Literature / Also Sprach Zarathustra

"And we should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once. And we should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh."

Also Sprach Zarathustra ("Thus Spoke Zarathustra") is the masterpiece of Friedrich Nietzsche. It's known to be one of the most important philosophical works from the 19th century and the foundation for Existentialism. (Nietzsche never used this term, but existentialists like to claim him as one of their own.) It was originally written in German in 1883-5, and was highly controversial from the beginning. It opposed Christianity, Good and Evil, and the purpose of humans and what they should do when they exist.

One might be forgiven for not realizing it's also a novel. Although the book uses an almost-but-not-quite Author Avatar to explain Nietzsche's thoughts, there is actually a plot and a narrative. The book starts with a hermit philosopher called Zarathustra - like the founder of Zoroastrianism - who leaves the wilderness to tell the people of the Übermensch and the Death of God. This message doesn't go down so well and Zarathustra decides to play it a little more tactical, forming a small group of followers around him. Ultimately, he left them to return to the mountain, where he finally meets the first breed of Übermenschen.

Also Sprach Zarathustra named the following tropes:


  • All of the Other Reindeer: The people laugh and insult Zarathustra for his revelation and wisdom.
  • Animal Metaphor: Loads and loads in the speeches and some subtle ones in the story:
    • Zarathustra is surrounded by animals on his mountain home, with his favorites being his eagle and his snake, representing freedom and cleverness, respectively.
    • He often refers to a Lion, which his followers should become. A real one shows up at the end, along with a flock of doves, to be petted and scare the living daylights out of his followers.
    • Also often mixed with other metaphors. Here is part a tirade of insults Zarathustra heaps on a self-described fool who warns him not to go into a city, for the people would not listen to him, among other things:
      Zarathustra: Why did you live so long in this swamp, that you became a frog and a toad yourself? Doesn't the foul frothy swamp-blood flow through your own veins now, you yourself having learned to croak and slander? [...] People call you my ape, frothing fool: I'll call you my grunting pig, - your grunting taints my praise of foolishness.
  • Appease the Volcano God: Subverted, as Zarathustra goes to the volcano, has a chat with him and leaves.
  • Be Yourself/Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: A major theme in his philosophy and this book.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Some parts of the book feature no background, setting or even other characters than Zarathustra.
  • Determinator: Convinced of the rise of the Übermensch, Zarathustra does not give in.
  • Excuse Plot: It's pretty much a device to outline Nietsche's ideas and philosophy; so much so, that it is sometimes easy to forget there is one.
  • Hermit Guru: Zarathustra.
  • Individuality Is Illegal: Criticized by Zarathustra, because Übermenschen should not bow to such "villain morality".
  • Mixed Metaphor: Used very often, well and poetically, though they are a part of why the book is so difficult to follow at times. Example:
    (Part Three - Of the Apostates - 1.): "Oh, is everything already wilted and grey, that which only recently stood green and colourful? The honey of hope I carried off from here in my hive! These young hearts have all grown old already, - and not even from age! just tired, ordinary, comfortable: - they say "we became pious again".
  • Rule of Three: Two minor examples of speech:
    • Zarathustra and some other characters often trice repeat "disgust" ("Ekel") when discussing it, in this case as an exclamation.
    • Zarathustra is prone to exclaim "No! No! Three times no!" when vehemently disagreeing with something.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Nietzsche is often described as the Darker and Edgier philosopher.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: Zarathustra does not think very highly of his fellow humans.
  • The State: The State is the greatest monster of all monsters. It speaks cold lies that crawl out of his mouth. The state lies in all spoken languages, and whatever he possesses, he stole it. The state bites with stolen teeth.
  • Take That: In the first part.
    They meet an invalid, or an old man, or a corpse—and immediately they say: "Life is refuted!"
    But they are only refuted, and their eye, which seeth only one aspect of existence.
    Clearly, he's talking about prince Siddharta, who (after seeing an invalid, an old man and a corpse) gave up his family and his kingdom to go to the wilderness and become Buddha.
  • What Is Evil?: An important topic of the story.
  • When The Clock Strikes Twelve: Zarathustra meditates deeply at midnight on man, sleep, awakening, the world, woe, pleasure and eternity, all between the first and twelfth strokes.

Alternative Title(s): Thus Spake Zarathustra