Thus Spoke Zarathustra | Study Guide

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

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Thus Spoke Zarathustra | Part 3, Chapters 45–52 | Summary



Chapter 45: The Wanderer

Determined to set sail, Zarathustra leaves his cave at midnight and walks over the mountains to the coast where he hopes to find a ship willing to take him away from the island. As he walks, he compares the difficulties of his physical crossing to his spiritual one as he tells himself, "you must know how to climb on your own head ... upward, up until even your stars are under you." Absorbed in the dark night, the mountains and the sea, Zarathustra chides himself for feeling sorry for the sea itself, both laughing and crying in his loneliness.

Chapter 46: On the Vision and the Riddle

Zarathustra has boarded a ship, causing a good deal of curiosity among the seamen. Although they ask him questions, he remains silent for some time until he is able to listen to the talk of those "who travel far and do not like to live without danger." After a few days, Zarathustra begins speaking to the seamen of the riddle of their lives, which they risk at every moment based on partial information about the many dangers of the sea. He describes to them his own fight in a vision with "the spirit of gravity ... half dwarf, half mole" who fills his brain with leaden thoughts. He tells the seamen the only way to battle this fear is through courage. Zarathustra then experiences a vision of a shepherd with a snake in his mouth choking him to death. Zarathustra tries to pull the snake out, but unable to do so, he tells the shepherd to bite the head of the snake off. When he does and spits out the head of the snake, the shepherd becomes "no longer human—one changed, radiant, laughing!"

Chapter 47: On Involuntary Bliss

Zarathustra has spent four days at sea, has overcome his gloom, and rejoices in his solitude. He reassures himself he left his home at the right time, saying, "The wanderer's shadow and the longest boredom and the stillest hour—they all urged me." The explanation Zarathustra has for his hesitation is that he had "not been strong enough for the final overbearing, prankish bearing of the lion" and is now grateful to "drift on uncertain seas." He waits for his unhappiness to return to him, but finds this state elusive.

Chapter 48: Before Sunrise

Zarathustra continues his internal self-dialogue, greeting the dark heavens above before sunrise. He denounces the clouds obscuring the clarity of the sky as comparable to his own clouded vision in his spirit, saying, "We loathe these mediators and mixers, the drifting clouds that are half-and-half and have learned neither to bless nor to curse from the heart." Zarathustra praises chance as "the heaven Prankishness" by which he has delivered all things "from their bondage under Purpose."

Chapter 49: On Virtue That Makes Small

Zarathustra's sea voyage comes to an end and he returns to his island but does not immediately return to his cave. Instead, he wanders around looking at things so he can determine if during his absence men have grown smaller or greater. He comes across a row of houses that look like toys to him. Zarathustra reflects on the idea these small men despise him because he does not "envy their virtues," a factor separating him from others "like the rooster in a strange yard." He observes their small virtue is connected to the small happiness of small men, which amounts to mere comfort. He sees they manage to go forward in their own way by "hobbling." These self-imposed restrictions designed to please everyone are what Zarathustra refers to as "mediocrity." He concludes his musings with the warning that the fire is coming to these people.

Chapter 50: Upon the Mount of Olives

Zarathustra describes winter as an unwanted guest, even though he would rather endure "a little chattering of teeth" than pray to "the potbellied fire idol." The sharp clarity brought on by winter helps Zarathustra keep his own counsel in silence, which he is quick to point out is not the same type of concealment practiced by those who "veiled their faces and muddied their waters that nobody might see through them, deep down." He praises his oasis from the cold too, as he runs "crisscross on [his] mount of olives with warm feet."

Chapter 51: On Passing By

Zarathustra continues walking "among many peoples and through numerous towns" before returning to his cave. However, at the gate of a city, a fool leaps in front of him to bar his way. It turns out people call this fool "Zarathustra's ape" because he imitates and parodies Zarathustra's words, borrowing "from the treasure of his [Zarathustra's] wisdom." The fool warns Zarathustra away from this city, saying, "Don't you smell the slaughterhouses and ovens of the spirit even now?" It is here, the fool tells Zarathustra, the spirits of men are rendered down, "boiled alive and cooked till they are small." Zarathustra's response is to revile the fool, but he admits the city also nauseates him.

Chapter 52: On Apostates

Zarathustra pauses in the town The Motley Cow, which is a two-day walk from his cave. He muses how quickly "young hearts have all become old ... weary, ordinary, and comfortable," and wonders how this happened. He knows most youth will fail because they waited for his words in vain and gave up. In any case, only a few will persevere. He thinks others like him will find their first companions to be "corpses and jesters ... second companions, however, will call themselves his believers." But these companions are dangerous and not to be trusted because such youths change over time to become "half-in-half spoil all that is whole." These are what he calls apostates. They make of their master a deity instead of growing into their own deifications.


Part 3 finds Zarathustra taking a physical journey away from his island and cave. However, although he is in the presence of seamen during a ship voyage, he doesn't have much to say to them, insulating himself instead in his own thoughts. This mood continues at the end of his voyage, as Zarathustra walks among men in the towns and continues an internal dialogue with himself as if his followers are still with him. At the same time, he observes how few may be called to reach for the "overman" within themselves. Many are at risk to sidetrack themselves and their master by becoming "apostates" instead of seekers of their own metamorphosis. This frame of mind may be evocative of those periods of displacement in Nietzsche's life when he served in the military and later found himself without citizenship. In general, this section finds Zarathustra alone among the crowds and in no hurry to impart wisdom to anyone even as he continues to process his observations to himself. He is also absorbed in the dynamics of pity, which present both subtle and not-so-subtle traps for him.

Zarathustra comes to empathize with others, like the seamen in Chapter 45: The Wanderer, who live dangerous lives. The daredevil stunt of the tightrope walker who risked and lost his life in Zarathustra's Prologue invoked sympathy from Zarathustra such that he carried the corpse and buried it in the hollow of a tree. Such ordinary but hard-working people interest Zarathustra more than educated artists, such as the poets in Chapter 39: On Poets, scholars, or scientists indirectly referenced in Chapter 38: On Scholars, and religious leaders targeted in Chapter 37: On Immaculate Perception.

Zarathustra plays the part of a prophet to the small men in Chapter 49: On Virtue that Makes Small with his declaration that the fire is coming to them. However, he isn't a biblical prophet foretelling the wrath of God, but rather he provides an opportunity for each one for individual growth. Kaufmann states, what "Nietzsche is concerned with is not ... a code of morals but a kind of man, not a syllabus of behavior but a state of being." In other words, Zarathustra is not interested in proclaiming the law by which morality and immorality may be determined. After all, the Iranian prophet upon whom this character is drawn states that it is only up to the supreme creator to make that judgment at the end of each person's life. Rather, the moral life to Zarathustra is completely individual and unique to each seeker. Given this approach, then, a biblical smiting of a group of people as a whole is not possible.

Zarathustra's feet are warm as he runs on the mount of olives in Chapter 50: Upon the Mount of Olives. The title appears to be a reference to the biblical "Sermon on the Mount" in the New Testament, a collection of religious teachings and ethical sayings from Jesus of Nazareth in the Book of Matthew, Chapters 5–7. This allusion amplifies Zarathustra's rejection of comfort, sleep, and trust in Jesus Christ to lift away all sin and pain. This rejection keeps him active and focused on his own metamorphosis. Even so, it appears Zarathustra enjoys a brief respite from suffering and enjoys having warm feet for a change.

The fool's comment about the stench of slaughtered spirits of the town and the ovens in Chapter 51: On Passing By is eerily evocative of the Holocaust—Nazi Germany's genocide of the Jews in the 1930s and 1940s. In any case, Zarathustra's revulsion emphasizes the difference between Zarathustra and his "ape." Both he and his mimic vehemently express contempt and loathing, but as his mimic does so out of "wounded vanity and vengefulness ... Zarathustra's contempt is begotten by love [of man]." Instead of a prophet-like condemnation from which there is no chance of escape, Zarathustra's harsh words are designed to waken slumbering spirits to the reality of their own willing entrapments. It is a call to action, growth, and change. Each individual spirit must become self-aware and conscientious in assuming responsibility for its own truth. The task is made more difficult in that it must do so under continually shifting conditions as presented in time and space. The theme of the overman and the task of the spirit to overcome itself foreshadows the collection of "higher men" Zarathustra will meet later in the book. Although these men are honest with themselves in a way people in this section are not, they still lack the ability to overcome themselves

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