Here’s my modern English adaptation of Friedrich Nietzsche’s “The Wander and His Shadow”, which is a prologue to the second half of his book of aphorisms, “Human, All Too Human”.
“It is so long since I’ve heard you speak,” said the shadow, “that I would like to give you an opportunity to talk.”
“I hear a voice,” said the wanderer. “Where? Whose? I almost imagined that I heard myself speaking, but with a voice much weaker than my own.”
“Aren’t you glad to have an opportunity to speak?” asked the shadow after a pause.
“By God and everything else in which I don’t believe,” said the wanderer, “it is my shadow that speaks. I hear it, but I do not believe it.”
“Why not assume that I exist, and think no more of it,” said the shadow. “In another hour it will all be over.”
“That is just what I thought when I saw first two and then five camels in a forest near Pisa,” said the wanderer.
“It would be best if we’re equally forbearing when for once our reason is silent,” said the shadow. “That way we’ll avoid losing our tempers in conversation, and won’t immediately apply mutual thumb screws if a word sounds unintelligible to one of us. If one does not know exactly how to answer, it’s enough to say something. These are the reasonable terms on which would I hold a conversation with any person. During a long talk, even the wisest of men becomes a fool once and a simpleton three times.”
“Your moderation is unflattering to those to whom you confess it,” said the wanderer.
“Should I then flatter?” asked the shadow.
“I thought a man’s shadow was his vanity,” said the wanderer. “Surely vanity would never ask ‘should I then flatter?'”
“Nor does human vanity,” said the shadow, “as far as I am acquainted with it, ask, as I have done twice, whether it may speak. It simply speaks.”
“Now I see for the first time how rude I am to you, my beloved shadow,” said the wanderer. “I haven’t told you of my supreme delight in hearing and not merely seeing you. You must know that I love shadows as much as I love light. The shadow is as necessary as the light to the existence of the beauty of a face, clearness of speech, kindliness, and firmness of character. They are not opponents; rather, they hold each other’s hands like good friends. When the light vanishes, the shadow glides after it. ”
“Yes, and I hate the same thing that you hate: night,” said the shadow. “I love men because they are the disciples of life. I rejoice in the gleam of their eyes when they recognize and discover. They never tire of recognizing and discovering. The shadow that all things cast when the sunshine of knowledge falls upon them—I am that shadow too.”
“I think I understand you, although you have expressed yourself in somewhat shadowy terms,” said the wanderer. “You are right. Good friends give each other the benefit of the doubt as a sign of mutual understanding, allowing an obscure phrase that to any third party is meant to be a riddle. And we are good friends, you and I. So enough of preambles! A few hundred questions oppress my soul, and the time for you to answer them is likely short. Let us see if we can reach an understanding as quickly and peaceably as possible.”
“Shadows are more shy than men,” said the shadow. “Do you promise you will not reveal to any man the manner of our conversation?”
“The manner of our conversation?” said the wanderer. “Heaven preserve me from contrived literary dialogues! If Plato had taken less pleasure in spinning them out, his readers would have found more pleasure in reading his works. A dialogue that is a source of delight in real life is a picture with a false perspective when turned into writing and read. Everything is too long or too short. May I reveal the points on which we come to an understanding?”
“I am content with that,” said the shadow. “Everyone will only recognize them as your views, and no one will consider the shadow.”
“Perhaps you are wrong, my friend!” said the wanderer. “Until now, they have observed more of the shadow in my views than of me.”
“More of the shadow than of the light?” asked the shadow. “Is that possible?”
“Be serious, dear fool!” said the wanderer. “My very first question demands seriousness.”