Thus Spoke Zarathustra

A prominent German philosopher and writer Friedrich Nietzsche became famous during his lifetime, though then it was, for the most part, the notoriety of the nihilist that the philosopher himself supported. After fifteen years of intense intellectual work, Nietzsche lapsed into incurable mental illness and could not reasonably participate in the debate around his works, thus, some of his contemporaries and historians of thought simply ignored him as “crazy.” The result is that Nietzscheanism had the most profound and essentially permanent of its effects in the XX century. Introduced in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the idea of the overman absorbed all Nietzsches objections to the delusive Christian teaching and to no less than all the humanity for it ceased to improve itself.

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Nietzsches work and legacy are usually divided into three main phases. The first stage includes works written in 1871 -1876 and marked by influences of Richard Wagner and Arthur Schopenhauer. The second period (1878-1880) is noticeable for a break with the old teachers and the beginning of a reassessment of the old values that will culminate in the idea of the overman. The third period is associated with the publication or, more often, the creation of “the most Nietzschean” and the most popular of his works, including Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Thus spoke Zarathustra is perhaps the most influential and specific work by Nietzsche. This book almost defies any adequate retelling or summarizing if those need to be brief. The subheading of the work is ambiguous and self-contradictory: “A book for all and none”. The characters name “Zarathustra” is borrowed from Zoroastrian beliefs in order to accentuate the dissimilarity between “wisdom” discoursed by Zarathustra and the longstanding European customs, ideals, and doctrines Nietzsche clashes with.

The teachings of the main character are intertwined with a story of his life after he reached enlightenment. When Zarathustra was thirty, he went to the mountains, where he was enjoying the seclusion and gaining insights for ten years. After he got saturated with acumen, he sought the advice and blessing of the sun because he wanted to go to the people and share all those things he understood. He left the mountains and encountered an old man who was serving God in the seclusion of the forest. The man instantly saw the pure sight of Zarathustra with no disgust in his glance. He also notices that Zarathustra has become a child, which is the reference to the three metamorphoses of the spirit explained further. Having learned about the intention of Zarathustra to go to people, the old man tried to convince him to stay in the woods with God. Zarathustra said I love man and departured from the man instantly because he does not want to harm his peace. He thinks to himself: “Could it be possible? This old saint in the forest has not yet heard anything of this, that God is dead“.

The conversations of Zarathustra with the people is a chain of well-drawn everyday pictures featuring Zarathustra telling parables of moral, psychological, and philosophical content. So, after parting with the elder, Zarathustra rushed to a city, which was beyond the forest. The people gathered at the marketplace to see the dancer on the rope. Before the performance, Zarathustra addresses the people with a speech which was “to teach about the overman”. According to this teaching, nature evolves from a worm to a man but it is still a long way to go: “Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape.” In this passage, Zarathustra transmits the idea Nietzsche was strongly criticized for, and that is that humanity is no longer developing.

Zarathustra teaches that the closeness of man to nature and the animal world is undeniable. The man is the son of the earth, not heavens and the overman shall be the meaning of the earth. Zarathustra teaches to remain faithful to the earth. This is a direct allusion to Christian religion, which again makes Zarathustra say: “God is dead”. Faith in the Christian God, Nietzsche concludes, is no longer credible.

Zarathustras Speeches open with a passage about the “three metamorphoses of the spirit”, that is a metaphor of central importance for an endeavor of unpacking the meaning of Nietzsches view of the true personal development and the future of humanity. So, firstly, the spirit becomes a camel, then the camel turns into a lion that fights a dragon, and finally the lion becomes a child. From the preface, we know that Zarathustra had already completed these metamorphoses because the old holy man testifies this right after meeting him.

The meaning of these symbolic transformations lies in what Nietzsche considered to be the inherent features of the phases. Firstly, the spirit becomes a camel when he wants to experience the true heaviness of his burden, and hurries to desert where death might be waiting for him. Then the spirit becomes mature enough to want to be free and, like the lion, become the master of his own fate. To do that, the lion has to win the battle with a dragon that represents the old values. Nietzsche, at first glance, is a cold and consistent critic of the Christian religion and Church. However, his anti-Christian sentiment is marked by controversy and a kind of painful anguish. Apparently, the rebellion against the Christian faith and the Church was not so easy for these intellectuals of the nineteenth century. The price of this rebellion was suffering and inner discord; maybe, this is why the battle of the lion (I will) and the great dragon (Thou shalt) is so dramatic in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. After all, the lion spirit soon realizes that despite him enjoying freedom, he cannot become the Creator. The symbol of a child means a complete renewal of spirit, the first movement, the sacred Yes and enables a person to create something that never existed before. 

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Apart of the stop in development at both personal level and as a species, Nietzsche attacks other flaws of humanity. Thus, Zarathustra teaches about the different types of people, including those who run the thoughts towards other worlds, despise the body, or fall in love with war. He recites “a thousand and one goals”: anticipating many countries and peoples, Zarathustra understands that the benefit of one nation is loss to another nation. People cannot get to understanding of each others needs and views. They declare love for the neighbor, but they practice it for the wrong reason. According to Zarathustra, you is already sacred, but that cannot be said about I and that is why people are so driven to the Other. Various inconsistent life aspirations discuss Zarathustra. Some are desperate to live and procreate; others are constantly obsessed with the idea of death. Zarathustra does not reject any of these from the threshold, always finding something vital and believable in it. However, there is always an alternative solution corresponding to the teaching of Zarathustra, and these ought to be the main aspirations of the overman. Due to these critical descriptions of the types of people, the image of overman is constantly refined and acquires new colors.

The question of whether the teaching about overman is correct, useful, productive or false, harming, and misleading constitutes a core of a major philosophical debate. Additionally, this debate escalates by taking into consideration other aspects of Friedrich Nietzsches philosophy, including questions of good and evil, the credibility of Christianity and the significance of God as a concept, the morality of compassion, humanism, and democracy. One may join the sharply critical approach to the philosophy of Nietzsche that characterizes it as a philosophy of amorality, anti-humanism, anti-democratism and views Nietzsche as the supporter of intellectual aristocracy or even militarism. It is widely known that in the twentieth century, a superficial reading of Nietzscheanism was adopted by the Nazism and other totalitarian ideologies to justify warfare, ferocity, oppression among nations, and racial hatred. Nietzsche himself did not try to hide his hostility to Christian hypocrisy, controversies of democracy, humanism, the “unnatural morality,” and the morals and “idols” as they developed in the history of European civilization, considering them inconsistent and self-deceiving.

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However, the more reasonable approach is to assess his works with a colder mind, objectively revealing the contradictions and the ambiguity of Nietzsche’s philosophy, and considering the origins and justification for some of his critical ideas against the traditional religious, moral, and philosophical beliefs. His central project, the teaching about the overman was confronting both humanity and Christianity. On one hand, Nietzsche insists that humanity as a species is not progressing and proposes a vision of the next stage. Due to the influence of Christianity, humanity chose the way of compassion for the weak. On the other hand, this Christian morality flatters a man; it is hypocritical for not telling people the truth. And the truth, according to Nietzsche, is that man was a wild animal at the dawn of Christianity and he remains so at subsequent stages of the story. Meanwhile, Christianity and humanistic morality falsely declare a man who always ready to fall back into savagery to be the crown of creation. In his terms, Christianity and humanism were and remain a dangerous trap for the human species: the most brutal violence was justified and even sanctified in the name of God. These are the two main premises of the world that the idea of the overman rises above, reaching the all and none.

To conclude, Thus Spoke Zarathustra: Prologue and Part One create a setting for and introduce some of the Nietzsches most important ideas. Zarathustras story and speeches are the stage the overman enters and the medium through which the criticism of Christianity that stopped the growth of the Western culture is transmitted. The author aims to pass his teaching of the next stage of humanitys development to all and none: those able to understand who are everyone who matters, the future. The tragedy of his loneliness lies in the fact that to Nietzsche, those “all” seem unlikely to exist.

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