With all this talk of Zarathustra, it might be useful to read Heidegger's
specific essay on the subject:
MARTIN HEIDEGGER: WHO IS NIETZSCHE'S ZARATHUSTRA?
TRANSLATED BY BERND MAGNUS
IT WOULD SEEM that the question is easy to answer. For we find Nietzsche's
own answer stated in clear sentences which are even italicized. They occur
in his book devoted specifically to the figure of Zarathustra. The book has
four parts, was written from 1883 to 1885, and bears the title Thus Spoke
Nietzsche gave it a sub-title: A Book for Everyone and No One. For Everyone
does not, of course, mean for just anybody. For Everyone means for each man
as man, in so far as his essential nature becomes at any given time an
object worthy of his thought. And No One means for none of the idle curious
who come drifting in from everywhere, who merely intoxicate themselves with
isolated fragments and particular aphorisms from this work; who won't
proceed along the path of thought that here seeks its expression, but
blindly stumble about in its half-lyrical, half-shrill, now deliberate, now
stormy, often lofty and sometimes trite language.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and No One. In what uncanny
fashion the sub-title has come true in the seventy years since its first
appearance--though precisely in the reverse sense! It became a book for
every man, and to this day no thinker has appeared who is equal to its
fundamental thought and able to assess the full significance of its origin.
Who is Zarathustra? If we read the title of the work attentively, we will
find a hint. Thus
Spoke Zarathustra. Zarathustra speaks. He is a speaker. What sort of
speaker? Is he an orator, even a preacher? No. The speaker Zarathustra is an
"advocate"--a Fürsprecher. Here we meet a very old German word, with several
meanings. "Fur" (for) actually means "vor" (fore). "Fürtuch" is still in use
today in the Alemannic dialect for "pinafore." The "advocate" (Fürsprech)
advocates and is the spokesman. But "für" also means "for the benefit, or in
behalf of" and "in justification of." An advocate is ultimately the man who
interprets and explains that of and for which he speaks.
Zarathustra is an advocate in this three-fold sense. But what does he
advocate? In whose behalf does he speak? What does he endeavor to interpret?
Is Zarathustra just any advocate for just anything, or is he the advocate
for the one thing that always and first of all addresses man?
Toward the end of Part Three of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, there is a section
called "The Convalescent." He is Zarathustra. But what does "the
convalescent" mean? "To convalesce" (genesen) is the same as the Greek
néomai, nóstos. This means "to return home"; nostalgia is the aching for
home, homesickness. The convalescent is the man who collects himself to
return home, that is to turn in, into his own destiny. The convalescent is
on the road to himself, so that he can say of himself who he is. In the
passage referred to, the convalescent says: "I, Zarathustra, the advocate of
life, the advocate of suffering, the advocate of the circle...."
Zarathustra speaks on behalf of life, suffering, the circle, and this is
what he advocates. These three things, "life, suffering, circle," belong
together, are the same. If we were able to think this threefoldness
correctly, as one and the same thing, we could surmise whose advocate
Zarathustra is, and who he himself would be as that advocate. Of course, we
could now break in with a crude explanation, and assert with undeniable
correctness: in Nietzsche's language, "life" means the will to power as the
fundamental characteristic of all beings, not only of man. What "suffering"
means Nietzsche states in the following words: "All that suffers, wills to
live" (W.W.VI, 469), i.e., everything whose way is the will to power. This
means: "The formative powers collide" (XVI, 151). "Circle" is the sign of
the ring which flows back into itself, and so always achieves the recurring
Accordingly, Zarathustra presents himself as the advocate of the fact that
all being is will to power, which suffers as creative, colliding will, and
thus wills itself in the eternal recurrence of the same.
With that statement we have reduced the essence of Zarathustra to a
definition, as one says in the classroom. We can write this definition down,
memorize it, and produce it as needed. We can even substantiate the matter
by referring to those sentences, italicized in Nietzsche's work, which state
who Zarathustra is.
In the section already mentioned, "The Convalescent," we read: "You
[Zarathustra] are the teacher of the eternal recurrence...!" And in the
Preface to the whole work we read: "I [Zarathustra] teach you the superman."
According to these passages the advocate Zarathustra is a "teacher." He
seems to teach two things: the eternal recurrence of the same, and the
superman. But it is not immediately apparent whether what he teaches belongs
together and in what manner. Yet even if the connection became clear, it
would remain uncertain whether we are hearing the advocate, whether we are
learning from this teacher. Without such hearing and learning we never quite
know who Zarathustra is. Hence, it is not enough merely to compile sentences
showing what the advocate and teacher says about himself. We must heed how
he says it, on what occasion, and with what intent. The decisive words, "You
are the teacher of the eternal recurrence," Zarathustra does not utter to
himself. It is what his animals tell him. They are identified immediately at
the beginning and more clearly at the conclusion of the work's prologue.
Here it says: "... when the sun stood high at noon, then he [Zarathustra]
looked into the air inquiringly for overhead he heard the shrill call of a
bird. And behold! An eagle soared through the air in wide circles and on him
there hung a snake, not like prey but like a friend: for she kept herself
wound around his neck." In this mysterious embrace we already have a
presentiment of how circle and ring are implicitly entwined in the circling
of the eagle and the winding of the snake. So this ring, called anulus
aeternitatis, sparkles: seal ring and year of eternity. The sight of the two
animals, circling and forming circles, shows where they belong. For the
eagle and the snake never first compose a circle, rather they conform to it,
thus to obtain their own nature. At their sight, there emerges what concerns
Zarathustra, gazing into the air inquiringly. Therefore the text continues:
'They are my animals!' said Zarathustra and rejoiced.
'The proudest animal under the sun and the wisest animal under the sun--they
have gone out on a search.'
'They want to ascertain whether Zarathustra still lives. Indeed, do I still
Zarathustra's question retains its importance only if we understand the
indeterminate word "life" in the sense of "will to power." Zarathustra asks:
does my will accord with the will which, as will to power, prevails in all
Zarathustra's animals ascertain his nature. He asks himself whether he still
is, i.e., whether he already is who he really is. In a note to Thus Spoke
Zarathustra, from the literary remains (XIV, 279), we read: "'Do I have time
to wait for my animals? If they are my animals, they will know how to find
me.' Zarathustra's silence."
So Zarathustra's animals, in the passage from "The Convalescent" cited
before, tell him the following, which the italicized sentence must not cause
us to overlook. They say: "For your animals know well, Zarathustra, who you
are and must become: behold, you are the teacher of the eternal
recurrence--that is now your destiny!"
And so it comes out. Zarathustra must first of all become who he is.
Zarathustra recoils in horror from this becoming. That horror pervades the
entire work presenting his character. That horror determines the style, the
hesitant and constantly arrested course of the entire book. That horror
stifles all Zarathustra's self-assurance and arrogance from the very outset.
One who has not previously and does not constantly perceive the horror in
all the discourses--seemingly arrogant and often ecstatically conducted as
they are--will never know who Zarathustra is.
If Zarathustra is still to become the teacher of the eternal recurrence, he
obviously cannot begin with this doctrine. That is why that other phrase
stands at the beginning of his path: "I teach you the superman."
But when we use the word "superman" we must from the start ward off all the
false and confusing overtones the word has to the common understanding.
Nietzsche does not give the name "superman" to man such as exists until now,
only superdimensional. Nor does he mean a type of man who tosses humanity
aside and makes sheer caprice the law, titanic rage the rule. Rather, taking
the word quite literally, the superman is the individual who surpasses man
as he is up to now, for the sole purpose of bringing man till now into his
still unattained nature and there to secure him. A posthumous note to
Zarathustra says: "Zarathustra wants to lose no past of mankind, to throw
everything into the melting pot" (XIV, 271).
But where does the call of distress for the superman come from? Why does
prevailing man no longer suffice? Because Nietzsche recognizes the
historical moment in which man prepares to assume dominion over the whole
earth. Nietzsche is the first thinker who, in view of a world-history
emerging for the first time, asks the decisive question and thinks through
its metaphysical implications. The question is: is man, as man in his nature
till now, prepared to assume dominion over the whole earth? If not, what
must happen to man as he is, so that he may be able to "subject" the earth
and thereby fulfill the word of an old testament? Must man as he is then not
be brought beyond himself if he is to fulfill this task? If so, then the
"super-man" rightly understood cannot be the product of an unbridled and
degenerate imagination rushing headlong into the void. Nor, however, can the
superman species be discovered historically through an analysis of the
modern age. Hence we may never seek the superman's essential structure in
those personages who, as the chief functionaries of a shallow and
misconstrued will to power, are pushed to the top of that will's various
organizational forms. One thing, however, we ought soon to notice: This
thinking which aims at the figure of a teacher who will teach the super-man,
concerns us, concerns Europe, concerns the whole earth not just today but
tomorrow even more. It does so whether we accept it or oppose it, ignore it
or imitate it in false accents. All essential thinking passes inviolably
through all partisanship and opposition.
What is at stake, then, is that we must first learn how to learn from the
teacher, even if it were only to raise questions that go beyond him. Only
then shall we one day discover who Zarathustra is--or we will never discover
Still, it remains to be considered whether the inquiry beyond Nietzsche's
thinking can be a continuation of his thought, or must be a step backward.
It remains first to be considered whether this "step backward" signifies
only a retreat to an historically ascertainable past which one would wish to
revive (for instance, Goethe's world), or whether the "step backward" points
to a past whose origin still awaits remembrance in order to become a
beginning which breaks upon the dawn.
But let us here confine ourselves to learning a few preliminaries about
Zarathustra. The best way to accomplish this is to try to accompany the
teacher's first steps. He teaches by showing. He looks ahead into the nature
of the superman and gives it visible shape. Zarathustra is only the teacher,
not yet the superman himself. And again, Nietzsche is not Zarathustra, but
the questioner who attempts in thought to grasp Zarathustra's nature.
The superman surpasses previous and contemporary man, and is therefore a
passage, a bridge. If we, the learners, are to follow the teacher who
teaches the superman, we must, to stay with the metaphor, get on to the
bridge. The passage will be understood fairly completely if we observe three
1. That from which the person passing over departs.
2. The bridge itself.
3. The destination of the person crossing over.
This destination must be kept in view--by us, first of all, by him who
crosses over, and above all by the teacher who is to reveal it. If
fore-sight into the destination is lacking, then the crossing over remains
without direction, and that from which the one who crosses must free himself
remains undetermined. On the other hand, what summons the person crossing
over shows itself in full clarity only when he has crossed. To the person
crossing over, and indeed to the teacher who is to show the bridge, to
Zarathustra himself, the destination remains always at a distance. The
distant abides. By abiding it remains near, in that nearness which preserves
what is distant as distant, in recalling it and thinking toward it. This
proximity in recollection to what is distant is called "Sehnsucht" (longing)
in German. The word "Sucht" (sick) is a variant of "seek" and is mistakenly
associated with "search." The ancient word "Sucht" means sickness,
Longing is the agony of the nearness of the distant.
The longing of the person crossing over is directed toward that to which he
crosses. The person crossing over and even the teacher who shows him the way
is, as we said before, on the way to his authentic nature. He is the
convalescent. In Part Three of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, "The Convalescent" is
followed immediately by "On the Great Longing." With this section, the third
from the end of Part Three, the entire work Thus Spoke Zarathustra reaches
its climax. Nietzsche writes in a posthumous note: "A divine suffering is
the content of Part Three of Zarathustra" (XIV, 285).
In "On the Great Longing," Zarathustra is conversing with his soul.
According to Plato's doctrine, which became decisive for Western
metaphysics, the essence of thought resides in the soul's conversation with
itself. It is the logos hon aute pros auten he psyche diexerchetai peri on
an skope: the self-gathering in conversation, which the soul undergoes on
its way to itself in the surroundings of whatever it perceives (Theaetetus
Zarathustra, in conversation with his soul, thinks his "most abysmal
thought" ("The Convalescent," #1; cf. Part Three "On the Vision and the
Enigma," #2). He opens the section "On the Great Longing" with the words: "O
my soul, I taught you to say 'Today' and 'One Day' and 'Formerly' and to
dance away over all Here and There and Yonder."
The three terms, "Today," "One Day," and "Formerly" are capitalized and set
in quotation marks. They name the fundamental features of time. The manner
in which Zarathustra pronounces them points toward what he must henceforth
tell himself in the foundation of his being. And what is that? That "One
Day" and "Formerly," future and past, are like "Today." But the present is
like the past and like the future. All three phases of time merge as one, as
the selfsame, into a single present, an eternal Now. Metaphysics calls the
permanent Now "eternity." Nietzsche, too, conceives the three phases of time
from the standpoint of eternity as a permanent Now. But, for Nietzsche, the
permanence does not consist in something static, but in a recurrence of the
same. When Zarathustra teaches his soul to say those words, he is the
teacher of the eternal recurrence of the same. Eternal recurrence is the
inexhaustible fullness of joyful-painful life. That is the point of the
"great longing" of the teacher of the eternal recurrence of the same.
That is why the "great longing" is in the same section also called "the
longing of overfullness."
"The great longing" lives mostly by virtue of that from which it draws the
sole solace, that is, confidence. The older German work "Trost" (solace,
compare: betroth, trust) has been replaced by the word "hope." "The great
longing" that inspires Zarathustra attunes and determines him to his
But what entitles and leads him to it?
What bridge allows him to cross over to the superman, and in that crossing
allows him to take leave of man as he is until now, so that he frees himself
It is in the peculiar structure of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which is to show
the crossing, that the answer to this question is presented in the
preparatory Part Two. Here, in the section "On the Tarantulas," Nietzsche
has Zarathustra say: "For that man be delivered from revenge, that is the
bridge to the highest hope for me and a rainbow after long storms."
How strange and puzzling these words must seem to the prevailing view of
Nietzsche's philosophy that has been fabricated. Isn't Nietzsche considered
the promoter of the will to power, of power politics and war, of the frenzy
of the "blond beast"?
The words "that man be delivered from revenge" are in fact italicized.
Nietzsche's thinking meditates deliverance from the spirit of revenge. It
intends to serve a spirit which as freedom from vengefulness precedes all
mere brotherhood, but also every desire merely to punish; a spirit prior to
all quests for peace and war mongering, and outside of that spirit which
would establish and secure pax, peace, by pacts. In the same way the sphere
of this freedom from revenge lies outside of pacifism, power politics, and
calculating neutrality. It also lies outside of limp indifference and the
shirking of sacrifice, and outside of blind acquisitiveness and action at
Nietzsche's alleged freethinking is a part of the spirit of freedom from
"That man be delivered from revenge." Even if we do no more than vaguely
grasp this spirit of freedom as the foundation of Nietzsche's thinking, then
the still prevailing image of Nietzsche must crumble.
"For that man be delivered from revenge: that is the bridge to the highest
hope for me," says Nietzsche. He thereby clearly states, in the language of
preparatory concealment, where his "great longing" aims.
But what does Nietzsche mean here by revenge? What does deliverance from
revenge consist of, according to him?
We shall be content to shed a little light on these two questions. Perhaps
the light will allow us to see more clearly the bridge which is to lead such
thinking from man to-date across to the superman. That to which man crosses
over, becomes visible in the crossing. We will then see more clearly how
Zarathustra, as the advocate of life, of suffering, of the circle, is at the
same time the teacher of the eternal recurrence of the same and of the
But why does something so decisive depend upon deliverance from revenge?
Where does its spirit hold sway? Nietzsche gives the answer in the third
section from the end of Part Two of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. It is called "On
Deliverance." There it says: "The spirit of revenge, my friends, has so far
been the subject of man's best reflection; and wherever there was suffering,
there punishment was also wanted."
This sentence relates revenge at the outset to all of mankind's reflection
to this date. Here reflection means not just any pondering, but thinking in
which man's relation to what is, to all beings, is grounded and attuned. In
so far as man relates to beings, he represents being with reference to the
fact that it is, what and how it is, how it might be and ought to be; in
short, he represents being with reference to its Being. This representation
According to Nietzsche's statement, that representation has so far been
determined by the spirit of revenge. People assume that their relationship
to that which is, is best if so determined.
But the deepest aversion to time does not consist of the mere degradation of
the earthly. For Nietzsche, the most profound revenge consists of that
reflection which posits eternal Ideals as the absolute, compared with which
the temporal must degrade itself to actual non-being.
How is man to assume dominion over the earth, how is he to take the earth,
as earth, into his guardianship, if and as long as he degrades the earthly
in that the spirit of revenge determines his reflection? If saving the earth
as earth is at stake, then the spirit of revenge must first vanish. That is
why deliverance from the spirit of revenge is the bridge to the highest hope
Yet, of what does this deliverance from aversion to transience consist? In a
liberation from the will itself? In Schopenhauer's sense and that of
Buddhism? To the extent that the Being of beings is will in modern
metaphysical theory, deliverance from the will would, simultaneously, be
deliverance from Being, a fall into empty nothingness. To Nietzsche,
deliverance from revenge is indeed deliverance from what is repugnant,
resistant and degrading in the will, but not a release from all willing.
Deliverance liberates aversion from its No, and frees it for a Yes. What
does this Yes affirm? Precisely what the aversion of the spirit of revenge
negates: time, transience.
This Yes to time is the will that would have transience abide, would not
have it degraded to nihility [[sic]]. But how can transience abide? Only in
such a way that, as transience, it does not just constantly pass, but always
comes to be. It would abide only in such a way that transience and what
ceases to be return as the selfsame in its coming. But this recurrence
itself is abiding only if it is eternal. According to metaphysical theory,
the predicate "eternal" belongs to the Being of beings.
Deliverance from revenge is the bridge from contempt for time, to the will
that represents beings in the eternal recurrence of the same, in which the
will becomes the advocate of the circle.
In other words: Only when the Being of beings is represented to man as the
eternal recurrence of the same, only then can man cross the bridge and,
crossing over, delivered from the spirit of revenge, be the superman.
Zarathustra is the teacher who teaches the superman. But he teaches this
doctrine solely because he is the teacher of the eternal recurrence of the
same. This thought of the eternal recurrence of the same is of primary
importance, it is the "most abysmal" thought. That is why the teacher
expresses it last of all, and then always reluctantly.
Who is Nietzsche's Zarathustra? He is the teacher whose doctrine would
liberate previous reflection from the spirit of revenge unto a Yes to the
eternal recurrence of the same.
As the teacher of the eternal recurrence, Zarathustra teaches the superman.
A posthumous note expresses the refrain of this doctrine thus: "Refrain:
Love alone shall have jurisdiction (creative love which forgets itself in
Zarathustra does not teach two different things as the teacher of the
eternal recurrence and of the superman. What he teaches belongs internally
together, because each demands the other in response. This response, its
mode of being and the manner in which it withholds itself, conceals within
itself and yet also reveals the figure of Zarathustra and, thus, lets it
become worthy of thought.
But the teacher knows that what he teaches remains a vision and an enigma.
In this reflective knowledge, he abides.
Because of the peculiar ascendency of modern science, we modern men are
ensnared in the singular error which holds that knowledge can be obtained
from science, and that thought is subject to the jurisdiction of science.
But that which is unique in what a thinker is able to express can neither be
demonstrated nor refuted logically or empirically. Nor is it a matter of
faith. It can only be made visible in questioning-thinking What is then seen
always appears as that which is always worthy of questioning.
So that we may see and retain the vision of the enigma which Zarathustra's
figure reveals, let us again observe the view of his animals which appears
to him at the beginning of his journey: "... then he looked into the air
inquiringly--for overhead he heard the shrill call of a bird. And behold! An
eagle soared through the air in wide circles and on him there hung a snake,
not like prey but like a friend. For she kept herself wound around his neck.
'They are my animals,' said Zarathustra and rejoiced."
And the passage from "The Convalescent," #1, which was purposely quoted only
in part earlier, runs: "I, Zarathustra, the advocate of life, the advocate
of suffering, the advocate of the circle--I summon you, my most abysmal
Zarathustra identifies the thought of the eternal recurrence of the same
with the same words--"my most abysmal thought"--in the section "On the
Vision and the Enigma," #2, in Part Three.
There, in the altercation with the dwarf, Zarathustra tries for the first
time to think the enigmatic character of what he sees as corresponding to
his longing. The eternal recurrence of the same remains a vision for him,
but also an enigma. It can be neither verified nor refuted logically or
empirically. At bottom that is true of every thinker's essential thought:
envisioned, but enigma--worthy of questioning.
Who is Nietzsche's Zarathustra? We can now answer in a formula: Zarathustra
is the teacher of the eternal recurrence of the same and the teacher of the
superman. But now we see, perhaps we see even more clearly beyond the bare
formula: Zarathustra is not a teacher who teaches two different things.
Zarathustra teaches the superman because he is the teacher of the eternal
recurrence. But conversely, as well, Zarathustra teaches the eternal
recurrence because he is the teacher of the superman. Both doctrines belong
together in a circle. By its circling, the doctrine accords with what is,
the circle which constitutes the Being of beings, that is, the permanent
The doctrine and its thought reaches this circle when it crosses the bridge
that is called deliverance from the spirit of revenge. Through it all
previous thought is to be overcome.
There is a note from the period immediately after the completion of Thus
Spoke Zarathustra, in 1885, marked entry #617 in the material patched
together from Nietzsche's literary remains and published under the title The
Will to Power. The note bears the underlined heading: "Recapitulation."
Nietzsche here gathers together the main point of his thinking, in a few
sentences, with extraordinary lucidity. A parenthetical commentary on the
text specifically mentions Zarathustra. The "Recapitulation" begins with the
sentence: "To impress the character of Being upon Becoming--that is the
highest will to power."
The highest will to power, that is, the life-force in all life, is to
represent transience as a fixed Becoming within the eternal recurrence of
the same, and so to render it secure and stable. This representation is a
thinking which, as Nietzsche notes emphatically, "impresses" upon being the
character of its Being. This thinking takes becoming under its care and
protection--becoming of which constant collision, suffering, is a part.
Is reflection to-date, is the spirit of revenge overcome by this thinking?
Or is it that in this "impressing," which takes all becoming under the
protection of the eternal recurrence of the same, there is nonetheless
concealed an aversion to mere transience and, therefore, a supremely
spiritualized spirit of revenge?
As soon as we ask that question, the impression arises that we are trying to
impute to Nietzsche as his very own precisely what he seeks to overcome,
that we are of the opinion that by such an imputation this thinker's thought
But zealous attempts at refutation never get us on a thinker's path. They
are part of the pettiness which must vent itself for the entertainment of
the public. Moreover, Nietzsche himself had long ago anticipated the answer
to our question. The work immediately preceding Thus Spoke Zarathustra
appeared in 1882, under the title Joyful Knowledge (Die Fröhliche
Wissenschaft). In its next-to-last section (341), Nietzsche's "most abysmal
thought" is presented for the first time under the heading "The Greatest
Stress." The concluding section which follows "The Greatest Stress" (number
342), is incorporated verbatim into Thus Spoke Zarathustra, as the beginning
of the prologue.
Rough drafts for the preface to Joyful Knowledge can be found in the
literary remains (W. W. Vol. XIV, 404). There we read:
A spirit strengthened by wars and victories, to whom conquest, adventure,
danger, even pain have become a necessity; the habituation to sharp mountain
air, to wintry walks, to ice and mountains in every sense; a sort of sublime
malice and extreme exuberance of revenge-for there is revenge in it, revenge
against life itself, when one who suffers greatly takes life under his
What else remains for us to say but: Zarathustra's doctrine does not bring
deliverance from revenge? We will say it. But we say it in no way as an
alleged refutation of Nietzsche's philosophy. We do not even say it as an
objection to his thinking. But we do say it in order to bring into focus how
much and in what way even Nietzsche's thinking moves within the spirit of
reflection to-date. Whether the spirit of thought till now has been
encountered at all in its decisive nature when characterized as the spirit
of revenge, we leave undecided. In any case, thought up to now is
metaphysics, and Nietzsche's thinking presumably brings it to an end.
That is why something comes to the fore in Nietzsche's thought which that
thinking itself can no longer think. Such a falling behind what has been
thought is typical of creative thinking. And when a way of thinking brings
metaphysics to completion, it points in an exceptional sense toward
something unthought, clear and confused at the same time. But where are the
eyes to see it?
Metaphysical thinking rests on the distinction between that which truly is,
and that which by comparison does not constitute true being. But what is
decisive for the essence of metaphysics does not lie by any means in the
fact that this distinction appears as an opposition between the
supersensible and the sensible. Instead, this distinction, in the sense of
cleavage, remains the first and sustaining one. It persists even when the
Platonic hierarchy of the supersensible and sensible is reversed, and the
sensible is experienced in a more essential and broader sense, which
Nietzsche called by the name Dionysos. For the overfullness which is the
object of Zarathustra's "great longing" is the inexhaustible permanence of
becoming, as which the will to power wills itself in the eternal recurrence
of the same.
Nietzsche raised what is essentially metaphysical in his thinking to the
extreme form of aversion in the last lines of his last book, Ecce Homo; How
you become what you are. He wrote it in October 1888. It was not published
until twenty years later, in a limited edition, and in 1911 it was included
in volume XV of the Grossoktav edition. The last lines of Ecce Homo run:
"Have I been understood?--Dionysos versus the Crucified..."
Who is Nietzsche's Zarathustra? He is the advocate of Dionysos. That is to
say: Zarathustra is the teacher who teaches the eternal recurrence of the
same in, and for the sake of, his doctrine of the superman.
Does that last sentence answer our question? No. It does not, even if we
follow the references that explained it, in order to trace Zarathustra's
path, even only to follow his first step across the bridge. But the
sentence, which looks like an answer, would make us attentive, and bring us
back more attentively to the title question.
Who is Nietzsche's Zarathustra? The question now is: Who is this teacher?
Who is this being who appears within metaphysics at its stage of completion?
Nowhere else in the history of Western metaphysics is the essential form of
its respective thinkers actually expressed in this way, or more precisely
and literally thought out; nowhere else, except at the beginning of Western
thought in Parmenides, and there only in veiled contours.
It remains essential in the figure of Zarathustra that the teacher teaches
something two-fold which belongs together, eternal recurrence and superman.
In a sense, Zarathustra himself is this belonging-together. From that
perspective he, too, remains an enigma which we have still hardly caught
"Eternal recurrence of the same" is the name of the Being of beings.
"Superman" is the name of the human being who corresponds to this Being.
In what respect do Being and human being belong together? How do they belong
together, if Being is neither of man's making, in man's power, nor man only
a special case within being?
Can the belonging-together of Being and human being be discussed at all, as
long as thought remains dependent upon the traditional concept of man?
According to that concept, man is the animal rationale. Is it a coincidence
or merely a poetic adornment that the two animals, eagle and snake, are with
Zarathustra, that they tell him what he must become in order to be who he
is? In the figure of the two animals, the union of pride and wisdom is to
become apparent to the thoughtful reader. Yet we must know what Nietzsche
thinks about the two. In notes from the time when Thus Spoke Zarathustra was
composed, we read: "It seems to me that modesty and pride are intimately
connected.... Common to them is the cold, steady gaze of appraisal in both
cases" (W.W.XIV, p. 99).
Elsewhere we read:
We speak so stupidly about pride--and Christianity has even made us feel
that it is sinful! The point is: he who demands and obtains great things
from himself must feel very remote from those who do not--this remoteness is
interpreted by those others as "a high opinion of himself"; but he knows it
(the remoteness) only as ceaseless labor, war, victory, by day and night: of
all this, the others know nothing! (Ibid., p. 101)
The eagle--the proudest animal; the snake--the wisest animal. And both
joined in the circle in which they soar, in the ring which encircles their
being; and circle and ring once more intertwined.
The enigma, who Zarathustra is as the teacher of eternal recurrence and the
superman, becomes a vision to us at the sight of the two animals. At that
sight, we can immediately and more easily grasp what the exposition
endeavored to show as worthy of questioning: the relation of Being to the
"And behold! An eagle soared through the air in wide circles, and on him
there hung a snake, not like prey but like a friend: for she kept herself
wound around his neck.
"'They are my animals!' said Zarathustra and rejoiced."
Note on The Eternal Recurrence of the Same
Nietzsche himself knew that his "most abysmal thought" remains an enigma. We
are all the less free to think that we can solve the enigma. The obscurity
of this final thought of Western metaphysics should not seduce us into
avoiding that thought by subterfuge.
There are, fundamentally, only two subterfuges.
Either we say that this thought of Nietzsche is a kind of "mysticism" and
has no place before thought.
Or we say: this thought is already ancient. It amounts to the familiar
cyclical view of the course of the world. In Western philosophy it can first
be found in Heraclitus.
This second account, like all others of this variety, says absolutely
nothing. For what is gained by establishing that a thought is, for example,
"already" to be found in Leibniz, or even "already" in Plato? What use is
this information, if it leaves Leibniz's and Plato's thought in the same
obscurity as the thought which such historical references are supposed to
have cleared up?
As to the first evasion, however, according to which Nietzsche's thought of
the eternal recurrence of the same is a fantastic mysticism, it would seem
that the present age should teach us to know better; assuming, of course,
that thought is destined to bring the essence of modern technology to light.
What is the essence of the modern dynamo other than one expression of the
eternal recurrence of the same? But the essence of that machine is not
anything machine-like or even mechanical. Just as little may Nietzsche's
thought of the eternal recurrence of the same be interpreted in a mechanical
That Nietzsche experienced and expounded his most abysmal thought from the
Dionysian standpoint, only suggests that he was still compelled to think it
metaphysically, and only metaphysically. But it does not preclude that this
most abysmal thought conceals something unthought, which also is
impenetrable to metaphysical thinking.
Freiburg, West Germany.
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