Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Thus Spoke Zarathustra

"'Cleanup|date=May 2007Infobox Book
name =Thus Spoke Zarathustra
title_orig ="Also sprach Zarathustra"
translator =

image_caption =Title page of the first edition.
author =Friedrich Nietzsche
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country =Germany
language =German
series =
subject =
genre =philosophy, poetry
publisher =Ernst Schmeitzner
release_date =1883–1885
english_release_date =
media_type =Hardback Paperback
pages =
isbn =
preceded_by =The Gay Science (1882)
followed_by =Beyond Good and Evil
redirect|Also sprach Zarathustra

"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 written work by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, composed in four parts between 1883 and 1885. Much of the work deals with ideas such as the "eternal recurrence of the same", the parable on the "death of God", and the "prophecy" of the Overman, which were first introduced in "The Gay Science". [C. Guignon, D. Pereboom. "Existentialism: Basic Writings, 2nd ed.", Hackett, 2001. pp. 101-113]

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. A central irony of the text is that the style of the Bible is used by Nietzsche to present ideas of his which fundamentally oppose Judaeo-Christian morality and tradition.


"Thus Spoke Zarathustra" was conceived while Nietzsche was writing "The Gay Science"; he made a small note, reading "6,000 feet beyond man and time", as evidence of this. [Gutmann, James. "The "Tremendous Moment" of Nietzsche's Vision". "The Journal of Philosophy", Vol. 51, No. 25. American Philosophical Association Eastern Division: Papers to be presented at the Fifty-First Annual Meeting, Goucher College, December 28-30, 1954. pp. 837-842.] 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 ( _ae. 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:"

"Zarathustra" has a simple characterisation and plot, [Pippin, Robert. "Nietzsche: Thus Spoke Zarathustra". "Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy", University of Chicago, 2006. ISBN 0-5216-0261-0. p. ix.] 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 "Dithyrambs of Dionysus" was written in autumn 1888, and 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". [Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. "The Gay Science: With a Prelude in German Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs". (Edition) Random House, 1974. p. xii.] In his autobiographical work "Ecce Homo", Nietzsche states that the book's underlying concept is discussed within "the penultimate section of the fourth book" of The Gay Science ("Ecce Homo", Kaufmann). It is 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". ["The Will to Power", sect. 617; trans. Kaufmann] This inspiration finds its expression with Zarathustra's Roundelay, featured twice in the book, once near the story's close:

Another singular feature of "Zarathustra", first presented in the prologue, is the designation of human beings as a transition between apes and the "Übermensch" (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 "Übermensch" 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 "Übermensch".

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

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 stated by Nietzsche that:

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 (Übermensch), 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. 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 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". [J.P. Stern]

Noteworthy for its format, the book comprises a philosophical work of fiction whose style often lightheartedly imitates that of the New Testament and of the Platonic dialogues, at times resembling pre-Socratic works in tone and in its use of natural phenomena as rhetorical and explanatory devices. It also features frequent references to the Western literary and philosophical traditions, implicitly offering an interpretation of these traditions and of their problems. Nietzsche achieves all of this through the character of Zarathustra (referring to the traditional prophet of Zoroastrianism), who makes speeches on philosophic topics as he moves along a loose plotline marking his development and the reception of his ideas. One can view this characteristic (following the genre of the "bildungsroman") as an inline commentary on Zarathustra's (and Nietzsche's) philosophy. All this, along with the book's ambiguity and paradoxical nature, has helped its eventual enthusiastic reception by the reading public, but has frustrated academic attempts at analysis (as Nietzsche may have intended). "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" remained unpopular as a topic for scholars (especially those in the Anglo-American analytic tradition) until the second half of the twentieth century brought widespread interest in Nietzsche and his unconventional style that does not distinguish between philosophy and literature. [Behler, Ernst, "Nietzsche in the Twentieth Century" in "The Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche", Magnus and Higgins (ed), Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996, pp. 281-319] It offers formulations of eternal recurrence, and Nietzsche for the first time speaks of the "Übermensch": themes that would dominate his books from this point onwards.

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 "Übermensch" 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 "über" as well as losing the gender-neutrality of the German.

The "Übermensch" 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 "Übermensch" that justifies suffering without displacing it in some "afterworld".


The English translations of "Zarathustra" differ according to the sentiments of the translators. The Thomas Common translation favors a classic English approach, in the style of Shakespeare or the King James bible. Common's poetic interpretation of the text, which renders the title "Thus Spake Zarathustra", received wide acclaim for its lambent portrayal.

The Common translation, which improved on Alexander Tille's earlier attempt,Nietzsche, Friedrich. Trans. Kaufmann, Walter. "The Portable Nietzsche". 1976, page 108-9.] remained widely accepted until the more critical translations, titled "Thus Spoke Zarathustra", separately by R.J. Hollingdale and Walter Kaufmann, which are considered to convey more accurately the German text than the Common version. Kaufmann's introduction to his own translation included a blistering critique of Common's version; he notes that in one instance, Common has taken the German "most evil" and rendered it "baddest", a particularly unfortunate error not merely for his having coined the term "baddest", but also because Nietzsche dedicated a third of "The Genealogy of Morals" to the difference between "bad" and "evil". This and other errors led Kaufmann to wondering if Common "had little German and less English". These successor translations to Common, of Kaufmann and Hollingdale, render the text in a far more familiar, less archaic, style of language.

Clancy Martin's 2005 translation opens with criticism and praise for these three seminal translators, Common, Hollingdale, and Kaufmann. He notes that the German text available to Common was considerably flawed, and that the German text from which Hollingdale and Kaufmann worked was itself untrue to Nietzsche's own work in some ways. Martin criticizes Kaufmann for changing punctuation, altering literal and philosophical meanings, and dampening some of Nietzsche's more controversial metaphors.Nietzsche, Friedrich. Trans. Martin, Clancy. "Thus Spoke Zarathustra". 2005, page xxxiii.] Kaufmann's version, which has become the most widely available, features a translator's note suggesting that Nietzsche's text would have benefited from an editor; Martin suggests that Kaufmann "took it upon himself to become his editor".

Musical adaptation

The book inspired Richard Strauss to compose the tone poem "Also sprach Zarathustra", which he designated "freely based on Friedrich Nietzsche." [cite web|url=|author=Bernard Jacobson|work=American Symphony Orchestra: Dialogues and Extensions|title=Richard Strauss, Also Sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30 (1896)|accessdate=2007-12-11] "Zarathustra's Roundelay" is set as part of Gustav Mahler's Third Symphony originally under the title "What Man Tells Me".

Editions of "Thus Spoke Zarathustra"

*1st - 1909 - (limited to 2,000)
*2nd - 1911 - (limited to 1,500)
*3rd - 1914 - (limited to 2,000)
*4th - 1916 - (limited to 2,000) of Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra: A Book for All and None translated by Thomas Common, published by the MacMillan Company in 1916, printed in Great Britain by The Darwien Press of Edinburgh.
* "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

Essay Collections on "Thus Spoke Zarathustra"

*"Essays on Thus Spoke Zarathustra: Before Sunrise", edited by James Luchte, London: Continuum International Publishing, 2008. ISBN 1847062210


External links

* [ Project Gutenberg's etext of Thus Spake Zarathustra, translated by Thomas Common]
* [ Free audio download of the Common translation] from LibriVox
* [ Project Gutenberg's etext of Also Sprach Zarathustra (the German original)]

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