Thus Spake Zarathustra in Modern English

zarathustra1The English translation of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra made by Thomas Common is freely available from Project Gutenberg. Unfortunately, it’s quite old and difficult to read. There are plenty of old forms: thees, thous, and eths.

Worse, Common has used archaic meanings of common words. For example, he uses ‘blink’ to mean ‘to pretend not to know’, a meaning no longer in common (no pun intended) use.

Here’s the first part of the book adapted into modern English.

Chapter 1: Zarathustra’s Prologue

When Zarathustra was thirty years old, he left his home on a lake, and went into the mountains. There he enjoyed spiritual solitude, and for ten years did not tire of it. But at last, his heart changed, and rising one morning with the rosy dawn, he went out into the sun’s light, and spoke to it.

Great star, would you be happy if you had no one for whom to shine? For ten years, you have climbed here to my cave. You would have wearied of your light and of the journey, had it not been for me, my eagle, and my serpent. But we awaited you every morning, took your overflowing light from you, and blessed you for it.

I am weary of my wisdom, like a bee that has gathered too much honey. I need hands outstretched to take it. I would like to bestow and distribute it, until the wise have once more become joyous in their folly, and the poor happy in their riches.

Therefore must I descend into the depths, as you do in the evening, when you pass behind the sea, and give light to the nether world, you exuberant star! Like you I must go down, as men, to whom I shall descend, say.

Bless me, you tranquil eye, that can behold even the greatest happiness without envy! Bless the cup that is about to overflow, that the water may flow golden out of it, and carry the reflection of your bliss everywhere! This cup is again going to empty itself, and Zarathustra is again going to be a man.

So began Zarathustra’s descent.

* * *

Zarathustra went down the mountain alone, meeting no one. When he entered the forest, however, there suddenly stood before him an old man, who had left his holy cot to seek roots.

“No stranger to me are you, wanderer,” said the old man. “Many years ago you passed by. You were called Zarathustra; but you have changed. Then, you carried your ashes into the mountains. Will you now carry your fire into the valleys? Don’t you fear its extinguishing? Yes, I recognize you, Zarathustra. Your eye is pure, and no loathing lurks about your mouth. You carry yourself like a dancer. You are altered, Zarathustra. You have become a child. You are an awakened one. What will you do in the land of the sleepers? As in the sea, you have lived in solitude, and it has born you up. Alas, will you now go ashore? Alas, will you again drag your body yourself?”

“I love mankind,” Zarathustra answered.

“Why,” said the saint, “did I go into the forest and the desert? Was it not because I loved men far too well? Now I love God. Men, I do not love. Man is a thing too imperfect for me. To love man would be fatal to me.”

“What said I of love!” Zarathustra answered. “I am bringing gifts to men.”

“Give them nothing,” said the saint. “Rather, take part of their load, and carry it along with them. That will be most agreeable to them. If only it is agreeable to you! If, however, you must give to them, give them no more than alms, and let them beg for it!”

“No,” replied Zarathustra, “I do not give alms. I am not poor enough for that.”

The saint laughed at Zarathustra.

“Then see to it that they accept your treasures!” he said. “They are distrustful of anchorites, and do not believe that we come with gifts. The fall of our footsteps rings too hollow through their streets. Just as, at night, when they are in bed and hear a man abroad long before sunrise, so they ask themselves concerning us: ‘Where is this thief going?’ Do not go to men, but stay in the forest! Go instead to the animals! Why not be like me—a bear among bears, a bird among birds?”

“And what does the saint do in the forest?” asked Zarathustra.

“I make hymns and sing them,” the saint answered, “and in making hymns I laugh and weep and mumble. And so I praise God. With singing, weeping, laughing, and mumbling, I praise the God who is my God. What do you bring us as a gift?”

When Zarathustra had heard these words, he bowed to the saint.

“What do I have to give you?” he said. “Let me rather hurry from here, lest I take anything away from you!”

So they parted from one another, the old man and Zarathustra, laughing like schoolboys.

“Could it be possible,” Zarathustra said to his heart when he was alone, “that this old saint in the forest has not yet heard that God is dead?”

* * *

When Zarathustra arrived at the nearest town, which adjoined the forest, he found many people assembled in the market place. It had been announced that a rope dancer would give a performance. Zarathustra spoke to the people:

I have come to tell you of the superhuman. Man is something that is to be surpassed. What have you done to surpass humanity? All beings until now have created something beyond themselves. Do you want to be the ebb of that great tide, and prefer to revert to beast than surpass man?

What is the ape to man? A laughing stock, a thing of shame. Just the same shall man be to the superhuman: a laughing-stock, a thing of shame. You have made your way from the worm to man, but much within you is still worm. Once were you apes, yet even now, man is more of an ape than any of the apes.

Even the wisest among you is only a disharmonious hybrid of organism and spirit. But do I bid you become spirits or organisms? No! I teach you of the superhuman! The superhuman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say that the superhuman shall be the meaning of the earth!

I ask you, my brothers, remain true to the earth, and don’t believe those who speak to you of supernatural hopes! They are poisoners, whether they know it or not. They are despisers of life, decaying and poisoned ones themselves, of whom the earth is tired. So away with them!

Once blasphemy against God was the greatest blasphemy; but God died, and with Him those blasphemers. To blaspheme against the earth is now the most dreadful sin, and to count the heart of the unknowable higher than the meaning of the earth!

Once the soul looked contemptuously at the body, and that contempt was the supreme thing. The soul wanted the body meagre, ghastly, and famished. So it thought to escape from the body and the earth. That soul itself was meagre, ghastly, and famished, and cruelty was its delight!

But brothers, tell me: What does your body say about your soul? Isn’t your soul full of poverty, pollution, and wretched self-complacency? Truly, man is a polluted stream. One must be a sea to receive a polluted stream without becoming impure.

Let me teach you about the superhuman: he is that sea. In him, your great contempt can be submerged. What is the greatest thing you can experience? It is the hour of great contempt. The hour in which even your happiness becomes loathsome unto you, and also your reason and virtue.

This is the hour when you say: “What good is my happiness! It is poverty and pollution and wretched self-complacency. My happiness should justify existence itself!” The hour when you say: “What good is my reason! It longs for knowledge as the lion for his food. It is poverty and pollution and wretched self-complacency!” The hour when you say: “What good is my virtue! It has not yet made me passionate. How weary I am of my good and my evil! It is all poverty and pollution and wretched self-complacency!” The hour when you say: “What good is my justice! I am not fervent and powerful. The just, however, are fervent and powerful!” The hour when you say: “What good is my pity! Is pity not the cross on which he who loves man is nailed? My pity is not a crucifixion.”

Have you ever spoken like this? Have you ever cried like this? I wish that I had heard you crying like this! It is not your sin; it is your self-satisfaction that cries to heaven. Your very sparingness in sin cries to heaven! Where is the lightning to lick you with its tongue? Where is the frenzy with which you should be inoculated? I teach you of the superhuman: he is that lightning, he is that frenzy!

When Zarathustra had spoken, one of the people called out: “We have now heard enough of the rope dancer, it is time now for us to see him!”

All the people laughed at Zarathustra. But the rope dancer, who thought the words applied to him, began his performance.

* * *

Zarathustra looked at the people and wondered. Then he spoke:

Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the superhuman, a rope over an abyss. A dangerous crossing, a dangerous wayfaring, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous trembling and halting. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal. What is lovable in man is that he is a crossing and a descent.

I love those who don’t no how to live except as descenders, for they are the crossers. I love the great despisers, because they are the great adorers, and are aimed like arrows of longing for the far shore. I love those who do not first seek a reason beyond the stars for descending and sacrificing, but sacrifice themselves to the world, that the world of the superhuman may soon arrive.

I love the one who lives in order to know, and seeks to know in order that the superhuman may live in future. Thus he seeks his own descent. I love the one who labours and invents to build the house of the superhuman, and prepare for earth, animal, and plant for him: for thus he seeks his own descent. I love the one who loves his virtue: for virtue is the will to descend, and an arrow of longing.

I love anyone who reserves no share of spirit for himself, but wants to be wholly the spirit of his virtue: thus he walks as a spirit over the bridge. I love anyone who makes virtue his inclination and destiny: thus, for the sake of his virtue, he is willing to live on, or to die. I love anyone who does not desire too many virtues. One virtue is more of a virtue than two, because it is more of a knot for one’s destiny to cling to.

I love the man whose soul is lavish, who wants no thanks and does not merely give back: for he always gives and doesn’t desire to keep things for himself. I love the man who is ashamed when the dice fall in his favour, and asks “Am I a dishonest player?” For he is willing to succumb.

I love he who scatters golden words in advance of his deeds, and always does more than he promises: for he seeks his own descent. I love he who justifies the future ones, and redeems the past ones: for he is willing to succumb through the present ones.

I love the one who chastens his God, because he loves his God: for he must succumb through the wrath of his God. I love the one whose soul is deep even in the wounding, and may succumb through a small matter: he god willingly over the bridge. I love the one whose soul is so overfull that he forgets himself, and all things are in him: thus all things become his descent.

I love those who are free spirited and a free hearted: their heads are only the bowels of their hearts; their hearts cause their descent. I love those who are like heavy drops falling one by one out of the dark cloud that lowers over man: they herald the coming of the lightning, and succumb as heralds. I am a herald of the lightning, and a heavy drop out of the cloud: the lightning, however, is the superhuman.

* * *

When Zarathustra had spoken these words, he again looked at the people, and was silent.

“There they stand, there they laugh,” he thought. “They do not understand me; I am not the mouth for these ears. Must one first batter their ears, that they may learn to hear with their eyes? Must one clatter like kettledrums and penitential preachers? Or do they only believe the stammerer? They have something of which they are proud. What do they call that which makes them proud? Culture, they call it; it distinguishes them from the goatherds. They dislike, therefore, to hear of ‘contempt’ for themselves. So I will appeal to their pride. I will speak unto them of the most contemptible thing: the last man!”

Then Zarathustra spoke once more to the people:

It is time for man to fix his goal. It is time for man to plant the seed of his highest hope. His soil is still rich enough for it. But that soil will one day be poor and exhausted, and no lofty tree will any longer be able to grow in it.

Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer launch the arrow of his longing beyond himself, and the string of his bow will have forgotten how to let fly. I tell you, one must still have chaos in one, to give birth to a dancing star. I tell you, you have still chaos in you.

But alas, the time is coming when man will no longer give birth to any star. The time of the most despicable man approaches, one who can no longer despise himself. This is the last man.

“What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?” asks the last man, and disregards.

The earth has become small, and on it there hops the last man who makes everything small. His species is ineradicable, like an insect; the last man lives longest.

“We have discovered happiness” say the last men, and disregard reality.

They have left the regions where it is hard to live, for they need warmth. One still loves one’s neighbour and rubs against him, for one needs warmth. Turning ill and being distrustful, they consider sinful: they walk warily. Only a fool still stumbles over stones or men! A little poison now and then makes pleasant dreams. And much poison in the end for a pleasant death.

They still work, for work is a pastime. But they are careful lest the pastime should hurt. They no longer become poor or rich; both are too burdensome. Who still wants to rule? Who still wants to obey? Both are too burdensome. No shepherd, only the herd! Everyone wants the same things. Everyone is equal. He who has other sentiments goes voluntarily into the madhouse.

“Formerly all the world was insane,” say the subtlest of them, and disregard the truth.

They are clever and know all that has happened, so there is no end to their banter. People still fall out, but are soon reconciled. Otherwise it spoils their stomachs. They have their little pleasures for the day, and their little pleasures for the night, but they have regard for health.

“We have discovered happiness,” say the last men, and disregard reality.

Here Zarathustra ended his first discourse, for at this point the shouting and mirth of the multitude interrupted him.

“Give us this last man, O Zarathustra,” they called out. “Make us into these last men! Then will we make you a present of the superhuman!”

And all the people exulted and smacked their lips. Zarathustra, however, turned sad.

“They do not understand me,” he thought. “I am not the mouth for their ears. For too long, perhaps, I lived in the mountains. I listened too much to the brooks and trees. Now I speak to them as to the goatherds. My soul is calm and clear, like the mountains in the morning. But they think me cold, and that I mock them with terrible jests. They look at me and laugh, but while they laugh they hate me too. There is ice in their laughter.”

Next Post: The Rope Dancer

About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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2 Responses to Thus Spake Zarathustra in Modern English

  1. Thanks so much for this. In 1907, I believe, HL Mencken extracted the meat of Nietzsche. Wasting no time on the nonsense one expects from Europeans, he fried out the fat and served the good part on a bun for American readers. This The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche is available on Amazon Kindle with another 6 Mencken books for $2, and in it you can imaging flickering sepia images of a young Ayn Rand fishing out ideas she would later rework and weave into her best novels.

  2. Pingback: Thus Spake Zarathustra: The Rope Dancer | Jim's Jumbler

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