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Authors: Friedrich Nietzsche,R. J. Hollingdale

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I now offer a brief survey of
chapter by chapter and comment on a few individual points about which the reader may like some enlightenment.

Zarathustra (
Zoroastres) is the founder of the ancient Persian religion, and the book with which he is credited, the Zend-Avesta, is its Bible. Scholars of the nineteenth century questioned whether Zarathustra existed, as they questioned whether Homer existed (probably a side-effect of ‘evolutionism’): both are now rehabilitated. Nietzsche protested at the dissolution of Homer: ‘We gain nothing with our theory of the poetising soul of the people, we are always referred back to the poetical individual’
(Homer and Classical Philology
, 1869). So with Zarathustra. He is conjectured to have lived in the seventh century B.C. The heart of his religion is a conflict between Ahura Mazda (Ormuzd), the god of light and good, and Angra Mainyu (Ahriman), the god of darkness and evil. Nietzsche’s explanation of why he appropriated his name for his own hero:

I have not been asked, as I should have been asked, what the name
means in precisely my mouth, in the mouth of the first immoralist: for what constitutes the tremendous uniqueness of that Persian in history is precisely the opposite of this. Zarathustra was the first to see in the struggle between good and evil the actual wheel in the working of things: the translation of morality into the realm of metaphysics, as force, cause, end-in-itself, is
work. But this question is itself at bottom its own answer. Zarathustra
this most fateful of errors, morality: consequently he must also be the first to
it. Not only has he had longer and greater experience here than any other thinker…what is more important is that Zarathustra is more truthful than any other thinker. His teaching, and his alone, upholds truthfulness as the supreme virtue.…To tell the truth and
to shoot well with arrows
: that is Persian virtue. – Have I been understood? The self-overcoming of morality through truthfulness, the self-overcoming of the moralist into his opposite –
into me
– that is what the name Zarathustra means in my mouth.
(Em Homo)

The book is very loosely constructed, but it does possess direction and a plot of sorts.

, (1) Zarathustra comes down out of solitude, announces (2) that God is dead and (3) preaches God’s successor, the Superman. Mankind fails to understand him, even when he (4) expounds his beatitudes (cf. Matthew 5, 3–11) and (5) appeals to their pride by describing the Superman’s antithesis, the ‘Ultimate Man’, the man who sacrifices the future to his own present. The (6) overtoppling of the tightrope walker (mankind balanced over an abyss) by the buffoon (Zarathustra himself perhaps, an unannounced attraction) brings home to Zarathustra (7) that human existence is ‘uncanny’ (cf. the second chorus of
: ‘Many things are uncanny, but none more uncanny than man’), and after a bad night (8) he resolves (9) to desert the market place and speak his message only to the individual.

The twenty-two ‘discourses’ which follow are addressed by Zarathustra to his band of disciples. Five of the discourses are enclosed in a miniature dramatic scene, the remainder are direct address. Each is an epitome of Nietzsche’s views on the subject in question:

1: the ‘education of the spirit’: self-discipline, independence, creativity (for another account, in quite different language, see
Human, All Too Human
, Preface to volume I (1886), sections 3–7); 2: ‘negative virtue’, virtue which consists in
not doing wrong
and which has as its reward ‘peace of soul’; 3: ‘the metaphysical world’ (including a renunciation of his earlier view (
The Birth of Tragedy
, 1872) that aesthetic values are the only true values); 4: the relation between mind and body (a prologue to the theory of the will to power); 5: the nature of virtue; 6: its opposite, the ‘criminal instinct’; 7: aphorisms on authorship, happiness and laughter (introduces ‘the Spirit of Gravity’); 8: ‘nobility of soul’; 9: pessimism; 10: ‘Live dangerously!’; II: the State; 12: nausea at mankind,
‘l’ enfer, c’est les autres’;
13: sensuality and its disguises; 14: how to be a true friend; 15: the relativity of moral values (introduces the will to power); 16: critique of ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’; 17: the need for solitude and the danger of solitude; 18: the nature of women; 19: the nature of justice; 20: bad marriages and good ones; 21: bad deaths and good ones.

Over all these discourses hovers Zarathustra’s dictum ‘Man is something that must be overcome.’ The final chapter reverts to the Prologue, to the death of God and the need for the Superman to give significance to the earth; Zarathustra extols the magnanimous man, the man so full of strength and well-being he bestows gifts on others because he has to, and exhorts his disciples to independence. Then he leaves them.

Much more various than Part One. Zarathustra is more of a dramatic character and eight of the twenty-two chapters involve action.

1: corresponds to the Prologue of Part One: Zarathustra’s return; 2: a much-expanded recapitulation of the ‘God is dead’ theme, and the reintroduction of the Superman as God’s successor; 3: pity for mankind and the need to overcome it; 4: organized religion and the priesthood; 5: another essay on virtue, true and false; 6: another essay on nausea at
mankind and how to avoid it; 7: another essay on justice and a polemic against revengefulness disguised as justice; 8: philosophy, true and false; 9–11: prose poems, autobiographical, for the most part fretful, plaintive, disgruntled (cf. Part Three 3–4 and 14–16); 12: the will to power in full; 13: resumes and completes 8; 14: critique of contemporary culture; 16: critique of the contemplative life and the search for ‘pure knowledge’; 16: critique of the scholarly life; 17: critique of the artistic nature; 18: dramatically, the book’s turning-point. A discourse on revolution and anarchism is allied to an uncommon amount of action and a fantastical story told by sailors. Zarathustra’s disciples ‘hardly listened’ to his discourse, we are told, because of their anxiety to repeat the sailors’ story, the point of which is that Zarathustra’s alter ego has been seen flying through the air crying ‘It is time! It is high time!’ ‘For what is it high time?’ Zarathustra asks himself when he learns this: the answer (suppressed for the moment but henceforward never absent from his mind) is: ‘Time to declare the eternal recurrence.’; 19: continues the fantastical atmosphere of 18 and intensifies it into nightmare; Zarathustra is now in a nervous and depressed condition very different from the state of ebullient optimism which has chiefly characterized him hitherto; a ‘dark night of the soul’, which persists into Part Three; 20: a discourse on ‘great men’ leads to reflexions on the nature of will in the midst of which Zarathustra is struck dumb when he realizes the implications of what he is saying for the theory of eternal recurrence; 21: on the desirability of masks – a beautifully shaped chapter, in this respect perhaps the finest; but it belongs in spirit earlier in the book, it interrupts the steady descent from 18 to 22, in which Zarathustra, as the consequence of a second nightmare which robs him of all self-confidence and almost of self-control, again deserts his disciples, this time, however, in a mood of profound misery, and this time for good.

For the most part Zarathustra is alone and addressing himself. Earlier themes are taken up and woven into a texture which sometimes grows too tight. Imagery becomes
clotted at times. But the intensity of expression aimed at is superbly achieved and maintained.

1: Zarathustra has just left his disciples and is making his way home, his depression still upon him; 2: on board ship, he expounds the eternal recurrence as a riddle and in language which recalles the nightmare of Part Two 18; although all is still shrouded in obscurity and mystery, that he has now brought himself to raise the veil even to this limited extent is sufficient to restore him to his normal cheerfulness; 3 and 4: prose poems, introspective, cheerful, calm; half way between the melancholy of Part Two 9–11 and the Dionysian ecstasy of Part Three 14–16; 5: back on firm land, Zarathustra experiences again his familiar nausea at mankind; 6: self-portrait of Zarathustra as a solitary; 7: extended exegesis of the text ‘May
looking away
be my only form of negation!’; 8: polemic against piety; 9: Zarathustra arrives back at his cave: a hymn to solitude; 10: a model ‘revaluation’ of three vices; n: exhortation to cheerfulness; 12–16: the climax of the book, a supreme exhibition of the sustained intellectual passion which gives Nietzsche his place among the world’s great men. 12 is a re-exposition in brief of Zarathustra’s teachings, up to but not including the theory of the eternal recurrence, which is reserved for 13, in which the theory is at last stated in full and without disguise, and joyfully accepted and embraced. With this act Zarathustra’s self-education reaches its appointed end. The fulfilment is celebrated with a trilogy of prose poems, 14–16, of great exuberance and intensity. At this culmination of his course, Zarathustra is, as aforesaid, entirely alone, so that when he wishes to give vent to his feelings of unbounded joy and gratitude in dithyrambic poetry there is no one to whom he can address these dithyrambs except himself. Thus 14 is addressed to his own soul, 15 to the life he feels within him, 16 to himself in his future reincarnation. The eternity referred to in 16 is of course the eternal recurrence, and the child he wants to have by ‘eternity’ is – himself.

When, in January 1884, he closed his book with Seven Seals, Nietzsche thought
was finished.
But in the following winter he took up the theme again, and planned a further three parts. In the first of them, Zarathustra is visited by sundry ‘higher men’ who, as a consequence of Zarathustra’s instruction, become conscious of their inadequacy. At the conclusion of this part Zarathustra receives the call to go out into the world again, and in the following part he accumulates a large following, to whom he preaches his now triumphant message. In the final part he dies, although Nietzsche could not decide in what manner. Of these three new parts only the first was written, slowly and with interruptions, in the winter of 1884–85. Nietzsche had it privately printed but withheld it from publication, and it first appeared, as ‘the Fourth and Last Part’ of
in 1892, as part of the first collected edition of Nietzsche.

Stylistically, Part Four is quite different from the earlier parts and on a lower level of inspiration. The ‘higher men’ are at once types and individuals. The gloomy prophet is Schopenhauer. The two kings are any kings. The conscientious man of the spirit is probably Darwin, although any scientific specialist would do. The sorcerer is Wagner (the sorcerer’s poems are parodies of Wagner’s later poetic manner). The last pope is of course (as yet) imaginary. The ugliest man and the shadow are representations of the atheist and the freethinker respectively. The voluntary beggar is either the Buddha or Tolstoy.

The eternal recurrence remains in the background, but emerges at the conclusion, where it receives its most sonorous and ecstatic affirmation.

June 1969


David B. Allison,
Reading the New Nietzsche

MaudeMarie Clark,
Nietzsche on Truth and Morality

R. J. Hollingdale,
Nietzsche: The Man and His Philosophy
(196 5; 1999)

Brian Leiter,
Nietzsche on Morality

Bernd Magnus and Kathleen Higgins (eds.),
The Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche

Alexander Nehemas,
Nietzsche: Life as Literature

F. Nietzsche,
Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality,
trans. R. J. Hollingdale, introduction by M. Tanner (1982)

Dithyrambs of Dionysus,
trans, with introduction and notes R. J. Hollingdale (1984; 2001)

Untimely Meditations,
trans. R. J. Hollingdale, introduction by J. P. Stern (1983)

John Richardson and Brian Leiter (eds.),

Rudiger Safranski,
Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography,
trans. Shelley Frisch (2002)

Henry Staten,
Nietzsche's Voice

Tracy Strong,
Friedrich Nietzsche and the Politics of Transfiguration




Zarathustra was thirty years old, he left his home and the lake of his home and went into the mountains. Here he had the enjoyment of his spirit and his solitude and he did not weary of it for ten years. But at last his heart turned – and one morning he rose with the dawn, stepped before the sun, and spoke to it thus:

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