Zarathustra’s Prologue | Friedrich Nietzsche


Zarathustra’s Prologue | Friedrich Nietzsche

When Zarathustra was thirty years old, he left his home and the lake of his home and went into the mountains. There he enjoyed his spirit and solitude and for ten years did not weary of it. But at last his heart changed— and rising one morning with the dawn he stepped before the sun and spoke thus to it:

You great star! What would be your happiness if you had not those for whom you shine! For ten years you have climbed here to my cave: you would have wearied of your light and of the journey had it not been for me, my eagle and my serpent.

But we awaited you every morning, took from you your overflow and blessed you for it. Behold! I am weary of my wisdom like the bee that has gathered too much honey; I need hands outstretched to take it.

I would like to bestow and distribute until the wise have once more become joyous in their folly and the poor happy in their riches. Therefore must I descend into the deep: as you do in the evening when you go behind the sea and give light also to the nether world you exuberant star! Like you, I must go down- as men say, to whom I shall descend.

Bless me then you tranquil eye that can behold even the greatest happiness without envy! Bless the cup that is about to overflow that the water may flow golden out of it and carry everywhere the reflection of your bliss! Behold! This cup is again going to empty itself and Zarathustra is again going to be a man.

Thus began Zarathustra’s down-going.

Zarathustra went down the mountain alone no one meeting him. When he entered the forest however there suddenly stood before him an old man who had left his holy hut to seek roots. And thus spoke the old man to Zarathustra:

“No stranger to me is this wanderer: many years ago he passed by. Zarathustra he was called; but he is changed. Then you carried your ashes into the mountains: will you now carry your fire into the valleys? Fear you not the incendiary’s punishment? Yes, I recognise Zarathustra. His eye is pure and no loathing lurks about his mouth. Does he not go along like a dancer? How Zarathustra has changed!

Zarathustra has become a child; he is awakened: what do you want now with those asleep? You have lived in solitude as in the sea and the sea bore you. Alas, will you now go ashore? Alas, will you again drag your body yourself?” Zarathustra answered: “I love mankind.”
“Why” said the saint “did I go into the forest and the desert? Was it not because I loved men all too well? Now I love God: mankind I do not love. Man is a thing too imperfect for me. Love of man would be fatal to me.”

Zarathustra answered: “What did I say of love! I am bringing a gift to mankind.”

“Give them nothing” said the saint. “Take rather some of their load and carry it with them— that will be most pleasing to them: if only it be pleasing to you! If however you wish to give to them, give them no more than an alms and let them also beg for it!”

“No,” replied Zarathustra “I give no alms. I am not poor enough for that.”

The saint laughed at Zarathustra and spoke thus: “Then see to it that they accept your treasures! They are mistrustful of hermits and do not believe that we come with gifts. Our footsteps ring too lonely through their streets.

And when at night they are in bed and hear a man abroad long before sunrise, so they perhaps ask themselves concerning us: Where goes that thief? Do not go to men but stay in the forest! Go rather to the animals! Why not be as I am— a bear among bears, a bird among birds?”

“And what does the saint in the forest?” asked Zarathustra.

The saint answered: “I make songs and sing them; and in making songs I laugh, weep and mutter: thus do I praise God. With singing, weeping, laughing and muttering do I praise the God who is my God. But what do you bring us as a gift?”

When Zarathustra had heard these words he bowed to the saint and said: “What should I have to give you! Rather, let me hurry away lest I take anything from you!”

And thus they parted from one another, the old man and Zarathustra laughing like schoolboys.
However, when Zarathustra was alone he spoke thus to his heart: “Could it be possible! This old saint has not yet heard in his forest that God is Dead!”

When Zarathustra arrived at the nearest town outside the forest he found many people gathered in the market place; for it had been announced that a tight-rope walker would give a performance. And Zarathustra spoke thus to the people:

I teach you the Superman. Man is something that is to be overcome. What have you done to overcome man? All creatures have hitherto created something beyond themselves: do you wish to be the ebb of that great tide, to return to the animals rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughing stock or a painful embarrassment. And just the same shall man be to the Superman: a laughing stock or a painful embarrassment. You have made your way from the worm to man and much within you is still worm. Once were you apes and even now man is more of an ape than any of the apes. Even the wisest amongst you is only a disharmony and hybrid of plant and of ghost. But do I bid you become ghosts or plants?

Behold, I teach you the Superman! The Superman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: The Superman shall be the meaning of the earth! I ask you my brothers, remain true to the earth and believe not those who speak to you of other-worldly hopes!

They are poisoners, whether they know it or not. They are despisers of life, decaying and self-poisoned men of whom the earth is weary: so, away with them!

Once blasphemy against God was the greatest blasphemy; but God died and so also died the blasphemers. To blaspheme the earth is now the most dreadful offence and to regard the heart of the unfathomable as being higher than the meaning of the earth. Once the soul regarded the body with contempt and this contempt was the highest good— the soul wished the body to be lean, monstrous and famished.

Thus it thought that it could escape from the body and the earth. Oh, that soul was itself lean, monstrous and famished; and cruelty was the delight of that soul! But, tell me my brothers: what does your body say about your soul? Is your soul not poverty and dirt and a wretched ease? Truly, man is a polluted stream. One must be a sea, to receive a polluted stream and not become defiled. Behold I teach you the Superman: he is that sea; in him can your great contempt be sunk.
What is the greatest thing you can experience? It is the hour of the great contempt. The hour in which even your happiness becomes loathsome to you and so also your reason and virtue. The hour when you say: “What good is my happiness! It is poverty and dirt and a wretched ease. But my happiness should justify existence itself!” The hour when you say: “What good is my reason! Does it long for knowledge as the lion does for his food? It is poverty and dirt and a wretched ease!” The hour when you say: “What good is my virtue! As yet it has not made me mad! How weary I am of my good and my evil! It is all poverty and dirt and a wretched ease!” The hour when you say: “What good is my justice! I do not see that I am fire and hot coals. The just however are fire and hot coals!” The hour when you say: “What good is my pity! Is not pity the cross on which he who loves man is nailed? But my pity is not a crucifixion!”

Have you ever spoken thus? Have you ever cried thus? Ah! Would that I had heard you crying thus! It is not your sin— it is your moderation that cries to heaven; your very meanness in sinning cries to heaven! Where is the lightning to lick you with its tongue? Where is the madness which you should be cleansed? Behold I teach you the Superman: he is that lightning, he is that madness!
When Zarathustra had thus spoken one of the people called out: “We have heard enough of the tight-rope walker; let us see him too!” And all the people laughed at Zarathustra. But the tight-rope walker, who thought the words applied to him, began his performance.

Zarathustra however looked at the people and wondered. Then he spoke thus: Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman— a rope over an abyss. A dangerous crossing, a dangerous wayfaring, a dangerous looking back, a dangerous trembling and halting. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal; what is lovable in man is that he is a crossing-over and a down-going. I love those who do not know how to live except that their lives be a down-going, for they are the ones who are crossing-over. I love the great despisers because they are the great venerators and arrows of longing for the other shore. I love those who do not first seek beyond the stars for reasons to go down and to be sacrifices: but those who sacrifice themselves to the earth, that the earth may one day belong to the Superman. I love him who lives in order to know and seeks knowledge so that one day the Superman may live. Thus he seeks his own downfall. I love him who labours and invents so that he may build a house for the Superman and prepare for him earth, animals and plants: for by this he seeks his own downfall. I love him who loves his virtue: for virtue is the will to downfall and an arrow of longing. I love him who reserves no part of spirit for himself but wants to be entirely the spirit of his virtue: thus he walks as spirit over the bridge. I love him who makes his virtue his prediliction and his fate: thus for the sake of his virtue he will continue to live or live no more. I love him who does not desire too many virtues. One virtue is more virtue than two, because it is more of a knot for fate to cling to. I love him whose soul is lavish, who neither wants nor gives thanks: for he always gives and does not seek to preserve himself. I love him who is ashamed when the dice fall in his favour and who then asks: “Am I a dishonest player?” — for he is willing to perish. I love him who scatters golden words in advance of his deeds and always does more than he promised: for he wills his own downfall. I love him who justifies the men of the future and redeems the men of the past: for he seeks to perish by the men of the present. I love him who chastises his God because he loves his God: for he must perish by the anger of his God. I love him whose soul is deep even in its vulnerability to wounding and who may perish even from a trifling matter: thus goes he gladly over the bridge. I love him whose soul is so overfull that he forgets himself and all things are in him: thus all things become his downfall. I love him who is of a free spirit and a free heart: thus his head is only the bowels of his heart; his heart however causes his downfall. I love all who are like heavy drops falling one by one from the dark cloud that lowers over man: they prophesy the coming of the lightning and they perish as prophets. Behold I am a prophet of the lightning and a heavy drop out of the cloud: the lightning however is called Superman.

When Zarathustra had spoken these words he again looked at the people and was silent. There they stand (said he to his heart), there they laugh: they understand me not; I am not the mouth for these ears. Must one first batter their ears that they may learn to hear with their eyes? must one rumble like drums and Lenten preachers? Or do they only believe those who stammer? They have something of which they are proud. What do they call it that which makes them proud? Culture they call it; it distinguishes them from the goatherds. They therefore dislike having the word ‘contempt’ said of them. So I will appeal to their pride. I will speak to them of the most contemptible man: and that is the Ultimate Man!” And thus spoke Zarathustra to the people: It is time for man to fix his goal. It is time for man to plant the seed of his highest hope. His soil is still rich enough for it. But this soil will one day be poor and exhausted; no lofty tree will be able to grow from it. Alas! The time is coming when man will no longer shoot the arrow of his longing beyond mankind— and the string of his bow will have forgotten how to twang! I tell you: one must have chaos in one, to give birth to a dancing star. I tell you: you have still chaos in you. Alas! The time is coming when man will give birth to no more stars. Alas! The time of the most contemptible man is coming, the man who can no longer despise himself. Behold! I show you The Ultimate Man. “What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?” – asks the Ultimate Man and blinks. The earth has then become small and on it there hops the Ultimate Man who makes everything small. His race is as ineradicable as the flea; the Ultimate Man lives longest. “We have discovered happiness”— say the Ultimate Men and blink. They have left the regions where it is hard to live; for they need warmth. One still loves one’s neighbour and rubs again him; for one needs warmth. Sickness and mistrust they consider sinful: they walk warily. He is a fool who still stumbles over stones or over men! A little poison now and then: that makes for pleasant dreams. And a lot of poison at the end for a pleasant death. One still works for work is a pastime. But they take care that this pastime does not weary them. No-one becomes poor or rich anymore; both are too wearying. Who still wants to rule? Who still wants to obey? Both are too much of a burden. No herdsman and one herd! Everyone wants the same, everyone is the same: whoever thinks otherwise goes voluntarily into the madhouse. “Before, the whole world was mad”— say the cleverest amongst them and blink. They are clever and know all that has ever happened: so there is no end to their mockery. People still quarrel, but are soon reconciled— otherwise indigestion would result. They have their little pleasures for the day and their little pleasures for the night: but they respect health. “We have discovered happiness “— say the Ultimate Men and blink. And here ended the first discourse of Zarathustra which is also called “The Prologue”: for at this point the shouting and mirth of the crowd interrupted him. “Give us this Ultimate Man, O Zarathustra “– they shouted— “make us this Ultimate Man! You can keep the Superman!” And all the people cheered and shouted. Zarathustra however grew sad and said to his heart: “They do not understand me: I am not the mouth for these ears. Too long perhaps have I lived in the mountains; listened too much to the streams and the trees: I speak to them now as to the goatherds. Calm is my soul and bright as the mountains in the morning. But they think me cold and a mocker with fearful jokes. And now they look at me and laugh: and as they laugh, they hate me too. There is ice in their laughter.”

Then however something happened that silenced every voice and held the gaze of everyone. In the meantime, of course, the tight-rope walker had begun his performance: he had emerged from a small door and was going along the rope, which was stretched between two towers and so hung above the market place and the people. When he was midway across the little door opened once more and a gaudily dressed fellow like a clown sprang out and went rapidly after him. “Move on, lame-foot!” cried his frightful voice, “move on you slacker, intruder, pale-face! Lest I tickle you with my heels! What do you here between the towers? You belong in the tower, you should be locked up, you are blocking the way of a man better than you!” And with each word he came nearer and nearer to him: but when he was but a step from him a dreadful thing happened which silenced every voice and held the gaze of everyone: he let out a shriek like a devil and sprang over the other standing in his way. The latter however, seeing his rival thus triumph lost both his head and the rope; he threw his pole away and fell, faster than the pole, in a seeming vortex of arms and legs. The market place and the people were like a sea in a storm: they parted in disorder, especially where the body was about to fall. Zarathustra however remained standing and the body fell just beside him, badly injured and broken but not yet dead. After a while, consciousness returned to the shattered man and he saw Zarathustra kneeling beside him. “What are you doing?” said he at last. “I knew long ago that the Devil would trip me up. Now he drags me to hell: will you prevent him?” “On my honour, friend” answered Zarathustra, “all you have spoken about does not exist: there is no Devil and no Hell. Your soul will be dead even before your body: therefore, fear nothing any more!” The man looked up distrustfully. “If you speak the truth” said he “I lose nothing when I lose my life. I am not much more than an animal which has been taught to dance by blows and starvation.” “Not so” said Zarathustra. “You have made danger your calling, in that there is nothing to despise. Now you perish through your calling: so will I bury you with my own hands.” When Zarathustra had said this the dying man did not reply any further; but he moved his hand, as if he sought Zarathustra’s hand in gratitude.

Meanwhile, evening had fallen and the market place was veiled in darkness. The crowd dispersed, for even curiosity and terror grow tired. Zarathustra still sat on the ground at the side of the dead man, deep in thought: and so he forgot the time. But at length it became night and a cold wind blew over the solitary figure. Then Zarathustra arose and said to his heart: Truly a fine catch has Zarathustra made today! He caught no man, but he did catch a corpse. Uncanny is human existence and still as yet without meaning: a clown can be fatal to it. I want to teach men the meaning of their existence: which is the Superman, the lightning out of the dark cloud man. But still am I far from them, and my meaning speaks not to their mind. To men I am still something between a fool and a corpse. Dark is the night, dark are the ways of Zarathustra. Come, cold and stiff companion! I will carry you to the place where I shall bury you with my own hands.

When Zarathustra had said this to his heart he put the corpse upon his back and set out on his way. Yet he had he not gone a hundred steps when a man stole up to him and whispered in his ear— and behold! It was the clown from the tower who spoke to him. “Leave this town, O Zarathustra,” he said. “There are too many here who hate you. The good and just hate you and call you their enemy and despiser; the believers in the true faith hate you and call you a danger to the people. It was your good fortune that they laughed at you: and truly you spoke like a clown. It was your good fortune that you made company with the dead dog; by so degrading yourself you have saved your life today. But leave this town— or tomorrow I shall jump over you, a living man over a dead one.” And when he had said this the man disappeared; Zarathustra however went on through the dark streets. At the gate of the town the gravediggers met him: they shone their torch in his face and recognising Zarathustra they sorely mocked him. “Zarathustra is carrying away the dead dog: a fine thing that Zarathustra has become a grave digger! For our hands are too clean for this roast. Will Zarathustra rob the Devil of this morsel? Then enjoy your meal! But if the devil is a better thief than Zarathustra! — he will steal them both, he will eat them both!” And they laughed among themselves and put their heads together. Zarathustra made no answer and went on his way. When he had gone on for two hours past forests and swamps he had heard too much of the hungry howling of the wolves and he himself became hungry. So he stopped at a lonely house in which a light was burning. “Hunger has waylaid me” said Zarathustra, “like a robber. My hunger waylays me among forests and swamps and deep into the night. “My hunger has strange moods. Often it comes to me only after mealtimes and today it did not come at all: where has it been?” And then Zarathustra knocked at the door of the house. An old man appeared; he carried a light and asked: “Who comes to me and my uneasy sleep?” “A living man and a dead one” said Zarathustra. “Give me something to eat and drink, for I forgot them during the day. He that feeds the hungry refreshes his own soul: thus speaks wisdom.” The old man withdrew but returned at once offering Zarathustra bread and wine. “This is a bad country for the hungry” said he. “That is why I live here. Animal and man come here to me, the hermit. But bid your companion also to eat and drink, for he is wearier than you.” Zarathustra answered: “My companion is dead, I shall hardly be able to persuade him to do so.” “That does not concern me” said the old man sullenly; “Whoever knocks at my door must take what I offer him. Eat and fare you well!” Zarathustra went on again for two hours trusting to the path and the light of the stars: for he was an experienced night walker and liked to look into the face of all that slept. When the morning dawned however Zarathustra found himself in dense forest where the path had disappeared. He placed the dead man in a hollow tree at his head— for he wanted to protect him from the wolves— and laid himself down on the mossy ground. Immediately he fell asleep, tired in body but with a tranquil soul.

Zarathustra slept long, and not only the dawn passed over his head but also the morning. At last however his opened his eyes: he gazed in amazement into the forest and the stillness; he gazed in amazement into himself. Quickly he arose, like a seafarer who suddenly sights land, and shouted for joy: for he saw a new truth. And he spoke thus unto his heart: A light has dawned upon me: I need companions, living ones, not dead companions and corpses which I carry with me wherever I desire. I need living companions who will follow me because they want to follow themselves— and who want to go where I want to go. A light has dawned upon me: Zarathustra shall not speak to the people but to companions! Zarathustra shall not be herdsman and dog to the herd! To lure many away from the herd— for that purpose have I come. The people and the herd must be angry with me: Zarathustra shall be called a robber by the herdsmen. Herdsmen I say, but they call themselves the good and the just. Herdsmen I say: but they call themselves the believers in the true faith. Behold the good and just! Whom do they hate most? He who breaks their tables of values, the destroyer, the law-breaker— he is however the creator. Behold the believers of all faiths! Whom do they hate most? He who breaks their tables of values, the breaker, the law-breaker— he is however the creator. The creator seeks companions, not corpses or herds or believers. The creator seeks fellow creators, those who inscribe new values on new tables. The creator seeks companions and fellow harvesters: for everything is ripe for harvest with him. But he lacks his one hundred sickles: so he tears off the ears of corn and is angered. The creator seeks companions and such as know how to whet their sickles. They will be called destroyers and despisers of good and evil. But they are harvesters and rejoicers. Zarathustra seeks fellow creators, fellow reapers and fellow rejoicers: what has he to do with herds and herdsmen and corpses! And you, my first companion, fare thee well! I buried you well in your hollow tree, well-hidden are you from the wolves. But I am leaving you, the time has come. Between dawn and dawn a new truth has come to me. I will not be a herdsman or gravedigger. I will not speak again with the people: for the last time have I spoken to the dead. I will make company with the creators, with harvesters, with rejoicers: I will show them the rainbow and the stairway to the Superman. To the lone Hermit will I sing my song and to the Hermits in pairs; and I will make the heart of him who has still ears for the as yet unheard heavy with my happiness. I head for my goal, I go my way; I will leap over the hesitant and indolent. Let my going-forward be their down-fall!

Zarathustra said to his heart when the sun stood at noon. Then he looked inquiringly into the sky— for he heard aloft the sharp cry of a bird. And behold! An eagle swept through the air in wide circles, and on it hung a serpent, not like a prey but as a friend— for it kept itself coiled round the eagle’s neck. “My animals!” said Zarathustra and rejoiced in his heart. “The proudest animal under the sun and the wisest animal under the sun— they have come scouting. They wanted to know whether Zarathustra still lives. Am I truly still alive? I have found it more dangerous amongst men than amongst animals; Zarathustra treads dangerous paths. Let my animals lead me!” When Zarathustra had said this he remembered the words of the saint in the forest, he sighed and spoke thus to his heart: “I wish that I were wise! Wise from the very heart of me, like my serpent! But I am asking the impossible. Therefore do I ask my pride to always go in hand with my wisdom! And if my wisdom should one day desert me— ah, how it loves to fly away! — then may my pride also fly away with my folly!” Thus began Zarathustra’s down-going.

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