Last Updated on June 4, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 788
After ten years of seclusion in the mountains, Zarathustra, a wandering philosopher, returns to civilization in order to spread the message about the Superman. He meets an old man who talks about loving God. Zarathustra wonders, “Could it be possible! This old saint in the forest hath not yet heard of it, that GOD IS DEAD” (6). In the city, Zarathustra sees a crowd of people who have gathered to watch a performance of rope-dancing. Zarathustra talks to the people about the Superman, encouraging them to remain true to the earth and not to have otherworldly hopes, as God is dead. The crowd mocks the preacher and watches the rope-dancers perform.
In his twenty-two parables, Zarathustra derides false human morality and norms. He starts out by talking about three metamorphoses of the spirit: the spirit is first a camel, then a lion, and then a child. The spirit is first burdened, and it wants to become free and to dominate, but the empowered lion still cannot create, so it needs to become a child:
Innocence is the child, and forgetfulness, a new beginning, a game, a self-rolling wheel, a first movement, a holy Yea. (25)
Zarathustra denounces the priests and teaches people to honor the warriors. He talks about the thousand-and-one goals, saying that humanity still lacks the one goal.
"Dead are all the Gods: now do we desire the Superman to live." Let this be our final will at the great noontide! (83)
Zarathustra retires to his cave. Years have gone by, and he decides to come to civilization again with new parables. He denounces religion anew, and he asserts that pity cannot create anything and that equality is a myth:
With these preachers of equality will I not be mixed up and confounded. For thus speaketh justice unto me: "Men are not equal." And neither shall they become so! (108)
All the famous wise men served people and their superstition, not the truth. Zarathustra teaches about the Will to Power, which makes man strong and sublime like a pillar, for
the virtue of the pillar shalt thou strive after: more beautiful doth it ever become, and more graceful but internally harder and more sustaining the higher it riseth. (129)
He talks about a culture which is dead and is based on illusory reality. Those who study this reality present themselves as wise men, but their truths are void. He mocks poets because of their preoccupation with the eternally feminine. Only the Will to Power can destroy pity and give rise to something Great. Deeply saddened, he abandons his listeners who still lack understanding.
Zarathustra is on the road again, where he tells his fellow travelers about his meeting with the spirit of gravity, which he describes as a "half-dwarf" trying to drag the philosopher into the abyss of doubt, but his courage saved him. Zarathustra warns that the spirit of gravity is given to us at birth, and it is expressed in the words good and evil.
Zarathustra wonders, “Must not whatever can run its course of all things have already run along that lane? Must not whatever can happen of all things have already happened, resulted, and gone by?” (174). Thus, he expresses the idea of the Eternal Return.
The philosopher continues to mock the old prophets who preached one God. He believes that there are gods but no singular God.
In order to be strong, one needs to have a comprehensive soul which is free from all outward circumstances, and this soul is “the most comprehensive soul, which can run and stray and rove furthest in itself; the most necessary soul, which out of joy flingeth itself into chance” (233).
After these sermons, Zarathustra is called the "teacher of the Eternal Return."
Zarathustra has grown old. He continues to believe in the Zarathustra-kingdom of a thousand years and the main motto of the Superman, “Become what thou art!” (265).
Once, he hears a cry of distress and goes to seek the “higher man” who is in trouble. As he does so he meets various characters: the soothsayer, the two kings, the spiritually conscious one, the magician, the old pope, the ugliest man, the voluntary beggar, and the shadow. All of them tell Zarathustra their stories and want to find the “higher man.” He sends them to his cave and continues on his way.
Zarathustra returns to his cave and sees all those he has met earlier. The philosopher preaches about the signs of the “higher man,” summarizing all the ideas conveyed in the earlier sermons.
Thereafter, he hosts a supper where everyone drinks wine and praises Zarathustra’s wisdom. He pronounces his guests “convalescent” and lauds the arrival of the “great noontide.”
In the morning, Zarathustra leaves his cave.