Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche’s most popular work, is fundamentally different from his other publications and has been called a parable and a poetic fable. In form it imitates parts of the New Testament and the Platonic dialogues. The style is lighthearted, while the message is ironic, frequently ambiguous, and Dionysian. The book is full of metaphors and humorous allusions to specific philosophers and writers. Nietzsche later wrote that it summarized all the important ideas in his writings.
The teachings of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, of course, have almost nothing in common with those of the Persian prophet who founded the Zoroastrian religion. Nietzsche explained in his autobiography the reason for choosing the name: Zarathustra was considered “the first” to teach the notion of a cosmic conflict between good and evil, and it was therefore appropriate for him to be the first to expose the errors of such a morality and to preach the “gospel of a new humanity.”
After contemplating for ten years in a mountainous cave, according to Nietzsche’s story, Zarathustra descended from his cave at the age of forty to bring enlightenment to humanity. The narrative is divided into four parts, of which the first three are a unit describing Zarathustra’s travels after the multitudes reject his message. Visiting many lands, Zarathustra spends his time arguing, dreaming, and delivering sermons. Finally returning to his cave in the...
(The entire section is 788 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Friedrich Nietzsche was ignored and misunderstood during his lifetime, but his ideas went on to influence a variety of disciplines, including philosophy, psychology, and literature, and eventually he came to be considered one of the greatest philosophers of all time. Trained as a classical Greek scholar, Nietzsche was a prodigy in his field, appointed associate professor at the University of Basel at the age of twenty-four. Because he suffered from poor health, particularly problems with his vision and his digestion, Nietzsche resigned his post in 1879 and turned his full attention to writing. He used his training in ancient Greek culture to critique traditional philosophy, and his insights into the hidden motives behind the formation of Western morality and ethics formed the basis for much twentieth century thought. Although he never completed an organized summary of his ideas, his revolutionary approach ensured him an important place in intellectual history.
In his early work, Nietzsche probed psychological phenomena and began to describe the function of the unconscious (some of this work foreshadowed his nervous breakdown in 1889, from which he never fully recovered). He analyzed humanity’s hidden drives, the human desire to dominate and to be dominated—drives that he would later describe as “the will to power” and that led to the famous skeptical doctrine in which he proclaimed the death of God—as forming the core of Christian virtue....
(The entire section is 1611 words.)