Nietzsche – creator of the Übermensch

“Behind your thoughts and feelings there stands a mighty ruler, an unknown sage – whose name is Self. In your body he dwells. He is your body.”
                                                                                                                        Friedrich Nietzsche 

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (October 15, 1844 – August 25, 1900) was a 19th-century German philosopher, poet, composer and classical philologist.

He wrote critical texts on religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy and science, displaying a fondness for metaphor, irony and aphorism.

Nietzsche’s influence remains substantial within and beyond philosophy, notably in existentialism, nihilism, and postmodernism.
His style and radical questioning of the value and objectivity of truth have resulted in much commentary and interpretation, mostly in the continental tradition.
His key ideas include the death of God, perspectivism, the Übermensch, the eternal recurrence, and the ‘will to power’.
Central to his philosophy is the idea of “life-affirmation”, which involves an honest questioning of all doctrines that drain life’s expansive energies, however socially prevalent those views might be.

Nietzsche began his career as a classical philologist before turning to philosophy.
At the age of 24 he was appointed to the Chair of Classical Philology at the University of Basel (the youngest individual to have held this position), but resigned in 1879 due to health problems that plagued him most of his life.
In 1889 he became mentally ill, possibly due to atypical general paralysis attributed to tertiary syphilis.
He lived his remaining years in the care of his mother until her death in 1897, then under the care of his sister until his death in 1900.

Born on October 15, 1844, Nietzsche grew up in the small town of Röcken, near Leipzig, in the Prussian Province of Saxony.
He was named after King Frederick William IV of Prussia, who turned 49 on the day of Nietzsche’s birth. (Nietzsche later dropped his given middle name, “Wilhelm”.)
Nietzsche’s parents, Carl Ludwig Nietzsche (1813–1849), a Lutheran pastor and former teacher, and Franziska Oehler (1826–1897), married in 1843, the year before their son’s birth, and had two other children: a daughter, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, born in 1846, and a second son, Ludwig Joseph, born in 1848. Nietzsche’s father died from a brain ailment in 1849; his younger brother died in 1850.
The family then moved to Naumburg, where they lived with Nietzsche’s paternal grandmother and his father’s two unmarried sisters.
After the death of Nietzsche’s grandmother in 1856, the family moved into their own house.
Nietzsche attended a boys’ school and then later a private school, where he became friends with Gustav Krug, Rudolf Wagner and Wilhelm Pinder, all of whom came from very respected families.

In 1854, he began to attend Pforta in Naumburg, but after he showed particular talents in music and language, the internationally recognised Schulpforta admitted him as a pupil, and there he continued his studies from 1858 to 1864.

Here he became friends with Paul Deussen (see right) and Carl von Gersdorff.
He also found time to work on poems and musical compositions.

At Schulpforta (see left), Nietzsche received an important introduction to literature, particularly that of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and for the first time experienced a distance from his family life in a small-town Christian environment.
After graduation in 1864 Nietzsche commenced studies in theology and classical philology at the University of Bonn.

For a short time he and Deussen became members of the Burschenschaft Frankonia.
After one semester (and to the anger of his mother) he stopped his theological studies and lost his faith.
This may have happened in part because of his reading around this time of David Strauss’s (see right) ‘Life of Jesus’, which had a profound effect on the young Nietzsche, though in an essay entitled ‘Fate and History’ written in 1862, Nietzsche had already argued that historical research had discredited the central teachings of Christianity.
Nietzsche then concentrated on studying philology under Professor Friedrich Wilhelm Ritschl, whom he followed to the University of Leipzig the next year.

There he became close friends with fellow-student Erwin Rohde. Nietzsche’s first philological publications appeared soon after.

In 1865 Nietzsche thoroughly studied the works of Arthur Schopenhauer (see left).
He owed the awakening of his philosophical interest to reading his ‘Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung’ (The World as Will and Representation) and later admitted that he was one of the few thinkers that he respected, dedicating to him his essay ‘Schopenhauer als Erzieher’ (Schopenhauer as Educator), one of his ‘Untimely Meditations’.

In 1866 he read Friedrich Albert Lange’s (see left below) ‘History of Materialism’.

Schopenhauer and Lange influenced him. Schopenhauer was especially significant in the development of Nietzsche’s later thought.
Lange’s descriptions of Kant’s anti-materialistic philosophy, the rise of European Materialism, Europe’s increased concern with science, Darwin’s theory, and the general rebellion against tradition and authority greatly intrigued Nietzsche.
The cultural environment encouraged him to expand his horizons beyond philology and to continue his study of philosophy.
In 1867 Nietzsche signed up for one year of voluntary service with the Prussian artillery division in Naumburg. However, a riding accident in March 1868 left him unfit for service.
Consequently Nietzsche turned his attention to his studies again, completing them and first meeting with Richard Wagner (see right) later that year.
With the publication of ‘Menschliches, Allzumenschliches’ – (Human, All Too Human) – in 1878 (a book of aphorisms on subjects ranging from metaphysics to morality and from religion to the sexes) Nietzsche’s reaction against the pessimistic philosophy of Wagner and Schopenhauer became evident.

Nietzsche’s friendship with Deussen and Rohde cooled as well.
In 1879, after a significant decline in health, Nietzsche had to resign his position at Basel.

(Since his childhood, various disruptive illnesses had plagued him, including moments of shortsightedness that left him nearly blind, migraine headaches, and violent indigestion. The 1868 riding accident and diseases in 1870 may have aggravated these persistent conditions, which continued to affect him through his years at Basel, forcing him to take longer and longer holidays until regular work became impractical.)

Because his illness drove him to find climates more conducive to his health, Nietzsche traveled frequently, and lived until 1889 as an independent author in different cities.
He spent many summers in Sils Maria, near St. Moritz in Switzerland, and many winters in the Italian cities of Genoa, Rapallo and Turin and in the French city of Nice.
In 1881, when France occupied Tunisia, he planned to travel to Tunis to view Europe from the outside, but later abandoned that idea (probably for health reasons).

Nietzsche occasionally returned to Naumburg to visit his family, and, especially during this time, he and his sister (see left – Elizabeth Nietzsche) had repeated periods of conflict and reconciliation. He lived on his pension from Basel, but also received aid from friends.
A past student of his, Peter Gast (born Heinrich Köselitz – see right), became a sort of private secretary to Nietzsche. To the end of his life, Gast and Overbeck remained consistently faithful friends.
Malwida von Meysenbug remained like a motherly patron even outside the Wagner circle.
Soon Nietzsche made contact with the music-criticCarl Fuchs.
Nietzsche stood at the beginning of his most productive period.
Beginning with ‘Menschliches, Allzumenschliches’ in 1878, Nietzsche would publish one book (or major section of a book) each year until 1888, his last year of writing, during which he completed five.

In 1882 Nietzsche published the first part of ‘Die fröhliche Wissenschaft’ ** – (The Joyful Science).

That year he also met Lou Andreas Salomé, (see right) through Malwida von Meysenbug and Paul Rée.
Nietzsche and Salomé spent the summer together in Tautenburg in Thuringia, often with Nietzsche’s sister Elisabeth as a chaperone.
Nietzsche, however, regarded Salomé less as an equal partner than as a gifted student.
Salomé reports that he asked her to marry him and that she refused, though the reliability of her reports of events has come into question.
Nietzsche’s relationship with Rée and Salomé broke up in the winter of 1882/1883, partially because of intrigues conducted by Nietzsche’s sister Elisabeth.
Amidst renewed bouts of illness, living in near isolation after a falling-out with his mother and sister regarding Salomé, Nietzsche fled to Rapallo.

Here he wrote the first part of ‘Also sprach Zarathustra: Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen’ (Thus Spoke Zarathustra) *** in only ten days.

After severing his philosophical ties with Schopenhauer and his social ties with Wagner, Nietzsche had few remaining friends.

Now, with the new style of ‘Zarathustra’, his work became even more alienating and the market received it only to the degree required by politeness.

Nietzsche recognized this and maintained his solitude, though he often complained about it.
His books remained largely unsold.

In 1885 he printed only 40 copies of the fourth part of ‘Zarathustra’, and distributed only a fraction of these among close friends, including Helene von Druskowitz.
In 1883 he tried and failed to obtain a lecturing post at the University of Leipzig.
It was made clear to him that, in view of the attitude towards Christianity and the concept of God expressed in ‘Zarathustra’, he had become in effect unemployable at any German University.

The subsequent “feelings of revenge and resentment” embittered him. “And hence my rage since I have grasped in the broadest possible sense what wretched means (the depreciation of my good name, my character and my aims) suffice to take from me the trust of, and therewith the possibility of obtaining, pupils.”
In 1886 Nietzsche broke with his editor, Ernst Schmeitzner.

He then printed ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ at his own expense, and issued in 1886–1887 second editions of his earlier works (‘The Birth of Tragedy’, ‘Human, All Too Human’, ‘The Dawn’, and ‘The  Joyful Science), accompanied by new prefaces in which he reconsidered his earlier works. Thereafter, he saw his work as completed for a time and hoped that soon a readership would develop.
In fact, interest in Nietzsche’s thought did increase at this time, if rather slowly and in a way hardly perceived by him.

During these years Nietzsche met Meta von Salis, Carl Spitteler, and also Gottfried Keller.
In 1886 his sister Elisabeth married Bernhard Förster (see left) and traveled to Paraguay to found Nueva Germania, a “Germanic” colony.
Through correspondence, Nietzsche’s relationship with Elisabeth continued on the path of conflict and reconciliation, but they would meet again only after his collapse.
He continued to have frequent and painful attacks of illness, which made prolonged work impossible. In 1887 Nietzsche wrote the polemic ‘On the Genealogy of Morals’.
During the same year Nietzsche encountered the work of Fyodor Dostoevsky, with whom he felt an immediate kinship.

He also exchanged letters with Hippolyte Taine, and then also with Georg Brandes.
Brandes, who had started to teach the philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard in the 1870s, wrote to Nietzsche asking him to read Kierkegaard, to which Nietzsche replied that he would come to Copenhagen and read Kierkegaard with him.
However, before fulfilling this undertaking, he slipped too far into sickness.
In the beginning of 1888, in Copenhagen, Brandes delivered one of the first lectures on Nietzsche’s philosophy.

Although Nietzsche had in 1886 announced (at the end of ‘On The Genealogy of Morality’) a new work with the title ‘The Will to Power: Attempt at a Revaluation of All Values’, he eventually seems to have abandoned this particular approach and instead used some of the draft passages to compose ‘Götzen-Dämmerung, oder, Wie man mit dem Hammer philosophiert’ (Twilight of the Idols) and ‘Der Antichrist’ (The Antichrist) – both written in 1888.
His health seemed to improve, and he spent the summer in high spirits.
In the fall of 1888 his writings and letters began to reveal a higher estimation of his own status and “fate.”

He overestimated the increasing response to his writings, especially to the recent polemic, ‘Der Fall Wagner’ – (The Case of Wagner).

On his 44th birthday, after completing  ‘Götzen-Dämmerung’  and  ‘Der Antichrist’, he decided to write the autobiography ‘Ecce Homo’.
In the preface to this work—which suggests Nietzsche was well aware of the interpretive difficulties his work would generate—he declares, “Hear me! For I am such and such a person. Above all, do not mistake me for someone else.”
In December, Nietzsche began a correspondence with August Strindberg, and thought that, short of an international breakthrough, he would attempt to buy back his older writings from the publisher and have them translated into other European languages.
Moreover, he planned the publication of the compilation ‘Nietzsche Contra Wagner’ and of the poems that composed his collection ‘Dionysian-Dithyrambs’.

Mental Collapse & Death

On January 3, 1889, Nietzsche suffered a mental collapse.
Two policemen approached him after he caused a public disturbance in the streets of Turin. What actually happened remains unknown, but an often-repeated tale states that Nietzsche witnessed the whipping of a horse at the other end of the Piazza Carlo Alberto, ran to the horse, threw his arms up around its neck to protect the horse, and then collapsed to the ground.

In the following few days, Nietzsche sent short writings—known as the ‘Wahnbriefe’ (Madness Letters)—to a number of friends (including Cosima Wagner and Jacob Burckhardt).
To his former colleague Burckhardt, Nietzsche wrote: “I have had Caiaphas put in fetters. Also, last year I was crucified by the German doctors in a very drawn-out manner. Wilhelm, Bismarck, and all anti-Semites abolished.”
Additionally, he commanded the German emperor to go to Rome to be shot, and summoned the European powers to take military action against Germany.

On January 6, 1889 Burckhardt showed the letter he had received from Nietzsche to Overbeck. The following day Overbeck received a similarly revealing letter, and decided that Nietzsche’s friends had to bring him back to Basel.
Overbeck traveled to Turin and brought Nietzsche to a psychiatric clinic in Basel.
By that time Nietzsche appeared fully in the grip of a serious mental illness, and his mother Franziska decided to transfer him to a clinic in Jena under the direction of Otto Binswanger. From November 1889 to February 1890 the art historian Julius Langbehn attempted to cure Nietzsche, claiming that the methods of the medical doctors were ineffective in treating Nietzsche’s condition.
Langbehn assumed progressively greater control of Nietzsche until his secretiveness discredited him.

In March 1890 Franziska removed Nietzsche from the clinic, and in May 1890 brought him to her home in Naumburg.

During this process Overbeck and Gast contemplated what to do with Nietzsche’s unpublished works.
In January 1889 they proceeded with the planned release of  ‘Götzen-Dämmerung’, by that time already printed and bound.
In February they ordered a fifty copy private edition of ‘Nietzsche contra Wagner’, but the publisher C. G. Naumann secretly printed one hundred.
Overbeck and Gast decided to withhold publishing ‘Der Antichrist’ and ‘Ecce Homo’ because of their more radical content.
Nietzsche’s reception and recognition enjoyed their first surge.

In 1893 Nietzsche’s sister Elisabeth returned from Nueva Germania (in Paraguay) following the suicide of her husband.
She read and studied Nietzsche’s works, and piece by piece took control of them and of their publication.Overbeck eventually suffered dismissal, and Gast finally cooperated.
After the death of Franziska in 1897 Nietzsche lived in Weimar, where Elisabeth cared for him and allowed people, including Rudolf Steiner (who in 1895 had written one of the first books praising Nietzsche – see right)) to visit her uncommunicative brother.
Elisabeth at one point went so far as to employ Steiner–at a time when he was still an ardent fighter against any mysticism–as a tutor to help her to understand her brother’s philosophy.
Nietzsche’s mental illness was originally diagnosed as tertiary syphilis, in accordance with a prevailing medical paradigm of the time.
Although most commentators regard his breakdown as unrelated to his philosophy Georges Bataille drops dark hints (“‘man incarnate’ must also go mad”) and René Girard’s postmortem psychoanalysis posits a worshipful rivalry with Richard Wagner.
The diagnosis of syphilis was challenged, and manic-depressive illness with periodic psychosis, followed by vascular dementia was put forward by Cybulska.
In 1898 and 1899 Nietzsche suffered at least two strokes, which partially paralysed him and left him unable to speak or walk.

After contracting pneumonia in mid-August 1900 he had another stroke during the night of August 24 / August 25, and died about noon on August 25.
Elisabeth had him buried beside his father at the church in Röcken bei Lützen.

His friend, Peter Gast (see right), gave his funeral oration, proclaiming: “Holy be your name to all future generations!

Nietzsche had written in ‘Ecce Homo’ (at the time of the funeral still unpublished) of his fear that one day his name would be regarded as “holy”.

N I E T Z S C H E ‘S   W O R K

Nietzsche’s works remain controversial, and there is widespread disagreement about their interpretation and significance.

Part of the difficulty in interpreting Nietzsche arises from the uniquely provocative style of his philosophical writing.
Nietzsche frequently delivered trenchant critiques of Christianity in the most offensive and blasphemous terms possible given the context of 19th century Europe.
These aspects of Nietzsche’s style run counter to traditional values in philosophical writing, and they alienated him from the academic establishment both in his time and, to a lesser extent, today.
A few of the themes that Nietzsche scholars have devoted the most attention to include Nietzsche’s views on morality, his view that “God is dead” (and along with it any sort of God’s-eye view on the world thus leading to perspectivism), his notions of the ‘will to power‘ and ‘Übermensch‘, and his suggestion of ‘eternal recurrence‘.

Der Wille zur Macht

A basic element in Nietzsche’s philosophical outlook is ‘der Wille zur Macht’ – (the will to power), which provides a basis for understanding human behavior. In a wide sense of a term, the will to power is a more important element than pressure for adaptation or survival.

According to Nietzsche, only in limited situations is the drive for conservation precedent over the will to power.
The natural condition of life, according to him, is one of profusion.
In its later forms Nietzsche’s concept of the will to power applies to all living things, suggesting that adaptation and the struggle to survive is a secondary drive in the evolution of animals, less important than the desire to expand one’s power.
Nietzsche eventually took this concept further still, and speculated that it may apply to inorganic nature as well.
He transformed the idea of matter as centers of force into matter as centers of will to power. Nietzsche wanted to dispense with the atomistic theory of matter, a theory which he viewed as a relic of the metaphysics of substance.
One study of Nietzsche defines his fully developed concept of the will to power as “the element from which derive both the quantitative difference of related forces and the quality that devolves into each force in this relation” revealing the will to power as “the principle of the synthesis of forces.
Nietzsche’s notion of the will to power can also be viewed as a response to Schopenhauer’s “Will.”
Writing a generation before Nietzsche, Schopenhauer had regarded the entire universe and everything in it as driven by a primordial ‘Will’, thus resulting in all creatures’ desire to avoid death and to procreate.
Nietzsche, however, challenges Schopenhauer’s account and suggests that people and animals really want power; living in itself appears only as a subsidiary aim—something necessary to promote one’s power.
Defending his view, Nietzsche describes instances where people and animals willingly risk their lives to gain power—most notably in instances like competitive fighting and warfare.
Once again, Nietzsche seems to take part of his inspiration from the ancient Homeric Greek texts he knew well: Greek heroes and aristocrats or “masters” did not desire mere living (they often died quite young and risked their lives in battle) but wanted power, glory, and greatness.
In this regard he often mentions the common Greek theme of ‘agon’ or contest.
In addition to Schopenhauer’s psychological views, Nietzsche contrasts his notion of the will to power with many of the other most popular psychological views of his day, such as that of utilitarianism.
Utilitarianism—a philosophy mainly promoted, in Nietzsche’s days and before, by British thinkers such as Bentham and Stuart Mill—claims that all people fundamentally want to be happy. But this conception of happiness found in utilitarianism Nietzsche rejected as something limited to, and characteristic of, English society only.
Also Platonism and Christian neo-Platonism–which claim that people ultimately want to achieve unity with ‘The Good’ or with ‘God’ – are philosophies he criticizes.
In each case, Nietzsche argues that the “will to power” provides a more useful and general explanation of human behavior.


Another concept important to an understanding of Nietzsche’s thought is the Übermensch.
While interpretations of Nietzsche’s Übermensch vary wildly, here is one of his quotations from Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Prologue, §§3–4):

“I teach you the superman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him? … All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood, and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man?
What is ape to man? A laughing stock or painful embarrassment. And man shall be that to superman: a laughingstock or painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape…. The superman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the superman shall be the meaning of the earth…. Man is a rope, tied between beast and the superman—a rope over an abyss … what is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end.”

Later Developments

By World War I, Nietzsche had acquired a reputation as an inspiration for right-wing German militarism. 
German soldiers received copies of ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’ as gifts during World War I.

Nietzsche’s growing prominence suffered a severe setback when his works became closely associated with Adolf Hitler and the German Reich.

Many political leaders of the twentieth century were at least superficially familiar with Nietzsche’s ideas, although it is not always possible to determine whether or not they actually read his work. It is not known for sure if Hitler ever read Nietzsche, and if he did, his reading was not extensive, although he was a frequent visitor to the Nietzsche museum in Weimar, and did use expressions of Nietzsche’s, such as “lords of the earth” in ‘Mein Kampf’, and of course terms such as ‘der Wille zur Macht’ and  ‘Übermensch’ were essential to Volkisch ideology.

More significant is the relationship of Nietzsche’s ‘Übermensch’ to ‘Die Geheimlehre’ – (The Secret Doctrine), Theosophy, Blavatsky and the Vril.


 ‘Menschliches, Allzumenschliches’

(Human, All Too Human) – subtitled ‘Ein Buch für freie Geister’ – (A Book for Free Spirits), was originally published in 1878.

A second part, ‘Vermischte Meinungen und Sprüche’ (Assorted Opinions and Maxims), was published in 1879, and a third part, ‘Der Wanderer und sein Schatten’ (The Wanderer and his Shadow), followed in 1880.
Reflecting an admiration ofVoltaire as a free thinker, but also a break in his friendship with composer Richard Wagner two years earlier, Nietzsche dedicated the original 1878 edition “to the memory of Voltaire on the celebration of the anniversary of his death, May 30, 1778.
Instead of a preface, the first part originally included a quotation from Descartes’ Discourse on the Method.
Nietzsche later republished all three parts as a two-volume edition in 1886, adding a preface to each volume, and removing the Descartes quote as well as the dedication to Voltaire.
Unlike his first book, ‘The Birth of Tragedy’, which was written in essay style, ‘Menschliches, Allzumenschliches’ is a collection of aphorisms, a style which he would use in many of his subsequent works.
The aphoristic style was suited to many of the ideas and thoughts in the book, which are as short as a sentence, to as long as a few pages.
It was also likely due to Nietzsche’s decline in health at the time, when he was already frequently suffering from vision problems as well as painful migraine headaches that would have made reading and writing very difficult.
In 1879, a year after publishing the first installment, he was forced to leave his professorship at Basel University because of his deteriorating health.
The first installment’s 638 aphorisms are divided into nine sections by subject, and a short poem as an epilogue.
The second and third installments are an additional 408 and 350 aphorisms respectively.
This book represents the beginning of Nietzsche’s “middle period”, with a break from German Romanticism and from Wagner and with a definite positivist slant.
Note the style: reluctant to construct a systemic philosophy, Nietzsche composed these works as a series of several hundred aphorisms, ranging in length from a single line to a few pages. This book comprises more a collection of debunkings of unwarranted assumptions than an interpretation, though it offers some elements of Nietzsche’s thought in his arguments: he uses his perspectivism and the idea of the will to power as explanatory devices, though the latter remains less developed than in his later thought.

In the first section Nietzsche deals with metaphysics, specifically its origins as relating to dreams, the dissatisfaction with oneself, and language as well.

‘On the History of Moral Feelings’ – in this section, named in honor of his friend Paul Rée’s Nietzsche challenges the Christian idea of good and evil as it was philosophized by Arthur Schopenhauer.

‘Religious Life’ – here Nietzsche attacks religious worship, asserting that “Christianity wants to destroy, shatter, stun, intoxicate.”

‘From the Soul of Artists and Writers’ – Nietzsche uses this section to denounce the idea of divine inspiration in art, claiming great art is the result of hard work, not a higher power or “genius.”
This can be interpreted as a subliminal attack on his former friend Wagner (a strong believer in genius) though Nietzsche never mentions him by name, instead simply using the term “the artist.”

‘Signs of Higher and Lower Culture’ – here Nietzsche criticizes Darwin, as he frequently does, as naive and derivative of Hobbes and early English economists and without an account of life from the “inside” (and consider in this light Darwin’s own introduction to the first edition of Origin) (consider also Nietzsche’s critique to the effect that Darwinism, as typically understood, is trading in a new version of the Providential): Wherever progress is to ensue, deviating natures are of greatest importance. Every progress of the whole must be preceded by a partial weakening. The strongest natures retain the type, the weaker ones help to advance it.
Something similar also happens in the individual. There is rarely a degeneration, a truncation, or even a vice or any physical or “moral” loss without an advantage somewhere else. In a warlike and restless clan, for example, the sicklier man may have occasion to be alone, and may therefore become quieter and wiser; the one-eyed man will have one eye the stronger; the blind man may see deeper inwardly (if there is a “inward” in Nietzsche?) (isn’t surface all?), and certainly hear better.
To this extent, the famous theory of the survival of the fittest does not seem to be the only viewpoint from which to explain the progress of strengthening of a man or of a race. (See ‘Twilight of the Idols’ for more of Nietzsche’s critique of Darwin.)
Nietzsche writes of the “free spirit” or “free thinker” (Freigeist), and his role in society, a sort of proto-Übermensch, forming the basis of a concept he extensively explores in his later work ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’.
A free spirit is one who goes against the herd, and “onwards along the path of wisdom” in order to better society.
“Better,” for Nietzsche, appears to mean ordered toward the production of rare genius and is hardly to be confused with what “a newspaper reader,” as Nietzsche might put it, would expect. The essential thing to keep in mind in considering Zarathustra, of course, is that Nietzsche presents Zarathustra as failing.

‘Man in Society and Women and Child’ – these two sections are made up of mostly very short aphorisms on man’s and women and child’s natures or “evolution,” in Nietzsche’s subtle and anti-Darwinian sense.
While section six is relatively mild, section seven, which is highly paradoxical, has resulted in Nietzsche’s “popular” reputation for misogyny, on account of shallow interpretations, or doctrinaire demands as to what may or may not be said.

‘A Look at the State’ – here Nietzsche studies power in a state, and speaks strongly against war and nationalism.
He also speaks on Europe’s Jews, worrying that “in the literature of nearly all present-day nations…there is an increase in the literary misconduct that leads the Jews to the slaughterhouse, as scapegoats for every possible public and private misfortune.”
He continues, saying that they have “had the most sorrowful history of all peoples, and to whom we owe the noblest human being (Christ), the purest philosopher (Spinoza), the mightiest book, and the most effective code in the world.”
Though not anti-Semitic, this would eventually be one of his works taken by the Nazis to paint Nietzsche as an early philosopher of Nazism.

‘Man Alone with Himself’ – like sections six and seven, Nietzsche’s aphorisms here are mostly short, but also poetic and at times could be interpreted as semi-autobiographical, in anticipation of the next volumes: “He who has come only in part to a freedom of reason cannot feel on earth otherwise than as a wanderer.”

Nietzsche also distinguishes the obscurantism of the metaphysicians and theologians from the more subtle obscurantism of Kant’s critical philosophy and modern philosophical skepticism, claiming that obscurantism is that which obscures existence rather than obscures ideas alone: “The essential element in the black art of obscurantism is not that it wants to darken individual understanding but that it wants to blacken our picture of the world, and darken our idea of existence.”

Within his lifetime, prior to his mental breakdown in 1889, few of Nietzsche’s books sold particularly well, and ‘Menschliches, Allzumenschliches’ is no exception.
The first installment was originally printed in 1,000 copies in 1878, and sold only 120 of these, and still less than half of these by 1886 when it was resold as the complete two-volume set.
Though his friendship with Richard Wagner was nearly over, Wagner actually received a signed copy, though he never read it, saying Nietzsche would thank him for this one day.

It was first translated into English in 1909 by writer Helen Zimmern as part of a complete edition of Nietzsche’s books in English, but was never translated by Walter Kaufmann when he translated most of Nietzsche’s works into English in the 1950s and ‘60s. Finally, in the 1980s the first part was translated by Marion Faber and completely translated by R.J. Hollingdale the same decade.

‘Menschliches, Allzumenschliches’ was used by archivist Max Oehler, a strong supporter of Hitler, as supposed evidence of Nietzsche’s support for nationalism and anti-Semitism.

Oehler wrote an entire book, ‘Friedrich Nietzsche und die Deutsche Zukunft’, dealing with Nietzsche and his connection to nationalism (specifically National Socialism) and anti-Semitism, using quotes from ‘Menschliches, Allzumenschliches’.
Oehler also had control of Nietzsche’s archive during the Nazi’s rule, which he shared with Nietzsche’s sister, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, a Hitler supporter herself, until her death, when he took it over.

**  ‘Die fröhliche Wissenschaft’

The ‘Die fröhliche Wissenschaft’ was first published in 1882 and followed by a second edition, which was published after the completion of Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil, in 1887. This substantial expansion includes a fifth book and an appendix of songs. It was noted by Nietzsche to be “the most personal of all [his] books”, and contains the greatest number of poems in any of his published works.

The book’s title uses a phrase that was well known at the time.
It was derived from a Provençal expression (gai saber) for the technical skill required for poetry writing that had already been used by Ralph Waldo Emerson and E. S. Dallas and, in inverted form, by Thomas Carlyle in The dismal science. The book’s title was first translated into English as ‘The Joyful Wisdom’.
In ‘Ecce Homo’ Nietzsche refers to the poems in the Appendix of Die fröhliche Wissenschaft’, saying they were, written for the most part in Sicily, are quite emphatically reminiscent of the Provençal concept of gaia scienza—that unity of singer, knight, and free spirit which distinguishes the wonderful early culture of the Provençals from all equivocal cultures.
The very last poem above all, “To the Mistral”, an exuberant dancing song in which, if I may say so, one dances right over morality, is a perfect Provençalism.

This alludes to the birth of modern European poetry that occurred in Provence around the 13th century, whereupon, after the culture of the troubadours fell into almost complete desolation and destruction due to the Albigensian Crusade (1209–1229), other poets in the 14th century ameliorated and thus cultivated the gai saber or gaia scienza.
In a similar vein, in ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ Nietzsche observed that, love as passion—which is our European speciality—[was invented by] the Provençal knight-poets, those magnificent and inventive human beings of the “gai saber” to whom Europe owes so many things and almost owes itself. (Section 260)

An indicator of the deficiency of the original translation as ‘The Joyful Wisdom’ is that the German Wissenschaft never indicates “wisdom” (wisdom = Weisheit), but a propensity toward any rigorous practice of a poised, controlled, and disciplined quest for knowledge, and is typically translated as “science”.

The book is usually placed within Nietzsche’s middle period, during which his work extolled the merits of science, skepticism, and intellectual discipline as routes to mental freedom. The affirmation of the Provençal tradition is also one of a joyful “yea-saying” to life.

In ‘Die fröhliche Wissenschaft’, Nietzsche experiments with the notion of power but does not advance any systematic theory.

The book contains the first consideration of the idea of the eternal recurrence, a concept which would become critical in his next work Thus Spoke Zarathustra and underpins much of the later works.

What if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’ … Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.’ ” – [§341]

Here also is the first occurrence of the famous formulation “God is dead,” first in section 108.

After Buddha was dead, people showed his shadow for centuries afterwards in a cave,—an immense frightful shadow. God is dead: but as the human race is constituted, there will perhaps be caves for millenniums yet, in which people will show his shadow.—And we—we have still to overcome his shadow! – §108
Section 125 depicts the parable of the madman who is searching for God. He accuses us all of being the murderers of God. “‘Whither is God?’ he cried; ‘I will tell you. We have killed him- you and I. All of us are his murderers...”

***  ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’

‘Also sprach Zarathustra: Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen’ – (Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None) is a philosophical novel by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, composed in four parts 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 ‘Die fröhliche Wissenschaft’

Described by Nietzsche himself as “the deepest ever written,” the book is a dense and esoteric treatise on philosophy and morality, featuring as protagonist a fictionalized prophet descending from his mountain retreat to mankind, Zarathustra.
A central irony of the text is that Nietzsche mimics the style of the Bible in order to present ideas which fundamentally oppose Christian and Jewish morality and tradition.

‘Also sprach Zarathustra’ was conceived while Nietzsche was writing ‘Die fröhliche Wissenschaft’; he made a small note, reading “6,000 feet beyond man and time,” as evidence of this.
More specifically, this note related to the concept of the eternal recurrence, which is, by Nietzsche’s admission, the central idea of ‘Zarathustra’; this idea occurred to him by a “pyramidal block of stone” on the shores of Lake Silvaplana in the Upper Engadine, a high alpine region whose valley floor is at 6,000 ft. Nietzsche planned to write the book in three parts over several years.
He wrote that the ideas for ‘Zarathustra’ first came to him while walking on two roads surrounding Rapallo, according to Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche in the introduction of Thomas Common’s early translation of the book.

Although Part Three was originally planned to be the end of the book, and ends with a strong climax, Nietzsche subsequently decided to write an additional three parts; ultimately, however, he composed only the fourth part, which is viewed to constitute an intermezzo.
Nietzsche commented in ‘Ecce Homo’ that for the completion of each part: “Ten days sufficed; in no case, neither for the first nor for the third and last, did I require more” (trans. Kaufmann).
The first three parts were first published separately, and were subsequently published in a single volume in 1887.
The fourth part remained private after Nietzsche wrote it in 1885; a scant forty copies were all that were printed, apart from seven others that were distributed to Nietzsche’s close friends. In March 1892, the four parts were finally reprinted as a single volume.
Since then, the version most commonly produced has included all four parts.
The original text contains a great deal of word-play.
An example of this is the use of words beginning über (“over” or “above”) and unter (“down” or “below”), often paired to emphasise the contrast, which is not always possible to bring out in translation, except by coinages.
An example is Untergang, literally “down-going” but used in German to mean “setting” (as of the sun), which Nietzsche pairs with its opposite Übergang (going over or across).
Another example is Übermensch (overman or superman), discussed later in this article.
The book chronicles the fictitious travels and pedagogy of Zarathustra.

The name of this character is taken from the ancient prophet usually known in English as Zoroaster (Avestan: Zara?uštra), the Persian founder of Zoroastrianism.
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:”

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 ‘Dithyrambs of Dionysus’ 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 about by Zarathustra. However, the book lacks a finale to match that 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 ‘Die fröhliche Wissenschaft’.
In his autobiographical work ‘Ecce Homo’, Nietzsche states that the book’s underlying concept is discussed within “the penultimate section of the fourth book” of  ‘Die fröhliche Wissenschaft’  (Ecce Homo, Kaufmann). It is the eternal recurrence of the same events.
This concept first occurred to Nietzsche while he was walking in Switzerland through the woods along the lake of Silvaplana (close to Surlej); he was inspired by the sight of a gigantic, towering, pyramidal rock.
Before Zarathustra, Nietzsche had mentioned the concept in the fourth book of  ‘Die fröhliche Wissenschaft’ (e.g., sect. 341); this was the first public proclamation of the notion by him.
Apart from its salient presence in Zarathustra, it is also echoed throughout Nietzsche’s work.
At any rate, it is by Zarathustra’s transfiguration that he embraces eternity, that he at last ascertains “the supreme will to power“.
This inspiration finds its expression with Zarathustra’s ‘Song of Midnight’, featured twice in the book, once near the story’s close:

O Mensch! Gib acht!
Was spricht, die tiefe Mitternacht?
“Ich schlief, ich schlief -,
Aus tiefem Traum bin ich erwacht: –
Die Welt ist tief,
Und tiefer als der Tag gedacht.
Tief ist ihr Weh -,
Lust – tiefer noch als Herzeleid:
Weh spricht: Vergeh! 
Doch alle Lust will Ewigkeit -,
– Will tiefe, tiefe Ewigkeit!”
(O man, take heed!
What says the deep midnight ?
I sleep – I sleep —
But from a deep dream I woke:—
The world is deep,
Deeper than day may deem.
Deep is its woe—
But Joy is deeper than woe:
Woe says: Go!
But all joy wants eternity—
Wants deep, deep eternity.”)

Another singular feature of Zarathustra, first presented in the prologue, is the designation of human beings as a transition between apes and the “Übermensch” (in English, either the “overman” or “superman”; or, superhuman or overhuman.
The Übermensch is one of the many interconnecting, interdependent themes of the story, and is represented through several different metaphors.
Examples include: the lightning that is portended by the silence and raindrops of a travelling storm cloud; or the sun’s rise and culmination at its midday zenith; or a man traversing a rope stationed above an abyss, moving away from his uncultivated animality and towards the Übermensch.
The symbol of the Übermensch also alludes to Nietzsche’s notions of “self-mastery”, “self-cultivation”, “self-direction”, and “self-overcoming”. Expounding these concepts, Zarathustra declares:

“I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?
“All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape.
“Whoever is the wisest among you is also a mere conflict and cross between plant and ghost. But do I bid you become ghosts or plants?
“Behold, I teach you the overman! The overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the overman shall be the meaning of the earth! I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes! Poison-mixers are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, decaying and poisoned themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so let them go!”

— Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Prologue, §3, trans. Walter Kaufmann

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” (Ecce Homo, Preface, sec. 4, Kaufmann).
Emphasizing its centrality and its status as his magnum opus, it is stated by Nietzsche 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, trans. Walter Kaufmann

Since, as stated, 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 his book ‘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’.

Nietzsche injects myriad ideas into the book, but there are a few recurring themes.
The overman (Übermensch), a self-mastered individual who has achieved his full power, is an almost omnipresent idea in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
Man as a race is merely a bridge between animals and the overman. Nietzsche also makes a point that the overman is not an end result for a person, but more the journey toward self-mastery.
The eternal recurrence, found elsewhere in Nietzsche’s writing, is also mentioned. The eternal recurrence is the idea that all events that have happened will happen again, infinitely many times. Such a reality can serve as the litmus test for an overman. Faced with the knowledge that he would repeat every action that he has taken, an overman would be elated as he has no regrets and loves life.
The ‘will to power‘ is the fundamental component of human nature.
Everything we do is an expression of the will to power.
The will to power is a psychological analysis of all human action and is accentuated by self-overcoming and self-enhancement.
Contrasted with living for procreation, pleasure, or happiness, the will to power is the summary of all man’s struggle against his surrounding environment as well as his reason for living in it.
The book in several passages expresses loathing for sentiments of human pity, compassion, indulgence and mercy towards a victim, which are regarded as the greatest sin and most insidious danger.
Part of Nietzsche’s reactionary thought is also that the creature he most sincerely loathes is the spirit of revolution, and its hatred for the anarchist and rebel.
Many criticisms of Christianity can be found in ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’, in particular Christian values of good and evil and its belief in an afterlife.
Nietzsche sees the complacency of Christian values as fetters to the achievement of overman as well as on the human spirit.

The book inspired Richard Strauss (see left) to compose the tone poem ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’, which he designated “freely based on Friedrich Nietzsche.”
Zarathustra’s ‘Midnight Song’ is set as part of Gustav Mahler’s Third Symphony (1895-96), originally under the title ‘What Man Tells Me’, or alternatively ‘What the Night tells me’ (of Man).
Frederick Delius (see right) based his major choral-orchestral work ‘A Mass of Life’ (1904-5) on texts from Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
The work ends with a setting of Zarathustra’s ‘Midnight Song’ which Delius had composed earlier, in 1898, as a separate work.

And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.

~Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

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