THE BOOKS OF FOUNDATION - Nietzsche's Zarathustra

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014
“Behind your thoughts and feelings there stands a mighty ruler, an unknown sage – whose name is Self. In your body he dwells. He is your body.”

                                                                                                                        Friedrich Nietzsche 

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (October 15, 1844 – August 25, 1900) was a 19th-century German philosopher, poet, composer and classical philologist.
He wrote critical texts on religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy and science, displaying a fondness for metaphor, irony and aphorism.

Nietzsche's influence remains substantial within and beyond philosophy, notably in existentialism, nihilism, and post-modernism.
His style and radical questioning of the value and objectivity of truth have resulted in much commentary and interpretation, mostly in the continental tradition.
His key ideas include the death of God, perspectivism, the Übermensch, the eternal recurrence, and the 'will to power'..

Röcken Lutherischen Kirche
Nietzsches Geburtshaus
Born on October 15, 1844, Nietzsche grew up in the small town of Röcken, near Leipzig, in the Prussian Province of Saxony.
He was named after King Frederick William IV of Prussia, who turned 49 on the day of Nietzsche's birth. (Nietzsche later dropped his given middle name, "Wilhelm".)

Röcken Dorf
Nietzsche's parents, Carl Ludwig Nietzsche (1813–1849), a Lutheran pastor and former teacher, and Franziska Oehler (1826–1897), married in 1843, the year before their son's birth, and had two other children: a daughter, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, born in 1846, and a second son, Ludwig Joseph, born in 1848. Nietzsche's father died from a brain ailment in 1849; his younger brother died in 1850.
The family then moved to Naumburg, where they lived with Nietzsche's paternal grandmother and his father's two unmarried sisters.
After the death of Nietzsche's grandmother in 1856, the family moved into their own house.
Nietzsche attended a boys' school and then later a private school, where he became friends with Gustav Krug, Rudolf Wagner and Wilhelm Pinder, all of whom came from very respected families.

In 1854, he began to attend Pforta in Naumburg, but after he showed particular talents in music and language, the internationally recognised Schulpforta admitted him as a pupil, and there he continued his studies from 1858 to 1864.
Here he became friends with Paul Deussen (see right) and Carl von Gersdorff.
He also found time to work on poems and musical compositions.
At Schulpforta (see left), Nietzsche received an important introduction to literature, particularly that of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and for the first time experienced a distance from his family life in a small-town Christian environment.
After graduation in 1864 Nietzsche commenced studies in theology and classical philology at the University of Bonn.
For a short time he and Deussen became members of the Burschenschaft Frankonia.
After one semester (and to the anger of his mother) he stopped his theological studies and lost his faith.
This may have happened in part because of his reading around this time of David Strauss's (see right) 'Life of Jesus', which had a profound effect on the young Nietzsche, though in an essay entitled 'Fate and History' written in 1862, Nietzsche had already argued that historical research had discredited the central teachings of Christianity.
Nietzsche then concentrated on studying philology under Professor Friedrich Wilhelm Ritschl, whom he followed to the University of Leipzig the next year.
Amidst bouts of illness, and living in near isolation, after a falling-out with his mother and sister, Nietzsche wrote his most enigmatic work in  Rapallo.

He wrote the first part of 'Also sprach Zarathustra: Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen' (Thus Spoke Zarathustra) in only ten days. - which is a sure sign of a channelled text.
Also, the style of of 'Zarathustra' is totally unlike the style of his other works.
Although the book appears to be anti-religious, the work is written in a style which is very similar to that od Luther's Bible.
The public, perplexed by the wholy un-philosophical content and style of the work, received it only to the degree required by politeness.
Nietzsche recognized this, and maintained his solitude, though he often complained about it.
His other books, and particularly 'Zarathustra', remained largely unsold.

Mental Collapse & Death

On January 3, 1889, Nietzsche suffered a mental collapse.
Two policemen approached him after he caused a public disturbance in the streets of Turin.
In the following few days, Nietzsche sent short writings—known as the 'Wahnbriefe' (Madness Letters)—to a number of friends (including Cosima Wagner and Jacob Burckhardt).
To his former colleague Burckhardt, Nietzsche wrote: "I have had Caiaphas put in fetters. Also, last year I was crucified by the German doctors in a very drawn-out manner. 

another example - 

'I want to prove to humanity by an infinite blessing, I give her my dithyramb.
I put it in the hands of the poet of Isoline, the largest and first satyr who lives today and not just today ...'
'I sing a new song, the world is transfigured and all the heavens rejoice.'

The Crucified

Additionally, he commanded the German emperor to go to Rome to be shot, and summoned the European powers to take military action against Germany.

Although most commentators regard his breakdown as unrelated to his philosophy Georges Bataille drops dark hints ("'man incarnate' must also go mad").
Undoubtedly the entity that had channelled 'Zarathustra' had gradually taken over Nietzsche, causing him to channel 'Ecce Homo' and The Antichrist'.
Finally the entity completely overwhelmed Nietzsche's psyche, and left him a 'burnt out wreck' devoid of will and personality.
In 1898 and 1899 Nietzsche suffered at least two strokes, which partially paralysed him and left him unable to speak or walk.

After contracting pneumonia in mid-August 1900 he had another stroke during the night of August 24 / August 25, and died about noon on August 25.

Elisabeth, his sister, had him buried beside his father at the church in Röcken bei Lützen.

His friend, Peter Gast (see right), gave his funeral oration, proclaiming: "Holy be your name to all future generations!"
Nietzsche had written in 'Ecce Homo' (at the time of the funeral still unpublished) of his fear that one day his name would be regarded as "holy".

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014
N I E T Z S C H E 'S   W O R K

Der Wille zur Macht

A basic element in Nietzsche's philosophical outlook is 'der Wille zur Macht' - (the will to power), which provides a basis for understanding human behaviour  In a wide sense of a term, the will to power is a more important element than pressure for adaptation or survival.
According to Nietzsche, only in limited situations is the drive for conservation precedent over the will to power.
The natural condition of life, according to him, is one of profusion.
In its later forms Nietzsche's concept of the will to power applies to all living things, suggesting that adaptation and the struggle to survive is a secondary drive in the evolution of animals, less important than the desire to expand one’s power.
Nietzsche eventually took this concept further still, and speculated that it may apply to inorganic nature as well.
He transformed the idea of matter as centers of force into matter as centers of will to power. Nietzsche wanted to dispense with the atomistic theory of matter, a theory which he viewed as a relic of the metaphysics of substance.

One study of Nietzsche defines his fully developed concept of the will to power as "the element from which derive both the quantitative difference of related forces and the quality that devolves into each force in this relation" revealing the will to power as "the principle of the synthesis of forces."

Nietzsche's notion of the will to power can also be viewed as a response to Schopenhauer's "Will."
Writing a generation before Nietzsche, Schopenhauer had regarded the entire universe and everything in it as driven by a primordial 'Will', thus resulting in all creatures' desire to avoid death and to procreate.
Nietzsche, however, challenges Schopenhauer's account and suggests that people and animals really want power; living in itself appears only as a subsidiary aim—something necessary to promote one's power.
Defending his view, Nietzsche describes instances where people and animals willingly risk their lives to gain power—most notably in instances like competitive fighting and warfare.
Once again, Nietzsche seems to take part of his inspiration from the ancient Homeric Greek texts he knew well: Greek heroes and aristocrats or "masters" did not desire mere living (they often died quite young and risked their lives in battle) but wanted power, glory, and greatness.

In this regard he often mentions the common Greek theme of 'agon' or contest.

In addition to Schopenhauer's psychological views, Nietzsche contrasts his notion of the will to power with many of the other most popular psychological views of his day, such as that of utilitarianism.
Utilitarianism—a philosophy mainly promoted, in Nietzsche's days and before, by British thinkers such as Bentham and Stuart Mill—claims that all people fundamentally want to be happy. But this conception of happiness found in utilitarianism Nietzsche rejected as something limited to, and characteristic of, English society only.
Also Platonism and Christian neo-Platonism–which claim that people ultimately want to achieve unity with 'The Good' or with 'God' – are philosophies he criticizes.
In each case, Nietzsche argues that the "will to power" provides a more useful and general explanation of human behavior.


Another concept important to an understanding of Nietzsche's thought is the Übermensch.

While interpretations of Nietzsche's Übermensch vary wildly, here is one of his quotations from Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Prologue, §§3–4):

"I teach you the superman. 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 ape to man? A laughing stock or painful embarrassment. And man shall be that to superman: a laughingstock or 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.... The superman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the superman shall be the meaning of the earth.... Man is a rope, tied between beast and the superman—a rope over an abyss … what is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end."

Later Developments

By World War I, Nietzsche had acquired a reputation as an inspiration for right-wing German militarism. 
German soldiers received copies of 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra' as gifts during World War I.
Nietzsche's growing prominence was enhanced when his works became closely associated with Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich.

Many political leaders of the twentieth century were at least superficially familiar with Nietzsche's ideas, although it is not always possible to determine whether or not they actually read his work.
It is not known for sure if Hitler ever read Nietzsche, and if he did, his reading was not extensive, although he was a frequent visitor to the Nietzsche museum in Weimar (see left), and did use expressions of Nietzsche's, such as "lords of the earth" in 'Mein Kampf', and of course terms such as 'der Wille zur Macht' and  'Übermensch' were essential to Volkisch ideology.
More significant is the relationship of Nietzsche's 'Übermensch' to 'Die Geheimlehre' - (The Secret Doctrine), Theosophy, Blavatsky and the Vril.


'Also sprach Zarathustra'

'Also sprach Zarathustra: Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen' - (Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None) is a book 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 Übermensch.

Described by Nietzsche himself as "the deepest ever written," the book is a dense and esoteric treatise featuring as protagonist a prophet descending from his mountain retreat to mankind, Zarathustra.
A central irony of the text is that Nietzsche adopts the style of the Bible in order to present ideas which fundamentally oppose Christian and Jewish morality and tradition.

'Also sprach Zarathustra' was conceived while Nietzsche was writing 'Die fröhliche Wissenschaft'; 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.
He wrote that the ideas for 'Zarathustra' first came to him while walking on two roads surrounding Rapallo, according to Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche.

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 is the use of words beginning über ("over" or "above") and unter ("down" or "below"), often paired to emphasise the contrast, which is not always possible to bring out in translation, except by coinages.
An example is Untergang, literally "down-going" but used in German to mean "setting" (as of the sun), which Nietzsche pairs with its opposite Übergang (going over or across).
Another example is Übermensch (overman or superman), discussed later in this article.
The book chronicles the fictitious travels and pedagogy of Zarathustra.

The name of this character is taken from the ancient prophet usually known in English as Zoroaster, the Persian founder of Zoroastrianism.
Zarathustra has a simple characterisation and plot, narrated sporadically throughout the text.
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 that 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" and the doctrine of 'Eternal Occurance'
It should be noted that all the main themes of Zarathustra are not reached by philosophical argument, but are declared as statements of belief.

This inspiration of  the doctrine 'Eternal Occurance' finds its expression with Zarathustra's 'Song of Midnight', featured twice in the book, once near the story's close:

O Mensch! Gib acht!
Was spricht, die tiefe Mitternacht?
"Ich schlief, ich schlief -,
Aus tiefem Traum bin ich erwacht: -
Die Welt ist tief,
Und tiefer als der Tag gedacht.
Tief ist ihr Weh -,
Lust - tiefer noch als Herzeleid:
Weh spricht: Vergeh! 
Doch alle Lust will Ewigkeit -,
- Will tiefe, tiefe Ewigkeit!"

(O man, take heed!
What says the deep midnight ?
I sleep - I sleep —
But from a deep dream I woke:—
The world is deep,
Deeper than day may deem.
Deep is its woe—
But Joy is deeper than woe:
Woe says: Go!
But all joy wants eternity—
Wants deep, 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 "Übermensch" (in English, either the "overman" or "superman"; or, superhuman or 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".
Expounding 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 over-man: 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 over-man! The over-man is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the over-man 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 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

Nietzsche injects myriad ideas into the book, but there are a few recurring themes.
The over-man (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 over-man.
Nietzsche also makes a point that the over-man 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 over-man.
Faced with the knowledge that he would repeat every action that he has taken, an over-man 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.
The book in several passages expresses loathing for sentiments of human pity, compassion, indulgence and mercy towards a victim, which are regarded as the greatest sin and most insidious danger.
Many criticisms of Christianity can be found in 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra', in particular Christian values of good and evil and its belief in an afterlife.
Nietzsche sees the complacency of Christian values as fetters to the achievement of over-man as well as on the human spirit.

The book inspired Richard Strauss (see left) to compose the tone poem 'Also sprach Zarathustra', which he designated "freely based on Friedrich Nietzsche."
Zarathustra's 'Midnight Song' is set as part of Gustav Mahler's Third Symphony (1895-96), originally under the title 'What Man Tells Me', or alternatively 'What the Night tells me' (of Man).
Frederick Delius (see right) based his major choral-orchestral work 'A Mass of Life' (1904-5) on texts from Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
The work ends with a setting of Zarathustra's 'Midnight Song' which Delius had composed earlier, in 1898, as a separate work.


'And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.'

~Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014

1 comment:

  1. Nice summary!

    Please support my kickstarter project to record an audiobook for Thus Spoke Zarathustra: