Pride Versus Compassion in the Creative Transformation of Zarathustra by Andrew Fuyarchuk,

2008 Winter Spring - A peer-reviewed article from an Issue of the Academic Journal "Fedelitas" of The Fellowship of Catholic Scholars


Andrew Fuyarchuk

Andrew Fuyarchuk is a doctoral student in the history of philosophy at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto.

“One ought to hold onto one’s heart; for if one lets it go, one soon loses control of the head too” (Zarathustra, 90).1

I retell the story of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra’s life from the veil of its promising beginning to the emergent reality of its degenerate core and subsequent demise.7 The folly of Zarathustra is pride in self-sufficiency but he is torn between it and his evident need for help, which, had he accepted it might have opened his compassionate heart and enabled him to fulfill his longing to shine like the radiance of the setting sun shimmering on the sea until the poorest of fishermen row with golden oars (198-199).

7 Lampert comments upon Zarathustra’s approach in “On the Chairs of Virtue,” “He discredits the teachings by discrediting the teachers; he makes himself attractive to his youngest listeners by showing that the onerous teachings inflicted on them stem from their teacher’s afflictions” (Lampert 1986: 37.) Just as Zarathustra scrutinizes teachings with the life of the teachers so too will I assess the value of Zarathustra’s doctrines such as the overman and eternal return in light of the dramatic events of his life.

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A Promising Beginning

Throughout “The Prologue” and Part One of Thus Spoke Zarathustra Zarathustra has high hopes for himself and humankind. He hopes that by descending into the city (the Village of the Motley Cow) that he might help people to save themselves. The help he offers is the teaching of the overman, that is, the capacity to save oneself from life denying values, above all pity, by transforming them into life enhancing values. This process of self-overcoming will eventually require the thought of the eternal return, but at this stage in the journey it has not yet occurred to Zarathustra. Nevertheless, he understands the purpose of his mission. He looks forward to a time when as a result of his teaching the wealthy will find joy in their folly and the poor in their riches (10).

Zarathustra’s resolution is then promptly tested. In the Village of the Motley Cow he is mistaken for the opening act of acircus spectacle. He is not however deterred by the people’s laughter. Rather than return to the forest, as had the hermit he met while descending from the mountain, and find consolation in the company of animals, Zarathustra goes in search of disciples whom he hopes might become his friends, and, through his care become equal to the task of becoming overmen (18-19 & 23). We thus find in Part One of Thus Spoke Zarathustra the prophet of the overman teaching his disciples about the transfigurations inchoate to self- overcoming in “The Three Metamorphoses” and then breaking tables of values he considers obstacles to their development, e.g., values of Stoics (28), Christians (30) and criminals (37). His efforts are not in vain. In “The Tree by the Mountainside” he meets a disciple whose self-surpassing

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has been impeded by envy. Zarathustra responds by consoling and reassuring him. 8

He puts his arm around the young man and blesses him with the words, “But by my love and hope I beseech you do notthrow away the love in your soul! Hold holy to your highest hope!” (44). His love for his companions seems equal to thelove he has for himself and hence, he recommends to them his own medicine, solitude (51, 57). Even those whom he considers a threat to his companions he seems to love for he says, “I am moved by compassion for priests ... I suffer and have suffered with them” (91). Zarathustra apparently has the most love for those who are most spiritually destitute because they could not have fallen the furthest had they not the greatest of aspirations. Consequently, amongst some priests he says that there are heroes (91). By reaching down and saving them Zarathustra anticipates that he will have redeemed everyone else, including those he passes by such as “the good and the just” and “the last men.”

Zarathustra’s Folly: Pride in Self-Sufficiency

Despite this promising start during “The Prologue” and Part One something goes terribly wrong for Zarathustra in Part Two that leads us to question the sincerity of his love for humankind. At the outset of Part Two in “The Child with the

8 Zarathustra counsels, “Oh, my friends, that your self be in your deed as the mother is in her child – let that be your word concerning virtue” (96).Virtue, for Zarathustra is organically related to the passions as are creations, and hence, he is “in” his disciple, whom he presumes to have created, as a mother is in her child. This identification between himself and his creations, a psycho-physiological connection, will explain in part the intense harm he feels when his creations are threatened in Part Two. 44

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Mirror” Zarathustra learns that his teachings are being corrupted (“weeds pose as wheat”) and that his friends are growing ashamed of him (83). In response, he erupts into a whirlwind of violence against the threats including the pitying, priests and “the rabble.” The revenge he enacts against them, however, consumes him, which is symbolized by the bite in “On the Tarantula” (102). The infection from the wound drives him into the dark night of his soul in “The Night Song” during which time he lashes out at even his disciples who had tried at his request to save him from succumbing to the spirit of revenge by tying him to a column (102). Zarathustra is ungrateful for their help and says that he would like “to hurt those for whom I shine; I should like to rob those to whom I give; thus do I hunger for malice ... Such revenge my fullnessplots: such spite wells up out of my loneliness” (106). There is clearly a problem with Zarathustra’s alleged love for others. Has it really been borne of an overabundance of creativity?

Zarathustra is divided against himself. On the one hand, he thinks himself invulnerable and identifies with the laws of nature. He explains that he does not want to descend to human kind from a lust to rule, as if he were a hungry cat or wolf (74), but because of what he is, an overabundant star. He thus declares while redeeming “the lust to rule,” “the mountain should descend to the valley and the winds of the height to the low plains – oh, who were to find the name for such longing? ‘Gift-giving virtue’ – thus Zarathustra named the unnamable” (190). Just as the wind descends to the valley onaccount of natural law so too “should” Zarathustra on account of natural necessity descend to humankind, be recognized for who he is (uncommon and rare gold) and be crowned ruler. Any other outcome would be unnatural. On the other hand, a gift-giver needs receivers. No less than the sun which


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Zarathustra says would not be of any worth had it not him, his snake and animals upon whom to shine, Zarathustra needs hands outstretched to receive his wisdom (9-10). In this case he is admitting that he is vulnerable, that the laws of nature do not determine his destiny. He thus goes in search of disciples because without them his life is meaningless.

Given this schism in Zarathustra’s character between feeling inviolable and at the same time being dependent upon othersand thus vulnerable, when he learns in “The Child with the Mirror” that his teachings and friends are in danger he is put at odds with himself. The presumption of being a force of nature that will rule as surely as the wind will blow confronts the hard reality that he is contingent, frail and as dependent on his disciples as they are on him. In short, when his creations are threatened Zarathustra is awoken to the fact that he is not a god but a man, not an independent solar will but a dependent and needy person. However, assenting to the latter would mean recognizing his limits, which he refuses to do. As a result, he lashes out in Part Two at those who threaten his independence (however illusory it is) and while boasting about being “girt with light” expresses the desire in “The Night Song”, as mentioned, to hurt those for whom he shinesbecause, as he says, he is jealous of receivers.9 But if he is jealous of what others have, of their ability, then the love he has shown is not for them but rather, has been but a smokescreen for his desire to conquer them. Zarathustra sees his disciples not as creatures of worth in their own right, but rather as competitors before whom he feels threatened. Giving

9 In “The Great Longing” Zarathustra’s soul speaks to him, “Should not the giver be thankfulthat the receiver received? Is not giving a need? Is not receiving mercy?” (223). See also “The Return Home” 184.


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of his gift, making even a sacrifice of himself is therefore his way of gaining power over others. His so-called “gift-givingvirtue” is but a manifestation of his drive to become independent and self-sufficient.

Turning Point

Zarathustra’s folly is that he is a dependent being in need of attention and recognition from others but refuses to accept this because it contradicts his sense of pride in self-sufficiency. His allegiance to the latter drives him further into the darknight of his soul until he becomes in “The Dancing Song” a helpless fish writhing in a turbulent sea. After attacking thosehe loves in “The Night Song” for reminding him of his incapacity Zarathustra’s identity implodes, he becomes bewildered and forlorn. A redemptive power Zarathustra calls his mistress life reaches out and fishes him out of the nocturnal waters (110). She asks him in the voice of the evening, “What? Are you still alive? Why? What for? By What? Whither? Where? How? Is it not folly still to be alive?” (110). Life is offering Zarathustra a chance to accept the love of another more powerful than him in order to redefine the purpose of his life. What will he do? Will he renounce his pride by becoming a receiver and grow in a love powerful enough to redeem others? Or, will he react against his affective self, turn inward toward a state of mind and against all reason (153, 166) create a foolish lie (139), an afterworld with which to prolong, intensify and justify the debasement of his affective self? Zarathustra moves in the direction of life when he turns toward his friends and asks for forgiveness (110). Zarathustra is demonstrating concern for having neglected them and is thus reciprocating life’s kindness; by asking friends for forgiveness he is acknowledging his fallibility and her redemptive power. Unfortunately, Zarathustra’s


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movement toward the affective dimension of his character is temporary.

In “The Tomb Song” Zarathustra answers life with complete ingratitude for having saved him. He complains about having lost his divine beings, holy days and blames others for the fragment that he has become (110-111). He thus typifies thepitiable whose character is conveyed in “The Soothsayer:” “Verily, we have become too weary even to die. We are stillwalking and living on – in tombs” (133). From this insufferable condition, a condition that is deeply offensive to life itself, he hopes for resurrection at the end of “The Tomb Song” (113). But the hope he expresses is vain because he isalready well on the way to denying its origin.

Reactive Will and the Idea of the Eternal Return

From the point where he descends into the desert abyss of his soul in “The Night Song” and then refuses to accept the redemptive love of Life in “The Dancing Song” Zarathustra begins to destroy himself.10 His ultimate achievement for self- redemption, i.e., liberation from his incapacity to accept love, is the thought of the eternal return. The ring effectively enables him to forget by affirming the failure he has become. Indeed, the very thought of the ring comes to Zarathustra

10 A body that cannot create beyond itself, destroys itself. This is the logic of Zarathustra’s ascent to the eternal return, an ascent that depends upon a descent. His words in “Despisers of the Body” are prescient of his own destiny, “I say unto you: your self itself wants to die and turns away from life. It is no longer capable of what it would do above all else: to create beyond itself” (35). As I point out below, Zarathustra is the “Pale Criminal” because in order to become independent he not only alienates himself from his own and others’ suffering but assumes that suffering is evidence of his power (when in fact it attests to his weakness).



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from out of a reaction against his affective side embodied in friends and feelings. It is thus possible to plot Zarathustra’srejecting the good will of his friends (section one below) for the sake of independence while at the same time rebelling against it emotionally (section two below). To the extent that the voice of his affective side is muted the thought of the ring comes toward him.

Section One: Rejecting Others to Save Himself

(A) In “On the Poets” he responds to the disciple who said “I believe in Zarathustra” with a speech that rebuffs the flattery. The disciple understandably becomes angry, “but remained silent.” Zarathustra does not respond with an apology, try to make amends, or be supportive and consoling as he had with the youth by the tree on the mountainside (44). Instead, in the interest of creating a rift, Zarathustra “too remained silent; and his eye had turned inward as if he were gazing into vast distances. At last he sighed and drew a deep breath” (128). Zarathustra’s silence cannot but confuse the young man, his empty gaze offend and degrade him but at the same time, Zarathustra receives an intimation of the ring and says, “I am of today and before but there is something in me that is of tomorrow and the day after tomorrow and time to come” (128) (B) To the youths who fail to heed Zarathustra’s teachings because they are lost in tales about “the seamen, the rabbits and flying men” Zarathustra remains aloof. He does not partake in their capricious joy and instead dismisses them and involutedly ponders the foreboding words of his shadow, “It is high time!” (131). The “time” his shadow prefigures arrives in “The Convalescent” when Zarathustra attempts to overcome his own revulsion toward the thought of the


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“ring.”11 It is thus on the cusp of rejecting someone for whom he has affection that Zarathustra curtails his affective disposition and is predisposed to recall intimations of the eternal return – an

otherworldly hope in place of the meaning of the earth. (C) When in “The Soothsayer” he is evidently distraught by his nightmare he disowns the disciple who had hoped to raise his spirits with a flattering interpretation of the dream. Heanswers the youth’s compassion in the manner with which he had answered life after she had fished him from his ocean - with predictable silence, as if the young man is beneath him. Zarathustra “looked a long time into his face who had played the dream interpreter and he shook his head” (137). Zarathustra’s condescension, which he says typifies those longing to rule (189), emasculates his potential to recollect his broken soul through love because without his self-destructive attitude, which drives him downward, he could not pretend to climb up. As he says, “It is out of the deepest depth that the highest must come to its height” (154). Since “the highest” is destructive of his affective self he rebels against it.

Section Two: Rebellion

His affective self rises against his cold, distant and hardened will, when he least expects it. After having submitted himself in “The Wanderer” to the maxim to walk on “your own head and away over your heart!” (153), he is moved to compassion when he hears the dog howling

11 Zarathustra is rebelling against his own hardened will and rises up in a deeply visceral and intense cry with which he struggles shouting, “Up, abysmal thought, out of my depth! ... Up! Up! My voice shall yet crow you awake! ... You are coming, I hear you. My abyss speaks” (215-216). The nausea he expresses is for the lamentable condition into which he has driven himself.



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over the writhing shepherd (158-159).12 His emotional rebellion against his mind’s determination is subsequentlyexpansive in “The Stillest Hour” and later in “The Wanderer” for it is during these chapters that he struggles between the pull of his outward willing will, toward friends and life, and his reactive inward will toward death masquerading as life in a state of mind. He repeatedly resists the seductive voice of his mistress during “The Stillest Hour,” urging, “let me off from this! It is beyond my strength” (145). Just as he had been ashamed to accept a foolish lie in “On Redemption” that he could change time’s “It was” (139), and lowered his head, a crippled spirit, he feels ashamed again before her exhortations to accept something he does not want. After an extenuated explanation for why he must leave, which attests to a guilt- laden heart, he reflects mournfully in “The Wanderer” that he “was overcome by the force of his pain and the nearness of his parting from his friends, and he wept loudly; and no one knew how to comfort him. At night, however, he went away alone and left his friends” (147). Zarathustra’s pain is telling him that he is exchanging the power of love and

12 Fraser observes that Nietzsche “almost always uses variations on the German term Mitleid – literally, ‘suffering-with’” and comments, “Nietzsche was never entirely satisfied with the vocabulary available in German to describe the phenomenon in question ... but it is the vocabulary he uses nonetheless” (Fraser: 60). Fraser does not speculate upon Nietzsche refusal to explore the nuances of Mitleid by using other associated terms and connotations in Mitemfinden, Mitgefuhl, or Sympathie (although Fraser notes these alternatives). Could it be that Nietzsche is being dishonest? By restricting the richness conveyed by “compassion” to the word “pity” Nietzsche excludes a realm of experience that fits his own preference for self-sufficiency. English- language translations of Nietzsche’s work only seem to have made the situation worse since they almost always equate “mitleid” with “pity ... which has negative connotations of superficiality and condescension” notes Fraser (Fraser: 60).



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friendship that surrounds him for an illusory hope. Yet he does not listen to his body and instead intensifies the creative negation of his longings. In “The Wanderer” he tells of how “his heart was sore as never before” on account of his, as mentioned, “hard maxims” (153), and so he descends into the depths, what he calls “a black sorrowful sea” from which he says the highest arises (154). Despite driving himself into a condition of “melancholy and bitterness” he continues to silence his heart. He pronounces that love is a danger to the loneliest (himself) and then expresses regret yet again for the cold indifference with which he has shunned his friends Thus spoke Zarathustra and laughed for the second time. But then he recalled his friends whom he had left; and, as if he had wronged them with his thoughts, he was angry with himself for his thoughts. And soon it happened that he who had laughed wept: from wrath and longing Zarathustra wept bitterly (155).

Zarathustra laughs because he has defied his compassionate nature. His laughter in “The Wanderer” melds with the laughter that had surrounded him in “The Stillest Hour” (147) indicating his assimilation into a thought that he had initially resisted. His triumph of the will is a personal failure; consequently, he weeps in regret for having wronged both his friends and himself and is silent for two days (155). His silence evinces a deep wound. It is nevertheless from his effort to curtail the desire for the healing love of his friends that Zarathustra conceives of the ring in “On the Vision and the Riddle” where he will laugh a third time for having triumphed, i.e., debased him self until his once magnanimous


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soul resembles a terrifying dwarf.13 The dwarf of himself whispers the secret of self-salvation, the eternal return. His rebellion reaches its highest pitch in the final moments of his becoming free of his emotional intelligence. In “The Convalescent” Zarathustra clobbers his terror for the nauseating thought of the ring and thereby prepares himself for fusing with the cosmos foreseen in “Before Sunrise,” performed in “The Seven Seals.”

Eternal Hate Created

Zarathustra believed that by empathizing with the poor in spirit Jesus had become servile to them until of his own volition he died for them. “God is dead: He died of his pity for man” (102). Zarathustra hoped to replace the “First Redeemer” not by saving humankind with love but rather from a distance, by teaching them how to save themselves. This is the purpose of the doctrine of the overman and the eternal return.14

7 Zarathustra is a ferment of rebellion. He urges a single goal (37) but not because he is, as he says, courageous. On the contrary, Zarathustra fears what ought not to be feared, the love of another, and this fear provides him with the impetus to flee his friends and lovers into desert loneliness where he perishes of his “virtue.” Zarathustra thus wrongly associates courage with mockery and prankishness (187) as if the latter were the means with which to integrate, digest, and creatively transform his life- denying into life-enhancing values. What he calls courage is cowardice, and his goal a lie he calls life.

14 When the overman is realized there is a return to the meaning of the earth which entails, according to Zarathustra, abandoning otherworldly hopes, having contempt for oneself, respecting the body and overcoming oneself (74-76). It is not Jesus but Zarathustra who fails to return to the meaning of the earth



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Nietzsche explains in Ecce Homo that Zarathustra’s “temptation” was to remain master of himself amidst cries of distress and to keep his task “clean of the many lower and more shortsighted drives which are active in so-called selfless actions” (Ecce Homo, 44). Consequently, when the hermit urges Zarathustra to explain why he is returning to the people Zarathustra likely remembers the fate of Jesus, sees that the hermit has been driven into the forest by his love forhumankind, and recants his words asserting, “Did I speak of love? I bring men a gift” (11).

Yet his project is clearly a failure. 15 Zarathustra fails to see how one might grow not through identifying with people’s pain but through love of the spirit that sustains and upholds them in their existence; a spirit within which to walk with them in their suffering and from out of which to help them.16

15 Zarathustra associates his pride with is eagle and says that it will leave him when his wisdom leaves him (25). But the wisdom to which he is referring, he says, flies away and thus resembles the wisdom of the solar star, the heavens, the heights. In other words, the pride he takes in his wisdom is coordinate with the independence he associates with gift- giving and prevents him from returning to the meaning of the earth and uniting the sun with the snake, as we see symbolized in the staff his disciples give him (74). He thus considers the wisdom of the earth, his serpent, as he says, impossible. The serpent, although an enemy of the eagle, will not bite it because the snake is being carried aloft beyond its element in the earth. Even the wisdom of the earth that Zarathustra lauds is carried by his pride toward the sun. His mission to return to the meaning of the earth is from the outset doomed.

16 Max Scheler conveys the essence of agape during his discussion of Francis of Assisi when he writes of the spontaneous impulse to love andsacrifice oneself for the poor, “He does not love such life because it is sick, poor, small, and ugly, and he does not passively dwell upon these attributes. The positive vital values (and even more, of course, the spiritual values of that individual) are completely independent of these defects and life much deeper. Therefore his own fullness of life can (and

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Zarathustra cannot distinguish the suffering of another from the grace that upholds them because he refuses to accept a power greater than

his own. As a result of this refusal, which is a function of being preoccupied with his own feelings, Zarathustra conflates his reaction to others suffering with them and then attempts to liberate himself from the
pain with relentless invectives against them.17 This tendency is pathological and reproduces itself by turning down even the pleasure and joy of love since it, as argued, intrudes upon his sense of pride in self-sufficiency. Zarathustra is thus brought down by vindictiveness (which is a direct outcome of his clinging to the illusion of independence) and the voice of Lady Wisdom in “The Dancing Song” calls out to him he rejects her in order to save himself. This initiates a graduated decline as Zarathustra mistakes Lady Folly for Lady Wisdom, death for life. He unites with the prankish, irrational will of the cosmos in “The Seven Seals” and calls what is in fact death, his life; eternal misery his eternal joy. This cannot but be the outcome of a will that on account of its inability to accept the love of another wills not outward but reactively turns inward against

therefore ‘should’) overcome his natural reaction of fearing and fleeing them, and his love should helpfully develop whatever is positive in the poor or sick man” (Scheler, 1972: 91).

17 Scheler explains of cruelty, “It is chiefly found in pathological cases (e.g., in melancholia), where it arises as a result of the patient’s exclusivepreoccupation with his own feelings, which altogether prevents him fro giving emotional acceptance to the experience of other people” (Scheler 1954, 14).



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itself and creates an afterworld (31).18 Armed with this “afterworld” created out of “suffering and incapacity” Zarathustra can justify the incineration of the city (172, 178, 191) and hatred of neighbour (60, 172, 192-193, 199) to the extent that he can continue to hate what he loves.


18 Higgins argues that what Nietzsche calls “life” is a Jungian archetype of motherhood, which in above all compassion. “Cosima was transformed into a beloved in Nietzsche’s fantasy; for the anima projected into the mother and beloved is the same according to theory” (Higgins: 38). Levitt comments on “Life,” “She is depicted with great erotic tenderness and probably represent qualities that Nietzsche himself would have liked to have found in a real woman” (Levitt: 106). If Zarathustra has projected his longing for the love of a woman into “eternity” he strikes me as being comparable to “The Pale Criminal” who wills his own downfall but not without purpose. The eternal return is a technique with which to forget the past, i.e., his regret, and thus depends upon regret for its very sustenance.


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Beatty, J. “Zarathustra: The Paradoxical Ways of the Creator.” Man and World. Volume. 3: 69-75.

Cartwright, David. “The Last Temptation of Zarathustra.” Journal of the History of Philosophy. Volume 31, no. 1 (1993): 49-69

Conlon, James. “Nietzsche’s Overman and Christ-like Love.” Modern Schoolman: A Quarterly Journal of Philosophy. Volume 56 (May 1979): 321-339.

Fraser, Michael. “The Compassion of Zarathustra.” The Review of Politics. Volume 68, no. 1 (2006): 49-78.

Higgins, Kathleen. “The Night Song’s Answer.” International Studies in Philosophy. Volume 17 (1985): 33-50.

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Levitt, Tom. “Love in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.” Gnosis: A Journal of Philosophic Interest. December (1990):101.

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--- Ressentiment. Lewis Coser (Trans.) New York: Schocken Books,


Seung, T.K. Nietzsche’s Epic of the Soul. New York: Lexington Books, 2005.

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