Thus Spoke Zarathustra | Study Guide

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

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Thus Spoke Zarathustra | Symbols



Animals play an important role in the way Zarathustra expresses his ideas to himself and to others willing to listen to him. For the most part, Zarathustra attributes human characteristics and motives to animals by way of illustrating some of his most important issues on deceit, revenge, and the metamorphosis of the spirit. Other than the adder, only Zarathustra's companions of the eagle and the serpent are enabled with human speech. It can be taken that these animals represent Zarathustra's musings in his solitude in contrast to his teachings when he is in the company of other people.

  • Birds figure prominently throughout Zarathustra's discourses. His eagle is described as "the proudest animal under the sun" in the Prologue. While the "flightiness" of birds is an image of women, as presented in Chapter 14: On the Friend, flights of birds reference hope for the hero in Chapter 8: On the Tree on the Mountainside.
  • The camel symbolizes the first transformation of the spirit in Chapter 1: On the Three Metamorphoses. Zarathustra states, "That would bear much takes upon itself: like the camel that, burdened, speeds into the desert."
  • The cat is described as an untrustworthy creature of deception, similar to women. Zarathustra tells his listeners in Chapter 14: On the Friend that women cannot be trusted in friendship because they "are still cats and birds."
  • The tarantula is described as a symbol of revenge against anyone who is beyond their equal in Zarathustra's speech in Chapter 29: On the Tarantulas. He addresses this creature by saying, "Revenge sits in your soul: wherever you bite, black scabs grow; your poison makes the soul whirl with revenge."
  • The lion represents the will and the courage to act upon the will. As the second transformation of the spirit, described in Chapter 1: On the Three Metamorphoses, Zarathustra says the transitional spirit "becomes a lion who would conquer his freedom and be master in his own desert."
  • Flies represent noisy crowds in public places. Chapter 12: On the Flies of the Marketplace presents Zarathustra's speech about the multitudes of little people there as "the buzzing of the poisonous flies." Zarathustra urges his listeners to leave for solitude as he tells them, "It is not your lot to shoo flies."
  • The serpent appears in Zarathustra's Prologue to symbolize a mystic wisdom that defies education. Zarathustra describes this animal companion as "the wisest animal under the sun."


Blood is a powerful symbol of both life and death in the struggle to realize either private or public power. Nietzsche uses blood to compare and contrast the condemned criminal and the judge who sentences him to death. Given the description of Chapter 6: On the Pale Criminal, it appears the person is pale from lack of blood, since "he was equal to his deed when he did it; but he could not bear its image after it was done." Zarathustra addresses those who condemn the criminal through the image of the criminal's act as "you, red [with blood] judge, if you were to tell ... all that you have ... done ... everyone would cry, 'Away with this ... this poisonous worm!'"

The association of blood with public and private revenge is further amplified in Chapter 26: On Priests in which Zarathustra says, "They wrote signs of blood on the way they walked ... But ... blood poisons ... the purest doctrine and turns it into ... hatred of the heart."


A bridge in Thus Spoke Zarathustra represents a crossing over from one identity or state of being into another. Zarathustra states in Chapter 29: On the Tarantulas, "For that man be delivered from revenge, that is for me the bridge to the highest hope, and a rainbow after long storms." It is possible that this symbol of passing from one ground to another via a bridge was taken by Nietzsche from the teachings of the Iranian prophet Zoroaster (also named Zarathustra). The Gathas, a collection of hymns attributed to Zoroaster, deal with the separation of good from bad people who, upon death, must "pass over the Bridge of the Requiter" in order to come to judgment, whereupon they are separated to either dwell in "the kingdom of everlasting joy and delight" or be "consigned to the regions of horror and darkness."


Figs are representations of what the disciple thirsts for from the spiritual master. Zarathustra tells his disciples in Chapter 24: Upon the Blessed Isles, "Thus, like figs, these teachings fall to you, my friends; now consume their juice and their sweet meat." In this way, Zarathustra urges his disciples/brothers to enjoy the "flavor" of his teachings as if their spirits had been starving for a long time and then suddenly were able to enjoy what the world at large had been scarce in providing them. The gift of this sweetness is to be savored in the time it has been received and remembered, however, because what Zarathustra has to offer falls like ripe figs at a certain and limited time. At least twice in Thus Spoke Zarathustra he sends his disciples/brothers away from him so that each one of them can keep for himself what he has received and use it to realize the metamorphosis of his own spirit.

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