(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical 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 fourth part, he finds eight “higher men,” each of a particular type, waiting for him. They hold a blasphemous festival in which they worship an ass as God, after which Zarathustra has discussions with each of them. He explains that these higher men are unable to rise to the exalted status of the Overman because of the influences of a decadent society. In the penultimate chapter, Zarathustra replaces existing religious commandments with exhortations to laugh, to be...

(The entire section is 788 words.)