Thus Spoke Zarathustra | Study Guide

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

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Thus Spoke Zarathustra | Part 2, Chapters 33–44 | Summary



Chapter 33: The Tomb Song

Zarathustra reflects upon "the tombs of [his] youth." He tells his disciples the story of how he "crossed the sea" to visit the silent isle of tombs and pay homage to all he had loved: "Verily, you have died too soon for me, you fugitives." He then rails against his enemies, whom he accuses of having "murdered the visions and dearest wonders of [his] youth." Zarathustra struggles against the ghosts of these feelings but reaches a redeeming conclusion, "Only where there are tombs are there resurrections."

Chapter 34: On Self-Overcoming

The discourse of this chapter concerns the desire of the wise to set the parameters of good and evil. Zarathustra warns his listeners against the danger in this path stemming from an underlying desire "that betrays ... an ancient will to power." He makes three observations: "Whatever lives, obeys," "He who cannot obey himself is commanded" and "Commanding is harder than obeying." The goal, then, is to internalize both the commander and the one who obeys within the self instead of responding to external forces. He urges his listeners to break free of this "egg and eggshell" because only by breaking this confinement is the spirit enabled to create anew.

Chapter 35: On Those Who Are Sublime

Zarathustra relates how he finds the sublime man as a hunter swollen and ugly with truths. He describes the problem of the sublime man as being trapped by his identity of being sublime. The solution to this is for the sublime man to "jump over his shadow—and verily, into his sun." He accuses the sublime man of being stuck in a static position of self-admiration, something he will not be able to overcome until "power becomes gracious and descends into the visible."

Chapter 36: On the Land of Education

Zarathustra describes the "land of education" inhabited by "men of today." Having landed in this place, Zarathustra finds himself moved to laughter as he states, "Never had my eyes beheld anything so dappled and motley." He sees the faces of these men painted "with the characters of the past written" so that they can be "concealed ... perfectly from all interpreters of characters." Such men declare themselves above belief and superstitions such that they only believe in the truth, but Zarathustra tells them although they stick out their chests, "they are hollow."

Chapter 37: On Immaculate Perception

Zarathustra here makes play of the moon as if it were a feminine instead of a masculine entity: "He is not much of a man either, this shy nocturnal enthusiast ... like a cat the moon comes along, dishonestly." This leads him to denounce "sentimental hypocrites" as lechers who desire the earthly but feel a covert shame in their desire, as if such love were despicable. Instead, Zarathustra calls such men cowards for being unwilling to sacrifice themselves enough to covertly own their desire. He denounces them and berates them with the words, "The will to love, that is to be willing also to die. Thus I speak to you cowards!"

Chapter 38: On Scholars

Zarathustra tells his listeners he has "moved from the house of the scholars and ... even banged the door behind [him]." Instead, he lies where children play, preferring "freedom and the air over the fresh earth." His estimation of scholars is that they "want to be mere spectators" who remain in awe of what others have thought before them. There follows a long list of what scholars are like. They are skillful and clever, "good clockworks" and mill grinds to "grind it [knowledge] small and reduce it to white dust." Such men mistrust each other and look for every opportunity to discredit a fellow.

Chapter 39: On Poets

A disciple asks Zarathustra why he has claimed poets lie, and he answers, "It is ... too much for me to remember my own opinions." Zarathustra says he is a poet also, and that as one, he lies because he knows too little. He does not, however, go bragging about secret things he thinks nature may have whispered in his ear, marking him as prideful of being unique among men as a poet. Zarathustra says he is tired of poets because "they all muddy their waters to make them appear deep" and crave spectators.

Chapter 40: On Great Events

Zarathustra appears to a group of seamen as they hunt rabbits on an island. As he passes them in the sky they fear he is on his way to disappear into hell. Although his disciples dismiss this idea as laughable, they worry about Zarathustra's disappearance until he returns five days later to recount his conversation with the fire hound. Zarathustra reports how he found the fire hound making a great noise over "great events" but no longer believes in such events that require so much fanfare: "Not around the inventors of new noise, but around the inventors of new values does the world revolve; it revolves inaudibly." Zarathustra further berated the hound who liked "to talk with smoke and bellowing—to make himself believe ... he is talking out of the belly of reality." At this, the beast grew ashamed and "crawled down into his cave."

Chapter 41: The Soothsayer

Zarathustra describes the dismal words of a soothsayer, which made him so "sad and weary" that for three days he wandered about unable to speak or eat. After a good sleep, Zarathustra relates to his disciples the dream he had of being a lonely night watchman of silent tombs until a wind cracks the gates and releases "a thousandfold laughter." One of his disciples tells him all the parts of his dream—the wind, the gates, and the laughter are all himself.

Chapter 42: On Redemption

One day, a crowd of cripples and beggars surround Zarathustra and tell him he has the power to heal them of their ills and suffering. He replies, "When one takes away the hump from the hunchback, one takes away his spirit." Such healing, Zarathustra says, brings only curses and not thanks. Worse than these, he tells them, is what he calls "inverse cripples" or people who are "nothing but a big eye or a big mouth or a big belly." Zarathustra turns sorrowfully to his disciples and tells them, "I walk among men as among the fragments and limbs of men." Rather than be bits and pieces of meaning to others, Zarathustra states he must be whole to himself and urges those who follow him to be whole to themselves as well.

Chapter 43: On Human Prudence

Zarathustra discusses how living among men produces in him a duplicitous will such that he "must be without caution." This is a test for him to see whether or not he is able to understand that what passes for evil among men is an illusion, "The grossest wickedness ... only twelve shoes wide and three months long." He states he has been willing to play along with a fear of the devil for a while, but not remain there.

Chapter 44: The Stillest Hour

Zarathustra says, "There spoke to me my stillest hour: that is the name of my awesome mistress." He describes to his disciples the way in which this mistress forced him to say what is in his heart, but he fears doing so because "humility has the toughest hide." This is another test he must overcome, which is to realize his relationships with people do not matter more than he matters himself. The end result is that Zarathustra must leave his followers and return to solitude.


In this cluster of chapters, Zarathustra's thoughts circle around the subterranean regions of hell (commencing with Chapter 40: On Great Events), the quiet serenity in bidding farewell to fond memories that lie like tombs in the mind, the subconscious expressions of desire in dreams, and conditions denying the vitality of life. This state of retiring solitude and internal reflection contrasts the previous sections in which Zarathustra describes positive and direct actions to neutralize the malice of enemies. However, there are pointed references to the opposite of private reflection in Zarathustra's speeches, which appear as opponents to the overman. Among them are those who enjoy a very public fame at the cost of serving the rich and powerful. Another consequence of public presence is given in reference to the beggars who surround Zarathustra in Chapter 42: On Redemption. In this case, Zarathustra turns away from the pity of those who plead with him to cure them. Instead, he tells his disciples/brothers that he can't do that because in so doing he would entirely remove the defining characteristics of these "reverse cripples" in a way that would correspondingly "fragment" his own being. The extension of this condition brings Zarathustra to the conclusion that in order to be whole unto himself he must leave his followers.

Chapter 37: On Immaculate Perception makes a more pointed reference to a priestly denial of sexuality than the more general Chapter 13: On Chastity. The idea presented here is the tendency to think about forbidden topics. The pairing of the feminine with the stealth of a cat in describing the moon in this chapter is steeped in folkloric references that align the feminine with darkness or night when cats prowl in secret. The moon is a symbol of fertility and female reproductive cycles in all animals. Its influence on the tides and continual shifting of phases represents the changing nature of a woman's words. She cannot be trusted to tell the truth in a reliable way.

In Chapter 40: On Great Events, the seamen hunting rabbits on the island know Zarathustra and recognize his figure flying through the air. But Zarathustra indicates to his disciples his visit with the fire hound took place while he slept, suggesting it was his own wanderer/shadow who made the journey. Such a "projection" of Zarathustra visible to the seamen could be interpreted as enacting an unrealized desire of Zarathustra to cross the seas.

Kaufmann says that Chapter 44: The Stillest Hour presents Zarathustra's problem: he "cannot yet get himself to proclaim the eternal recurrence of the self, the desired state of continuous unfolding he has previously described to his disciples/brothers, and hence he must leave the company of his disciples/brothers in order to 'ripen.'" Zarathustra later states he has "ripened" in Chapter 80: The Sign such that all he has left is to wait for his third metamorphosis into the child. Such ripening does not happen entirely in solitude nor in the company of others, but in an anguished interplay of these two states. Zarathustra goes back and forth from being in the company of his disciples/brothers or other people and being alone. Problematically for the plot of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Zarathustraseems to continue to talk to his disciples/brothers even after he has sent them away. The question arises, if they are no longer present with Zarathustra, then to whom is he speaking, if not himself? A possible interpretation might be that Zarathustra continues to speak to others who are no longer present with him in a physical sense. In this respect, this cluster of chapters represents an emphasis on the process of engaging solitary internal reflections as a counterpoint to previous sections in which Zarathustra has actively shared his previous considerations with a growing company of disciples/brothers.
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