Thus Spoke Zarathustra

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Title of the first edition of the later so-called “First Part”, 1883

Also sprach Zarathustra (subtitle Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen , 1883–1885) is a poetic and philosophical work by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche .


The book consists of four parts. The first part appeared in 1883, the second and third in 1884, and the fourth in 1885 as a private print . In 1886 Nietzsche published the first three parts as “Also sprach Zarathustra. A book for everyone and no one. In three parts. ”In contrast to Nietzsche's early works, Zarathustra is not a non-fiction book. In hymnal prose, a personal narrator reports on the work of a fictional thinker who bears the name of the Persian founder of religion, Zarathustra .

Nietzsche himself calls the style in which Also Spoke Zarathustra is written halcyonical (spiritually perfect) and wishes for readers who are “capable and worthy of the same pathos”: “Above all, you have to use the tone that comes out of this mouth To hear the halcyon tone correctly , so as not to do pitifully injustice to the sense of his wisdom ”. The subtitle of the work suggests that Nietzsche did not see this readership in his presence: “A book for all and no one”.

Origin and classification in Nietzsche's writings


Zarathustra stone on Lake Silvaplana

First indications of a preoccupation with the figure of Zarathustra can be found in Nietzsche's notes at the beginning of his stay in Basel, from the years 1871 and 1872. In his autobiography Ecce homo Nietzsche describes how he got the inspiration for the concept of the Eternal Coming during his first stay in The Nietzsche House in Sils Maria was attacked in the summer of 1881:

“The basic concept of the work, the idea of eternal return , this highest formula of affirmation that can be achieved at all - belongs to August 1881: it is thrown on a sheet of paper with the signature: '6000 feet beyond Man and time. ' That day I was walking through the woods by the lake of Silvaplana ; I stopped at a mighty, pyramidal towered block not far from Surlei. Then this thought occurred to me. "

Origin, publication and later revisions

Announcement of the new book in a letter to Heinrich Köselitz , February 1, 1883

The four parts of Zarathustra were created between November 1882 and February 1885. This was preceded by reading Carl Spitteler's poetry Prometheus and Epimetheus . However, the length of time that the individual books took up differed considerably. While Nietzsche needed two months for the first part, not even one for the second and third, the final part occupied him throughout the autumn and winter of 1884/85.

Position of writing in Nietzsche's work

In 'Zarathustra', Nietzsche undertakes a fundamental linguistic and epistemological reflection on his own philosophy by examining the possibility of teaching his philosophizing and being able to spread it as a doctrine. The basic thought movement of the whole work is that of failure in teaching. It is precisely from this failure that important basic features of Nietzsche's philosophical thinking become more clearly recognizable. Therefore, the position of 'Zarathustra' can only be understood if one at least looks at the core idea of ​​Nietzsche's philosophy.

Almost all topics in this philosophy can be understood from the contrast between individuality and generality. The criticism of morality goes back to the idea that in an ethical understanding, unequal actions and intentions are made the same. Nietzsche sees this as a kind of act of violence that can be traced back to life in society. H. with his expression: to humans as 'herd animal'. On the same conceptual basis, the state is interpreted in Zarathustra as the institution that equates people and threatens their individuality (see Part 1, 11th speech). Nietzsche's criticism of the 'spirit of vengeance' can be interpreted in a similar way: The prerequisite for vengeance is that one deed and another deed are perceived as the same, which in truth they are not (cf. Part Two, On the Tarantulas). But Nietzsche also found the problem of individuality and generality in knowledge and science. Basically, it begins with the formation of terms that combine many actually unequal things, properties or processes under one term. Such concepts are used in the sciences that lead to knowledge in which that equalization through concepts is therefore preserved.

For a thinker with such a central thought, conveying his own teaching must necessarily become a problem, because for this he must use terms himself and speak to many people in the same way, which he then treats as 'the same'. 'Zarathustra' is the book in which Nietzsche deals with this problem. At the beginning there is the decision of the reclusive protagonist to 'give away and share' his wisdom to the people (Zarathustra's preface, no. 1). As he progresses, he encounters various difficulties in attempting to communicate his teaching; H. it is regularly misunderstood. These difficulties basically consist in the fact that his thinking is understood as a 'teaching' that can be conceptualized and thus passed on. On this “didactic path” Nietzsche-Zarathustra takes up numerous topics from his philosophy or develops new ones, all of which are placed in the context of the problem of teaching a “non-equalizing” philosophizing. In the end, however, there is a failure of teaching, which becomes understandable when one has fully understood the center of Nietzsche's philosophy. The teacher Nietzsche-Zarathustra must understand that he in teaching differently is understood as planned because he and other appeals to people who can not be the same name as individuals, and because he egalitarian terms used must that are so far always untrue ' because they treat the individual as the same.

To individual chapters of the work

After spending ten years as a hermit in the mountains, the now forty-year-old Zarathustra tries to share his wisdom with people. He preaches about the superman to the crowd in the market square of a town , but learns only scorn and ridicule from his listeners . From now on, Zarathustra avoided gatherings of people and went in search of kindred spirits.

Of the three metamorphoses

The first part opens with one of Zarathustra's most famous speeches: In Von der drei Metamungen Nietzsche describes three essential stages that the human mind goes through in the course of the difficult process of truth and self-discovery.

"I name three metamorphoses of the spirit for you: how the spirit becomes a camel, and a camel becomes a lion, and finally the lion becomes a child."

These are three images that the reader of Nietzsche must first interpret. The first transformation of the spirit is the camel, which stands for the "humble spirit". Its values ​​are humility , self-denial , frugality, obedience and adaptability to adverse circumstances; H. Ability to suffer :

“What is the hardest part, you heroes? so the slow spirit asks that I take it upon myself and be glad of my strength. Isn't it that: humiliate oneself to hurt one's pride? Let his folly shine to mock his wisdom? "

The second transformation is that of the camel into a lion, whose goals are power through a hierarchical order that has been fought for, freedom in the sense of the sovereignty of the strongest and self-determination . He therefore rebels against the eternally demanding, dependent divine values ​​of the "great dragon", which is called "Thou shalt" (symbol for existing morality ):

“To create freedom and a holy no to duty: for this, my brothers, the lion is required. Taking the right to new values ​​- that is the most terrible taking for a slow and awesome mind. Verily, it is a robbery to him and to a robbery animal. "

Since the lion cannot work constructively, but only destructively, a third transformation is necessary (to re-create the moralistic world of values). The child stands for a new beginning in original innocence - the person thus becomes a creator after the old values ​​have been overcome, i.e. H. are stored:

“Innocence is the child and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a wheel rolling out of itself, a first movement, a sacred yes-saying. Yes, the game of creativity, my brothers, requires a holy yes-saying: the spirit now wants its own will, the world lost wins its own world. "

Nietzsche's idea of ​​eternal return is hidden behind it. The image of the child as the starting point and finally again the end point of the eternal development of the individual in a wide arc. At some point this idea leads to the almost utopian superman who has all human weaknesses, i.e. H. in Nietzsche's illnesses and addictions.

From old and young women

Another speech by Zarathustra from the first part of the book is about old and young women .

During an evening stroll, Zarathustra meets an old woman who asks him to tell about the woman . Thus Spoke Zarathustra:

“Everything about women is a riddle, and everything about women has a solution: it's called pregnancy. The man is a means for the woman: the end is always the child. "

“Let woman be a toy, pure and fine, like precious stones, radiated by the virtues of a world that is not yet there. Shine the ray of a star in your love! Your hope is: 'may I give birth to the superman!' "

As a thank you he gets a "little truth" from the old woman:

“You go to women? Don't forget the whip! "

In order to understand the “little truth”, one must first of all interpretively accept what Zarathustra wanted to express in his speech about women. Nietzsche provides a possible key to this in Human, All Too Human :

“From the future of marriage . - Those noble, free-minded women who set themselves the task of educating and elevating the female sex should not overlook one point of view: marriage in its higher conception conceived as a soul friendship between two people of different sex, i.e. as it is hoped for in the future if, for the purpose of generating and educating a new generation, a marriage is concluded, which uses the sensual as it were only as a rare, occasional means for a greater purpose, probably needs, as one must be concerned, natural assistance, cohabitation ; for if, for reasons of the health of the man, the wife is also to serve for the sole satisfaction of sexual needs, then in choosing a wife a wrong point of view, contrary to the goals indicated, will be decisive: the achievement of the offspring will be accidental, the happy upbringing will be the highest unlikely. A good wife, who is supposed to be a friend, helper, child-bearer, mother, head of the family, administrator, and who perhaps has to head her own business and office apart from the husband, cannot be a concubine at the same time: it would generally mean asking too much of her. "

Now that you know what the future of marriage and spouse should be, you also understand what the “little truth” of the “old woman” means. "The whip apparently serves to keep one's own sensual desires in check when choosing and dealing with a wife, so that they do not predominate as a decisive point of view, but that the production of the superman is the focus."

The question that remains to be answered is who actually is the old woman who advises Zarathustra to wrap up the “little truth” and “shut up” so that it doesn't scream “excessively loud” and is misunderstood by everyone. An answer to this question can be found in The Joyful Science :

"'The truth' was the name of this old woman [...]."

Central themes

From Zarathustra's point of view, all people were equal before God. With the death of God, however, all people are only equal to “the mob ”. That is why the death of God is a chance for the superman .

Zarathustra loves their bridging function to the superman in humans, he loves their “downfall” in them: “Man is something that wants to be overcome.” The mark of the “higher man” is his self-conquest. This effort, which is cultivation and education alike, is a creative endeavor that does not take place in the marketplace, where the mob only does what is for personal gain in exchange for goods. Rather, the higher man is active creatively and for the sake of completing things. He reevaluates what people in the marketplace are indifferent to and what seems useless, which is why he stands alone against the mob. He is an innovator and therefore an annihilator.

As a supporter of life, his preferred forms of expression are the ease of dance and laughter . "... All lust wants eternity." The highest form of affirmation of life is symbolized in the "Ring of Second Coming". Even if the world does not strive towards a divine end, the superman finds his self-confirmation in his creative act of self-perfection, which allows him to affirm the " eternal return of the same", that his life is as it is, even if it is for ever would repeat.

His original drive in the “ revaluation of all values ”, to strive for higher things and to be a creator, is his “ will to power ”. Because of this creation principle, the world escapes its meaninglessness even without God and finds a new meaning.

Nietzsche formulates - in distancing himself from Schopenhauer's work " The World as Will and Idea ", with its pessimistic interpretation of the will as a universally irrational force - the thought of the "will to power" as a life-affirming " Dionysian " creative energy that controls the world emotional. According to Nietzsche, creative “becoming”, contrary to the “Christian conception of the world”, does not lead to an eschatological redemption of the world, but instead, as a constantly repeated game of self-renewal, carries out an “eternal return of the same”.

The new virtues of the "superman" are above all:

  • the creation, the deed. The superman is a creative person. Destruction, however, is always part of creating.
  • Self-love that prevents servitude and melancholy
  • Love for life and trust in your own abilities
  • the (male) will of the superman, which is his only measure of action
  • Courage, toughness and uncompromising attitude in achieving one's goals

Interpretations and reception

Motives of the reception

Scientific edition, designed by Lena Hades

Nietzsche himself described Also Spoke Zarathustra as "the deepest book that mankind has". It contains important motifs of Nietzsche's philosophy: the “death of God”, which was already proclaimed in the Happy Science , and for the first time the “ superman ” and the “will to power”. According to Nietzsche, however, the main idea of Zarathustra is the teaching of the eternal return, according to which everything that has happened has already been repeated infinitely often and will repeat itself infinitely often.

The name Zarathustra for the wise is explained by Nietzsche himself with the fact that the historical figure of the same name was the first to make morality as the division of the world into good and bad the determining principle; therefore Zarathustra must also be the first to recognize this error and now to place himself “beyond good and evil”. This reversal of existing teachings is also reflected in Also Spoke Zarathustra in the fact that u. a. Bible passages are parodied .

Nietzsche also sent his Zarathustra to the city of “Colorful Cow” four times, referring to Buddha (or what he knew about Buddha), because it was in this city that Buddha gave one of his most famous speeches, the Mahásatipatthána Sutta is. For example, in “From the Chairs of Virtue”, Nietzsche had his Zarathustra say about Buddha (but without naming him directly): “His wisdom is: to wake up to sleep well.” Here the Mahásatipatthána Sutta itself is the object of derision. Her topic is mindfulness meditation : meditate to become alert. In reverse of this doctrine, Zarathustra exchanges method and aim of the exercise, but is then not completely without sympathy for her and continues in the same sentence: "And truly, if life had no meaning and if I had to choose nonsense, this would also be the most nonsense worth choosing for me . ”From today's point of view, Nietzsche only criticizes the attitude of the calm contemplative, turning away from the world, inwardly. Already at the beginning of the work it becomes clear that Nietzsche, alluding to his work "Morgenröthe" , imagines an active type of person who turns to people and who experiences and suffers as an answer and extension to his work . His failure, but also his attempt at recovery and turning to living beings, is expressly presented as a possible component of a passionate affirmative attitude towards life and a developing attitude towards the outside world.

The interpretation of the work was and is always highly controversial. In the opinion of one of the editors of Nietzsche's Complete Edition, Giorgio Colli , the work does not represent a coherent philosophy, but rather direct “subjective effusions” of a philosopher who uses poetic and prophetic language. Other interpreters also emphasize that the work does not develop a philosophical system or a doctrine in the classical sense, which can be understood from the central idea of ​​Nietzsche's philosophy (see above). The Existentialism in the broader sense, however, has taken up many images of Zarathustra and interprets it as a philosophy of keeping one's own existence over. Traces can be found most clearly in Albert Camus , for example in his speech on the occasion of the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature and in the sense of his own counter-proposal in his essay The Myth of Sisyphus .

A fundamental question is that of role prose: Nietzsche himself does not preach doctrines, but puts them in the mouth of a fictional figure. Therefore Nietzsche's “Zarathustra” and Nietzsche himself should not simply be equated.

According to another interpretation, after the death of God, after the realization that all previous values ​​have become implausible, man faces a senseless, absurd world, the onset of nihilism . The greatest danger is now the emergence of the “last man”, a happy herd with no drive and no longer wanting to achieve anything. On the other hand there would be the superman, who could be a new sense:

“Human existence is uncanny and still meaningless [...]. I want to teach people the meaning of their being: which one is the superman, the lightning bolt from the dark cloud man. "

The superman had never existed before, even Zarathustra was only a forerunner of the superman. However, Zarathustra is optimistic that the superman will come. The superman can only arise from the self-conquest of the 'old man'. The only good thing about the current, “superfluous” man is that he will soon perish and in this downfall creates the superman.

National Socialism

Some passages in the text in which Zarathustra grants the strong the right to take what they want and wishes the “superfluous” death, have repeatedly been interpreted as social Darwinist . The doctrine of the “ Übermenschen ” has been associated with the supposed “ master race ” of the Aryans , especially in German-speaking countries, or as a contrast to the term “ Untermensch ”. As a "superspecies" understood biologically , it becomes an ideological model of National Socialism . In 1934 a copy was placed in the grave vault of the Tannenberg Reich Memorial next to Hitler's Mein Kampf and Alfred Rosenberg's The Myth of the 20th Century . A Zarathustra memorial was also planned for the Nietzsche memorial hall in Weimar.

The Nietzsche researcher Walter Kaufmann, on the other hand, denies that Nietzsche's work was particularly suited to inspire the thinking of the National Socialists, and points out that Martin Buber , for example, translated the first part of Zarathustra into Polish and also other great intellectuals such as Thomas Mann, Sartre, Franz Kafka or Camus were significantly stimulated by Nietzsche's thinking. In order to counter the conventional view that Nietzsche was a protagonist of National Socialist ideas, Kaufmann even quotes the first President of the State of Israel, Chaim Weizmann , from a letter to his future wife: "I'm sending you Nietzsche: learn to read and understand him . That is the best and finest thing I can send you. "


The composer Richard Strauss created a symphonic poem of the same name, which was premiered in 1896. See: Thus spoke Zarathustra (Strauss) .

Gustav Mahler's 3rd Symphony (first performance in 1902) processes Zarathustra's nightwalker song “O Mensch! Be careful! ” .

Frederick Delius created the so-called Mass of Life (1904/05), a gigantic symphonic choral cantata.

From Heinz Schubert , a native hymn (1932) by Zarathustra for soprano, mixed choir, organ and orchestra.

The Slovenian band Laibach released a soundtrack album Also sprach Zarathustra in 2017 , which they recorded for the purpose of a Zarathustra theater performance.


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Ecce homo , Also sprach Zarathustra, Section 1 (KSA 6, p. 335).
  2. See Hermann F. Hofmann: Carl Spitteler. An introduction to his works , p. 13 : “ Prometheus and Epimetheus was drafted 15 years before Zarathustra […] and published a few years earlier without Spitteler having read a line of Nietzsche's verses. Prometheus appeared at Christmas 1880, and in the summer of 1881 Nietzsche decided to write his Zarathustra . "
  3. The following explanations follow the comprehensive presentation by Georg Römpp, Nietzsche made easy. An introduction to his thinking, Cologne a. a. 2013, pp. 135-218; 'Zarathustra' is analyzed there on pp. 221–295.
  4. a b c d Friedrich Nietzsche , Also Spoke Zarathustra , Die Reden Zarathustra, Of old and young women
  5. ^ Friedrich Nietzsche , Menschliches, Allzumenschliches , 1st book, 7th main part, 424th aphorism
  6. ^ Eugen Roth-Bodmer, Key to Nietzsche's Zarathustra: An interpretive commentary on Nietzsche's work "Also sprach Zarathustra" , Meilen-Druck AG, page 58
  7. ^ Friedrich Nietzsche , The happy science , appendix, 3rd song
  8. Thus spoke Zarathustra , part 1, Zarathustra's preface, No. 3, Stuttgart 64, page 6
  9. Thus spoke Zarathustra , Part 3, The Other Dance Song, No. 3, page 218
  10. Thus spoke Zarathustra , Part 2, On Overcoming Self, page 105
  11. See instincts and the will to power, Königshausen & Neumann (2000), by Günter Haberkamp, ​​page 12f
  12. Gotama Buddha (handed down): Dígha Nikáya (DN 22), Mahásatipatthána Sutta
  13. ^ Giorgio Penzo in: Nietzsche-Handbuch, Übermensch: Life - Work - Effect , Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2000, Ed. Henning Ottmann, p. 345.
  14. ^ Bernhard Taureck, Nietzsche and Fascism. A study of Nietzsche's political philosophy and its consequences , Hamburg 1989, p. 80.
  15. Thomas Mittmann, “From the 'favorite' to the 'primordial enemy' of the Jews. The anti-Semitic Nietzsche reception in Germany until the end of National Socialism ”, Würzburg 2006, p. 103.
  16. ^ Kaufmann, Nietzsche , 1982, Darmstadt, p. 488.