Commentary on Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra
I wrote this close reading commentary on Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra around April of 2019. I would like to rewrite this whole thing more carefully and using the German/English text at some point, because there is a valid thread here that has been missed in the history of interpretation of this text. This commentary uses R.J. Hollingdale’s (1973) translation. For now, please enjoy.
Friedrich Nietzsche regarded Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1885) as his most important work. To my knowledge, there has not been an adequate Catholic interpretation of this work. The interpretations by secular scholars completely miss the Christian dimension. Yet Christ is the main subject of this book and the main antagonist of Zarathustra. These are crucially important aspects about the teaching of the Superman and the eternal return that have been missed by secular scholars of Nietzsche.
This book is the most profound anti-Christic attack on the New Testament itself. Zarathustra is an epic poem with the ambition to displace the New Testament as the most profound teaching of the West. That is the depth of Nietzsche's calling and his ambition. He thought that the unaided human will could de-throne Jesus Christ. However, this work has the potential to rejuvenate and revitalize Christianity, if we learn from Nietzsche's criticisms. The truth of Christ invariably conquers over Nietzsche’s superman. Nietzsche was probably the greatest opponent of Christianity, but he took Christ very seriously, and was even a friend of Christ, as I will demonstrate.
Nietzsche ultimately loses his battle against Christ when he goes mad. After he goes mad, he starts to sign his letters as "the Crucified." The fact that he signs he letters as the Crucified signifies that he has given up his identity to Christ, he identifies himself as a Crucified one, as one who has carried the Cross. And so in the end, all of his ridiculing of Christianity comes down to him, in some sense, accepting the Cross.
This work is an epic poem detailing Nietzsche's own internal battle against Christ for the future of humanity. Nietzsche goes to war with Christ to challenge the meaning and profundity of his teaching. It is important for Catholics to learn from what Nietzsche says about Christ and his followers. In the battle with the anti-Christ, we learn from the enemy, we learn from tribulation.
Nietzsche must be condemned for amplifying many of the errors of the modern era. Everything about the absolutization of subjectivity which was in Hegel, about forcing the gods to descend into matter, about the universal science being realized by one genius, finds its expression in Nietzsche. Nietzsche popularizes Hegel’s phrase “god is dead.” Nietzsche glorifies not only individuality, but loneliness and isolation. He glorifies the abyss, he valorizes despair. He revels in a bipolar oscillation of moods. All of this would feed into the decaying, declining modern worldview. It defines our modern era of fragmentation, isolation and loneliness, and dispersion into the faceless crowds. And the will to rise above this madness through the pure force of one's own unaided will. Nietzsche is in an endless battle to overcome himself, to overcome his time.
Nietzsche must be regarded as the beginning of something genuinely new in the history of Western philosophy. He finds himself in a precarious position with respect to his culture. God is rapidly being abandoned. He had already picked up on the death of God from Hegel, and the absolutization of subjectivity. Nietzsche's only choice in the milieu is to try to fight against the decaying, declining culture that he sees around him. And in its place, he tries to erect a heroic, warrior spirit. Does he finally overcome the decline and decadence? Or does he submit to it?
His criticism of Christianity is basically that the followers of Christ do not have the profundity of spirit, the deep meaning, the vitality, the spiritual vigor that can sustain Western culture. Thus Spoke Zarathustra is the battle in Nietzsche for a primordial golden age. Nietzsche sets himself the challenge of writing an epic poem more compelling than the story of Christ. His philosophical opponent is Jesus Himself. He goes as far as he can into the very psychology of Christ, to establish an epic of all that he finds lacking in the followers of Christ.
He is battling against the Old God, Jesus Christ, a battle which he ultimately loses when he goes mad and signs his letters as "the Crucified," proving the eternity of Christ. In important ways which I will demonstrate, Zarathustra bows to Christ, he recognizes the supremacy and the final victory of Christ.
Particularly in this work, he explicitly recognizes the Catholic teaching of the Second Coming of Christ. This is the sense in which Nietzsche's final teaching of a Hyperborean golden age aligns with Catholicism's teaching of "a new heaven and a new earth." (Revelations 21)
Modernity is characterized by increasingly greater upheavals of atomized individuality, increasingly fractured and fragmented individuality down to the most atomized, sub-personal levels. This process must go on until the whole universal science is realized in a single person. Modernity is forcing down from heaven all of the gods, to do battle on earth. This is the war of Nous, the war of the intellect, the apocalyptic war between intellectual and political forces that is played out in everyday life and in the culture wars. This battle culminates when one person acts to subdue the forces of decay that are rampant in the modern world.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra is Nietzsche's attempt to take on Jesus Himself, he battles with the very soul of Jesus for the future of humanity.
Zarathustra begins his Prologue by addressing the sun outside of his cave. The cave, in the philosophic tradition of Plato, signifies the inhabitants of society, the masses, who cannot perceive things in themselves, but only the shadows. Zarathustra lives in the solitude of the cave indicating the esoteric, hidden nature of his teaching. Zarathustra's teaching is veiled in symbolism and poetry, it is for everyone and no one. It is not the clear light of the sun. But Zarathustra begins his Prologue by coming out of the cave and speaking to the sun.
He identifies himself with the sun. He indicates that he must go down from his mountain to teach the people. Again, we see the tendency of modernity that the gods must descend down to earth. "... I must descend into the depths: as you do at evening..." (39) He says that he is overflowing with wisdom like the sun is overflowing with light.
Zarathustra has two animals, the eagle and the serpent. The eagle is the proudest animal and the serpent is the wisest animal. These represent Life and Wisdom. There will be a recurrent theme of the difference and similarity between Life and Wisdom. Life is elusive to Wisdom. Wisdom can approximate Life but it never fully captures Life.
Zarathustra goes down, he enters into the forest. The first person he encounters in the forest is the saint-hermit who loves God, but is weary of his love for mankind. The saint-hermit asks Zarathustra why he is descending from his solitude, Zarathustra replies, "I love mankind." (40) This is a summary of the whole of Zarathustra's criticism of Christianity. The Christian saint is world weary and does not love mankind adequately. He seems to indicate later that the Christian is not involved enough in worldly affairs. When he is walking away, Zarathustra says to his heart, "This old saint has not yet heard...that God is dead!" (41) This is important for the scene which follows:
Zarathustra arrives in the town. It is announced that a tight-rope walker will be appearing. Zarathustra teaches the Superman. The Superman is to man what man is to the ape. The Superman is the meaning of the earth. "I entreat you my brothers, remain true to the earth ..." (42) This again reflects the modern tendency to force all sacred powers down to earth, rather than honoring the heavenly order. The Superman wants to bring the heavenly order down to earth. After he teaches the Superman, one of the people cries "Now we have heard enough of the tight-rope walker, let us see him too." (43) This indicates that the tight-rope walker is the Superman, or at least the bridge to the Superman: "Man is a rope, fastened between animal and Superman- a rope over an abyss." (43)
The tight-rope walker begins to walk. Zarathustra continues to preach about the Superman. Zarathustra then starts to preach about the Last Man. The Last Man is the most contemptible man, "who makes everything small." (46) The Last Men are all the same. The Last Man has no more pain or anguish or emotion, everything is satisfied. The Last Man is the opposite of the Superman. After teaching about the Last Man, the people shout "'Give us this Last Man, O Zarathustra'... 'make us into this Last Man! You can have the Superman!'" (47) This recalls the scene from the New Testament in which Pontius Pilate asks the crowd who they would free, Jesus or Barabbas, “'They cried out again, 'Not this man, but Barabbas!'” (John 18:40) Thus the Superman is identified with Jesus.
The tight rope walker is going across the rope. As he reaches the middle, a buffoon comes out and chastises him, pushing him forward. "Forward, lame-foot!" "Forward sluggard, intruder, pallid-face! Lest I tickle you with my heels! What are you doing here between towers? You belong in the tower, you should be locked up, you are blocking the way of a better man than you!" (48) This buffoon is the devil, who Zarathustra identifies later as the "Spirit of Gravity." The buffoon will force the tight-rope walker to fall, to succumb to gravity. The Spirit of Gravity forces things downward, it prevents things from elevating and rising up. It is the force of time and becoming.
The buffoon finally leaps over the tight-rope walker to the front of him. The tight-rope walker falls from the rope. The body of the tight-rope walker falls close to Zarathustra, injured but not dead. Before the tight-rope walker dies, Zarathustra says to him, "You have made danger your calling, there is nothing in that to despise. Now you perish through your calling: so I will bury you with my own hands." (48) The tight-rope walker is Jesus. This scene is the death of God.
Zarathustra carries the body away to be buried. This recalls Joseph of Arimathea taking Jesus' body to bury it in the tomb. Thus Nietzsche is telling us that he is a friend of Jesus, though Jesus has fallen.
Zarathustra, carrying the body of the tight-rope walker, is accosted by the buffoon and by the gravediggers. He is ridiculed and hated for associating with the dead tight-rope walker. Then Zarathustra, walking through the night, stops at a man's house for something to eat. The man gives him bread and wine, symbolizing the Eucharist. The man insists that the dead companion must eat too.
Zarathustra continues walking until dawn, when he arrives in a thick forest. He lays the corpse of the tight-rope walker in a hollow tree. The tree symbolism is very important in this work. It is associated with Christ. The tree symbolizes the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and also the Tree of Life. This is the dichotomy of Wisdom and Life. There is a subtle balance between these two. The one looks like the other, but is not. This will later be articulated in "The Dance Song," the parable of Wisdom and Life. The tree is a symbol of the primordial tradition of prophesy. It is the living root of prophesy. It is the living root of tradition and restoration. The tree symbolism will recur along with the Savior symbolism.
Zarathustra buries Jesus in a tree to protect him from the wolves. After he sleeps, a new light dawns on him. "Behold the good and just! Whom do they hate most? Him who smashes their tables of values, the breaker, the law-breaker- but he is the creator." (52) Zarathustra holds up the creators as the ideal person. It is clear that he refers to Jesus as a law-breaker and a creator of values because he later says, "And be on guard against the good and just. They would like to crucify those who devise their own virtue." (90) And he also later says, "...someone who once looked into the heart of the good and just said: 'They are Pharisees.' But he was not understood." (229) These make it clear that Nietzsche held Jesus Christ up as his model of the one who is primordial creator, who broke the old law tables. From these passages, it is clear that Jesus is the one who Zarathustra seeks to imitate.
Thus ends the Prologue.
Now Zarathustra's Discourses begin. The first Discourses is "Of the Three Metaphormoses." The spirit becomes a camel, then a lion, then a child. The camel bears the heaviest burden. The lion then says, "I will," instead of merely obeying the "thou shalt." But Zarathustra will later say, "To a good warrior, 'thou shalt' sounds more agreeable than 'I will.'" (75) The lion is not the final stage. The lion symbolism will be very important for the ending of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The lion is an ambiguous symbol, it symbolizes both Christ (the lion of Judah) and the Anti-Christ (Revelation 13:2, Daniel 7:4). The lion is the intermediate phase between the camel and the child. The final stage is the child, who is, "...innocence and forgetfulness, a new beginning, a sport, a self-propelling wheel, a first motion, a sacred Yes." (55) The child is the child Christ, reborn, come back to earth. This becomes evident with later passages.
The Discourse "Of the Pale Criminal," is an inquiry into the psychology of Jesus. It asserts that Jesus is basically a criminal. Nietzsche's analysis of Jesus is complex. He admires Jesus for having created his own values, for having posited a new good and evil. But he says that Jesus' time is now over. He asserts that there was another time when there was another good and evil. He thinks it is now time to reverse the tables again. He is critical of the Christians for desiring mere comfort:
"Much about your good people moves me to disgust, and it is not their evil I mean. How I wish they possessed a madness through which they could perish, like this pale criminal. [Jesus] Truly I wish their madness were called truth or loyalty or justice: but they possess their virtue in order to live long and in a miserable ease." (67)
Soon after, in "Of the Tree on the Mountainside," Zarathustra notices a young man leaning against a tree. The tree symbolism recurs again. The young man is the child of the "Three Metamorphoses," but the child has grown into a young man. He is preparing to become the Christ. The young man clearly wants to be a disciple of Zarathustra.
Zarathustra says of the tree, "'If I wanted to shake this tree with my hands I should be unable to do it,'" (69) symbolizing the eternity of the Tree of Life and the living root of eternal prophecy. And he says "'The more it wants to rise into the heights and the light, the more determinedly do its roots strive earthwards, downwards, into the darkness, into the depths- into evil,'" (69) symbolizing the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Finally he says of the tree,
"'This tree stands here alone on the mountainside; it has grown up high above man and animal. And if it wished to speak, it would find no one who understood it: so high has it grown. Now it waits and waits- yet what is it waiting for? It lives too near the seat of the clouds: is it waiting, perhaps, for the first lightning?'" (70) Lightning is the symbol of the Superman. "...this lightning is called Superman. " (45) Lightning is the revitalization and the restoration of the living root of prophecy. It is the symbol of the primordial life that animates the teaching.
For Zarathustra "good and evil" are the most powerful force, but they are not objective. This is clearly against Christian teaching. This is another way in which Nietzsche falls into modern prejudices. He initially seems to deny eternity. Good and evil are relative, they vary from people to people. There is no eternal good, it is might that makes right. Strong creators can posit new values of good and evil. Man means "evaluator," it means creation. But he who creates has to destroy.
"Truly, the power of this praising and blaming is a monster. Tell me, who will subdue it for me, brothers? Tell me, who will fasten fetters upon the thousand necks of this beast? Hitherto there have been a thousand goals, for there have been a thousand peoples. Only fetters are still lacking for these thousand necks, the one goal is still lacking. Yet tell me, my brothers: if a goal for humanity is still lacking, is there not still lacking- humanity itself?" (86)
Nietzsche posits that the Superman will be the goal the humanity. But the Superman will be the Resurrected Christ. The Resurrected Christ, the morning star (Revelations 22:16), Kalki, the rider on the white horse, can subdue the forces of evil, chaos, and decay that reign in the modern world and restore the world to the eternal order. Only this God-Man can realize the goal of humanity. Nietzsche is summoning the forces of the root of David, the morning star. He is doing battle with the forces of chaos. But does Nietzsche himself not ultimately conquered by the forces of chaos? Or does he submit to God’s Order?
Shortly after this, we find Zarathustra asleep under a fig tree. This is the third time the tree symbolism appears. The adder bites Zarathustra and Zarathustra is thankful. The adder informs Zarathustra that his bite is deadly. But Zarathustra says, "'When did a dragon ever die from the poison of a snake?'... 'But take your poison back! You are not rich enough to give it to me!'" (93) The adder then licks the poison from the wound. Zarathustra is identified with a dragon, which is symbolically satan in the Book of Revelation. (Revelation 12:7-9) The snake who bites him symbolizes Knowledge of Good and Evil, or Wisdom. One of Zarathustra's two animals is the snake who he identifies as the wisest animal. Wisdom is dual (the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil), while Life is unified (the Tree of Life). The whole story rides on the subtle tension between Life and Wisdom.
In Part 2, the first section is called "The Child with the Mirror." Zarathustra is back in the mountains in his cave. He has a dream with a child carrying a mirror. Recall that the child was the last stage of the metamorphosis, and it symbolized the child Christ. Zarathustra looks into the mirror and sees a devil. He concludes that his doctrine is in danger of being misinterpreted.
Just after this, there is yet another reference to the trees and to fig trees. "The figs are falling from the trees, they are fine and sweet, and as they fall their red skins split. I am a north wind to ripe figs. Thus, like figs, do these teachings fall to you, my friends..." (109) This is the point in his teaching where he rejects the notion of God. He wants God to be conceivable, he wants God to be brought down to earth. "Could you create a god?- So be silent about all gods! But you could surely create the Superman... you could transform yourselves into the forefathers and ancestors of the Superman" (110) He wants to the gods to take human form. He wants the gods to incarnate on earth. "Could you conceive a god?- But may the will to truth mean this to you: that everything shall be transformed into the humanly-conceivable, the humanly-evident, the humanly-palpable!" (11) He even reveals that he himself wants to become a god. "... if there were gods, how could I endure not to be a god!" (110)
He makes the claim that there is no God because there is no eternity, everything is historically relative. The only redemption from suffering is creation. And here we find another reference to the child, "For the creator himself to be the child new-born he must also be willing to be the mother and endure the mother's pain." (111) The creator is to give birth to the child, that is the whole will of the creator.
There is no way to do justice to "The Dance Song" with commentary. One must listen to these heights of beauty for oneself to understand the relationship that is laid out between Life and Wisdom. What Zarathustra tries to communicate with the Dance Song is that Wisdom often looks like Life. They actually appear identical, though they are crucially separate. The separation between Life and Wisdom is suffering. Wisdom is always elusive, the facts are never factual. With this work, he is trying to cultivate an aristocratic movement of creators who strive after Wisdom, who strive to overcome the contingent nature of facts.
Zarathustra's highest hope is that man overcome revenge. His theory of redemption is to transform every "it was" into "I wanted it thus." The will's antipathy towards time and towards "it was" is called revenge. "It was" is what imprisons the will. The will cannot will backwards, it cannot undo the past. Thus it has to will that the past be what it wanted. This is directly in opposition to Christian teaching, which says that redemption is not an act of will, but is a supernatural intervention, it is God's will. Redemption requires grace. Zarathustra's teaching is therefore properly aimed at only one man, the Savior. This is why it is subtitled: A Book for All and None. The Savior is all men and he is none, he is higher than man.
The section called "The Stillest Hour" is where we find direct evidence that Zarathustra is summoning Christ down to earth. At the stillest hour, something speaks to Zarathustra voicelessly. He is terrified of the stillness.
"Then again something said to me voicelessly: 'Of what consequence are you, Zarathustra? Speak your teaching and break!' And I answered: 'Ah, is it my teaching? Who am I ? I await one who is more worthy; I am not worthy even to break by it. '"(167) This recalls John the Baptist, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie." (Mark 1:7) Zarathustra is preparing the way for one who is mightier, for the Christ. This section ends Part II.
Part III begins with Zarathustra catching a ship to leave the Blissful Islands. The second section of Part III is called "Of the Vision and the Riddle." This is probably the most important section in the book. It is the section where he introduces the eternal return and simultaneously describes the "one who is more worthy," the One who is to come. Zarathustra is on a ship at sea with many sailors, and he is silent for two days. Then he addresses the sailors. He poses to them a riddle of the vision of the most solitary man.
Zarathustra goes onto a path that leads upward. He is confronted by the Spirit of Gravity who is trying to hold him down. The Spirit of Gravity mocks him. It takes the form of a dwarf. Through courage, Zarathustra overcomes him. Finally, after rising to the heights, they arrive at the eternal return.
"'Behold this gateway, dwarf!'...'it has two aspects. Two paths come together here: no one has ever reached their end. This long lane behind us: it goes on for an eternity. And that long lane ahead of us- that is another eternity. They are in opposition to one another, these paths; they abut one another: and it is here at this gateway that they come together. The name of the gateway is written above it: 'Moment''" (178)
Zarathustra says, "'Must not all things that that can happen have already happened, been done, run past?'" (178) And finally, "'...must we not return and run down that other lane out before us, down that long, terrible lane- must we not return eternally?'" This is the teaching of the eternal return.
Now immediately after, Zarathustra hears a dog howling. It recalls in him his childhood. The child again symbolizes Christ. All of the sudden, the dwarf and the gateway had disappeared, meaning they are no longer in the gateway "Moment," they are in some kind of time beyond time. And Zarathustra sees a man lying. The dog is howling for help. Zarathustra sees a young shepherd with a black snake hanging out of his mouth. The snake had crawled into the young shepherd's throat and bitten down. Zarathustra tries to pull the snake out, but cannot.
Then Zarathustra calls out to the shepherd to bite down on the snake. And the young shepherd bites down on the snake with all his fury and spits away the snake's head. And he is transformed. "No longer a shepherd, no longer a man- a transformed being, surrounded with light, laughing! Never yet on earth had any man laughed as he laughed." (180) Zarathustra longs for this laughter. This is the Resurrected Christ, this is the transformed being who is to come.
He bids the sailors: "... what did I see in allegory? And who is it that must come one day? Who is the shepherd into whose mouth the snake thus crawled? Who is the man into whose throat all that is heaviest, blackest will crawl?" (180)
This is the riddle and the vision of the return of the Christ. He is a young shepherd, as Jesus was a shepherd and is transformed, resurrected in his return. This scene has continuity with the young man who Zarathustra meets under the tree. It is the second time he encounters a young man, this time in the form of a young shepherd. This scene follows directly after the teaching of the eternal return, signifying that the eternal return is closely associated with the return of Christ. This is the vision of the morning star, Kalki, Mahdi, Maitreya, Saoshyant, Li Hong, Christ, the Superman.
Nietzsche has an ambiguous relation to Jesus. On the one hand, it is evident that he articulates the death of God, this is what the whole book, in its outward appearance, is about- the death of God. But it is evident from "The Vision and the Riddle," that he also recognizes that there must be Resurrection of God, a return of Christ. But he has an ambiguous relation to this return as the book unfolds.
There is evidence for the relationship between Jesus and the tree symbolism on page 221 when Zarathustra says, "...for in the land where the worst of all trees, the Cross, grew- there is nothing to praise!" So we see the association between the tree and Jesus. And we see that Nietzsche has an ambiguous relation to the Savior. On the one hand, he acknowledges the supremacy of Jesus, but on the other hand, cannot bring himself to accept this supremacy. He is in a battle with Jesus Christ, which he recognizes must end with the Resurrection of Christ, the return of Christ.
Zarathustra recalls the moment of the young shepherd in the section called, "The Convalescent." Zarathustra thinks an abysmal thought, his abyss speaks. And then he falls down for seven days, like dead man. In the speech that follows, we find out the significance of the young shepherd who bites the snake's head. Zarathustra says that what crawled into the young shepherd's throat represents the great disgust at man. Zarathustra is disgusted at man because what is most wicked in him is necessary for what is best in him. What is wickedest in man is what makes him smallest. Thus the smallest and the greatest are one and the same. "Alas, that his wickedest is so very small! Alas, that his best is so very small!" (235) This is the great disgust at man, this is what creeps into the throat of the young shepherd.
But we find something surprising, that the Zarathustra identifies himself with the young shepherd. "'The great disgust at man- it choked me and had crept into my throat: and what the prophet prophesied: 'It is all one, nothing is worth while, knowledge chokes.'" (235) Thus we find Nietzsche identifying Jesus' teaching with "it is all one, nothing is worth while, knowledge chokes." We again find the theme of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; Knowledge makes everything one. There is no subject or object. All of the internal and external world become identical, seamlessly interwoven. "For me- how could there be an outside-of-me? There is no outside! But we forget that, when we hear music, how sweet it is, that we forget!" (234)
The Knowledge of Good and Evil is the great disgust, the black snake, that crawls into the young shepherd's throat. It is the snake that the young shepherd defeats. Recall that in the Book of Genesis it is a snake that convinces Eve to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. But by contrast, the Tree of Life is innocence, it is the child. We forget that everything is one when we hear the music of Life. This young shepherd returns again in the last part of the of book as the prophet of great weariness.
And so we find Zarathustra admitting that the Christ must return: "The man of whom you are weary, the little man, recurs eternally'" (236) Who else could this be except for Christ? Who else is the man of whom Zarathustra is weary? And what else does he mean when he says "recurs eternally" than the eternal return? We see that the eternal return esoterically refers to the eternal return of the Savior. The entire book is about Zarathustra trying to overcome Jesus Christ. And we find him here admitting that Christ returns eternally.
"'I had seen them both naked, the greatest man and the smallest man: all too similar to one another, even the greatest all too human! The greatest all too small! - that was my disgust at man! And eternal recurrence even for the smallest! that was my disgust at all existence!'" (236) This is the great disgust that crawls into the throat of the young shepherd. Zarathustra seems to think that Jesus is inadequate. He seems to think that the return of the Savior will be just as inadequate. He seems to think that the whole scenario just plays itself out over and over again.
After this, Zarathustra's animals try to comfort him, "'you are the teacher of the eternal recurrence, that is now your destiny! That you have to be the first to teach this doctrine- how should this great destiny not also be your greatest danger and sickness!'" (237) So we find that while Nietzsche understands that Christ must return, he is weary of this return, he finds in it not a celebration or a joy, but a disgust at the sameness of everything.
And with this section is the end of Zarathustra's down-going. All of the book has led up to this point. All of the book has been Zarathustra's down-going, his descent to the world of men, taking leave of his cave and his solitude to teach men his wisdom. But this section ends his down-going.
The next section of importance is the "Second Dance Song." Here we see the second poetic interaction between Life and Wisdom. Zarathustra's Wisdom is always pursuing Life, who is always evading capture. Life always eludes him, Wisdom always pursues. His Wisdom is always mistaken. We find Zarathustra singing a song to Life: "Are you now weary? There yonder are sheep and evening: let us end our pursuit: is it not sweet to sleep when the shepherd plays his flute?" (242) The young shepherd ends the pursuit of Wisdom, he gives the final answer to the riddle, the final affirmation of Life. He is the child of innocence, he plays the music of Life.
And then Zarathustra identifies himself with the shepherd. "I am truly weary of being your shepherd, always sheepish and meek!" (242) This relates to the theme of the weariness of life that Nietzsche attributes to Christians. He thinks that they are asleep and too comfortable. Zarathustra himself finds himself weary of chasing Life, and he yearns for the eternal return.
The very next section and the last section of Part III is "The Seven Seals (The Song of Yes and Amen)." The Seven Seals is obviously a reference to the Book of Revelations. Here we find Zarathustra making a deep confession. Here we find Nietzsche asking forgiveness for any misinterpretations of his writing. "If ever my anger broke graves open...", "...if ever I have played dice with the gods at their table...", "If I love the sea and all that is sealike..." All of these things he says he does for the sake of eternity. His confession is, how could I not lust for eternity? How could I not want the throne of Jesus? How could I not lust for the same eternal power that Jesus has? "Oh how should I not lust for eternity and for the wedding ring of rings- the Ring of Recurrence!" This refers to the eternal return, which we have already established, refers to the return of Christ.
He depicts Eternity as a woman who gives birth to a child, "Never yet did I find the woman by whom I wanted children unless it be this woman, whom I love: for I love you O Eternity!" Again, the symbolism of the child represents the Messiah, the Savior- Life itself. The symbolism of the woman represents Wisdom- Knowledge. Each of these seven seals is Nietzsche making his deepest confession. If ever I did these things, it's only because I lust for eternity. This is the ending of Part III.
Thus begins Part IV, the final Part of the book. This is undoubtedly the most cryptic part of the book and the hardest to interpret. Here Nietzsche offers his most vehement attack on Christianity. But the theme that we have already laid out continues right up until the end of the book. There is increasingly a tension between Life and Wisdom, and between the return of Christ and Zarathustra himself embodying the eternal return.
In the second section of Part IV, "The Cry of Distress," we meet the prophet of the great weariness, again. The prophet of the great weariness teaches "'It is all one, nothing is worth while, the world is without meaning, knowledge chokes.'" (254), This is the exact same wording that we saw previously (page 235) referencing the young shepherd and the snake who crawled into his mouth. "'The great disgust at man- it choked me and had crept into my throat: and what the prophet prophesied: 'It is all one, nothing is worth while, knowledge chokes.'" (235) So the prophet of great weariness is identified with the young shepherd, who is identified with Jesus. And this is an aspect of Zarathustra himself that Zarathustra is trying to overcome.
The great disgust at man was the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the knowledge that all is one, that there is no outside, the eternal return of the same. The prophet of great weariness is Zarathustra's enemy in this book, this is who he is battling against. He is trying to erect a virile, life affirming spirituality in place of weariness. Yet he obviously has respect for the prophet. The prophet is included in the Higher Men, who are aspects of Zarathustra.
They hear the cry of distress coming from the Higher Man. This recalls the earlier scene in which he hears the cry of the dog next to the young shepherd being choked by the snake. "...then it howled again, then it cried out- had I ever heard a dog cry so for help?" (179) Here he hears the Higher Men crying for help. The Higher Men are bridges to the Superman, like the tight-rope walker and like Jesus.
And the prophet of great weariness says that he is seducing Zarathustra to his ultimate sin, which is pity. Zarathustra is seduced to pity for the Higher Man. This symbolizes Zarathustra accepting the teaching of Jesus. Zarathustra interprets Jesus' teaching as pity, when Jesus' teaching is really compassion and love, rather than pity. But for Zarathustra, it is pity. And so Zarathustra succumbs to "pity" for the Higher Man.
The prophet of great weariness is included with the Higher Men, so it must be concluded that in Nietzsche's eyes, the Higher Men have the same status as Jesus, as bridges to the Superman or potential Supermen. But we learn that this status is not good enough. Jesus is not good enough for Zarathustra, he wants more, he wants the return of Christ. This is why he continually says that he longs for his children.
Zarathustra next encounters a series of Higher Men, who are within his kingdom. They are reflections of Zarathustra's personality, aspects of his teaching. They are interpretations of his teaching that he is concerned about, perhaps misinterpretations of his teaching. They are like parodies of Zarathustra's teaching, parodies of the Superman. The Higher Men are the followers of Zarathustra, they are all striving to become the Superman, but they are still only a bridge to the Superman, like the tight-rope walker. They have not yet attained the Superman. The Superman will be Zarathustra's children, the laughing lions. The Superman or the return of Christ is, for Zarathustra, not necessarily a single person, it is a collective. But Zarathustra is concerned with the Higher Men because they misinterpret what he says in different ways. Zarathustra invites each of the Higher Men to supper at his home. They will have "The Last Supper."
After he has met all of the Higher Men, there is a section called, "At Noontide." We find Zarathustra at the great noontide. Zarathustra is alone and at the hour of noon, he passes by an old gnarled and crooked tree which has an abundant vine, with sweet yellow grapes. The tree symbolism recurs again immediately after he has met all of the Higher Men.
Zarathustra feels a thirst and goes to pluck one of the grapes. But just as he extends his arm, he feels an even greater desire to lie down and sleep. "One thing is more necessary than another." (287) This is Zarathustra's recreating the scene of the Garden of Eden. He has the opportunity to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but he instead decides to go to lay down and sleep. This laying down represents innocence, or Life. It represents the innocent belief of the people who do not see the depths, the abyss of despair. Earlier he said, "...is it not sweet to sleep when the shepherd plays his flute?" (242) And earlier he said, "I am truly weary of being your shepherd, always sheepish and meek!" (242) But now he contrasts this with, "But this is the secret, solemn hour when no shepherd plays his flute." (288) Zarathustra takes himself as the shepherd, compares himself to Jesus. This is the hour when the shepherd is at rest.
"Have I not fallen- listen! into the well of eternity?" (288) This scene symbolizes the eternal return. "Round and ripe? Oh golden round ring- whither does it fly?" (288) Zarathustra now returns back to his cave. When he is almost at his cave, he again heres the cry of distress. It is composed of many voices but it sounds like a single cry. When all of the Higher Men are gathered together in Zarathustra's home, Zarathustra addresses them all and offers them a greeting. He says that he will share everything with them tonight. The Kings respond, and invoke the image of the tree,
"Nothing more gladdening grows on earth, O Zarathustra, than an exalted, robust will: it is the earth's fairest growth. A whole landscape is refreshed by one such tree... who would not climb high mountains to behold such trees? The gloomy man, too, and the ill-constituted, refresh themselves at your tree, O Zarathustra; at your glance even the restless man grows secure and heals his heart." (291-292)
The King also says the following:
"'Why does he not come, he who has proclaimed himself so long?' thus many ask. 'Has solitude devoured him? Or should we perhaps go to him? Now solitude itself yields and breaks apart and can longer contain its dead. The resurrected are to be seen everywhere'" (292) This is asking, why has Christ not returned yet? Provocatively, the King asks, should we go to him?”
But Zarathustra rebukes the Higher Men. They are not the ones who he is waiting for. He is waiting for the Superman, one who is higher than the Higher Men. "You are only bridges: may higher men than you step across upon you!... From your seed there may one day grow for me a genuine son and perfect heir: but that is far ahead." (293)
This genuine son and a perfect heir is again a reference to the return of Christ, otherwise known as the Superman.
"It is for others that I wait here in these mountains and I will not lift my foot from here without them, for higher, stronger, more victorious, more joyful men, such as are square-built in body and soul: laughing lions must come! O my guests, you strange men, have you yet heard nothing of my children? And that they are on their way to me? Speak to me of my gardens, of my Blissful Islands, of my beautiful new race, why do you not speak of them?...what would I not give, to possess one thing: these children, this living garden, these trees of life of my will and of my highest hope!" (294)
And here we see that the Superman is not a single person. The Superman is a collective of men. Rather, in the Superman there is no distinction between the single person and the collective. The Superman is the man of the golden age, when all subjectivity is a single, interdependent, organic consciousness. Each person lives and perceives as the whole itself, and from their own particular view. The Superman is a collective organism. The Savior is the nucleus of this organic collective consciousness. Nietzsche is trying to motivate a new aristocracy of men to lead into this golden age. He sees the insidious effects of mob-worship and the overall societal emphasis on the lowest elements of society, which lowers all political discussion to the lowest levels and prevents the flourishing of society. He blames the mob worship on Christianity, when it is really the fault of modernism and liberalism. But Nietzsche seeks earlier origins, he wants to get behind Christianity and even behind Plato. He wants to motivate a new aristocratic stratum of men to lead and command, to lead society out of the mess of mob worship, to lead back to a great politics.
Next begins the section called, "The Last Supper." This section begins with the prophet interrupting the greeting. He asks, "did you not invite me to a meal?" (294) The prophet says that he wants wine. Then one of the kings says that they have wine, but that they have no bread. But Zarathustra suggests that instead of bread, they eat two lambs. This contrasts with the earlier scene when he is with the corpse of the tight-rope walker at the stranger's house and they eat bread and wine. This time, instead they have lamb.
The lamb is the Lamb of God. Zarathustra symbolically consumes Jesus, eating his body, as it were. And here we see Zarathustra decisively separate himself from Jesus' teaching,
"I am a law only for my own, I am not a law for all. But he who belongs to me must be strong-limbed and nimble-footed, merry in war and feasting, no mournful man, no dreamy fellow, ready for what is hardest as for a feast, health and whole. The best belongs to me and mine; and if we are not given it, we take it: the best food, the purest sky, the most robust thoughts, the fairest women!" (296)
Zarathustra's is an aristocratic teaching, as opposed to Jesus' universal teaching. In the next section, "Of the Higher Men," we find Zarathustra again mention the tight-rope walker.
"When I went to men for the first time, I committed the folly of hermits, the great folly: I set myself in the market-place. And when I spoke to everyone, I spoke to no one. In the evening, however, tight-rope walkers and corpses for my companions; and I myself was almost a corpse." (296)
Thus we find Zarathustra increasingly identifying himself as the one who is to come, as the eternal return. We also find here that Zarathustra speaks of the subtitle of the book: A book for everyone and no one. He associates the subtitle of the book with the tight-rope walker. The tight-rope walker, Jesus, was also a teacher of everyone and no one. But Zarathustra is not making the mistake of addressing everyone and no one anymore, he is addressing the Higher Men only. He is trying to form an aristocratic stratum of society who can lead and command.
In the section called "The Song of Melancholy," Zarathustra is melancholy and leaves his cave to get some air. Once he leaves, the Sorcerer addresses the gathering of Higher Men. "...to all of you, like me, suffer from the great disgust, for whom the old God has died and as yet no new God lies in cradles and swaddling clothes- to all of you is my evil spirit of sorcery-devil well-disposed." (307) Here the great disgust is identified with the lack of a Savior. The Higher Men still suffer from the great disgust and need a God to save them.
The next crucial point is when the Higher Men are laughing and celebrating, and no longer distressfully crying. "Where is their distress now?...it seems that in my home they have unlearned distressful crying!" (319) Zarathustra considers this a victory. This is similar to when the young shepherd finally bites through the snake and is transformed. This analogy is confirmed when Zarathustra refers to the Higher Men as convalescents. "This I take for the best sign: they grow thankful. Before long they will be devising festivals and erecting memorials to their old joys. They are convalescents! " (321) This refers back to the section called, "The Convalescent," where Zarathustra first explains the meaning of the snake that crawled into his throat. Convalescent is one recovering from an illness. The illness is the great disgust at man. The convalescence means recovering from this illness, being able to laugh and accept one's destiny.
But it is precisely when they are recovering that they begin to worship again. Zarathustra has just said that they will soon start devising festivals and erecting memorials. As soon as they are cured of the great disgust at man, they return to worship. This is the scene in which they worship the ass. The ass is a famous symbol of ridicule of the Christian religion from the earliest times of Christianity. It is mentioned in Tacitus and Tertullian. Early despisers of the Church would represent Jesus as an ass in order to caricature Christian beliefs.
It seems here that Zarathustra is acknowledging that Christ must return and that people will "devise festivals and erect memorials to their old joys," but he mocks this. He mocks all worship and all submission to higher forces. This is one of the most puzzling features of this book, Zarathustra admits the return must happen, but he denies it any true transcendental or divine significance. For him, it is an occurrence of the human will- "even the greatest all too human!" (236). But the superman is beyond human occurrence, it is the true return. In this way, the book is like a training ground for the true return of Christ. It is like an initiation into anyone who could potentially be the next Christ.
Zarathustra chastises the Higher Men for worshipping the ass. The ugliest man answers him, "O Zarathustra... whether he still lives or lives again or is truly dead, which of us two knows that best? I ask you." (324) This indicates the level of ultimate mystery that Nietzsche leaves it at. He does not know whether Christ is truly dead or whether he will truly return.
We find him saying that new festivals are needed. And he tells even them to do the festivals in remembrance of him. "...for such flowers as you, I think, new festivals are needed... and if you celebrate it again, this ass festival, do it for love of yourselves, do it also for love of me! And in remembrance of me !" (325) We thus find Zarathustra himself surprisingly identifying with the ass, and identifying himself with the return.
Zarathustra then bids the Higher Men to come with him as he sings a song to midnight. Midnight has come. This section mirrors the Great Noontide. "My world has just become perfect, midnight is also noonday, pain is also joy, a curse is also a blessing, the night is also a sun- be gone, or you will learn: a wise man is also a fool." (331) In this, we find the recurrence of the symbol of Knowledge, everything is one. But Zarathustra finds this a despairing truth. But the task of Zarathustra is to transmute this into an affirmative truth, a life affirming truth, rather than a despairing truth.
The book ends with Zarathustra coming out of his cave in the morning to a flock of birds fluttering around him. A lion comes up and nuzzle him. "All this lasted a long time, or a short time: for, properly speaking, there is no time on earth for such things." (335) So we find that Zarathustra does ultimately believe in a kind of eternity. And he reflects on when the prophet prophesied to him about his ultimate sin- pity for the Higher Man. But he concludes that that is over. It does not matter whether he is suffering. Zarathustra does not aspire after happiness. He aspires after his work. "Very well! The lion has come, my children are near, Zarathustra has become ripe, my hour has come!" (336)
As we saw, the lion is an ambiguous Christ/Anti-Christ symbol. It is the second stage of metamorphosis in Zarathustra's own three stages. The final stage is the child. This concludes the work.