Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Thus Spoke Zarathustra

by

Friedrich Nietzsche

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Thus Spoke Zarathustra Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche was one of the most influential philosophers in the modern period.  He was the son of a Lutheran minister, and many of his later ideas were developed in reaction to Christian teachings. A brilliant young student, Nietzsche was appointed to a university chair in classical philology at Basel when he was only 24 years old. Nietzsche was not a great success in the academic world, however: he became chronically ill in 1871, and he resigned his professorship in 1879 because of the sustaining a teaching schedule was too difficult (not to mention that his colleagues’ critiques led to his lectures being emptied out). He became a much more prolific writer after this, however, and developed his distinctive style, focusing on a critique of traditional morality and its European Christian foundations. In 1882, the year before he began writing Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche also suffered the deepest romantic disappointment of his life when it became clear that he would never marry Lou Salomé, the woman he loved. Writing Zarathustra seems to have been part of how he resolved this heartbreak, and the book was also an intellectual breakthrough that helped him overcome his earlier nihilism. During the last decade of his life, Nietzsche suffered increasingly from dementia and was cared for by his sister, Elisabeth. He died of a stroke in 1900. After Nietzsches death, Elisabeth saw to the initial publication of his writings, though her anti-Semitic beliefs had an editorial influence on his work that Nietzsche would probably have rejected.
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Historical Context of Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Two of Nietzsche’s biggest influences were the German philosopher Schopenhauer and the scientific theory of evolution. Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860), like Nietzsche, espoused atheism; however, Nietzsche’s rejection of Schopenhauer’s philosophical pessimism is evident in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Furthermore, even though Nietzsche may not have studied or agreed with every element of Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory (introduced in On the Origin of Species in 1859), Darwin’s ideas clearly impacted Nietzsche’s thinking about the possibility of ongoing change in the world instead of fixity, especially the idea that humanity could evolve yet further into the Superman. The titular Zarathustra, or Zoroaster, was a real-life historical figure, the founder of the ancient Persian religion Zoroastrianism. He is believed to have lived in the 7th century B.C.E. In a later book, Ecce Homo, Nietzsche explains that he chooses Zarathustra as his book’s “prophet,” because the historical figure based his religion on the struggle between good and evil, thus creating that “most fateful of errors, morality.”

Other Books Related to Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Nietzsche was influenced by Arthur Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation (1818), reacting against the pessimism of this book in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. He also draws on ideas from Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) in his musings about human origins and ongoing evolution. Some of the ideas that Nietzsche presents in Zarathustra were introduced in his preceding book, The Gay Science (1882), and were further developed in subsequent books Beyond Good and Evil (1886) and On the Genealogy of Morals (1887), which especially critiques the idea of altruism. Nietzsche also loosely bases the books style on the New Testament of the Bible and on Plato’s philosophical dialogues.
Key Facts about Thus Spoke Zarathustra
  • Full Title: Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and No One
  • When Written: 1883–1885
  • When Published: 1885
  • Literary Period: Realism
  • Genre: Philosophical Novel
  • Setting: An unidentified mountain and surrounding towns
  • Climax: Zarathustra announces that the higher men are coming and the noontide is near; overcoming his pity, he allows the higher men to follow their own way.
  • Antagonist: The mob or herd; the “good and just”
  • Point of View: Third Person

Extra Credit for Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Packing a Punch. Nietzsches style is unusual for philosophical writing, relying on aphorisms—short, punchy sayings that present general truths—rather than a strong narrative structure or consistent line of argument. Sometimes, the first part of an aphorism presents an idea and then undercuts that idea with an unexpected twist that elicits deeper reflection from the reader.

Musical Legacy. In 1896, German composer Richard Strauss wrote the tone poem Also sprach Zarathustra, based on Nietzsche’s novel. The piece’s opening fanfare is recognizable to many people because it was used in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.