Thus Spoke Zarathustra Summary and Analysis
Part 1, Speeches 1-11
Part one of Thus Spoke Zarathustra consists of the prologue and a series of speeches that Zarathustra delivers. The speeches are written to resemble the sayings of the Biblical prophets as well as ancient philosophical literature. The style is meant to remind the reader of a sermon or a homily. Zarathustra gives brief meditations and visions that allude to the teachings of Jesus and Socrates. The speeches cover a wide variety of topics and issues, but all are written to further the purpose of helping people to live better lives. Zarathustra tells the crowd in the prologue to live lives that "remain true to the meaning of the earth." Between speeches, there are brief moments of narration. Below, each speech is summarized and analyzed.
On the Three Metamorphoses
Zarathustra begins his first speech by describing the three stages through which a soul moves during its transformation. The use of the word "metamorphoses" has a double meaning here. Metamorphosis is the act of a change, which this parable certainly deals with, but metamorphoses are also brief mythical allusions, first used by the Roman poet Ovid.
The metamorphosis of the soul can best be described as a person's spiritual journey. The soul first becomes a camel, carrying heavy burdens. Then, the soul transforms again into a lion. Finally, the lion becomes a child. The camel is a beast of burden, and it represents the burdens that the laws and morality of religion place on individuals. These strictures carry the individual's soul into the desert. There, the soul transforms into a lion, fighting for its freedoms from the restrictions of religion. The lion fights viciously against the ingrained traditions of a society. The transformation of the soul into a lion is necessary to cast off the burdens of the camel. The soul must then become an innocent child once again seeking truth. By becoming a child again, the soul is able to gain its own sense of morality, not the morality imposed by religion.
At the end of this speech, Zarathustra goes to a town called The Motley Cow.
On the Teachers of Virtue
Upon entering the town, Zarathustra goes and sits at the feet of a wise and virtuous old man. The old man is teaching the town's youth of the great virtue of sleep. To the old man, nothing is more virtuous. The old man teaches that in order to attain such sleep, a person must keep forty other virtues and think of them at night. Only when one has realized these virtues can he fall asleep.
Zarathustra thinks that this teaching is nonsense. He correctly identifies the logic of the teaching as this: living life during the day is only something one does until hat person can sleep. Zarathustra says that the only situation in which he can imagine following such teaching is "if life [has] no meaning and if I [have] to choose nonsense." This passage contrasts Zarathustra's teachings to the philosophy of teachers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. These philosophers taught that life was something to be overcome because. For Zarathustra, life does have a purpose, and he plans to teach this purpose to his disciples.
On the Hinterworldly
The title of this speech refers to those who believe in a world beyond the current world, and the teaching is directed towards those who have faith in such a place. Zarathustra first tells of his own spiritual journey. He says that he once believed in God and the afterlife. Yet, he realized that there was no God; God, like all gods, sprang from the human imagination. Zarathustra blames the sick and weary for creating a god to distract them from their sickness and their weariness. Zarathustra proclaims that his teaching will show people a new way. Everyone can enjoy humanity instead of looking at it as something to be overcome in another world.
In this speech, Zarathustra deals with old religion. Religion's viewpoint is that the body and earthly matters are to be overcome so that a person can experience God, but Zarathustra shows that such beliefs are unfounded. Zarathustra places a great emphasis on the body and on earthly experience. Nietzsche is beginning to explain how all truth must now be found in a subjective experience. A man can no longer look to his community or to a higher being to find meaning. A man must look inside himself and his own existence to find truth and meaning.
On the Despisers of the Body
Zarathustra has harsh words for anyone who teaches people to despise the human body. He says that he does not want these teachers to learn his own philosophy. Instead, he thinks that they should simply follow their teachings and die. Zarathustra tells his listeners that only children believe in a soul. According to Zarathustra, there is only a body, and within that body is the self. The self is the ruler of the body, the essence of humanity. The self controls the ego, which in turn controls the pleasures and pains of life. What the self wants most of all is to "create beyond itself."
In this speech, Zarathustra compares a person's body to a kingdom in which the self is the absolute ruler of everything. Zarathustra's teaching presents a complication, however. If the self were the ultimate ruler of a person's body, why would it create pain at all? How can suicide be explained? Zarathustra answers that one who has decided to despise the body has led that person's self to despise his own existence. This, in turn, leads to the desire for self-destruction.
On the Passions of Pleasure and Pain
Although the title of this speech deals with passions and pleasures, the real subject of the speech is virtue. Zarathustra teaches that true virtue is a private matter that a person feels deep down in the self. Virtue arises from passions, and is a kind of passion itself. But it is not a universal law, such as a law from God or a truth that everyone can share. Virtue is a private feeling for the individual. Religion and morality view certain passions as wrong or evil, yet Zarathustra tells his listeners that all passions are permissible and can be turned into virtue. For Zarathustra, even passions like anger and hate have been transformed into virtues so that a person who follows Zarathustra's teaching will no longer do evil.
For Zarathustra, it is mankind's battle with the virtues within that has caused all the evil in the world. The old teacher from the first speech said that only sleep could overcome this battle. Zarathustra gives another way for human beings to triumph in this battle: the overman.
On the Pale Criminal
This speech deals with the institutions of justice and self-governance. To show this, Zarathustra speaks of the pale criminal, a man who has committed an instance of robbery and murder. The judges of this man suppose that he is a robber who committed murder, but Zarathustra has a different opinion. Zarathustra understands the motivations of the body and hypothesizes that this man is a murderer who committed robbery. He is a man whose soul wants blood, and the guilt he feels over the murder and his misunderstanding of the reasons behind it make him pale.
Zarathustra condemns the pale criminal because of his guilt. He calls the criminal a "heap of diseases." Zarathustra also condemns the judge because the judge believes himself to be good based on the old laws of religion and morality. In the end, Zarathustra says he prefers the "heap of disease" to the judge because at least the criminal has separated himself from the prevailing traditional teaching.
On Reading and Writing
The speech on reading and writing is concerned with how people communicate and how people understand one another. The speech starts with an aphorism: Zarathustra loves only what is written in blood. Aphorisms - short sayings that reveal a higher truth - are to be valued because they elevate the listener to a higher level of meaning. The listener will then look down on all those who do not understand. The ideas of ascending and descending once again come into play in this speech. If Thus Spoke Zarathustra had been written as an essay, most themes would be easier to comprehend. The idea of the overman, however, would be lost. The book is written as a series of aphorisms so that those who truly seek to know will ascend to a higher level.
The rest of the speech is about how Zarathustra's own elevation allows him to "dance" above those not as enlightened as he. He claims that the only god he could ever believe in is a god that can dance, and that a devil he can believe in is a devil of gravity and seriousness. Only through laughter can such a devil be killed. The speech ends with the image of Zarathustra flying high above the world, his enlightenment letting him look down on the rest of the world.
On the Tree on the Mountain
This speech takes the form of a conversation that Zarathustra has with one of his disciples. The young man has retreated from Zarathustra's teaching because it is awakening feelings in him that he fears. Zarathustra finds the young man on the mountain underneath a tree, and he tells him a parable of how the invisible wind is able to move the tree when human hands cannot. The young man is startled and confused by Zarathustra and begins to confess that the teachings have awakened uncertainties and doubts within him. Zarathustra shows him how the tree, though it reaches for the heavens, also has roots that reach for the dark and evil places of the earth. The young man agrees that this reflects his own situation. Zarathustra continues his parable by showing the young man that though the tree has grown tall, it waits for nothing but being struck by lightning. The young man's true feelings come out; he envies Zarathustra, causing the dark feelings within him. Zarathustra embraces the young man and begins to teach him how envy can be transformed and overcome.
This speech, returning to a narrative form, shows the impact that Zarathustra's lessons are having on his pupils. The young man is obviously talented, but he has been consumed by envy because he sees an enlightened being that has ascended even higher than he has. Zarathustra, using parables, begins to teach the young man how to overcome his envy, because envy, he warns, will thwart him in his attempt to attain the overman.
On the Preachers of Death
Zarathustra begins speaking again, this time turning his anger towards those who preach death. He has two religious categories in mind, the Buddhist who would say that "life is refuted" and the servants of the Christian work ethic who work all day, keeping themselves busy so that they can flee their inner-most selves. Zarathustra admonishes both of these preachers of death, telling them to follow their own teachings and to end their lives. Zarathustra mocks those who say sex is a sin, giving birth is a useless activity, and pity is needed. Zarathustra's teaching embraces life - every aspect of it - and not the death that other religious teachings embrace.
On War and Warriors
In this speech, Zarathustra addresses what is required of a disciple. Zarathustra tells his disciples that a person must fight to continue to grow and ascend into a greater being. One must hold envy and hate in his heart, just as warriors do, against those who have already ascended higher. Zarathustra loves his disciples, but he also teaches them how to engage in war in order to become overmen.
On the New Idol
In order to gain full control over the hearts and minds of his disciples, Zarathustra knows he must break the ideas and affiliations that his disciples held before they became his followers. The first conviction that Zarathustra must break is the dependence upon the new democratic state. The state is the new idol. Loyalty to a democratic state has overtaken belief in God as the chief idol of society. Zarathustra tells his disciples that people are the true noble creatures, not states. People serve life, he says, but a state only serves death by sending men to war and by lusting after "a hundred appetites."
In this speech, Nietzsche levels a criticism against thinkers such as John Locke who writes of the modern commercial state. The state, Nietzsche writes, is generous to people who bow down and worship it. Zarathustra insists that to ascend to the state of the overman one must overcome loyalty to the state. One must be loyal to the individual instead.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra Essays and Related Content
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- Friedrich Nietzsche: Biography
- Thus Spoke Zarathustra Summary
- About Thus Spoke Zarathustra
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of The Prologue
- Summary and Analysis of Part 1, Speeches 1-11
- Summary and Analysis of Part 1, Speeches 12-22
- Summary and Analysis of Part 2, Speeches 1-11
- Summary and Analysis of Part 2, Speeches 12-22
- Summary and Analysis of Part 3, Speeches 1-8
- Summary and Analysis of Part 3, Speeches 9-16
- Summary and Analysis of The Fourth and Final Part
- The Death of God and Modern Theology
- Related Links on Thus Spoke Zarathustra
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
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- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
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