This speech is one of the most decisive speeches of the book. "On Self-Overcoming" is the fruition of Zarathustra's ideas in the second part of the novel. The speech is a conversation between Zarathustra and the "wisest ones," the great thinkers and philosophers from throughout the ages.
In the speech, Zarathustra shows how these philosophers' ultimate goals include a will to power. Though the philosophers claim to seek truth, they actually create the truth for those under them. The wisest ones have been creating a moral world that they can make to "kneel" before them. They create this world for those under them with their conceptions of what is right and wrong and what is good and evil.
Zarathustra shows how the philosophers have actually become the moral kings of the ages. All notions of right and wrong are based upon their work, he reasons, and this makes them very powerful. Zarathustra congratulates these men instead of challenging them. He acknowledges their greatness and their power, but at the same time he prepares a way to overcome their rule.
Zarathustra offers his views on humanity: the weak serve the strong, and the weak are served by those who are even weaker than they are. Zarathustra says that will to power is the pursuit of life. "...(F)or the sake of power (life) risks - life itself." Life's ultimate goal is not simply to stay alive. Life's ultimate goal is a will to power, a desire to be a master over other life. This, Zarathustra says, is the fundamental state of life. It is the reason that Zarathustra will be able to will himself to rise over the great philosophers of the ages. Zarathustra closes his speech by asking those around him to tell others about this will to power. A weakness of the old philosophers is that they kept their will to power to themselves. If others know of this true meaning of life, however, much will change in humanity and society. The old foundations of the world - Christianity and the modern morality of the age - will crumble under the realization of the will to power.
On the Sublime Ones
Having discovered the will to power and having briefly shown the kind of world to which such a discovery will lead, Zarathustra turns his attention to the modern institutions of knowledge and their deconstruction in the face of this will to power.
He turns first to the sublime, modern seekers of knowledge. He uses the imagery of storms and serenity to show how these modern wise men have been able to free themselves from the old superstitions of Christianity but have not been able to gain the serenity that Zarathustra has been able to gain. The sublime seeker of knowledge has "not yet learned laughing and beauty." Zarathustra says that the sublime one's difficulty is not being able to find beauty without willing it through violence. "To stand with muscles relaxed and with an unharnessed will: this is most difficult...," Zarathustra says.
Zarathustra's problem with these modern thinkers and philosophers is that they have not learned the secret of finding beauty as the early Greek philosophers did. Though these modern thinkers have become sublime because they have attained knowledge, they have not been able to overcome this sublimity to gain an even greater state. They have not mastered the ability to control and restrain their will.
On the Land of Education
The next three speeches Zarathustra gives outline the best parts of the modern world while highlighting the weaknesses of modern philosophers. After flying through the future and the past, Zarathustra returns to the present to speak to those concerned with modern liberal education. These men believe that they are masters of the present because they have mastered the past. Zarathustra shows them how, even though they mask themselves in the knowledge of the cultures of the past, they do not possess the true knowledge that Zarathustra himself possesses. They claim that they have no "beliefs" or "superstitions;" Zarathustra shows them that they lack belief only because they are "sterile." They do not have the knowledge that Zarathustra has.
To show that they are "sterile," Zarathustra tells the myth of the dead in Greek mythology and the story of Adam from Genesis. These people's beliefs have been taken from them like the rib from Adam's side, yet this has left them thin and frail like the dead. Zarathustra wants nothing to do with them because their knowledge does not lead to the ultimate goal of the overman.
On the Immaculate Perception
In this speech, Zarathustra confronts the practitioners of modern science and philosophy whose ultimate goal is to achieve a pure perspective, a completely objective state of mind. Zarathustra uses a parable of the moon to make his point. The moon, long a symbol of the feminine, is more like a barren, impotent man. The moon is the symbol of the modern philosopher who believes he can achieve pure objectivity. Such a man cannot produce offspring, and Zarathustra suggests that instead the moon will be overcome by the brightness of the sun, the symbol for the new age of the overman.
Zarathustra ridicules those who strive for a pure objectivity for being "content in viewing, with dead will, without the grasp and greed of selfishness...." This contentment in viewing will not lead to the overman, Zarathustra says, because "[whomever] cannot believe himself always lies." Pure objectivity is an illusion because, no matter what, each person will bring a particular perspective to what he sees. The goal is to believe in the individual. Zarathustra says that he himself was once like this before he saw a truer light: the knowledge of the will to power and the fulfillment of the overman. This light is like a sun that will eclipse the moon that is the myth of objective knowledge.
"On Scholars" begins with Zarathustra relating an incident in which he is asleep under a tree when a sheep comes and nibbles on the ivy wreath on Zarathustra's head. The sheep realizes that Zarathustra is no longer a scholar and it walks away. This parable is a symbol for the scholarly community that Zarathustra sees as a group of sheep who blindly and dumbly follow others. Zarathustra is proud that he is no longer a scholar in the old way. Instead, he says, he is "still a scholar to the children and also to the thistles and the red poppies."
Zarathustra begins to list the problems with the modern scholars. Zarathustra used to be a part of their group, but now he has found a simpler way to be. He no longer needs to approach complex, useless ideas with poison as the scholars do. Their work, Zarathustra says, is useless because it only "makes a modest noise." These scholars now hold a grudge against Zarathustra and try to silence him, but he will not be silenced; he will "stroll with [his] thoughts over their heads." These scholars cannot stop Zarathustra in his quest.
This speech does not address the scholars directly; it only describes them. Zarathustra claims that modern scholarship serves other powers such as democracy. Therefore, scholarship discounts men like Zarathustra as freaks too lowly for proper consideration. Zarathustra ridicules these scholars for not heeding his call regarding the overman and not understanding his notion of justice. Zarathustra says that human beings are not equal. Scholars are not "permitted to want" the overman as Zarathustra does because they have been subjugated by the ideals of modern democracy.
This speech begins with a conversation between Zarathustra and one of his disciples. As Zarathustra relates a lesson to this disciple, the disciple asks him why he previously said that "the poets lie too much." Zarathustra feigns ignorance, saying that he does not remember saying such a thing. Zarathustra remembers and is actually laying a Socratic trap for his disciple. Zarathustra claims that he is a poet, and he asks the disciple if this means that he lies too much. When Zarathustra asks the disciple what he believes, the disciple answers "'I believe in Zarathustra.'"
Zarathustra begins teaching about the nature of the poet. The poet, he says, is attentive to nature. The poet creates gods and worlds between heaven and earth, but these gods and worlds are simply lies that enslave men. In this way, Zarathustra is a poet because he weaves the poetry of the overman and the age to come. This teaching makes Zarathustra's disciple angry because he feels betrayed by Zarathustra. Zarathustra looks inward to reconcile his deep revelation of the overman with the superficial revelations of previous poets.
Zarathustra is critical of the poets of previous ages because they created the gods that have kept man from realizing the state of overman. Zarathustra is also honest about the fact that he himself is a kind of poet, weaving tales of the overman. He suggests the possibility that his poetry is all lies just like the poetry of history. Zarathustra tells his disciple that, though he is a kind of poet, he is not like any poet that came before him because his teachings are deeper than theirs. While they created false worlds and gods, Zarathustra teaches a greater truth.
On Great Events
Near the Blessed Isles, where Zarathustra has returned to his disciples, there is an island with a volcano that the locals believe is a gateway to the underworld. A ship of sailors stops on the island, and while they are on the island, they see a vision of Zarathustra flying over them, saying, "It is time! It is high time!" The sailors are in awe of Zarathustra; they believe he is going off to hell. A rumor begins in the town that the devil has come for Zarathustra and his disciples become worried. On the fifth day, however, Zarathustra returns and tells a story of the "fire hound."
The fire hound, he says, is a disease on the skin of the earth. Zarathustra goes to find out who this fire hound really is and where it comes from. He asks it where it gets its nourishment and how it survives. Eventually, he challenges this fire hound.
The fire hound represents a rhetoric of revolution. Zarathustra claims that, like human beings, revolution is a disease on the earth's skin, even though it promises change and virtue. Zarathustra draws out the fire hound by challenging its teachings on revolution. Such thoughts do not bring about real change, Zarathustra charges, because they are bound together with ideologies. Real revolution is not about making the most "noise," Zarathustra says, it is about communicating the greatest ideas. Revolution is just as hypocritical as the state it purports to overthrow.
As the speech ends, Zarathustra's disciples have barely listened to his story and the teaching within it because they are too excited to tell him about the sailors' story and what Zarathustra's shadow said to them. Zarathustra realizes that his myth is growing too large. He begins to wonder about the words that the shadow said to the sailors.
This chapter begins, without warning, with a nightmare prophecy by a soothsayer. The soothsayer says, "I saw a great sadness descend over humanity... 'Everything is empty, everything is the same, everything was!'" Zarathustra awakens and realizes what the prophecy means: the long-awaited dark times of nihilism are approaching and his teachings are in danger. Zarathustra realizes that the prophecy is true and it makes him both weary and sad.
When Zarathustra returns to his disciples, he tells them of another dream in which he is a watcher of graves. He asks for their interpretation, and the disciple whom Zarathustra loves gives an interpretation that he hopes will cheer up his master. He tells Zarathustra that the dream means Zarathustra will laugh at all those whose teachings and wisdom only send others to their graves. He says that just as Zarathustra awakened from the dream and came back to himself, so his enemies will awaken from their dreams and come to understand Zarathustra's teachings. For a moment, this makes Zarathustra feel better, but then he looks into the face of the disciple and sees that the interpretation is wrong and the prophecy of nihilism will come true.
The disciple's interpretation is meant to make Zarathustra feel better. His disciple wants to show him how loyal he is to Zarathustra's teachings, but what Zarathustra begins to realize as the chapter ends is that his disciples have not been true to his teachings after all. This begins the closing chapters of the second part in which Zarathustra again realizes that his disciples have disappointed him. Zarathustra realizes that he must leave them at some point.
One day, Zarathustra is walking across a large bridge where he is met by a group of "cripples." They tell Zarathustra that, though the people have started to believe in his teachings, they will not truly understand until he is able to heal these crippled people. Zarathustra says that healing them would be the worst thing he could do; it would open up all the cruelties of the world to them. Zarathustra refuses to become a miracle worker, which is a possibility that tempts him. Becoming a miracle worker might raise his profile in the eyes of the people, but ultimately it will hinder his true calling. As Zarathustra finishes crossing the bridge, he is met by a giant ear that he realizes is actually a hideously deformed person. Zarathustra practices his teachings regarding pity, treating these crippled people with a hard heart in order to teach them the true way to approach the nature of the world.
Zarathustra begins to teach his disciples. This chapter is the climax of part two. In essence, it is a climactic part of the whole book. Zarathustra asks his disciples what they expect him to be: "...a poet? Or a truthful man? A liberator? Or a tamer? A good man? Or an evil man?" Zarathustra realizes that his true mission is to bring will to the people, yet he himself is not even advanced enough to break the will from its ultimate captor: time. Though will can liberate people, time is that "which claps even the liberator in chains...." The will cannot go back and change time. It seeks to impose its power on time, but it is still constrained by time. This, Zarathustra realizes, is an ultimate flaw in himself and in his own will to power.
On Human Prudence
In this speech, Zarathustra asks his disciple to try to understand his "double will." He explains how he longs for the overman yet is restrained by his love of humanity. This love of humanity is a prudence that Zarathustra realizes he must abandon in order to achieve his goal of the overman. He realizes that, though he loves humanity, he actually shows too much favor to the "vain." This has been holding him back. He is entertained by these "vain" people, so he spares them. He must rid himself of the hope and the enchantment that he feels for mankind. These are prudences that only weigh him down. The fourth prudence Zarathustra outlines in this chapter is the fact that he must hide himself from the people in order to achieve the overman because the people are "so estranged from greatness...that the overman would seem terrible to [them] in his kindness!" Zarathustra is preparing the people for his absence. He is coming to terms with the will to power that he will need to find in order to master time.
The Stillest Hour
This final chapter of part two shows Zarathustra as a man torn apart by his double will. Zarathustra tells his disciples about a voice that came to him at night during his "stillest hour." The voice goads Zarathustra to become more like a child. According to the voice, Zarathustra has grown weak and ineffectual. His love for mankind is keeping him from becoming the overman, and Zarathustra readily admits that he is weak.
In this speech, it is clear that Zarathustra knows what will is needed to effect the "eternal return," the coming of the overman. This will must be able to accept the accident of humanity in time as well as to show power over time. Zarathustra is reluctant to speak of this knowledge because he knows what fear it will strike in the hearts of people once he does return with such power. As the speech closes, Zarathustra weeps openly at again having to leave his friends. In the middle of the night, he once again walks away alone.