Study Guide for Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Book One
The Nietzsche Page (Great resources for the study of Nietzsche)
Friedrich Nietzsche is one of the most influential philosophers of the nineteenth century;but he was not influential in the nineteenth century. Forvarious reasons which we will discuss in class, his works have had their majorimpact in the twentieth century, and that impact has been astonishinglywidespread and varied. His choice of poetic prose rather than rigorousdialectic has sometimes caused him to be called no philosopher at all; yet his literary style has attracted readers who would not have been drawn to a Kant ora Hegel. Because he does not use traditional formal logic, there are no simpleways to understand his writings. A grasp of his message can only be achieved bya gradual process of gathering in his major attitudes and themes and inferringthe meaning of any single passage in the context of his work as a whole. WalterKaufmann, Nietzsche's American translator and best explicator, provides on pages3-22 a set of helpful translator's notes which you should read; but thefollowing questions and comments are meant to step you through the assignedportions of the work in more detail and to stimulate your thinking about it. Some of the questions are open-ended prompts to think about the issuesinvolved, to prepare you for class discussion.
There are certain central concepts that it is essential to keep in mind aboutNietzsche's philosophy. He takes it for granted that the Enlightenment analysisof religion is correct, and that religion is a comforting but limitingself-delusion. He infers that all values (including religious values) are thecreations of human beings and that therefore we are all responsible for creatinghigh values and living up to them. Yet these values need not be shared. He isa thorough relativist, arguing that one person's virtue is another's vice. Oncethese basic principles are understood, most of his writing becomes quite clear. Another obstacle to comprehension, however, consists in his constant cultural references which may be unfamiliar to the untrained reader. Most of these will beexplained in the following notes.
A final obstacle to comprehension is the simple aversion that his style arousesin some readers. Nietzsche writes sneeringly, imperiously, in a way thatAmericans in particular, with their national preference for self-deprecation andhumor, find objectionable. It is pointless to waste much energy objecting tohis tone; his message has been found appealing to many people who don't sharehis emotional attitudes. Your task is to discover what it is in this messagethat has caused it to be so influential in the modern world.
Everyone finds something to object to in Nietzsche. Obviously conservativeChristians find his anti-Christian attitudes objectionable, but even his mostenthusiastic followers do not follow him on every point. As you will see at theend of this reading assignment, that is very much as Nietzsche would have wishedit. Unlike in most of the works we are studying, the central figurehere--Zarathustra--is to be identified with the author. Nietzsche merely useshim for a mouthpiece.
The numbers in the notes below refer to the section numbers in the Penguin edition of Kaufman's translation.
Zarathustra's Prologue, On the Three Metamorphoses, On the Teachers of Virtue, On the Afterworldly, On the Despisers of the Body, On Enjoying and Suffering the Passions, On the Pale Criminal, On Reading and Writing, On the Tree on the Mountainside, On the Preachers of Death, On War and Warriors, On the Flies of the Market Place, On Chastity, On the Thousand and One Goals, On Love of the Neighbor, On the Way of the Creator, On Little Old and Young Women, On the Adder's Bite, On Child and Marriage, On Free Death, On the Gift-Giving Virtue
1: What other famous figure began his mission at the age of thirty by retreatinginto the wilderness? How long did the other figure stay there? How long doesZarathustra stay there? Much of the imagery here is probably borrowed from'The Allegory of the Cave' in Plato's Republic. (Nietzsche generally disliked Plato, and disagrees with him on many points; buthe was greatly influenced by him nevertheless.) Plato says that an enlightenedthinker is like a man who gradually struggles free of the chains of illusion inan underground cave and who learns by ascending to the world above and viewingthings in the light of day, finally discovering the essence of truth by gazingat the sun itself. However, it is not enough for the philosopher to grasp truthfor himself: he has a responsibility to descend back into the cave of illusionand free the prisoners of falsehood. This is what Nietzsche means by'going under.' What arguments can you make that the discoverer oftruth has an obligation to preach that truth to others?
2: The Old Man represents traditional religious hermitism. How is Nietzschecriticizing the tradition of the hermit or cloistered monk? FrequentlyNietzsche has his characters say not what they would say in real life, butinstead reveal what he thinks are their secret feelings. In other words, heputs his analysis of their motives into their mouths. Would areal monk likely say that he has stopped loving man? Why would Nietzsche feeljustified in saying that he has? Nietzsche is fond of self-quotation. HereZarathustra is amazed that the Old Man has not heard of one of Nietzsche's mostfamous pronouncements: ²God is Dead.' This is probably the mostwidely-quoted and thoroughly misunderstood of all Nietzsche's sayings. He doesnot mean to imply that God was ever alive. A clearer statement (though lessdramatic) would be: 'That period in history during which the idea of theChristian God expressed the highest ideals of Western Civilization has passed,and it is now clear that belief in him is a dead burden on a society which hasoutgrown him.' What changes in European culture might have led him tothis conclusion? Have you ever heard someone argue against his statement thatGod is dead? Did their arguments demonstrate knowledge of what Nietzsche wasactually saying?
3: Nietzsche did not accept many of Darwin's findings, but he is clearlydependent on his theories for some of his language in this section. In whatways does his theory of the overman differ from the theory of Darwinianevolution? In what ways is it similar? What does he mean by saying theoverman shall be the 'meaning of the earth?' We often speak of discovering the meaning of something; why does Nietzsche insteaddepict meaning as something to be created? What effects doesit have on people when they believe that truth is absolute, and must bediscovered? What effects does it have on them when they believe that truth isrelative, and must be defined by each individual? Which do you agree with? Why? What contrast is he drawing between those who are 'faithful to theearth '' and the preachers of 'otherworldly hopes?' Given whatwas stated above about his death of God theory, what does he mean by theparagraph that begins 'Once the sin against God was the greatest sin . . .?' What change in values is he preaching? What has been the traditionalChristian view of the body ('flesh') versus the soul('spirit')? (Hint: there are many relevant passages in Paul. See forinstance Romans 8:1-13. Please note that such attitudes are distinctlyunfashionable today, but have been powerful and widespread in the past.) Howdoes Nietzsche react to these attitudes? 'The hour of the greatcontempt' is for Nietzsche a way of describing the point at which onerealizes that one's earlier ideals were petty and mean, and aims for something higher. What is the effect of his constantly using the possessive pronoun inspeaking of 'your happiness,' 'your reason,' and 'yourvirtue?' Why does he criticize pity? Later Nietzsche will make adistinction between the sort of pity that he thinks is weak andself-destructive and the 'gift-giving virtue,' which is compassionate,but proud and strong. Can you find any signs of such compassion even in thesmall portion of the book you have read so far? 'Meanness' here means'stinginess,' 'miserliness.' Since he clearly does notbelieve in the traditional notion of sin, why does he say what he does about it? How does the image of lightning express the virtue that he is preaching incontrast? How does this contrast with Voltaire's fear of'enthusiasm?' Which do you think is the preferable view? Why?
4: The tightrope walker is a fairly obvious metaphor, spelled out byZarathustra, of humanity in the process of transformation (going over) from thecurrent stage of human consciousness to a more advanced stage. The speech thatZarathustra gives is clearly modeled on the Beatitudes (see Matthew 5:1-12). In what way does he think being 'a great despiser' is a positive act? What is the difference between loving virtue in general and loving one's ownvirtue ? What is it about the latter that Nietzsche approves of? Paraphraseinto plain English this statement: 'I love him who casts golden wordsbefore his deeds and always does even more than he promises.' Why does hepraise 'going under?' In what way do these various people preparefor the development of the overman?
5: What is Zarathustra's explanation for the fact that the people do not welcomehis message? In what ways is 'the last man' the opposite of theoverman? What are the last man's main characteristics? Why does he disapproveof quick reconciliation? What virtue might counterbalance it? Why does hescorn the caution about pleasure that aims above all at preserving health? Whatis the crowd's reaction to his description of the last man?
6: In what ways is the jester like Zarathustra? Traditionally Christianity hasoffered as one of its main comforts the belief in life after death. How doesZarathustra offer the denial of life after death as a comfort? What problem in Christian belief is he hinting at here? (Hint: see Matthew7:13-14.) The dying tightrope walker complains that if there is no life afterdeath, his life has been meaningless. How does Zarathustra answer him? Doesmeaning have to be permanent to be worthwhile? Can you answer Nietzsche'scritique of the Christian philosophy of death?
7-8: This passage rather ponderously makes the obvious point that Nietzsche'sphilosophy is aimed at giving meaning to life, and that death is irrelevant toit. Why doesn't it matter that Zarathustra breaks his promise to bury the deadman?
9: What contrast is Nietzsche making between 'the people' and'companions?' Is Nietzsche a believer in equality? Does he thinkthat everyone can become an overman? In what sense is the lawbreaker a creator? How does the one who rejects old values help to create new ones?
10: One traditional Christian interpretation of the fall of Adam and Eve isthat they committed the sin of pride, believing that eating the fruit of thetree of the knowledge of good and evil would give them the wisdom of gods (seeGenesis 3). How does Nietzsche use the symbols of the serpent and the eagle toinvert what he sees as traditional Christian attitudes? How do modern peoplefeel about pride? Is it more often seen as a vice or a virtue? How about whenwe call it 'self-esteem?' Nietzsche interprets the story of the fallas a parable denouncing the quest for knowledge, and by extension, scienceitself. Why might he have felt that Christianity was hostile to science? Doscience and religion still come into conflict with each other at times?
On the Three Metamorphoses
In one of the most important passages of the book, Nietzsche describes threestages of human development. Each stage has its own virtue, and eachcontributes to developing the ideal which he calls the overman. What are themain qualities of the camel as he describes them? What criterion does thecamel use to choose his tasks? What do all of the questions have in commonwhich begin, 'Or is it this?' What attitude toward virtue does thedragon symbolize? What traditional Christian virtues is he here inverting? Based on what you have read earlier, why is it important for the lion to slaythe dragon? In what way is this act of destruction creative? What is thedifference between the sacred 'no' and the sacred 'yes?' People influenced by Nietzsche often use the expressions 'yea-saying&178;and 'nay-saying.' What attitudes are conveyed by these expressions? What does it mean to utter a sacred 'Yes?' What does he mean bysaying 'he who had been lost to the world now conquers his own world?&178; Hint: throughout most of this book Nietzsche often says the same things overand over in different ways. You have already encountered these ideas in different forms.
On the Teachers of Virtue
In praising sleep the sage praises the quiet conscience. He preaches theopposite of what Zarathustra preaches. What point do you think Nietzsche ismaking by letting his opponent express himself? What does Zarathustra's finalblessing of the 'sleepy ones' mean?
On the Afterworldly
What by now familiar Nietzschean theme is the subject of this section? Whatdoes he say is the source of the human desire to create heavens('afterworlds'))? How does he answer those who think they havedirectly experienced spiritual realms 'transported from their bodies andthis earth')? Does he view such people as wicked or as sick? How does hesay such people should be treated? How do you think he would react to peoplewho say they have had 'after death' experiences today?
On the Despisers of the Body
What is the significance of believing that the 'soul' is a function ofthe body rather than a separate entity? One of the more influential themes inNietzsche's thought is his notion of the wisdom of the body. Can you think ofany contemporary examples in which people seem to share that idea, for instancesaying that one should 'listen' to one's body? In what sense can thebody be said to have created the spirit?
On Enjoying and Suffering the Passions
Here Nietzsche is using the original meaning of the Latin word passio--suffering, and combining it with the more recent meaning of intensedesire. What is his attitude toward passion? How is it similar to Faust's?
On the Pale Criminal
How do you think Nietzsche would react to contemporary calls for more capitalpunishment? What arguments might be made to support his position thatexecutions should not be a form of revenge? What arguments might be madeagainst it? Why does he reject terms like 'villain,&178;'scoundrel,' and 'sinner?' What is different about theterms he proposes to use instead? The Pale Criminal here is often compared toDostoyevsky's Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, whofantasized becoming a Napoleonic hero by rejecting ordinary morality andcommitting a robbery/murder with total disregard for normal ethics. However, hefound he was not capable of such lofty detachment, and was haunted by a guiltyconscience. Inter estingly, Nietzsche had not read Crime and Punishment, and arrived at this portrait quite independently. Clearly Zarathustradoes not really mean to praise murder or robbery, so why does he criticize thecriminal's inability to admit to himself that what he really wants to do iscommit a murder? How does th is relate to the sentence, 'Much about yourgood people nauseates me; and verily, it is not their evil?' What familiarNietzschean theme is he continuing here?
On Reading and Writing
What does it mean to write with your blood? Is this a classical or romanticattitude? Why does Nietzsche think universal literacy is a bad thing? Whatinfluence might he think it has had on the quality of writing? Remember,magazines, newspapers and books were the mass media in the nineteenth century. According to Zarathustra, how are madness and reason related? What is hismetaphor for the spirit of lightness and joy which he praises? Hint: thispassage suggested the great waltz section in Richard Strauss's tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra (the opening of the work is well-known asthe 'theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey' ).
On the Tree on the Mountainside
Why does Zarathustra feel the youth is not yet ready for freedom? Does he feelthat freedom is good in and of itself? Do you agree with him? What criticismsdoes he make of those who pursue skepticism for its own sake in the paragraphthat begins 'Alas, I knew noble men . . .?'
On the Preachers of Death
This is largely a repetition of ideas already discussed in the sections entitled'On the Afterworldly' and 'On the Despisers of the Body,&178; but he also takes uphostility toward sexuality. What are some of the kinds of people which he calls'Preachers of Death?&178;
Besides 'God is dead,' this passage is probably quoted out of contextmore than any other part of Nietzsche's writings. What is a warrior ofknowledge? Nietzsche was an outspoken critic of German nationalism andmilitarism. What kind of war is he speaking about? What is the differencebetween a soldier and a warrior, as he uses the terms? (Hint: the first comesfrom the name of a Roman coin with which soldiers were paid, and originallydesignated a hired fighter.) Why does he object to uniforms? Interpret thissentence: 'Your enemy you shall seek, your war you shall wage--for your thoughts.' Is he speaking here about traditional warfare, involving massesof soldiers obeying the orders of officers? Why does he say that you shouldfind a cause for triumph even in defeat? Do generals tell their armies,'It isn't who wins that counts, it's how you fight the battle?' Thenext few phrases are frequently cited to show that Nietzsche was a proto-Fascistmilitarist who would have supported Hitler. Is this a fair interpretation? Explain. What good qualities does he say have been encouraged more by war thanby the Christian virtues of neighborly love and pity? Is this an unconventionalview? Why does he say you must not despise your enemy? Can you reconcile theseeming contradiction between the paragraph on recalcitrance and obedience withhis earlier objection to uniformity and his general insistence on fighting forone's own individual cause?
German nationalism was on the rise at this time, as the modern country wasslowly unified out of a variety of small principalities. How does he make clearin this passage that his praise of war must not be taken to support warfare insupport of the modern state?
On the Flies of the Market Place
What qualities does he praise that conflict with a Hitleresque idea of theimportance of the state? What does it mean to say 'Never yet has truthhung on the arm of the unconditional?' Technically this statement containsa self-contradiction; can you re-word it so that it still conveys his meaningwithout being self-contradictory?
Why does he feel that chastity can be a vice for some people? Strikingly, helinks suppressed sexuality and cruelty in much the same way that Freud was to dolater in his theory of masochism. To understand the 'parable' heoffers, read Mark 5:1-20. Do es he say that everyone should indulge in sex? What does he mean by saying that 'dirty' truths are not as bad asshallow ones?
On the Friend
Nietzsche seems to feel that having a friend makes one vulnerable. Whatqualities does he think a friend should have to prevent these dangers? Why doeshe argue that women are not yet capable of friendship? Do you think the desirefor love can interfere with the ability to make and keep friends? Do you thinksuch interference happens more among men or among women? Why does he thinkwomen's love is inferior to friendship? Note: many readers areparticularly offended by Nietzsche's calling women cats, birds, and cows;but it is important to note that he has much harsher (and clearer) things to sayabout them that this (see On Little Old and Young Women). What does it implywhen he says that woman is 'not yet' capable of friendship? How doeshe use his comments on women to attack men?
On the Thousand and One Goals
Nietzsche strongly rejected the notion that there is one single purpose in lifethat all of us should discover and pursue. But he felt that peoples create anidentity for themselves which is based on their group values. How does he saythey choose these values? What did he think was the main value of the Greeks? 'Zarathustra' is the name of a Persian prophet. What does he thinkthe main values of the Persians were? What famous people took as central law'To honor father and mother?' How do you think Zarathustra reacts tothis kind of virtue, judging by what he has said earlier? The fourth group ofpeople is the Germans. In what way is his summary of them less neutral than theother three? Nietzsche says that the notion of the individual as a creatoremerged only in recent times? What evidence is there in history to supportthis view? To what degree is it an overstatement? What mechanism does he arguehas traditionally hindered individualism? How does he think humanity shoulddefine itself? Is the emergence of individualism entirely a good thing? Canyou think of any disadvantages it has had?
On Love of the Neighbor
As in On the Friend, he argues that the need for close friends is a danger. What does he feel this danger consists in? Of all of Nietzsche'steachings, this is probably the least followed. Most people who have beenprofoundly influenced by Nietzsche have also praised friendship highly.
On the Way of the Creator
What in this section repeats Zarathustra's comments on freedom in 'On theTree on the Mountainside?&178; What is it that he calls on one to'murder' in the last paragraph on p. 63? Is he advocating literalmurder of another human being? To what in history is he referring in hiswarning against holy simplicity? What does he say is your worst enemy?
On Little Old and Young Women
It is obvious that this passage expresses outrageously sexist attitudes towardwomen. What is not so obvious is that they are simply a more brutal expressionof common nineteenth-century ways of praising women. Can youtranslate some of his statements into gentler-sounding equivalents that mostnineteenth-century men and women might have agreed with? What kind of men doesthe old woman say that women hate? Why do you think she urges men to use thewhip (violence) against women? Why do you suppose this is the only passage inwhich Nietzsche's views are expressed through a character other thanZarathustra?
On the Adder's Bite
What variations does Zarathustra make here on the Sermon on the Mount? (SeeMatthew 5:38-48.) He is not simply turning Jesus' teachings upside down. How is he changing them? What are your own reactions to his suggestedchanges?
On Child and Marriage
This is pretty much just an editorial in favor of the overman, arguing thatwithout the goal of producing a superior child, marriage is pointless, evendestructive.
On Free Death
How does his teaching on dying at the right time relate to hotly-debated issuestoday? He says that Jesus ('that Hebrew') died too early. What doeshe think would have happened had he lived longer?
On the Gift-Giving Virtue
1: Nietzsche argues that one should not idealize the poor as morally superior to the rich or idealize giving to them out of pity. What does he suggest shouldbe the motive of charity?
2: Here he summarizes his basic teaching. What is his central point? Why wouldit be illogical to expect him to have described the overman in detail, with allhis important characteristics?
3: How does he try to demonstrate that he wants each person to find his or herown truth?
What elements of Nietzsche's thinking do you think are agreed with by mostAmericans these days? What elements do you think would be most widely rejected? Do most Americans believe in absolute values, relative ones, or a mixture of thetwo?