it. We offered this guest hostel and heart: now it dwells with us — may it stay as long as it will!’’

- ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’.

Women are only half human at best, more like cats or cows, and what is great is the passion of love between men and women, for all creation is the result of passion and the solution to all of women’s problems is childbearing (I am only the messenger here) and this is the only interest women ever have in men. A man needs two things, danger and play. His interest in woman is that she is “the most dangerous plaything.” She is “the recreation of the warrior. . . .” Her hope should be that she will bear the overman. Men are merely evil, but women are bad. That is why they are dangerous. Men can overcome them only by subjugating them completely.

‘Everything about woman is a riddle, and everything about woman has one solution: that is pregnancy. Man is for woman a means: the end is always the child. But what is woman for man?’

‘A real man wants two things: danger and play. Therefore he wants woman as the most dangerous plaything. Man should be educated for war, and woman for the recreation of the warrior; all else is folly. The warrior does not like all-too-sweet fruit; therefore he likes woman: even the sweetest woman is bitter. Woman understands children better than man does, but man is more childlike than woman’.

‘In a real man a child is hidden — and wants to play. Go to it, women, discover the child in man! Let woman be a plaything, pure and fine, like a gem, irradiated by the virtues of a world that has not yet arrived. Let the radiance of a star shine through your love! Let your hope be: May I give birth to the overman!’

‘Let there be courage in your lovely With your love you should proceed toward him who arouses fear in you. Let your honor be in your love! Little does woman understand of honour otherwise. But let this be your honor: always to love more than you are loved, and never to be second’.

‘Let man fear woman when she loves: then she makes any sacrifice, and everything else seems without value to her. Let man fear woman when she hates: for deep down in his soul man is merely evil, while woman is bad. Whom does woman hate most? Thus spoke the iron to the magnet: ‘I hate you most because you attract, but are not strong enough to pull me to you’.

‘The happiness of man is: I will. The happiness of woman is: he wills. ‘Behold, just now the world became perfect!-thus thinks every woman when she obeys out of entire love. And woman must obey and find a depth for her surface. Surface is the disposition of woman: a mobile, stormy film over shallow water. Man’s disposition, however, is deep; his river roars in subterranean caves: woman feels his strength but does not comprehend it’.

- ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’

An old woman agrees with Zarathustra and offers further advice: ‘You are going to women? Do not forget the whip!’

How should one die? Only when one has perfected his or her life but if one cannot live a perfect life then it is best to die in battle. Death must come because one wants it. And Part One concludes with the injunction that through Zarathustra’s teaching one should not become merely a disciple and imitator of the prophet, but should learn through him to understand oneself. The section ends on a familiar note:

‘One repays a teacher badly if one always remains nothing but a pupil. And why do you not want to pluck at my wreath?’

‘You revere me; but what if your reverence tumbles one day? Beware lest a statue slay you’.

‘You say you believe in Zarathustra? But what matters Zarathustra? You are my believers -but what matter all believers? You had not yet sought yourselves: and you found me. Thus do all believers; therefore all faith amounts to so little’.

‘Now I bid you lose me and find yourselves; and only when you have all denied me will I return to you’.

‘Verily, my brothers, with different eyes shall I then seek my lost ones; with a different love shall I then love you.

‘And once again you shall become my friends and the children of a single hope — and then shall I be with you the third time, that I may celebrate the great noon with you’.

‘And that is the great noon when man stands in the middle of his way between beast and overman and celebrates his way to the evening as his highest hope: for it is the way to a new morning’.

‘Then will he who goes under bless himself for being one who goes over and beyond; and the sun of his knowledge will stand at high noon for him’.

‘’Dead are all gods: now we want the overman to live’ — on that great noon, let this be our last will’.

- ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’

The seated sculptures of the four gods in the Great Temple in Abu Simbel, the god Ptah on the utmost left stays in the dark while the sun illuminates the chamber.

In Part Two Nietzsche develops the notion of the will to power wherein the first part is largely negative but the second part provides the positive doctrine beginning with the notion that the conjecture of God is meaningless because it defies the imagination. However, the conjecture of the overman is within the scope of the human mind if one first eliminates error. and one cause of error is pity but the overman is willing to sacrifice himself and so he is willing to sacrifice others. Priests cause error for they have taken death as their God’s triumph, they need to be redeemed from their Redeemer, they are virtuous because they expect a reward in the afterlife, but there is no reward. For the overman to be virtuous is to be true to oneself (whatever that means) and to follow where the self leads. The mass of people want power and pleasure too, but they want the wrong kinds whereas the overman must seek the higher powers and pleasures and he must be nauseated by the rabble that is around him:

‘The bite on which I gagged the most is not the knowledge that life itself requires hostility and death and torture-crosses — but once I asked, and I was almost choked by my question: What? does life require even the rabble? Are poisoned wells required, and stinking fires and soiled dreams and maggots in the bread of life?’

‘Not my hatred but my nausea gnawed hungrily at my life. Alas, I often grew weary of the spirit when I found that even the rabble had esprit. And I turned my back on those who rule when I saw what they now call ruling: higgling and haggling for power-with the rabble. I have lived with closed ears among people with foreign tongues: would that the tongue of their higgling and their haggling for power might remain foreign to me. And, holding my nose, I walked disgruntled through all of yesterday and today: verily, all of yesterday and today smells foul of the writing rabble’.

- ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’

This category of nausea is also found in works by Dostoevsky and Jean-Paul Sartre, (1905–1980). See my article A World of Gods and Monsters — Part Three. In Dostoyevsky’s ‘Notes from the Underground’ the sickness is caused by the loathsomeness of life, in Sartre’s ‘Nausea’, it is caused by the meaninglessness of existence. If you are tempted by the notion that life is meaningless see my article On Nietzsche’s ‘Beyond Good and Evil’: The Absolute Dialectical Unrest. For Nietzsche the malaise comes from seeing the rabble as one would see a field of dead, decaying animals, from seeing their ‘stinking fires and soiled dreams….’ Nietzsche’s statement of his positive doctrine is often interrupted by fell criticisms. The contrast between the desires of the masses and those of the overman reminds him of the belief that all men [and women] are equal but if men [and women]were born equal, there could be no overman [woman]. Those who have preached equality have told the people what they wanted to hear rather than the truth and the truth can be discovered only by the free spirit that wills, desires, and loves. Such a free spirit finds that not all things can be understood, and that some must be felt, and the will to truth is just one aspect of the will to power and such a will carries the free spirit beyond truth and falsity and beyond good and evil as well. The slave thinks that he can conquer his master by his servility, he has the will to power, but in its lowest form, and the forerunner of the overman has the will to be master, the will to command, the will to conquer, and in virtue of being incapable of positive action the slave can do neither good nor evil whereas the master with his capacity for evil has a capability for good.

And if the good requires positive action, so does the beautiful.

‘Where is beauty? Where I must will with all my will; where I want to love and perish that an image may not remain a mere image. Loving and perishing: that has rhymed for eternities. The will to love, that is to be willing also to die. Thus I speak to you cowards’.

‘But now your emasculated leers wish to be called contemplation.” And that which permits itself to be touched by cowardly glances you would baptize ‘beautiful’. How you soil noble names!’

‘But this shall be your curse, you who are immaculate, you pure perceivers, that you shall never give birth, even if you lie broad and pregnant on the horizon. Verily, you fill your mouth with noble words; and are we to believe that your heart is overflowing, you liars? But my words are small, despised, crooked words: gladly I pick up what falls under the table at your meals. I can still use it to tell hypocrites the truth. Indeed, my fishbones, clamshells, and thorny leaves shall tickle the noses of hypocrites. Bad air always surrounds you and your meals: for your lecherous thoughts, your lies and secrets, are in the air. Would that you dared to believe yourselves-yourselves and your entrails. Whoever does not believe himself always lies’.

- ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’

If one cannot find truth among those who tell the people what they want to hear, still less can one find it among the scholars who have removed themselves from the possibility of action and who ‘knit the socks of the spirit’. Neither can we tum to the poets. They know so little they have to lie to fill the pages they write. They are the great myth makers; they created God. Zarathustra’s mission is to lead men away from myths toward an assertion of the will. Men and women who accept the myths are like actors who play the parts assigned to them but who can never be themselves.

‘But suppose somebody said in all seriousness, the poets lie too much: he would be right; we do lie too much. We also know too little and we are bad learners; so we simply have to lie. And who among us poets has not adulterated his wine? Many a poisonous hodgepodge has been contrived in our cellars; much that is indescribable was accomplished there. And because we know so little, the poor in spirit please us heartily, particularly when they are young females. And we are covetous even of those things which the old females tell each other in the evening. That is what we ourselves call the Eternal-Feminine in us. And, as if there were a special secret access to knowledge, buried for those who learn something, we believe in the people and their ‘wisdom’.’

‘’This, however, all poets believe: that whoever pricks up his ears as he lies in the grass or on lonely slopes will find out something about those things that are between heaven and earth. And when they feel tender sentiments stirring, the poets always fancy that nature herself is in love with them; and that she is creeping to their ears to tell them secrets and amorous flatteries; and of this they brag and boast before all mortals’.

‘Alas, there are so many things between heaven and earth of which only the poets have dreamed’.

‘And especially above the heavens: for all gods are poets’ parables, poets’ prevarications. Verily, it always lifts us higher — specifically, to the realm of the clouds: upon these we place our motley bastards and call them gods and overmen. For they are just light enough for these chairs — all these gods and overmen. Ah, how weary I am of all the imperfection which must at all costs become events Ah, how weary I am of poets!’

- ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’


INTERLUDE 1 : Interjection by me.

Augsburger Wunderzeichenbuch (Ausburg Book of Miracles) — Folio 136: Nebensonnen bei Schönfeld, (‘Phantom Suns at Schönfeld’), 1538

‘The Phantom Suns’

by Johann Ludwig Wilhelm Müller (1794–1827)

I saw three suns in the heavens shine,

I gazed at them, they were not mine.

They stood so firm, as if their light

Would never vanish from my sight.

Ah, these are not my suns at all!

Begone, and someone else enthral!

Yes, not long since three suns were mine;

The better two have ceased to shine.

And if the third would disappear,

I’ll rest in darkness without fear.

‘Die Nebensonnen’

Drei Sonnen sah ich am Himmel steh’n,

Hab’ lang’ und fest sie angeseh’n;

Und sie auch standen da so stier,

Als wollten sie nicht weg von mir.

Ach, meine Sonnen seid ihr nicht!

Schaut Andern doch in’s Angesicht!

Ja, neulich hatt’ ich auch wohl drei:

Nun sind hinab die besten zwei.

Ging’ nur die dritt’ erst hinterdrein!

Im Dunkeln wird mir wohler sein.


The man or women who exercises the will to power can do so only by being him or herself and Part Three of ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ introduces the theme of eternal recurrence albeit it is almost obscured by other themes. The principal question is: What does one experience when one travels? Zarathustra decides that no matter where one travels one can experience only oneself. (Something of a movie cliché now, it seems to turn up a lot in Westerns anyhow, ‘you can run but you can’t run from yourself’ or something similar):

‘With such riddles and bitternesses in his heart Zarathustra crossed the sea. But when he was four days away from the blessed isles and from his friends, he had overcome all his pain; triumphant and with firm feet he stood on his destiny again. And then Zarathustra spoke thus to his jubilant conscience:’

‘I am alone again and I want to be so; alone with the pure sky and open sea; again it is afternoon around me. It was in the afternoon that I once found my friends for the first time; it was afternoon the second time too, at the hour when all light grows quieter. For whatever of happiness is still on its way between heaven and earth now seeks a shelter in a bright soul; it is from happiness that all light has grown quieter’.

‘O afternoon of my life Once my happiness too descended to the valley to seek shelter; and found those open, hospitable souls. O afternoon of my life! What have I not given up to have one single thing: this living plantation of my thoughts and this morning light of my highest hope! Companions the creator once sought, and children of his hope; and behold, it turned out that he could not find them, unless he first created them himself. Thus I am in the middle of my work, going to my children and returning from them: for his children’s sake, Zarathustra must perfect himself. For from the depths one loves only one’s child and work; and where there is great love of oneself it is the sign of pregnancy: thus I found it to be. My children are still verdant in their first spring, standing close together and shaken by the same winds-the trees of my garden and my best soil. And verily, where such trees stand together there are blessed isles. But one day I want to dig them up and place each by itself, so it may learn solitude and defiance and caution. Gnarled and bent and with supple hardness it shall then stand by the sea, a living lighthouse of invincible life’.

- ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’

But if this is the case, (where one travels one can experience only oneself), then the individual is beyond good and evil, both of which require some absolute standard or criterion of judgment. There is none. A person lives in a world, not of purpose, knowledge, law and design, but of accident, innocence, chance, and prankishness:

‘Verily, it is a blessing and not a blasphemy when I teach: ‘Over all things stand the heaven Accident, the heaven Innocence, the heaven Chance, the heaven Prankishness’.

‘’By Chance’ — that is the most ancient nobility of the world, and this I restored to all things: I delivered them from their bondage under Purpose. This freedom and heavenly cheer I have placed over all things like an azure bell when I taught that over them and through them no ‘eternal will’ wills. This prankish folly I have put in the place of that will when I taught: ‘In everything one thing is impossible: rationality’.

‘A little reason, to be sure, a seed of wisdom scattered from star to star — this leaven is mixed in with all things: for folly’s sake, wisdom is mixed in with all things. A little wisdom is possible indeed; but this blessed certainty I found in all things: that they would rather dance on the feet of Chance’.

- ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’

Of course one may use a little wisdom but only as a joke.

But what of people who cannot accept this doctrine because they are weak in body and in mind? They cannot be expected to accept the truth, they talk but cannot think, they ask only for contentment and refuse to face life, they expect teachers of contentment, flatterers who will tell them they are right, they want those who will condemn as sins the acts that they never commit, and who will praise their small sins as virtues. But Nietzsche goes on:

‘And when I shout, ‘Curse all cowardly devils in you who like to whine and fold their hands and pray’, they shout, ‘Zarathustra is godless’. And their teachers of resignation shout it especially; but it is precisely into their ears that I like to shout, ‘Yes, I am Zarathustra the godless!’ These teachers of resignation! Whatever is small and sick and scabby, they crawl to like lice; and only my nausea prevents me from squashing them’.

‘Well then, this is my preaching for their ears: I am Zarathustra the godless, who speaks: ‘Who is more godless than I, that I may delight in his instruction?’

‘I am Zarathustra the godless: where shall I find my equal? And all those are my equals who give themselves their own will and reject all resignation’.

‘I am Zarathustra the godless: I still cook every chance in my pot. And only when it has been cooked through there do I welcome it as my food. And verily, many a chance came to me domineeringly; but my will spoke to it still more domineeringly — and immediately it lay imploringly on its knees, imploring that it might find a hearth and heart in me, and urging with flattery, ‘Look, Zarathustra, how only a friend comes to his friend!’’

- ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’

Although much that Nietzsche says is negative and critical he constantly warns the reader that criticism should be given only out of love and in preparation for a positive doctrine to follow. Condemnation for its own sake is evidence only of an interest in filth and dirt. If God is dead, how did he die? Here Nietzsche cannot forego a critique of the compose Richard Wagner, (1813–1883), with whom he had been closely associated and with whom he had eventually quarreled. Wagner had written an opera, ‘Götterdämmerung’ (‘The Twilight of the Gods’), a highly dramatic story of the destruction of the Norse gods. Nietzsche says that the gods did not die in the way that Wagner describes, au contraire, they laughed themselves to death when one of their number announced that there was only one god. This jealous god had lost his godhead by saying the most godless word, and the other gods died laughing:

‘In me … my heart twisted with laughter and wanted to break and did not know whither, and sank into my diaphragm. Verily, this will yet be my death, that I shall suffocate with laughter when I see asses drunk and hear night watchmen thus doubting God. Is not the time long past for all such doubts too? Who may still awaken such old sleeping, light-shunning things?’

‘For the old gods, after all, things came to an end long ago; and verily, they had a good gay godlike end. They did not end in a ‘twilight’, though this lie is told. Instead: one day they laughed themselves to death. That happened when the most godless word issued from one of the gods themselves-the word: ‘There is one god. Thou shalt have no other god before me!’ An old grimbeard of a god, a jealous one, thus forgot himself. And then all the gods laughed and rocked on their chairs and cried, ‘Is not just this godlike that there are gods but no God?’

‘He that has ears to hear, let him hear’.

- ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra

What are often considered evils tum out on close examination by Nietzsche to be goods. Sex, which is cursed by ‘all hair-shirted despisers of the body’, is a virtue for the free and innocent (women too?):

‘Sex: to all hair-shirted despisers of the body, their thorn and stake, and cursed as ‘world’ among all the afterworldly because it mocks and fools all teachers of error and confusion’.

‘Sex: for the rabble, the slow fire on which they are burned; for all worm-eaten wood and all stinking rags, the ever-ready rut and oven’.

‘Sex: for free hearts, innocent and free, the garden happiness of the earth, the future’s exuberant gratitude to the present’.

‘Sex: only for the wilted, a sweet poison; for the lionwilled, however, the great invigoration of the heart and the reverently reserved wine of wines’.

‘Sex: the happiness that is the great parable of a higher happiness and the highest hope. For to many is marriage promised, and more than marriage — to many who are stranger to each other than man and woman. And who can wholly comprehend how strange man and woman are to each other?’

‘Sex — but I want to have fences around my thoughts and even around my words, lest swine and swooners break into my garden!’

- ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’

Lust to rule, which destroys civilizations, is a fit activity for the overman. Selfishness, a vice only of masters as seen by their slaves, is a necessary virtue of great bodies and great souls. The first commandment is to love yourself; the great law is ‘do not spare your neighbour! Man is something that must be overcome. And then Nietzsche turns at last to the doctrine of eternal recurrence, the theory that history repeats itself in identical cycles which is familiar to us through Plato, (c. 429–347 B.C.), who derived it from the writings of Egyptian and Babylonian astronomers, and which requires a concept of time that has not been congenial to Western thought ever since it was attacked by Saint Augustine, (354–430). For us time appears to move in a straight line that has no turnings, and Nietzsche, knowing that his doctrine would not be well received, stated it fist of all as coming from Zarathustra’s animals:

‘’O Zarathustra’, the animals said, to those who think as we do, all things themselves are dancing: they come and offer their hands and laugh and flee — and come back. Everything goes, everything comes back; eternally rolls the wheel of being. Everything dies, everything blossoms again; eternally runs the year of being. Everything breaks, everything is joined anew; eternally the same house of being is built. Everything parts, everything greets every other thing again; eternally the ring of being remains faithful to itself. In every Now, being begins; round every Here rolls the sphere There. The centre is everywhere. Bent is the path of eternity’.

“O you buffoons and barrel organs” Zarathustra replied and smiled again. ‘How well you know what had to be fulfilled in seven days, and how that monster crawled down my throat and suffocated me. But I bit off its head and spewed it out. And you, have you already made a hurdy-gurdy song of this? But now I lie here, still weary of this biting and spewing, still sick from my own redemption. And you watched all this? O my animals, are even you cruel? Did you want to watch my great pain as men do? For man is the cruelest animal’.

‘’At tragedies, bullfights, and crucifixions he has so far felt best on earth; and when he invented hell for himself, behold, that was his heaven on earth’.

‘When the great man screams, the small man comes running with his tongue hanging from lasciviousness. But he calls it his ‘pity’.’

‘’The small man, especially the poet — how eagerly he accuses life with words Hear him, but do not fail to hear the delight that is in all accusation. Such accusers of life — life overcomes with a wink. ‘Do you love me?’ she says impudently. ‘Wait a little while, just yet I have no time for you’.’

- ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’

Whatever is happening now will happen again and has happened before, the great things of the world recur, but so do the small. The recurrence of the small things, of the men farthest removed from the overman, seems at first impossible for Zarathustra to accept. That the return is exactly the same, not that the best returns, not that the part returns, not that all except the worst returns, but that all, best and worst, returns, is difficult for him to acknowledge. But at last he is willing to abandon the doctrine of progress for the truth of eternal recurrence.

‘If ever I spread tranquil skies over myself and soared on my own wings into my own skies; if I swam playfully in the deep light-distances, and the bird-wisdom of my freedom came-but bird-wisdom speaks thus: ‘Behold, there is no above, no below Throw yourself around, out, back, you who are lightly Sing! Speak no morel Are not all words made for the grave and heavy? Are not all words lies to those who are light? Single Speak no morel’ Oh, how should I not lust after eternity and after the nuptial ring of rings, the ring of recurrence?’

‘Never yet have I found the woman from whom I wanted children, unless it be this woman whom I love: for I love you, O eternity’.

‘For I love you, O eternity!’.

- ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’


INTERLUDE 2: Interjection by me

My hope’s that God will make you fall in love

With someone cold and callous just like you

And that you’ll realize my true value when

You’re twisting in the torments I’ve been through.

His love has caught me once again —

I’ve struggled fiercely, but in vain.

(Well, sobersides, explain to me

Just who can swim love’s shoreless sea!

To reach love’s goal you must accept

All you instinctively reject —

See ugliness as beauty, eat

Foul poison up and call it sweet.)

I jerked my head to work it loose,

Not knowing all this would produce

Was further tightenings of the noose.

I’m drunk with love to know my love is here tonight

And that I’m freed from sorrow and from fear tonight;

I sit beside my love, and earnestly I say,

‘God, make the key to morning disappear tonight!’

- Rabia Balkhi (10th century, earliest known female Persian poet)


Part Four of ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ which was not intended by Nietzsche to be the last is concerned with the consequences of accepting some portion of Zarathustra’s teachings without accepting the whole. One must take all or none. Much of this part consists of parodies of Christian views, for example, that one must become like a little bovine to enter the kingdom of heaven:

‘Except we turn back and become as cows, we shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. For we ought to learn one thing from them: chewing the cud. And verily, what would it profit a man if he gained the whole world and did not learn this one thing: chewing the cud! He would not get rid of his melancholy — his great melancholy; but today that is called nausea. Who today does not have his heart, mouth, and eyes full of nausea? You too! You too! But behold these cows!’

- ‘The Spake Zarathustra’

Zarathustra, who is still concerned with the overman, wonders what he will be like. As he goes from place to place in the world, he sees that humanity is fit only to be despised unless he is the prelude to the overrnan. Humanity is not to be preserved but is to be overcome. Humanity must be brave albeit there is no God, humanity must be strong because it is evil, and it must hate is neighbour as a consequence of the will to power. But again this doctrine is too strong for the people who listen to Zarathustra. Although God is dead, it is necessary for them to make a god of their own; and this time they choose a donkey. The animal fulfills all of the requirements for a god. He is a servant of men. He does not speak and therefore is never wrong. The world, created as stupidly as possible, is in his own image. Everyone is able to believe in the donkey’s long ears. Zarathustra, after upbraiding the people for worshiping a donkey, is told by them that it is better to worship some god, even a donkey, than no god at all. At least here is something that the worshiper can see, touch, hear, and even smell and taste if he wants to. God seems more credible in this form. The first atheist was the person who said that God is spirit.

Zarathustra replies to this plea for the donkey by pointing out that worship of any sort is a return to childhood. The overman has no wish to enter the kingdom of heaven, he wants the earth. However, if the people need to worship, let them worship donkeys if such a belief helps them. No man except Zarathustra has seen the earth as it is. But the overman will come, and he will see it. He will command the earth and it will obey. With this vision in mind, Zarathustra tums again to the world to search for and bring into perfection the overman.

‘Nausea is retreating from these higher men. Well then1 That is my triumph. In my realm they feel safe, all stupid shame runs away, they unburden themselves. They unburden their hearts, good hours come back to them, they celebrate and chew the cud: they become grateful. This I take to be the best sign: they become grateful. Not much longer, and they will think up festivals and put up monuments to their old friends. They are convalescing!’ Thus spoke Zarathustra gaily to his heart, and he looked out; but his animals pressed close to him and respected his happiness and his silence’.

- ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’


‘Amen! And praise and honor and wisdom and thanks and glory and strength be to our god, from everlasting to everlasting’.

‘But the ass brayed: Yea-Yuh’.

‘He carries our burden, he took upon himself the form of a servant, he is patient of heart and never says No; and whoever loves his God, chastises him’.

‘But the ass brayed: Yea-Yuh’.

‘He does not speak, except he always says Yea to the world he created: thus he praises his world. It is his cleverness that does not speak: thus he is rarely found to be wrong’.

‘But the ass brayed: Yea-Yuh’.

- Thus Spake Zarathustra’


INTERLUDE 3: Interjection by me

I said, ‘My heart would like a kiss from you’.

‘A kiss from me will cost your soul’, he said.

Immediately my heart poked at my side

And whispered, ‘That’s dirt cheap, dear, go ahead!’

- Motrebeh (12th century), meaning ‘a female musician’, her actual name is unknown.

The more I search myself the more I see

That longing for your love has ruined me;

I gaze into the mirror of my heart,

And though it’s me who looks, it’s you I see.

Daughter of Salar (early 13th century)


Walter Kaufmann’s, (1921–1980), ‘Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist’ appeared in 1950 at a time when Nietzsche was in eclipse in Europe and censured in the United States as a proto-fascist ideologist, certainly not often taken seriously philosophically, an attitude Kaufmann’s Nietzsche scholarship helped to change. This work situates Nietzsche in the mainstream of Western thought contending that he was a great philosopher and relating his thought to Socrates, (c. 470–399 BC), and Plato, Martin Luther, (1483–1546), and Jean Jacques Rousseau, (1712–1778), Immanuel Kant, (1724–1804), and Hegel, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, (1749–1832) and Heinrich Heine, (1797–1856), thereby emancipating Nietzsche from Charles Darwin, (1809–1882), Arthur Schopenhauer, (1788–1860), and Adolf Hitler, (1889–1945), alike, by reference to whom he had previously and typically been understood.

‘Hegel attached supreme significance to the actual historical sequence of the various philosophic systems and proposed to understand it in terms of development. Thus Hegel could have a system of his own in which the previous development was, as he saw it, subsumed. To Nietzsche this seemed objectionable. Against Hegel’s system he might have urged, as he did against the philosophizing at the German universities, that Hegel let ‘concepts, opinions, things past, and books step between himself and things’. Hegel, like the university scholars whom Nietzsche criticized, was concerned with the opinions of others -and instead of questioning them rigorously, he felt committed from the start to reconcile them with each other. In their thinking about values, which seemed especially important to Nietzsche, such men would be prone to perpetuate previous prejudices and to rationalize the valuations of their own society or state. Nietzsche himself, while using systems for his education, would employ them only with critical caution as aids to ruthless questioning: ‘to look now out of this window, now out of that; I guarded against settling down … ‘ Previous systems are thus reduced to correctives both for each other’s one-sidedness and for possible errors of the thinker who employs them critically. Thus Nietzsche is, like Plato, not a system-thinker but a problem-thinker’.

- ‘Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist’

The book is divided into four parts, preceded by a prologue and succeeded by an epilogue. The prologue, ‘The Nietzsche Legend’, undermines the various distortions of Nietzsche which had then gained widespread currency. Part I, ‘Background’, treats three preliminary matters: Nietzsche’s life as the background of his thought, Nietzsche’s method, and the death of God and the Revaluation. Part II, ‘The Development of Nietzsche’s Thought’, examines his views on art and history, Existenz versus the State, Darwin, and Rousseau, and introduces Nietzsche’s initial discovery of the will to power. Part III, ‘Nietzsche’s Philosophy of Power’, then examines the will to power in several contexts. in relation to morality and sublimation, sublimation, Geist, and Eros, power versus pleasure, the master race, overman and eternal recurrence. Part IV, ‘Synopsis’, treats Nietzsche’s repudiation of Christ and his attitude attitude toward Socrates. The epilogue treats Nietzsche’s heritage.

‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ is discussed throughout, but crucially in the last chapter of Part II and all of Part III. These chapters constitute the philosophical core of the book, for Kaufmann argues that the will to power is the core of Nietzsche’s philosophy, and Zarathustra is its teacher. Hence ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra is a central and perhaps the central Nietzschean opus. Zarathustra was chosen as the great protagonist, Kaufmann suggests, because of Nietzsche’s own dualistic tendencies, which he sought to overcome through the doctrines of will to power and eternal recurrence. For the will to power is developed by Nietzsche not only as a psychological concept of sublimation but as nothing less than a generic definition of morality, all morality. Common to all moral codes, that of the Greeks, the Persians, the Jews, and the Germans, is this generic element, will to power as self-overcoming. Nietzsche proposed to explain all human behaviour in terms of will to power, according to Kaufmann. The process of self-overcoming which the will to power expresses is sublimation, and Kaufmann spends considerable time elucidating the manifold ways in which the concept of sublimation is forged by Nietzsche, anticipating, for instance, Sigmund Freud’s, (1856–1939), later development of sublimated sexuality. Nietzsche suggests over and over in ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ and elsewhere that the sexual impulse could be channeled into creative spiritual activity, instead of being fulfilled directly. Olympic contests, the rivalry of tragedians, and the Socratic-Platonic dialectic could be construud as sublimated strivings to overwhelm one’s adversaries, for instance. Nietzsche is a dialectical monist, according to Kaufmann, and the philosophy of power which Nietzsche has Zarathustra articulate culminates in the dual vision of the overman and the eternal recurrence. According to Kaufmann, Nietzsche’s overman is not some new species or higher type, rather, it is the person who, like Goethe, has overcome his animal nature, has sublimated his impulses, has organized the chaos of his passions, and has given ‘style to his life’. In its quintessential expression, being an overman is to be an artistic Socrates or, to vary the metaphor, Christ’s soul in Caesar’s body.

The doctrine of eternal recurrence is referred to by Kaufmann as ‘the Dionysian faith’. The overman, the person who has transmuted his life into a beautiful totality, would also want to affirm all that is, has been, or will be, in affirming his own being. Those who achieve self-perfection want an eternal recurrence out of the fullness of their own being, out of their delight in the moment. Thus, Kaufmann contends, eternal recurrence was for Nietzsche less an idea than an experience, the experience of a life supremely rich in suffering, pain, agony, and their overcoming. But it was not only an experience. Kaufmann further contends that the doctrine of eternal recurrence was a ‘meeting place’ of science and philosophy. He maintains that Nietzsche thought that the doctrine of eternal recurrence was implied by modem science. If science assumes a finite amount of energy in a finite space and an infinite time, it might follow that only a finite number of configurations of the power quanta is possible. Thus, argues Kaufmann, Nietzsche regarded the doctrine of eternal recurrence, despite the experiential thrust stressed ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’, as ‘the most scientific of all possible hypotheses’ and of course Zarathustra was its prophet and its teacher:

‘In his books, of course, Nietzsche never offered any proof of his doctrine: it is only in his notes that we encounter these attempts; and his reasons for not publishing a proof presumably included his own sense that his efforts were inadequate. But while the references to this doctrine in his writings stress the experience of believing it, it is important to note that Nietzsche thought that the eternal recurrence might be implied by modern science; it appeared to him in the same light in which a later generation received the theory that the universe is ‘running down’; and he thought of it as ‘the most extreme form of nihilism’. ‘Duration coupled with an ‘in vain’, without aim and end [Ziel und Zweck], is the most paralyzing thought’. ‘Let us think this thought in its most terrible form: existence as it is, without sense and aim, but recurring inevitably without a finale of nothingness: ‘the eternal recurrence’. The doctrine means that all events are repeated endlessly, that there is no plan nor goal to give meaning to history or life, and that we are mere puppets in an absolutely senseless play. The eternal recurrence is the epitome of ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’. In a note for Zarathustra Nietzsche wrote: ‘After the vision of the overman, in a gruesome way the doctrine of the recurrence: now bearable!’

- ‘Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist’

‘Reclining Nude’, 1590, Reza Abbas. ‘In this world all the sane and sensible I see are sad; But madness is another world than theirs — my heart, go mad!’ — Agha Beigum, (18th Century)

Harold Alderman’s, (1936–2017), in ‘Nietzsche’s Gift’, maintains that philosophy is a sort of theatre of self-enactment rather than a stateable series of issues about questions which are decidable in principle and in its treatment of ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ it occupies a place in the phenomenological tradition and indebted to Martin Heidegger, (1889–1976), while its chief antagonists are commentators such as Arthur C. Danto, (1924–2013), on the one hand, those who endeavour to see the argument beneath the surface prose and try to relate this to perennial questions in the history of philosophy, and Walter Kaufmann on the other hand, where Kaufmann’s book would be characterized by Alderman as a historical-comparative study, one which he wishes to contrast with his philosophical study. Books about Nietzsche, Alderman contends, are not books of philosophy, a deficiency he seeks to remedy in treating Nietzsche as the foremost philosopher of philosophy.

‘Let me briefly put all of this another way. Nietzsche lived a singular, lonely, and interesting life. We all, by now, know that. But as with Plato, Hegel, Husserl, or Wittgenstein, for example, Nietzsche’s work was his real life. Thus, when I deal with that work, with the conceptual meanings which he labored so hard to uncover, I am dealing with Nietzsche’s life in the only way a philosopher ought to respond to the life of another philosopher. It seems to me that when writers deal with Nietzsche as if he were primarily a culture critic, friend of Wagner, or ironically anti-German German, they get exactly the Nietzsche they deserve -which is to say, hardly any Nietzsche at all’.

- ‘Nietzsche’s Gift’

Alderman’s investigation of ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ emerges against the background of three questions: What do we do in trying to deal theoretically with the diffuse problems and perplexities we encounter in one another and the world? What are the conditions and limitations of our theoretical explications of our praxis? What does it mean to be serious about thinking? In seeking to answer such questions, Alderman argues that ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ is itself an exhibition of the structures of philosophical experience and as a consequence the narrative content of ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ becomes an essential feature of its meaning, and the voiced character of an idea is central to understanding the sense in which a thinker becomes both free and responsible in acknowledging the playful character of his philosophizing.

The book consists of eight chapters. The first chapter, ‘Nietzsche’s Masks’, is concerned primarily to differentiate Alderman’s reading from other readings wherein it is suggested that ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ is Nietzsche’s magnum opus that it is the touchstone for any interpretation of Nietzsche’s work and it also argues suggestively how Nietzsche’s dictum -whatever is profound loves masks — applies self-referentially in that Nietzsche’s aphoristic style, along with the use of allegories and metaphors, constitutes his masking device:

‘In Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche writes, ‘Whatever is profound loves masks’. In this book I wish to take that assertion as a clue to interpreting Nietzsche’s own work, believing that the love of masks is an integral part of his philosophical endeavor. Nietzsche is not of course the first thinker to make use of philosophical masks, but he is the first to emphasize that it is not simply a matter of needing but of loving masks. For, according to Nietzsche, it is only with masks that the profound fact of human uniqueness can be preserved. Only he who loves masks can ever discover that fact; for he alone has the strength to look behind a mask to discover a man, the courage to mask himself in his individuality, and the playful innocence to choose a mask which not only hides, but which represents him to the world. The lover of masks knows that his disguise is also the mark of his presence in the world, and he chooses his mask carefully lest he be too easily recognized’.

- ‘Nietzsche’s Gift’

The second chapter, ‘The Camel, the Lion, and the Child’, takes Zarathustra’s opening speech, ‘On the Three Metamorphoses’, as its hermeneutic guide in order to illustrate the cyclical structure of experience, which must necessarily be re-enacted in the process of self-encounter. According to Alderman, the three metamorphoses state the structure of the theatre of philosophy. The section of ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ to which this speech belongs, Part I, culminates with the speech ‘On Voluntary Death’. Here, Alderman contends, we are confronted on the literal level with human finitude and on the metaphorical level with the temporary character of all self-conceptions and ideas. Alderman suggests that Nietzsche’s injunction: ‘Die at the right time!’, indicates that a genuine human life is not to be measured by the length of its duration, but it also suggests for him that within the boundaries of a finite existence no permanent meaning may be assumed.

This latter point may be generalized to identify Alderman’s approach. He argues throughout that it is Nietzsche’s view that all meanings are finite which are invoked to cope with human finitude, there are no final, univocal interpretations of life and world available, as long as the need to interpret life remains. Chapter III, ‘Silence and Laughter’, advances Alderman’s historicist theme further wherein it is argued that to understand Nietzsche’s doctrines we must understand why they are spoken, understand that in ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra a philosophical revolution occurs through the rediscovery and exploration of the range and limits of human speech. Chapter IV, ‘The Thinker at Play: Value and Will’, explores the relationship between value and will to power within the existential-phenomenological matrix. Alderman offers a list of the identifying characteristics of the slave and master moralities — a list which is of course meant to be neither exhaustive nor logically necessary:

‘The following are some of the main distinguishing features of slave moralities:

1) resentful

2) reactionary (negative)

3) other-directed

4) other-worldly

5) self~deceptive

6) humble (meek)

7) altruistic

8) prudent

9) democratic (self-indulgent)

10) confessional

11) morality of principles

12) weak-willed

13) Good (weakness) vs. Evil (strength)

By contrast the primary distinguishing features of master morality are:

1) expresses anger directly

2) creative (positive)

3) self-directive

4) this-worldly

5) self-aware

6) proud (not vain)

7) egoistic

8) experimental

9) aristocratic (value hierarchy)

10) discrete (masked)

11) morality of persons

12) strong-willed

13) Good (strength) vs. Bad (weakness)’.

- ‘Nietzsche’s Gift’

The remaining four chapters cover ‘The Drama of Etemal Recurrence’, ‘The Comedy of Affirmation’, ‘Philosophy as Drama: Nietzsche as Philosopher’, and an epilogue, ‘Who is . Nietzsche’s Zarathustra?’ The doctrine of etemal recurrence is discussed in detail and it is argued not only that the cosmological version is untenable but also that Nietzsche never intended to teach a cosmological doctrine. Chapter VI is a detailed discussion of Part Four of ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’. It is argued that Nietzsche’s serious and comedic recapitulation of his major themes indicates the personal conditions under which affirmation of any doctrine may be appropriately made. Chapter VII briefly relates Alderman’s construction of ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra to four other works Nietzsche published: ‘The Birth of Tragedy’, ‘Beyond Good and Evil’, ‘The Gay Science, and ‘Toward a Genealogy of Morals’. The epilogue, Chapter VIII, is Alderman’s endeavour to differentiate his interpretation from that of Heidegger:

‘Who then is Nietzsche’s Zarathustra? It is clear … that he is not — as Heidegger would have it — the teacher of revenge. Overcoming the spirit of revenge, the major achievement of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, involves … a cyclical drama in which Zarathustra the thinker learns not merely to accept but to celebrate the finite, temporal character of his being. It is resentment against this finite temporality which identifies revenge in all its manifestations, and Zarathustra has both experienced and moved beyond resentment. Zarathustra is the teacher who teaches that the source of human creation is not God, or absolute consciousness, or reality, but only the all-too-human will, the fundamental reality of a free and human mode of being. Zarathustra is the teacher who through his own willful acts creates the perspective from which nihilism can be overcome; he is the creator who explores and celebrates the essentially aesthetic character of our values and our knowledge. The thinker who, like Zarathustra, makes this exploration thereby becomes free to create in such a way that his creative acts do not deny the will as their source. Such a style of creation acknowledges that our artful, Icarian works are not burdened with claims of universality, eternality, and absoluteness; free of such heavy references, our creations become light and faithful to our experience’.

‘Zarathustra, the Overman, is the paradigm of the thinker who has enacted the discovery of the willful conditions of creation; it is a discovery he makes through a cautious, yet finally joyous, ritual that in its last phases can only be affirmed in the enthusiasm of song and in the celebration of dance. Nietzsche’s Zarathustra is he who teaches that one must rediscover ‘the seriousness one had as a child at play’.’

‘Zarathustra is then the teacher who teaches the need to explore the full range of the human voice; he is the teacher who argues that only a voice which learns to express itself in the whole range of possibilities extending from monologic silence, to strident polemics, to theory, to laughter, and to dance and song — those two forms of silent affirmation which are beyond language — can be a truly human voice. A voice speaks as human not when it lapses into the provincial claim that some one narrow segment of its range is the true voice — man speaks not only as theoretician, not only as poet — but when, in whatever range it speaks, it acknowledges the others as claim and limitation’.

‘Nietzsche’s Zarathustra is the teacher who brings the fiery and enlightening gift of speech -the gift with which we may either consume ourselves in empty chatter or with which, through playful, careful, embodied attentiveness, we may for the first time become present to ourselves as speakers and thus present to the things of our world as spoken’.

- ‘Nietzsche’s Gift’

‘Zoroaster’, 1896, Appellate Division Courthouse of New York State, First Department, Edward Clark Potter

We cannot lean upon this world

this emptiness that fades away

Bring wine my friend, we cannot change

the destinies we must obey

We cannot build a house upon

this flowing flood of emptiness

Or think of life eternal in

this ruin where we briefly stay

It is your eyebrow’s lovely curve

to which my heart bows down in worship

While this is so, my love, my words

cannot be heartfelt when I pray

Oh but it’s true, my dear, that when

your time here’s coming to an end

All Loqman’s wisdom cannot save

your life upon that fatal day

- Pari Khan Khanom, (1548–78)


The curve of the eyebrows is implicitly compared to the curve at the top of a mehrab, the niche in a mosque that indicates the direction of Mecca, and toward which Moslems bow in prayer. The poet is saying that she bows down to her lover rather than to God, and this is why her prayers ‘cannot be heartfelt’. The phrase can also be interpreted in mystical terms, in which case it means that the speaker’s allegiance is to Sufism rather than to orthodox Islamic practice.

Loqman is a wise sage referred to in chapter 31 of the Qor’an.

The poem mixes various motifs (the world is faithless, drink wine to forget your sorrows, orthodox religion is to be rejected in favor of either an earthly or mystical love, no wisdom can circumvent the inevitability of death) that are common in a great deal of Persian lyric verse.

‘The Persian Sibyl’, 1647–48, Guercino



David Proud

David Proud is a British philosopher currently pursuing a PhD at the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool, on Hegel and James Joyce.