Thus Spoke Zarathustra | Study Guide

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

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Thus Spoke Zarathustra | Part 3, Chapters 53–60 | Summary



Chapter 53: The Return Home

Zarathustra is very happy to be home again surrounded by silence and solitude. He is relieved from the burdens of moving about among men, where "everyone talks and no one listens." He reflects that being among men tests him on his "consideration and pity ... [his] greatest dangers."

Chapter 54: On the Three Evils

Three evils occur to Zarathustra to lay traps for him. These are "sex, the lust to rule, [and] selfishness." He proceeds to examine each one by balancing them as questions on a scale with their answers. The outcome of sex, in Zarathustra's mind, depends a great deal on the nature of the person, for it trips up despisers of the body. For the rabble, sex simply burns them. But, free hearts and the lion-willed find sex a "higher happiness" that may (or perhaps may not) include marriage. The lust to rule appeals to a person's vanity as a "malicious gadfly," because a desire to lord over others eventually ends up turning back on that person. And regarding selfishness, there is a distinction between the impetus of a petty person who "picks up even the smallest advantages" and "the dancer whose parable and epitome is the self-enjoying soul." In all three desires, then, what is for some a poison is for others very sweet indeed.

Chapter 55: On the Spirit of Gravity

Zarathustra starts out by poking fun at himself as if he were a bird of prey that likes to eat lamb and says he could sing of this even though no one is there to hear it. The flight of birds and their defiance of gravity leads Zarathustra to consider how this is possible to a person who "would become light and a bird." This person "must love himself: thus I teach." He goes on to present gravity as an opponent to self-love. Instead, man needs to continue the struggle against this gravity that pulls him downward.

Chapter 56: On Old and New Tablets

This chapter is composed of a series of 30 very short musings by Zarathustra to himself as he sits "surrounded by broken old tablets and new tablets half covered with writing." He waits for a sign by which he may once again go among men. He recollects some of the things he has already said about laughing, the great and the small in man, and the meaning of the word "overman" because "man is something that must be overcome." He glances over concepts about wanting something for nothing and being able to "cross over" because of a willingness to "go under." In order to do this, however, one must give up the illusion of good and evil by throwing out all the old tablets. Zarathustra indulges here and there in wordplay, such as, "Your wedlock: see to it that it not be a bad lock." He urges man to stand up in the noon light of the sun so the greatest challenges and mightiest victories of overcoming will find him.

Chapter 57: The Convalescent

One morning, Zarathustra jumps up from his sleep and begins to yell, "Hail to me! ... My abyss speaks." He then falls down and lies as if dead for seven days. When he awakes, he is happy to once again enjoy the beauty of the earth. He remembers the nausea he felt in having seen the greatest in man is also the smallest, but his animals urge him that since he is convalescent, he should not speak but rather take his ease and enjoy the present moment of pleasure in the world of being alive.

Chapter 58: On the Great Longing

Zarathustra addresses his soul and reminds himself of all the effort it has taken to give it strength and dignity or "the right to say No like the storm, and to say Yes as the clear sky says Yes." By enumerating everything he did to give his own soul its freedom, he ends by asking his soul, "Sing to me, sing, O my soul! And let me be thankful."

Chapter 59: The Other Dancing Song

Zarathustra addresses life itself after which he describes himself dancing in lyrical and poetic terms. He addresses life in terms of a flirtatious and beguiling woman as his partner, "And now you are fleeing from me again, you sweet wildcat and ingrate!" He then whispers something into her ear. The chapter ends with 12 emphatic counts followed by a phrase.

Chapter 60: The Seven Seals (Or: The Yes and Amen Song)

Zarathustra continues his lyrical expressions, having moved beyond life as a dancing partner to the breaking of each seal in turn. For example, he breaks the duality of beginning and end embodied in the words of a soothsayer with the "ring of recurrence" and the shattered confinements of space and time. Each of the Seven Seals ends with the phrase, "For I love you, O eternity!"


This section of Thus Spoke Zarathustra is characterized by clusters of very short and often lyrical commentaries rather than speeches intended to impart wisdom. As such, they have the flavor and tone of koans, or brief statements designed to stimulate a discipline of meditation "intended to exhaust the analytic intellect and the egoistic will, readying the mind to entertain an appropriate response on the intuitive level." As Kaufmann notes, Nietzsche made several allusions to Goethe's Faust in many chapters of this book that reflect a poetic sensibility that is only scant in logical grounding. This kind of writing is, in fact, somewhat whimsical, puzzling, and filled with emotions. This grouping of chapters containing musings of Zarathustra is particularly evocative of subjective states of mind that do not necessarily connect in logical ways one to another.

The statement, "Thus I teach" in Chapter 55: On the Spirit of Gravity is repeated several times in Zarathustra's speeches as a reminder to the reader that these things are from his own perspective and not universal standards. The distinction calls to mind why he berates scholars and teachers who teach everyone the same way.

The downward pull of gravity is reflected in the state of the camel (or the first metamorphosis of the spirit given in Chapter 1: The Three Metamorphoses) who is pulled to kneel and fold its legs under its belly (or to "cush") so its back can be loaded with heavy baggage. All camelids (llamas and alpacas) naturally cush when tired of standing, or when confronted with stress or confusion they cannot handle.

Kaufmann offers an intriguing insight into Chapter 56: On Old and New Tablets by referencing Zarathustra's description of "the despot in section 11, who has all history rewritten, seems to point forward in time to Hitler." Kaufmann also mentions the chapter contains several examples of wordplay in German that do not translate well into English, but which are part of the humor in Thus Spoke Zarathustra that is often missed.

Chapter 59: The Other Dancing Song has Zarathustra dancing with life, represented as a winsome and delightful woman. At the end of the dance, Zarathustra whispers something in her ear to which the reader is not privy. Kaufmann believes Zarathustra tells her "that after his death he will yet recur eternally." The 12 sharp expletives at the end of the chapter might speculatively be the crack of the whip Zarathustra waves at his (feminine counterpart, or mistress) life. Kaufmann also suggests these are the 12 "strokes of the bell" which also tolls in Chapter 79: The Drunken Song. Whether cracks of a whip or peals of a bell, sound is used in this passage as a series of sharp interruptions designed to break or fragment any sense of continuity of thought. The short phrases following each strike suggest only a tenuous flow of one key word to the next in meaning, but hardly bind them together in any other than an emotional line. This kind of writing is a distinct departure from the speeches Zarathustra has made throughout the book.

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