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Literature / Also sprach Zarathustra

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"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: Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen (Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None) 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.

Richard Strauss made a famous music piece out of it (at least its "Sunrise" movement is famous).

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.
    • He uses tarantulas as a metaphor for Knight Templars, that is, people driven by envy and vengeance, in whom the impulse to hurt and punish is powerful.
  • Appease the Volcano God: Subverted, as Zarathustra goes to the volcano, has a chat with him and leaves.
  • Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad: A rare example of this trope being portrayed in a heroic light. Zarathustra frequently denounces "the good and the just", whom he describes as the most contemptible of people, while praising the value and necessity of "evil". This is a reflection of Nietzsche's unorthodox views on morality, and his belief that society's historic ideas of good and evil were largely excuses for the naturally-weak to vilify the traits of the naturally-strong.
  • Book Ends: Both the first section of the prologue and the final chapter of the book are about Zarathustra watching the sunrise from his mountain, then deciding to go down to the city to share his wisdom.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Some parts of the book feature no background, setting or even other characters than Zarathustra.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Throughout Part Three, Zarathustra resists the thought of Eternal Recurrence welling up within his mind, as he finds the prospect of it applying to everyone, even the "small man," nauseating. Eventually he overcomes his existential nausea and joyously embraces the idea.
    Oh, how should I not lust after eternity and after the nuptial ring of rings, the ring of recurrence? Never yet have I found the woman from whom I wanted children, unless it be this woman whom I love: for I love you, O eternity.
  • Determinator: Convinced of the rise of the Übermensch, Zarathustra does not give in.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Other than Zarathustra, all of the characters are referred to only by descriptive titles such as "the magician" or "the two kings", never by name.
  • Everything Except Most Things: From "The Shadow" in Part Four:
    Zarathustra's Shadow: I really lack little towards being The Eternal Jew, unless it be that I am not eternal, and not a Jew.
  • 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.
  • Follow the Leader: In-universe, after Zarathustra's speeches start gaining attention, another man starts giving speeches in a similar style, and is nicknamed "Zarathustra's ape". Zarathustra isn't too happy about this.
  • God Is Dead: The Trope Namer, but not Trope Maker or Trope Codifier. The replacement of religious value systems by secular value systems in Europe is here represented as the literal death of God. In Part Four, one of the men Zarathustra meets claims to have been personally responsible for murdering Him.
  • God Is Inept: Zarathustra says that God bungled the creation of mankind like a potter who'd never finished His apprenticeship.
  • The Government: 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.
  • Heroic BSoD: Zarathustra has one in Part Two after realizing that time is cyclical, which leads him to temporarily retire from teaching and return to living alone in his mountain. He gets over it at the end of Part Three.
  • Hypocrisy Nod: At the end of "On The Tarantulas", Zarathustra realizes that talking about the eponymous tarantulas for so long is starting to fill him with the same anger and resentment that he condemns the tarantulas for. He then jokes to his followers that the tarantula must have bitten him, and asks that they tie him to a column before its venom overtakes his soul.
  • Individuality Is Illegal: Criticized by Zarathustra, because Übermenschen should not bow to such "villain morality".
  • Jesus Was Way Cool: Downplayed. Zarathustra thinks that Jesus had the potential to be a great sage, but that he died before he had the chance to learn what is really valuable in life.
  • Kill the God: The Ugliest Man in Part Four claims to be the one responsible for murdering God.
  • Knight Templar: The "tarantulas", people driven by envy and vengeance, and which are often drawn to positions that will give them power over others. They are people in whom the impulse to punish is powerful, and speak much of justice, but are vicious in their conduct.
  • Loser Deity: In Part Three, Zarathustra claims that the Abrahamic God wasn't really the one true eternal God, but merely the last god left after all of the others died from laughing so hard at His unearned arrogance. Later, in Part Four, Zarathustra tells the retired ex-Pope that God bungled all His creations like a "potter who had never finished His apprenticeship" and then committed "a sin against good taste" by blaming His own creations for His having made them badly.
  • Misaimed Fandom: In-universe, Zarathustra's "ape" (in the sense of an imitator, not a literal ape) thinks Zarathustra's speeches are purely about showing contempt for ordinary people, failing to understand the deep love of the human potential which underlies it. Zarathustra rebukes him for this.
  • 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".
  • Proverbial Wisdom: The protagonist is a Hermit Guru who gives his teachings in an extremely poetic and metaphoric way, often using Animal Metaphors. Played With, since the content of his teachings is contrary to what one would expect from an archetypal sage or an enlightened character: for example, he glorifies the will to power, rejects the traditional morality, and sharply criticizes the belief in afterlife. The contrast between the form and the content is most likely intentional, stemming from Nietzsche's hatred of religious prophets, so the "enlightened sage" archetype is probably depicted ironically.
  • 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 Versus Cynicism: Nietzsche is often described as the Darker and Edgier philosopher.
  • Strawman Has a Point: Invoked. Zarathustra tries to scare the people by showing them what will happen if they do not embrace becoming the Ubermensch. That if they do not become The Ubermensch they will become the Last Man. A being that has been beaten down by existence, unable to dream, to strive, to take risks. Who's only goal is to make a living and keep warm. Much to his horror, the people start to embrace this viewpoint.
  • 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.
  • 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