Thus Spoke Zarathustra | Study Guide

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

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Thus Spoke Zarathustra | Part 2, Chapters 23–32 | Summary



Chapter 23: The Child with the Mirror

Part 2 begins with Zarathustra's returning "to the mountains and to the solitude of his cave." Time passes and he wakes from a dream in which a child shows him a mirror. He realizes his "teaching is in danger" and his enemies have "grown powerful and distorted [his] teaching." His "eagle and his serpent" look at him as he leaps up. He explains that he shall "go down" to both his friends and enemies.

Chapter 24: Upon the Blessed Isles

Zarathustra discusses God. He says, "Once one said God when one looked upon distant seas, but now, I have taught you to say, overman." He compares God to creators. Ultimately, he says, "Willing liberates: that is the true teaching of will and liberty—thus Zarathustra teaches it."

Chapter 25: On the Pitying

A man comments that Zarathustra walks among men as if they were animals, but Zarathustra corrects this and says, "He who has knowledge walks among men as among animals." In this chapter, Zarathustra also relays that he has heard the devil say, "God is dead; God died of his pity for man." He goes on to explain all great love "is even above all its pity; for it still wants to create the beloved."

Chapter 26: On Priests

Zarathustra speaks to his disciples about priests. He says, "Though they are my enemies, pass them silently ... many of them have suffered too much: therefore, they want to make others suffer." Zarathustra goes into some detail about the reasons priests are abhorrent to him. Their "spirit was drowned in their pity," and they are "sheep." At the close of this chapter, he notes, "Never yet has there been an overman."

Chapter 27: On the Virtuous

Zarathustra turns the attention of his disciples to the main problem of people who consider themselves virtuous. He tells his listeners he is sorry to disappoint them but states there is no payback for being virtuous and doesn't even believe "virtue is its own reward." Zarathustra also outlines several external motivations to virtue, such as fear of "the scourge," laziness, and desire—specifically a desire for justice that can grow so large "till the world is drowned in their injustice."

Chapter 28: On the Rabble

Zarathustra's presents his opinion on the nature of the rabble (low-class people) that spreads poison and how the flame of the spirit is "vexed when their moist hearts come near the fire." He states that although some turn away in disgust, the real question is, "Does life require even the rabble?" Zarathustra goes on to explain how his nausea arising from contact with the rabble is the source of his ability to find "a life of which the rabble does not drink." He concludes his speech with the invitation to a state of being (home), which the rabble would find "an ice cave to their bodies and their spirits."

Chapter 29: On the Tarantulas

Zarathustra shows his disciples a tarantula burrow, and addresses the spider identified by its markings, saying, "Revenge sits in your soul ... you preachers of equality." He goes on to state this secret poison will be brought to light so "that man be delivered from revenge." This determination pits Zarathustra against these "preachers of equality" in their effort to bring all men into an equal status under the justice of the law. Zarathustra declares the opposite is true, that "men are not equal." Rather, different men are at different stages of development at any given moment of time, expressed in the statement. Although the tarantula's bite would make the soul "whirl with revenge," Zarathustra declares he will "never dance the tarantella."

Chapter 30: On the Famous Wise Men

Zarathustra's next target is famous wise men who serve as beasts to the powerful. Men who rule others in an effort "to get along smoothly with the people harnessed in front of their horses a little ass, a famous wise man." He urges such wise men to instead "throw off the lion's skin ... the mane of those who search, seek, and conquer." By becoming servants of the people, Zarathustra declares wise men who are famous become the property of "the dumb-eyed people ... who do not know what spirit is." He concludes his speech with the observation that famous wise men tend to become too attached to their own comforts, making "wisdom into a poorhouse and a hospital for bad poets."

Chapter 31: The Night Song

This lyrical interlude contrasts darkness and light to show the nature of one is not possible without the presence of its opposite. This comparison carries over into the relationship between the virtuous who pity the beggar and the beggar who needs their pity.

Chapter 32: The Dancing Song

Zarathustra and his disciples go walking one evening through a forest and come upon a group of girls dancing. He reassures them he is not there to interrupt them: "No killjoy has come to you with evil eyes, no enemy of girls." Zarathustra sings a song for them to express the joy of the dance free of hidden attachments to conventional wisdom. When the song and dance are done and the girls leave, Zarathustra asks forgiveness for his sadness that the evening has come.


This section is characterized by having Zarathustra's attention drawn to his enemies who threaten to undermine and distort his teaching for their own ends. Although he seems to have sent his disciples/brothers away from him in the previous section, they seem to remain present as he directs his speeches to them on such topics as blindness, revenge, justice, and equality. He also decries wise men who gain fame through serving the masters of power by supporting this agenda of equality. This grouping of chapters ends on a lyrical note that likely reflects Nietzsche's musical training.

Kaufmann argues in his Editor's Notes that Chapter 24: Upon the Blessed Isles is an expression of "the creative life versus belief in God" to be compared to "the opening lines of the final chorus in Goethe's Faust ... taken up again in [Chapter 39: On Poets]." The idea of a kind of "perishable" deity fashioned in the minds of men as opposed to an inscrutably eternal being constitutes one of the first cracks Zarathustra makes into how religion usurps human creativity. He points out that if God is a human construct, then the true nature of deity originates in the self. One of Nietzsche's most iconic statements is his declaration that "God is dead." However, as can be seen in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, if God is dead, the question becomes a matter of how man in search of the "overman" retains a sustainable reverence for life and for himself. In other words, the issue can be seen as one of Zarathustra's reversals of opposites. The created is the creator, and the creator is a construct of the created (man).

The nausea referenced in Chapter 28: On the Rabble is, according to Kaufmann, a common theme in Nietzsche's writings. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the nausea is a manifestation of Zarathustra's pity, because the rabble is without "spirit." Even in such people, Zarathustra "celebrates the spirit—not in opposition to the body but as mens sana in corpore sano" (a sound mind in a healthy body). The origin of the phrase is credited to the Latin satirist and poet Juvenal.

The tarantella referred to in Chapter 29: On the Tarantulas is a fast-stepping, whirling, and flirtatious couples' Italian folk dance. The name is connected to "tarantism, a disease or form of hysteria that appeared in Italy in the 15th to the 17th centur[ies]." It was falsely "associated with the bite of the tarantula spider." Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen's three-act play, A Doll's House (1879), features the dance as an expression of the protagonist Nora's combined intent to both entertain and defy her husband. This symbolic rebellion of a wife against her husband's condescending attitude toward her is echoed in Zarathustra's parable of the tarantula. As Kaufmann emphatically notes in his analysis of this chapter, "the claim of human equality is criticized as an expression of the ressentiment of the subequal." Since a wife would be regarded as subequal to her husband, the comparison is apt. However, Nietzsche might have been referring to this scene in the play as a way of communicating to the reader that Zarathustra would not need to resort to this kind of tactic because he is not subequal to anyone. The play upon the words tarantula and tarantella is an example of Nietzsche's frequent tendency in Thus Spoke Zarathustra to indulge in witty word-play, an important aspect of his writing.

Chapter 30: On the Famous Wise Men, according to Kaufmann, suggests that, "One cannot serve two masters: the people and the truth." Philosophers in the past have been too involved in appeasing public opinion by shaping their ideas into palatable truths that are also something of a lie. The way of truth, however, cannot accommodate this approach because it demands a highly individual "passion and martyrdom" and the self cannot benefit others by proxy. In other words, a savior who undergoes passion and martyrdom for others does so in vain—a deliberate jab by Nietzsche at Christianity. This wedge between self and religious belief has been previously alluded to in Chapter 3: On the Afterworldly. There is no heavenly reward for the soul severed from the body, for "the life of the spirit and the life of the body are aspects of a single life."

Nietzsche and his alter ego Zarathustra comment on the ephemeral eternal nature of song and dance in Chapter 32: The Dancing Song. Singing and dancing are both pure and eternal precisely because these activities exist only in the present moment and are gone as soon as the dancer stops and the last note of the song has sounded. But even as a single present moment slips into the past and the future is yet to occur, the continually appearing present constantly reemerges as a "reinvention" of itself, thus binding the eternally ephemeral to an "ephemeral eternity." This idea refutes the idea of eternity as a static and unchanging (dead) state, as implied in religious doctrine, by which spirit or soul is "freed" from a perishable body. Zarathustra suggests that it is precisely the perishability of the body that renders it as continuously dying and being reborn in an eternally unfolding dance. Thus Zarathustra identifies those who espouse the separation of body and spirit as enemies.

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