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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.


Also sprach Zarathustra named the following:


  • 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.
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    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • God is Dead: The Trope Namer, but not Trope Maker or Trope Codifier. When Nietzsche says this he isn't talking about God actually being dead, but how religious value systems are being replaced by secular value systems in Europe. He did not view this as much of a change for the better or for the worse.
  • 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.
  • Individuality Is Illegal: Criticized by Zarathustra, because Übermenschen should not bow to such "villain morality".
  • 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.
  • 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 AnimalMetaphors. 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