How to Become a Superman: “Thus Spake Zarathustra”
Friedrich Nietzsche is probably the most famous and most misunderstood philosopher of the recent time and, notorious too. People say, Adolph Hitler was influenced by Nietzsche’s theory of Superman and the German philosopher was the very reason why Hitler entered into history’s bloodiest anti-Semite massacre. People say, Nietzsche was a sickly child and hence bitter about everything in the world where he could never find a place for himself. He poured out his bitterness into his philosophy criticizing everything in the world, including God, whom he declared as dead.
There is a certain film which begins with Nietzsche’s quotation, “God is dead” — Nietzsche. The screen goes black. After a few seconds there appears another quotation: “Nietzsche is dead” —God.
The reason why Nietzsche is notorious and yet most influential is that he dared to say things, which no one had even conceived before, and he said it with such punch and logic that you have to believe him. The greatness of Nietzsche as a poet comes to fore here in his lyricism, and in his terse almost epigrammatic, Baconian sentence construction filled with explosive radical idealism.
Thus Spake Zarathustra is the father of all inspirational books, which are in demand today. Zarathustra is the Prophet of the Prophets. He is worth all the Richard Bach, Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill and Deepak Chopra put together. He is the crux of all religions. He is the teacher of all thinking mind.
Nietzsche and his Zarathustra are known for two things: their denunciation of God and the creation of Superman. Zarathustra’s reproof of god is not radical for its own sake. It is a logical development of his creation of what is called Superman. His superman is an evolved personality who is complete in itself and that is why he will not need any God. He writes: “Dead are all the Gods, now do we desire the superman to live: – let this be our final will at the great noontide.”
Nietzsche had great respect for the Greek civilization for, among the Greeks it was the individuals that counted.
The teaching of Zarathustra is the celebration of man, not the abstract man, but the real one with his feet rooted on the ground and an aspiration to soar high. He talks about body more than the soul. He celebrates the working of body, its basic instincts, and its natural demands and shows the road to achieve higher plane, not salvation, but to be a superman. Zarathustra does not explain what he means by superman, he merely says: “man is rope stretched between the animal and the superman—a rope over an abyss.”
Zarathustra celebrates man, and nothing else. He has an opinion about everything, he sees churches as sweet-smelling caves, woman as riddle, pity as vice: “God is dead, of his pity for man hath he died.”
The radicalism of Nietzsche lies in the fact that in his ambition to create Superman he has to reject everything on which the society is based, morality, religion, law and everything that comes under the scrutiny of the state: “The state I call it, where all are poison drinker, the good and the bad, the state where all lose themselves, the good and the bad, the state where the slow of all—is called ‘life’.”
When Zarathustra was 30 years old he left home and after wondering in the woods for 10 years he finally realised that his concern was man, not nature. He came down and began to preach: “I teach you the Superman. Man is something that is to be surpassed. What have ye done do surpass man?”
In the process of surpassing man, man has to surpass everything that is conventional. Here begins the radical cynicism of Nietzsche.
According to Zarathustra the best virtue is the world is the ability to sleep. There is nothing beyond the body. Jealously is the root of all unhappiness. The state is the cold of the coldest monsters. Newspapers are the vomit of bile. Neighbours are poisonous flies. Your neighbour love is your bad love of yourself. Even the sweetest woman is most bitter. Die at the right time. The list of his epigrammatic quotations goes on.
Nietzsche talks about everything, from the wanderer to the magician, from kings to beggar, from leech to seals, from melancholy to science. There is nothing that Zarathustra is not concerned about. There is nothing that he does not see lacking. Zarathustra speaks: “’Enemy shall ye say but not ‘Villain,’ ‘invalid’ shall ye say but not ‘wretch,’ ‘fool’ shall ye say but not ‘sinner’. What could be more politically correct?
For, as Donne wrote, Zarathustra is involved with mankind. He loves men. His whole endeavour is to make men grow. He says, “What spake I of love! I am bringing gifts unto men.” This gift is the lesson to become a Superman. Zarathustra himself is the epitome of this Superman. So overpowering and encompassing is his love for men is that he dares to tell his enemy: “I spare you not, I love you from my very heart, my brethren in war! —”
Zarathustra’s preaching may sound cynical and pessimistic in the beginning. But as we go deep into it we come to see a visionary, an architect of a utopia based on human goodness and nothing else. That is why he can say, “Verily, like the sun do I love life, and all the deep seas.”
To achieve this end it becomes important for him to subvert the conventional idea. He talks about the ‘rearing of the Superman,’ hinting at the act of modifying by newer and higher value—values which, as laws and guides of conduct and opinion of the Superman, are new to rule over mankind.
Nietzsche assumes that Christianly as a product of the resentment of the botched and the weak, has put in ban all that is beautiful, strong, proud, and powerful, in fact all the qualities resulting from strength, and that, in consequence, all forces which tend to promote or elevate life has been seriously undermined.
Now, however, a new table of valuation must be placed over mankind—namely, that of the strong, mighty and magnificent man, overflowing with life and elevated to the zenith—the Superman, who is now to put before us the overpowering passion as the aim of our life, hope and will. (the introduction by Elizabeth Forster- Nietzsche).
That is why the need of subversion. That is why Nietzsche could surmise: “All that proceeds from power is good; all that springs from weakness is bad. That is why Zarathustra could preach: “…and better marriage-breaking than marriage-bending, marriage-lying!”
It is interesting to note why Nietzsche chose Zarathustra to be his spokesman. Nietzsche writes: “Zarathustra was the first to see in the struggle between good and evil the essential wheel in the working of things. The translation of morality into metaphysical, as force, cause, end in itself, was his work. But the very question suggests its own answer. Zarathustra created the most portentous error, morality, consequently he should also be the first to perceive that error (…) Zarathustra was more truthful than any other thinker. To tell the truth and to aim straight: that is the first Persian virtue.”
Thus Spake Zarathustra is true and virtuous preaching. It is the handbook of the last stage of civilization. The book is the celebration of man, and that’s saying enough: “The sun of knowledge stands once more at midday: and the serpent of eternity lies coiled in its light—: It is your time, ye midday brethren.”
From the Blurb:
“The poet and philosopher in Friedrich Nietzsche are nowhere so completely fused as in his most rapturous and profound work—Thus Spake Zarathustra. It contains at once the epitome of his philosophy and the full blood of his most lyrical writing. It proclaims the elevation of man to his zenith and champions the ideals the advent of the Superman and affirming that all that proceeds from power is good; all that derives from weakness is bad.”
Thus Spake Zarathustra (1961)
Originally published in German under the title Also Sprach Zarathustra (1883-1885)
Translated by Thomas Common
Introduction by Mrs. Elizabeth Forster-Nietzsche (the author’s sister)
Published by the Modern Library, New York, a Division of Random House