“Maxims and Arrows” is a series of 44 numbered maxims (short phrases that express a principle or general truth) that relate to the central themes Nietzsche will explore in his work. This guide includes a selection of these maxims, all of which drive at Nietzsche’s core themes. Maxim #1 describes idleness as the “beginning of psychology” and claims that psychology is a “vice.” In Maxim #6, Nietzsche asks if being “natural” helps people transcend their “unnaturalness.”
This guide only contains a selection of the maxims Nietzsche puts forth in Twilight of the Idols, since most of them serve the same purpose: to reinforce (with style, wit, and humor) the book’s main themes. One thing to note in this section is that its distinct style and use of figurative language is characteristic of Nietzsche's philosophical writing—he frequently uses maxims (also called aphorisms) in his writing. Finally, key ideas that Nietzsche gestures toward in this section include the notion of a binary between the “natural” and the “unnatural,”and a disdain for psychology.
Maxim #8 reads, “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” Maxim #9 states that if a person helps themself, then others will help them, too. In Maxim #10, Nietzsche urges people to stand behind their actions and have no remorse. Maxim #15 argues that people understand “timely men” but misunderstand “posthumous men” like Nietzsche. In Maxim #18, Nietzsche argues that a person who chooses “virtue and the heaving bosom” shouldn’t be jealous of those who “live for the day.”
The reader may recognize the gist of Maxim #8, “What does not kill me makes me stronger,” whose basic message has entered into the mainstream culture. The gist of this maxim is that human suffering can be a positive, restorative experience—it can make a person wise and resilient. Throughout the book, Nietzsche will argue that pain and suffering are valuable and necessary aspects of the human experience—and that to reject or eliminate suffering is to devalue and misunderstand the meaning of life. When in Maxim #10 Nietzsche calls on people to defend their actions, he's arguing another of the book’s central points: that we should affirm and embrace human instinct—not condemn it as sinful. Maxim #15 proposes a binary of “timely men” and “posthumous” men. Nietzsche examines this binary greater detail in a later section of the book, “Expeditions of an Untimely Man.”
In Maxim #22, Nietzsche wonders how, if “‘bad men have no songs,” the Russians have songs. Maxim #23 boldly declares the concept of a “‘German spirit” to be a contradiction. Maxim #24 argues that historians who look to the past too often will start to think backward, too. In Maxim #29, Nietzsche claims that the conscience used to have so much “to bite on,” but now it no longer has “good teeth.”
Maxim #22 critiques Russian people and culture (Nietzsche is insinuating that the Russians are bad people). But it’s also an apt example of the humor that Nietzsche interjects throughout this book and his other works. The “spirit” that Nietzsche references in Maxim #23 is a loose translation of Geist, the central concept of German philosopher Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Spirit. Geist a notoriously complex, untranslatable term that loosely refers to the human spirit or mind. Nietzsche is riffing on the term to humorously accuse German people and culture of being devoid of spirit, a serious critique he’ll address in more detail later on. Put simply, Nietzsche thinks contemporary German culture is degraded and nihilistic and spends too much energy on politics to have a strong intellectual culture.
“When it is trodden on a worm will curl up,” Nietzsche states in Maxim #31. He continues, explaining that this curled-up worm is what humans call “humility.” Maxim #32 states that people who hate lies think they’re being honorable. These same people hate cowardice, too. Ironically, though, they’re too cowardly to lie. Maxim #36 claims that “Immoralists” like Nietzsche don’t threaten virtue any more than “anarchists do princes.” Being shot at only makes princes hold more tightly to their power, so we should all “shoot at morals.” Maxim #39 argues that only “disappointed” people complain. Maxim #44, the final one, reads as follows: “Formula of my happiness: a Yes, a No, a straight line, a goal…”
The worm is another key symbol. Nietzsche is riffing on the expression “even the trodden worm will turn,” which means that even the meekest creature (the worm) will fight back if it’s pushed around enough. Nietzsche tweaks the saying to suggest that the trodden worm actually “will curl up” and become meeker to protect itself against future harm—in other words, it humbles itself as an act of self-preservation. Nietzsche thinks that conventional morality (and Christian morality in particular) weaponizes humility. Morality likes to pretend that humility is a positive, virtuous trait to have—when in reality, morality preaches humility to keep people meek, subservient, and in need of a moral authority to guide them. The other Maxims in this section further hint at the book’s central themes of rethinking and destroying old, problematic morals/ideals, the counterintuitive or hypocritical aspects of morality, and the false claim that “immoralists” are bad for humanity.