Zarathustra (fictional philosopher)

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Thus Spoke Zarathustra
AuthorFriedrich Nietzsche
Original titleAlso sprach Zarathustra
TranslatorR. J. Hollingdale
Genre(s)philosophy, poetry
PublisherPenguin Books
Publication date1883–1885
Published in English1961
Media typePaperback
ISBNISBN 978-0140441185
Preceded byThe Gay Science (1882)
Followed byBeyond Good and Evil
Thus Spoke Zarathustra (German: Also sprach Zarathustra, sometimes translated Thus Spake Zarathustra), subtitled A Book for All and None (Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen), is a work by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, composed in four parts between 1883 and 1885. It famously declares that "God is dead", elaborates Nietzsche's conception of the will to power, and serves as an introduction to his doctrine of eternal return.

Described by Nietzsche himself as "the deepest ever written", the book is a dense and esoteric treatise on philosophy and morality, featuring as protagonist a fictionalized Zarathustra. The text encompasses passages of poetry and song, often mocking Judaeo-Christian morality and tradition.


Enlarge picture
Cover of the first edition of (what is now) Part I.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra was conceived by Nietzsche while he was writing his book, The Gay Science; he made a small note, reading "6,000 feet beyond man and time", as evidence of this. More specifically, this note related to the concept of the Eternal Recurrence, which is, by Nietzsche's admission, the central idea of Zarathustra; this idea occurred to him by a "pyramidal block of stone" on the shores of Lake Silvaplana in the Upper Engadine, a high alpine region whose valley floor is at 6,000 ft. Nietzsche planned to write the book in three parts over several years. He wrote that the ideas for Zarathustra first came to him while walking on two roads surrounding Rapallo, according to Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche in the introduction of Thomas Common's early translation of the book.

While developing the general outlook of the book, he subsequently decided to write an additional three parts; ultimately, however, he composed only the fourth part, which is viewed to constitute an intermezzo.

Nietzsche commented in Ecce Homo that for the completion of each part: "Ten days sufficed; in no case, neither for the first nor for the third and last, did I require more" (trans. Kaufmann). The first three parts were first published separately, and were subsequently published in a single volume in 1887. The fourth part remained private after Nietzsche wrote it in 1885; a scant forty copies were all that were printed, apart from seven others that were distributed to Nietzsche's close friends. In March 1892, the four parts were finally reprinted as a single volume. Since then, the version most commonly produced has included all four parts.

The original text contains a great deal of word-play. An example of this exists in the use of the words "over" or "super" and the words "down" or "abyss/abysmal"; some examples include "superman" or "overman", "overgoing", "downgoing", and "self-overcoming".


The book chronicles the fictitious travels and pedagogy of Zarathustra (Avestan: Zaraθuštra), usually known in English as Zoroaster, the Persian prophet and founder of Zoroastrianism. Nietzsche is clearly portraying a "new" or "different" Zarathustra, one who turns traditional morality on its head. He goes on to characterize "what the name of Zarathustra means in my mouth, the mouth of the first immoralist:"

[F]or what constitutes the tremendous historical uniqueness of that Persian is just the opposite of this. Zarathustra was the first to consider the fight of good and evil the very wheel in the machinery of things: the transposition of morality into the metaphysical realm, as a force, cause, and end in itself, is his work. […] Zarathustra created this most calamitous error, morality; consequently, he must also be the first to recognize it. […] His doctrine, and his alone, posits truthfulness as the highest virtue; this means the opposite of the cowardice of the "idealist” who flees from reality […]—Am I understood?—The self-overcoming of morality, out of truthfulness; the self-overcoming of the moralist, into his opposite—into me—that is what the name of Zarathustra means in my mouth.

Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, "Why I Am a Destiny", §3, trans. Walter Kaufmann

Zarathustra has a simple plot, narrated sporadically throughout the text. It possesses a unique experimental style, one that is, for instance, evident in newly invented "dithyrambs" narrated or sung by Zarathustra. Likewise, the separate Dionysus Dithyrambs [1], written in autumn, 1888, were printed with the full volume, in 1892, as the corollaries of Zarathustra's "abundance".

Some speculate that Nietzsche intended to write about final acts of creation and destruction brought about by Zarathustra. However, the book lacks a finale to match that description; its actual ending focuses more on Zarathustra recognizing his legacy is beginning to perpetuate, and consequently choosing to leave the higher men to their own devices in carrying his legacy forth.

Zarathustra also contains the famous dictum "God is dead", which had appeared earlier in The Gay Science. In his autobiographical work Ecce Homo, Nietzsche states that the book's true underlying concept is discussed within "the penultimate section of the fourth [part]" (Ecce Homo, Kaufmann), namely, "The Drunken Song". It is Zarathustra's vision of the Eternal recurrence of the same events.

This concept first occurred to Nietzsche while he was walking in Switzerland through the woods along the lake of Silvaplana (close to Surlei); he was inspired by the sight of a gigantic, towering, pyramidal rock. Before Zarathustra, Nietzsche had mentioned the concept in the fourth book of The Gay Science (e.g., sect. 341); this was the first public proclamation of the notion by him. Apart from its salient presence in Zarathustra, it is also echoed throughout Nietzsche's work. At any rate, it is by Zarathustra's transfiguration that he embraces eternity, that he at last ascertains "the supreme will to power".[1] This inspiration finds its expression with Zarathustra's Roundelay, featured twice in the book, once near the story's close:
O man, take care!
What does the deep midnight declare?
"I was asleep—
From a deep dream I woke and swear:—
The world is deep,
Deeper than day had been aware.
Deep is its woe—
Joy—deeper yet than agony:
Woe implores: Go!
But all joy wants eternity—
Wants deep, wants deep eternity."

Another singular feature of Zarathustra, first presented in the prologue, is the designation of human beings as a transition between apes and the "Ãœbermensch" (in English, either the "overman" or "superman"; or, superhuman or overhuman. English translators Thomas Common and R. J. Hollingdale use superman, while Kaufmann uses overman, and Parkes uses overhuman). The Ãœbermensch is one of the many interconnecting, interdependent themes of the story, and is represented through several different metaphors. Examples include: the lightning that is portended by the silence and raindrops of a travelling storm cloud; or the sun's rise and culmination at its midday zenith; or a man traversing a rope stationed above an abyss, moving away from his uncultivated animality and towards the Ãœbermensch.

The symbol of the Ãœbermensch also alludes to Nietzsche's notions of "self-mastery", "self-cultivation", "self-direction", and "self-overcoming". Expostulating these concepts, Zarathustra declares:

"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 Spoke Zarathustra, Prologue, §3, trans. Walter Kaufmann

The book embodies a number of innovative poetical and rhetorical methods of expression. It serves as a parallel and supplement to the various philosophical ideas present in Nietzsche's body of work. He has, however, said that among my writings my Zarathustra stands to my mind by itself (Ecce Homo, Preface, sec. 4, Kaufmann). Emphasizing its centrality and its status as his magnum opus, it is modestly stated by Nietzsche that:

With [Thus Spoke Zarathustra] I have given mankind the greatest present that has ever been made to it so far. This book, with a voice bridging centuries, is not only the highest book there is, the book that is truly characterized by the air of the heights—the whole fact of man lies beneath it at a tremendous distance—it is also the deepest, born out of the innermost wealth of truth, an inexhaustible well to which no pail descends without coming up again filled with gold and goodness.

Ecce Homo, Preface, §4, trans. Walter Kaufmann

Since, as stated, many of the book's ideas are also present in his other works, Zarathustra is seen to have served as a precursor to his later philosophical thought. With the book, Nietzsche embraced a distinct aesthetic assiduity. He later reformulated many of his ideas, in his book Beyond Good and Evil and various other writings that he composed thereafter. He continued to emphasize his philosophical concerns; generally, his intention was to show an alternative to repressive moral codes and to avert "nihilism" in all of its varied forms.

Other aspects of Thus Spake Zarathustra pertain to Nietzsche's proposed "Transvaluation of All Values". This incomplete project began with The Antichrist.


Nietzsche injects myriad ideas into the book, but there are a few recurring themes. The overman (Ãœbermensch), a self-mastered individual who has achieved his full power, is an almost omnipresent idea in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Man as a race is merely a bridge between animals and the overman. Nietzsche also makes a point that the overman is not an end result for a person, but more the journey toward self-mastery.

The eternal recurrence, found elsewhere in Nietzsche's writing, is also mentioned here. The eternal recurrence is the idea that all events that have happened will happen again, infinitely many times. Such a reality can serve as the litmus test for an overman. Faced with the knowledge that he would repeat every action that he has taken, an overman would be elated as he has no regrets and loves life.

The will to power is the fundamental component of human nature. Everything we do is an expression of the will to power. The will to power is a psychological analysis of all human action and is accentuated by self-overcoming and self-enhancement. Contrasted with living for procreation, pleasure, or happiness, the will to power is the summary of all man's struggle against his surrounding environment as well as his reason for living in it.

Copious criticisms of Christianity can be found in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in particular Christian values of good and evil and its purported lie of an afterlife. Nietzsche sees the complacency of Christian values as fetters to the achievement of overman as well as on the human spirit. Contrasting sharply with Christianity, Nietzsche praises lust, selfishness, while reproaching the rewarded concepts of pity and love for neighbors.


Nietzsche is considered unique among philosophers by some scholars for what is widely regarded as the remarkable power and effectiveness of his rhetorical style — particularly as manifested in Zarathustra. The indigestible "heaviness" long associated with German-language philosophy is eschewed, with puns and paradoxes abounding, and aphoristic brevity characteristic of parable and even poetry. The end result is a manner of writing which, being "pitched half-way between metaphor and literal statement", is "something quite extraordinary".[2]

His work has been described as "half philosophic, half poetic"; the fact that it can thus manage to convince the reader emotionally as well as intellectually is one reason for its appeal to many — but it also means that the theory behind the metaphors is never fully or clearly written out, inviting the reader alone to interpret the text.

A vulnerability of Nietzsche's style is that his nuances and shades of meaning are very easily lost — and all too easily gained — in translation. The Ãœbermensch is particularly problematic: the equivalent "Superman" found in dictionaries and in the translations by Thomas Common and R.J. Hollingdale may create an unfortunate association with the heroic comic-character "Superman", while simultaneously detracting from Nietzsche's repeated play on "uber".

The translations of Zarathustra also differ according to the sentiments of the translators for the English language. The Thomas Common translation favors a more biblical approach. Common's biblical, archaic take on the text has often been criticized as inaccurate and/or possesses Nazi distortions by Nietzsche's sister. By contrast, the current and much more critical translations, titled Thus Spoke Zarathustra, separately by R.J. Hollingdale and Walter Kaufmann, who also contested the inaccuracies of Common's translation, are considered to convey more accurately the minutiae of the German text than Thus Spake Zarathustra. In these translations the work is rendered in a far more familiar, less archaic, style of language.

A newer translation by Graham Parkes, published in 2005, conveys the work in a distant, subdued, lyrical, musical and reverential style. Parkes stated in his preface to the book that it was his intention to improve the musical quality of the book. This translation lacks the energy and forceful excited vigour present in the Thomas Common translation, a translation wherein the priority was to convey the tone of the book and to preserve it successfully in the English rendition.

Regardless of the translations, it is illuminating to think of "Ãœber" in relationship to the development of the individual subject. The "Ãœbermensch" is the being that overcomes the "great nausea" associated with nihilism; that overcomes that most "abysmal" realization of the eternal return. He is the being that "sails over morality", and that dances over gravity (the "spirit of gravity" is Zarathustra's devil and archenemy). He is a "harvester" and a "celebrant" who endlessly affirms his existence, thereby becoming the transfigurer of his consciousness and life, aesthetically. He is initially a destructive force, excising and annihilating the insidious "truths" of the herd, and consequently reclaiming the chaos from which pure creativity is born. It is this creative force exemplified by the Ãœbermensch that justifies suffering without displacing it in some "afterworld".

See also

Editions of Thus Spoke Zarathustra

  • Also sprach Zarathustra, edited by Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari, Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag (study edition of the standard German Nietzsche edition)
  • Thus Spoke Zarathustra, translated by Walter Kaufmann, New York: Random House; reprinted in The Portable Nietzsche, New York: The Viking Press, 1954 and Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1976
  • Thus Spoke Zarathustra, translated by R. J. Hollingdale, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1961
  • Thus Spoke Zarathustra, translated by Graham Parkes, Oxford: Oxford World's Classics, 2005
  • Thus Spoke Zarathustra, translated by Adrian del Caro and edited by Robert Pippin, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006


1. ^ The Will to Power, sect. 617; trans. Kaufmann
2. ^ J.P. Stern
  • Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is by Friedrich Nietzsche; translated and with a preface by Walter Kaufmann
  • Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist by Walter Kaufmann, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1974, ISBN 0-691-01983-5

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Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (October 15, 1844 – August 25, 1900) (IPA: [ˈfʁiːdʁɪç ˈvilhelm ˈniːtʃə]) was a nineteenth-century German philosopher.
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Reginald John Hollingdale (October 20 1930 - September 28 2001) was best known as a biographer and a translator of German philosophy and literature, especially the works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Goethe, E.T.A. Hoffman, G. C. Lichtenberg, and Schopenhauer.
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In political geography and international politics, a country is a political division of a geographical entity, a sovereign territory, most commonly associated with the notions of state or nation and government.
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"Das Lied der Deutschen" (third stanza)
also called "Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit"
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A language is a system of symbols and the rules used to manipulate them. Language can also refer to the use of such systems as a general phenomenon.
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German language (Deutsch, ] ) is a West Germanic language and one of the world's major languages.
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Philosophy is the discipline concerned with questions of how one should live (ethics); what sorts of things exist and what are their essential natures (metaphysics); what counts as genuine knowledge (epistemology); and what are the correct principles of reasoning (logic).
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Poetry (from the Greek "ποίησις", poiesis, a "making" or "creating") is a form of art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its ostensible
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Paperback, softback, or softcover describe and refer to a book by the nature of its binding. The book covers of such books are without cloth or leather, and are bound, usually, with glue rather than stitches or staples.
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International Standard Book Number, ISBN, is a unique[1] commercial book identifier barcode. The ISBN system was created in the United Kingdom, in 1966, by the booksellers and stationers W.H. Smith.
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The Gay Science

Cover of the 1974 Random House edition
Author Friedrich Nietzsche
Original title Die fröhliche Wissenschaft
Translator Walter Kaufmann
Country Germany
Language German
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Beyond Good and Evil

Cover of the Penguin edition.
Author Friedrich Nietzsche
Original title Jenseits von Gut und Böse. Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft
Translator R. J.
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Also sprach Zarathustra (German: thus spoke Zarathustra) may refer to:
  • Thus Spoke Zarathustra, a book by Friedrich Nietzsche
  • Also sprach Zarathustra (Richard Strauss), an orchestral piece by Richard Strauss

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Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (October 15, 1844 – August 25, 1900) (IPA: [ˈfʁiːdʁɪç ˈvilhelm ˈniːtʃə]) was a nineteenth-century German philosopher.
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"God is dead" (German:  ; also known as the death of God) is a widely-quoted and sometimes misconstrued statement by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.
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Eternal return (also known as "eternal recurrence") is a concept which posits that the universe has been recurring, and will continue to recur in the exact same self-similar form an incomprehensible and
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Zoroaster (Greek Ζωροάστρης, Zōroastrēs) or Zarathustra (Avestan: Zaraθuštra), also referred to as Zartosht (Persian:
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The Gay Science

Cover of the 1974 Random House edition
Author Friedrich Nietzsche
Original title Die fröhliche Wissenschaft
Translator Walter Kaufmann
Country Germany
Language German
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Eternal return (also known as "eternal recurrence") is a concept which posits that the universe has been recurring, and will continue to recur in the exact same self-similar form an incomprehensible and
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Coordinates Coordinates:

Primary sources Inn (named Sela after Lake Sils), Fexbach, Ova dal Valhun

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Engadin or Engadine (German: Engadin, Rumantsch: Engiadina; tr: garden of the Inn) is a long mountain valley located in the canton of Graubünden in southeast Switzerland.
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Therese Elisabeth Alexandra Förster-Nietzsche (July 10, 1846 Röcken, Germany, - November 8, 1935 Weimar, Germany), who went by her second name, was the sister of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and the creator of the Nietzsche Archive in 1894.
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Thomas Common was a translator and critic, who translated several books by Nietzsche into English. There is little information about him biographically, though indications are that he was a very well-educated and literate scholar, who lived in the area of Corstorphine, Scotland.
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intermezzo (pl. intermezzi), in the most general sense, is a composition which fits between other musical or dramatic entities, such as acts of a play or movements of a larger musical work.
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Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is

Cover of the 2005 DTV Deutscher Taschenbuch edition.
Author Friedrich Nietzsche
Original title Ecce Homo: Wie man wird, was man ist
Translator R.J.
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Pedagogy (IPA: /ˈpɛdəgoʊdʒi/) , the art or science of being a teacher, generally refers to strategies of instruction, or a style of instruction.
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Writing system: Avestan alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-1: ae
ISO 639-2: ave
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