Thus Spake Zarathustra: The Rope Dancer

rope-dancerPrevious PostZarathustra’s Prologue

Here’s what happened after Zarathustra’s first attempts to speak to the people fell on deaf ears.

* * *

Then something happened that made every mouth mute and held every eye. While Zarathrustra was speaking, the rope-dancer had commenced his performance. He had come out at a little door, and was walking along the rope that was stretched between two towers above the market-place and the people. When he was just half way across, the little door opened once more, and a gaudily fellow dressed like a buffoon sprang out, and walked rapidly after the first one.

“Go on, halt foot,” he cried in a frightful voice. “Go on, you lazy, sallow faced interloper, lest I tickle you with my heel! What are you doing here between the towers? In the tower is the place for you. You should be locked up. You block the way one who’s better than you!”

With every word he came nearer and nearer the first man. When he was but a step behind, the frightful thing that made every mouth mute and every eye fixed happened. He uttered a yell like a devil, and jumped over the man who was in his way. The latter, when he saw his rival triumph, lost his head and his footing on the rope at the same time. He threw his pole away, and fell faster than it, in a whirl of arms and legs, to the ground. The people in the marketplace parted like the sea when a storm comes on. They rushed apart in disorder, especially where the body was about to fall.

Zarathustra, however, remained standing, and the man landed right beside him, badly injured and disfigured, but not yet dead. After a while, consciousness returned to the shattered man, and he saw Zarathustra kneeling beside him.

“What art you doing here?” he said at last. “I knew long ago that the devil would trip me up. Now he drags me to hell. Will you prevent him?”

“On my honour, my friend,” answered Zarathustra, “there is no truth in all that you say. There is no devil and no hell. Your soul will be dead even sooner than your body. Fear, therefore, nothing any more!”

The man looked up distrustfully.

“If you speak the truth,” he said, “I lose nothing when I lose my life. I am not much more than an animal which has been taught to dance by blows and scanty food.”

“Not at all,” said Zarathustra. “You have made danger your calling. In that there is nothing contemptible. Now you perish by your calling. Therefore will I bury you with my own hands.”

When Zarathustra had said this the dying man did not reply further, but he moved his hand as if he sought the hand of Zarathustra in gratitude.

* * *

Evening came on, and the marketplace veiled itself in gloom. The people dispersed, for even curiosity and terror become fatigued. Zarathustra, however, still sat beside the dead man on the ground, so absorbed in thought that he forgot the time. But at last it became night, and a cold wind blew upon the lonely one. Then Zarathustra arose.

“Truly, a fine catch of fish has Zarathustra made to-day!” he thought to himself. “It is not a man he has caught, but a corpse. Human life is sombre, and as yet without meaning. A buffoon may be fateful to it. I want to teach men the sense of their existence, which is the superhuman, the lightning out of the dark cloud of man. But still am I too far from them, and my sense does not speak to their sense. To men I am still something between a fool and a corpse. The night is gloomy; gloomy are the ways of Zarathustra. Come, you cold and stiff companion! I will carry you to the place where I shall bury you with my own hands.”

* * *

Zarathustra put the corpse upon his shoulders and set out on his way. He had not gone a hundred steps when a man stole up to him and whispered in his ear, and he that spoke was the buffoon from the tower.

“Leave this town, Zarathustra,” he said. “There are too many here who hate you. The good and just hate you, and call you their enemy and despiser. The believers in the orthodox hate you, and call you a danger to the multitude. It was your good fortune to be laughed at, and truly you spoke like a buffoon. It was your good fortune to associate with this dead dog. By so humiliating yourself, you have saved your life today. Depart, however, from this town, or tomorrow I shall jump over you, a living man over a dead one.”

When he had said this, the buffoon vanished. Zarathustra, however, went on through the dark streets. At the gate of the town the grave-diggers met him: they shone their torch on his face, and, recognizing Zarathustra, they sorely derided him.

“Zarathustra is carrying away the dead dog. A fine thing that Zarathustra has turned a grave digger! For our hands are too cleanly for that roast. Will Zarathustra steal a meal from the devil? Well then, good luck to the repast! If only the devil was not a better thief than Zarathustra! He will take them both; he will eat them both!”

They laughed among themselves, and put their heads together.

Zarathustra made no answer to them, but went on his way. When he had gone on for two hours, past forests and swamps, he had heard too much of the hungry howling of the wolves, and he himself became hungry. So he halted at a lonely house in which a light was burning.

“Hunger attacks me like a robber,” said Zarathustra. “Among forests and swamps my hunger attacks me, and late in the night. My hunger has strange habits. Often it comes to me only after a meal, when all day it has failed to come. Where has it been?”

Zarathustra knocked at the door of the house. An old man appeared carrying a light.

“Who comes unto me and my bad sleep?” he asked.

“A living man and a dead one,” said Zarathustra. “Give me something to eat and drink. I forgot it during the day. He that feeds the hungry refreshes his own soul, say the wise.”

The old man withdrew, but came back immediately and offered Zarathustra bread and wine.

“A bad country for the hungry,” he said. “That is why I live here. Animals and men come to me, the anchorite. But bid your companion eat and drink also. He is wearier than you.”

“My companion is dead,” Zarathustra answered. “I shall hardly be able to persuade him to eat.”

“That does not concern me,” said the old man sullenly. “He that knocks at my door must take what I offer him. Eat, and farewell!”

Zarathustra went on for two hours, trusting to the path and the light of the stars. He was an experienced night-walker, and liked to look into the face of all that slept. When the morning dawned, however, Zarathustra found himself in a thick forest, and the path was no longer visible. He put the dead man in a hollow tree to protect him from the wolves, and lay down on the mossy ground. Immediately he fell asleep, tired in body, but with a tranquil soul.

* * *

Zarathustra slept for a long time. Not only did the rosy dawn passed over his head, but also the morning. At last, however, his eyes opened, and he gazed in amazement into the forest and the stillness, and in amazement into himself. Then he arose quickly, like a seafarer who all at once sees the land, and he shouted for joy. For he saw a new truth:

A light has dawned upon me. I need companions. Living ones, not dead companions like this corpse, which I carry with me where I want. I need living companions who will follow me because they want to follow to the place where I go. A light has dawned upon me. Zarathustra is not to speak to the people is, but to his companions! Zarathustra shall not be the herd’s herdsman and hound!

To lure many from the herd; that is the reason I have come. The people and the herd will be angry with me. Zarathustra shall be called a robber by the herdsmen. Herdsmen, I say, but they call themselves the good and the just. Herdsmen, I say, but they call themselves the believers in the orthodox.

Look at the good and just! Who do they hate most? He who breaks up their tables of values, the destroyer, the lawbreaker. He, however, is the creator. Look the believers of all beliefs! Who do they hate most? Him who breaks up their tables of values, the breaker, the lawbreaker. He, however, is the creator.

The creator seeks companions, not corpses, and not herds or believers either. Fellow creators the creator seeks. Those who carve new values on new tables. The creator seeks companions and fellow reapers. Everything is ripe for the harvest with him. But he lacks the hundred sickles, so he plucks the ears of corn and is vexed. The creator seeks companions who know how to sharpen their sickles. They will be called destroyers, and despisers of good and evil. In truth, they are reapers and rejoicers.

Fellow creators, Zarathustra seeks, fellow reapers and fellow rejoicers, Zarathustra. What does he have to do with herds and herdsmen and corpses? You, my first companion, rest in peace! I have buried you well in your hollow tree. I have hidden you well from the wolves. But I must part from you. The time has come. Between one rosy dawn and the next, a new truth came to me.

I am not to be a herdsman. I am not to be a grave digger. No more will I speak to the people. For the last time have I spoken to the dead. I will associate with the creators, the reapers, and the rejoicers. I will show them the rainbow, and all the stairs to the superhuman. I will sing my song to those who dwell alone, and to those who dwell in pairs. I will make the heart he who still has ears for the unheard heavy with my happiness.

I head for my goal, I follow my course. Over the loitering and tardy will I leap. Thus let my going be their descent!

* * *

When the sun stood at noon, Zarathustra looked inquiringly aloft, for he heard above him the sharp call of a bird. And behold! An eagle swept through the air in wide circles, and on it hung a serpent, not like prey, but like a friend, for it kept itself coiled round the eagle’s neck.

“They are my animals,” said Zarathustra, and rejoiced in his heart. “The proudest animal under the sun, and the wisest animal under the sun. They have come out to reconnoiter. They want to know whether Zarathustra still lives. Truly, do I still live? I have found it more dangerous among men than among animals. By dangerous paths goes Zarathustra. Let my animals lead me!”

When Zarathustra had said this, he remembered the words of the saint in the forest and sighed.

“If only I were wiser!” he though. “If only I was wise from the very heart, like my serpent! But I am asking the impossible. Therefore, I ask my pride to always go with my wisdom! If my wisdom should some day forsake me—alas! It loves to fly away!—may my pride then fly with my folly!”

So began Zarathustra’s descent.

Next Post: The Three Metamorphoses

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: The Rope Dancer

  1. Pingback: Thus Spake Zarathustra in Modern English | Jim's Jumbler

  2. Pingback: Zarathustra’s Discourses: The Three Metamorphoses | Jim's Jumbler

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