Thus Spake Zarathustra: The Vision and the Enigma

Previous Post: The Wanderer

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When it got around among the sailors that Zarathustra was on board the ship—for a man who came from the Happy Isles had come aboard along with him—there was great curiosity and expectation. But Zarathustra kept silent for two days, and was cold and deaf with sadness. He neither answered looks nor questions. On the evening of the second day, he once more opened his ears, though he still kept silent. There were many curious and dangerous things to be heard aboard the ship, which came from afar and would go still further. Zarathustra was fond of all those who make distant voyages, and disliked living without danger. While listening, his own tongue was at last loosened, and the ice on his heart broke. Then he began to speak:

To daring adventurers, and whoever has embarked with cunning sails upon frightful seas; to the enigma intoxicated, the enjoyers of twilight, whose souls are lured by flutes to every treacherous gulf: You dislike groping at a thread with cowardly hand. Where you can infer, you hate to calculate. I will only tell you about the enigma that I saw, the vision of the loneliest one.

Recently, I walked gloomily in corpse coloured twilight, gloomily and sternly, with pursed lips. More than one sun had set for me. A path which ascended daringly among boulders, an evil, lonely path, which neither herb nor shrub grew along, a mountain path, crunched under my daring feet.

Mutely marching over the scornful clicking of pebbles, trampling the slippery stone, my feet forced their way upwards. Upwards, in spite of the spirit that drew it downwards, towards the abyss, the spirit of gravity, my devil and arch enemy. Upwards, although it sat on me, half dwarf, half mole, paralyzed and paralyzing, dripping lead in my ear, and thoughts like drops of lead into my brain.

“Zarathustra,” it whispered scornfully, syllable by syllable, “you stone of wisdom! You threw yourself high, but every thrown stone must fall! Zarathustra, you sling stone, you star destroyer! yourself threw you so high that you were condemned by yourself to your own stoning. You threw your stone far indeed, but it will recoil upon you!”

Then was the dwarf silent, and its silence lasted a long while. The silence, however, oppressed me. In such a pair, one is truly lonelier than when alone! I ascended, I dreamt, I thought, but everything oppressed me. I resembled a sick man wearied by brutal torture, wakened out of his sleep by a nightmare. But there was something inside me that I call courage. It had until now slain every dejection. My courage at last made me stand still.

“Dwarf! It’s you or I!” I said.

Courage is the best slayer; courage that attacks. In every attack there is sound of triumph. Man is the most courageous animal. With courage, he has overcome every animal. With the sound of triumph, he has overcome every pain. Human pain, however, is the sorest pain.

Courage also slays dizziness at the edge of the abyss, and when does man not stand at the edge of the abyss! Isn’t seeing itself seeing abysses? Courage is the best slayer. Courage also slays compassion. Compassion is the deepest abyss. When a man looks deeply into life, just as deeply he looks into suffering.

Courage that attacks can slay even death itself, because it says “Was that life? Well! Once more!” In saying this, there is the sound of much triumph. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

“Halt, dwarf!” I said. “It’s either me or you! I am the stronger of we two. You don’t know my abysmal thought! You could not endure it!”

Suddenly I was lighter, for the dwarf had sprung from my shoulder, that prying sprite! It squatted on a stone in front of me. We had come to a halt in front of a gateway.

“Look at this gateway, Dwarf!” I said. “It has two faces. Two roads come together here. No one has yet gone to the end of them. This long road backwards continues on for eternity. The long lane forward is another eternity. They are antithetical to one another, these roads. They directly abut on one another, and here, at this gateway, they come together. The name of the gateway is inscribed above it: ‘This Moment.’ But if one should follow them further and ever further, do you think, dwarf, that these roads would be eternally antithetical?”

“Everything straight lies,” murmured the dwarf, contemptuously. “All truth is crooked. Time itself is a circle.”

“You spirit of gravity!” said I wrathfully. “Do not take this lightly, or I will let you squat where you squat, haltfoot, and I carried you high! Observe this moment. From it, a long eternal lane runs backward. Behind us lies an eternity. Must not whatever can occur in the course of all things have already run along that lane? Must not whatever can happen of all things have already happened, resulted, and gone by? And if everything has already existed, what do you think, dwarf, of This Moment? Must not this gateway also have already existed? Are not all things closely bound together in such a way that This Moment draws everything to come after it, and consequently, itself also? For whatever can occur in the course of all things must also run once more in the long lane forward. This slow spider which creeps in the moonlight, and the moonlight itself, and you and I in this gateway whispering together, whispering of eternal things: must we not all have already existed? And must we not return to run again in that other lane out before us, that long weird lane; must we not eternally return?”

So I spoke, more and more softly. I was afraid of mine own thoughts. Suddenly, I heard a dog howl near me. Had I ever heard a dog howl like this? My thoughts ran back. Yes! When I was a child, in my most distant childhood.

Back then I heard a dog howl like this, and saw it too, with its hair bristling, its head upwards, trembling in the still of midnight, when even dogs believe in ghosts. It excited my commiseration. The full moon, silent as death, was over the house, and it stood still, a glowing globe, at rest on the flat roof, as if on some one’s property. The dog had been terrified by it, because dogs believe in thieves and ghosts.

As I again heard such howling, it excited my commiseration once more. Where was the dwarf? And the gateway? And the spider? And all the whispering? Had I dreamt it? Had I awakened? Between rugged rocks, I suddenly stood alone, dreary in the dreariest moonlight.

A man lay there, and a dog, leaping, bristling, whining. It saw me coming and howled again, and then it cried. Had I ever heard a dog cry for help like this?

I had never seen the like of what I saw. He was a young shepherd, and was writhing, choking, and quivering, his face was distorted, and a heavy black snake was hanging out of his mouth. Had I ever seen so much loathing and pale horror on one face?

Had he perhaps gone to sleep? Had the serpent then crawled into his throat and it bitten itself fast. My hands pulled at the snake, and pulled in vain! I failed to pull the serpent out of his throat.

“Bite! Bite!” I cried. Bite its head off!”

My horror, my hatred, my loathing, my pity, all my good and my evil cried with one voice out of me.

You daring ones around me! You adventurers who have embarked with cunning sails on unexplored seas! You lovers of mystery! Solve for me the enigma that I then beheld. Interpret to me the vision of the loneliest one! For it was a vision and a premonition. What, then, did I behold in parable? Who is it that must come some day? Who is the shepherd into whose throat the serpent crawled? Who is the man into whose throat all the heaviest and blackest things will crawl?

The shepherd bit down as I had admonished him. He bit with a strong bite! He spit the head of the serpent far away and sprang up. No longer a shepherd, no longer a man—a transfigured being, surrounded with light, who laughed! Never on earth has a man laughed as he laughed!

O my brothers, I heard a laughter which was no human laughter. Now a thirst gnaws at me, a longing that is never allayed. My longing for that laughter gnaws at me. How can I still endure to live! And how could I endure to die at present!

So said Zarathustra.

Next Post: Involuntary Bliss

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 Vision and the Enigma

  1. Pingback: Thus Spake Zarathustra: The Wanderer | Jim's Jumbler

  2. Pingback: Thus Spake Zarathustra: Involuntary Bliss | Jim's Jumbler

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