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Thus Spake Zarathustra: A Book for All and None

By: Friedrich Nietzsche

Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None is a philosophical novel by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, composed in four parts written and published between 1883 and 1885. Much of the work deals with ideas such as the "eternal recurrence of the same," the parable on the "death of God" and the "prophecy" of the Übermensch, which were first introduced in The Gay Science. Nietzsche himself considered Zarathustra to be his magnum opus.

The book chronicles the fictitious travels and speeches of Zarathustra. Zarathustra's namesake was the founder of Zoroastrianism, usually known in English as Zoroaster (Avestan: 𐬰𐬀𐬭𐬀𐬚𐬎𐬱𐬙𐬭𐬀‎, Zaraθuštra). Nietzsche is clearly portraying a "new" or "different" Zarathustra, one who turns traditional morality on its head. He goes on to characterize "what the name of Zarathustra means in my mouth, the mouth of the first immoralist:"

 

For what constitutes the tremendous historical uniqueness of that Persian is just the opposite of this. Zarathustra was the first to consider the fight of good and evil the very wheel in the machinery of things: the transposition of morality into the metaphysical realm, as a force, cause, and end in itself, is his work.… Zarathustra created this most calamitous error, morality; consequently, he must also be the first to recognize it.… His doctrine, and his alone, posits truthfulness as the highest virtue; this means the opposite of the cowardice of the "idealist” who flees from reality.… Am I understood?—The self-overcoming of morality, out of truthfulness; the self-overcoming of the moralist, into his opposite—into me—that is what the name of Zarathustra means in my mouth.

 

— Ecce Homo, "Why I Am a Destiny" §3, translated by Walter Kaufmann

 

Zarathustra has a simple characterisation and plot, narrated sporadically throughout the text. It possesses a unique experimental style, one that is, for instance, evident in newly invented "dithyrambs" narrated or sung by Zarathustra. Likewise, the separate Dionysian-Dithyrambs was written in autumn 1888, and printed with the full volume in 1892, as the corollaries of Zarathustra's "abundance."

 

Some speculate that Nietzsche intended to write about final acts of creation and destruction brought on by Zarathustra. However, the book lacks a finale to match such description; its actual ending focuses more on Zarathustra recognizing that his legacy is beginning to perpetuate, and consequently choosing to leave the higher men to their own devices in carrying his legacy forth.

 

Zarathustra also contains the famous dictum "God is dead," which had appeared earlier in The Gay Science.

 

The book embodies a number of innovative poetical and rhetorical methods of expression. It serves as a parallel and supplement to the various philosophical ideas present in Nietzsche's body of work. He has, however, said that "among my writings my Zarathustra stands to my mind by itself." Emphasizing its centrality and its status as his magnum opus, Nietzsche has stated that:

 

With [Thus Spoke Zarathustra] I have given mankind the greatest present that has ever been made to it so far. This book, with a voice bridging centuries, is not only the highest book there is, the book that is truly characterized by the air of the heights—the whole fact of man lies beneath it at a tremendous distance—it is also the deepest, born out of the innermost wealth of truth, an inexhaustible well to which no pail descends without coming up again filled with gold and goodness.

— Ecce Homo, "Preface" §4, translated by W. Kaufmann

Since many of the book's ideas are also present in his other works, Zarathustra is seen to have served as a precursor to his later philosophical thought. With the book, Nietzsche embraced a distinct aesthetic assiduity. He later reformulated many of his ideas in Beyond Good and Evil and various other writings that he composed thereafter. He continued to emphasize his philosophical concerns; generally, his intention was to show an alternative to repressive moral codes and to avert "nihilism" in all of its varied forms. Other aspects of Thus Spoke Zarathustra relate to Nietzsche's proposed "Transvaluation of All Values". This incomplete project began with The Antichrist.

 

Book Details

Language

English

Original Language

German

Published In

1883

Author

Nietzsche's writing spans philosophical polemics, poetry, cultural criticism, and fiction while displaying a fondness for aphorism and irony. Prominent elements of his philosophy include his radical c...

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