Previous Posts: Poets
Having spoken of his affinity for poets, Zarathustra relates a curious tale of his encounter with a volcano.
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There is an island in the sea—not far from the happy isles of Zarathustra—on which a volcano continually smokes. Of the isle, the people, especially the old women among them, say that it was placed as a rock before the gate of the nether-world, but that through the volcano itself, a narrow way leads downwards to this gate.
At the time that Zarathustra was sojourning on the Happy Isles, it happened that a ship anchored at the island on which the smoking mountain stood, and the crew went ashore to shoot rabbits. Near noon, when the captain and his men had gathered together again, they saw a man coming towards them through the air.
“It is time! It is the highest time!” a voice said distinctly.
But when the figure passed nearest to them—it flew past quickly, however, like a shadow, in the direction of the volcano—they recognized with the greatest surprise that it was Zarathustra. They had all seen him before, except the captain himself, and they loved him as the people loved him, with love and awe combined in equal degree.
“Look!” said the old helmsman, “there goes Zarathustra to hell!”
About the same time that these sailors landed on the fire isle, there was a rumour that Zarathustra had disappeared. When his friends were asked about it, they said that he had boarded a ship by night without saying where he was going. This led to some uneasiness. After three days, people heard the story of the ship’s crew, and began to say that the devil had taken Zarathustra. His disciples laughed at this talk.
“I would sooner believe that Zarathustra has taken the devil,” said one of them.
But at the bottom of their hearts they were all full of anxiety and longing, so their joy was great when on the fifth day Zarathustra appeared among them. He gave account of his interview with the fire dog:
The earth has a skin, and this skin has diseases. One of these diseases, for example, is called “man.” Another of these diseases is called “the fire dog”. Men have greatly deceived themselves concerning him, and let themselves be deceived. To fathom this mystery, I went over the sea.
I have seen the naked truth, from the bare foot up to the neck. Now I know the truth of the fire dog, and all the spouting and subversive devils of which not only old women are afraid.
“Up with you, fire dog, out of the depths!” I cried, “and tell me how deep that depth is! Where does that which you snort up come from? You drink copiously from the sea. That betrays your embittered eloquence! In truth, for a dog of the depths, you take your nourishment too much from the surface! At most, I regard you as a ventriloquist of the earth. Whenever I have heard subversive and spouting devils speak, I have found them like you: embittered, deceitful, and shallow. You understand how to roar and obscure things with ashes! You are the biggest braggarts, and have learned the art of boiling the dregs. Where you are, there must always be dregs at hand, and much that is spongy, hollow, and compressed. It wants to have freedom. ‘Freedom’ you roar most eagerly. But I have unlearned the belief in ‘great events,’ when there is much roaring and smoke about them. And believe me, friend Hullabaloo! The greatest events are not our noisiest, but our stillest hours. The world does not revolve around the inventors of new noise, but around the inventors of new values. It revolves inaudibly. Admit it! Little has ever taken place when your noise and smoke pass away. What if a city did become a mummy, and a statue lay in the mud! I say the same to the overthrowers of statues. It is the greatest folly to throw salt into the sea, and statues into the mud. In the mud of your contempt lies the statue: but it is its nature that out of contempt, its life and living beauty grow again! It will arise with even more divine features, seducing by its suffering. Truly, it will yet thank you for overthrowing it, you subverters! I counsel to kings and churches, and all that are weak with age or virtue: let yourselves be overthrown, that you may again come to life, and that virtue may come to you!”
“Church? What is that?” asked the fire dog, interrupting me sullenly.
“A church,” I answered, “is a kind of state, and truly the most deceitful. Be quiet, you crafty dog! Surely you know your own kind best! Like you, the state is a cheating dog. Like you, it speaks with smoke and roaring and pretends, like you, that it speaks from the heart of things. It seeks by all means to be the most important creature on earth, and people think it so.”
When I had said this, the fire dog acted as if mad with envy.
“What?” he cried. “The most important creature on earth? And people think it so?”
So much vapour and so many terrible voices came out of his throat that I thought he would choke with vexation and envy. At last he became calmer and his panting subsided.
“You are angry, fire dog,” I said laughingly as soon as he was quiet. “So I am right about you! So that I may remain in the right, hear the story of another fire dog who actually speaks from the heart of the earth. He exhales gold, a golden rain, as his heart desires. What are ashes, smoke, and hot dregs to him! Laughter flits from him like a sunlit cloud. He is adverse to your gargling, spewing, and churning bowels! The gold and his laughter come from the heart of the earth. For, you know, the heart of the earth is made of gold.”
When the fire-dog heard this, he could no longer stand to listen to me. Abashed, he drew in his tail, said “bow-wow!” in a cowed voice, and crept down into his cave.
This was the story Zarathustra told. His disciples, however, hardly listened to him, so great was their eagerness to tell him about the sailors, the rabbits, and the flying man.
“What am I to think of that?” said Zarathustra. “Am I a ghost? It may have been my shadow. Surely you have heard of the wanderer and his shadow? One thing is certain: I must keep a tighter hold on it. Otherwise it will spoil my reputation.”
Once more Zarathustra shook his head and wondered.
“What am I to think of it!” said he once more. “Why did the ghost cry ‘It is time! It is the highest time!’ For what is it the highest time?”
Next Post: The Soothsayer
Note that “The Wander and His Shadow” is the preface to the second part of one of Nietzsche’s earlier books, “Human, All Too Human”.