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Who Is Nietzsche's Zarathustra?


Our question, it would seem, can be easily answered. For we find the response in one of Nietzsche's own works, in sentences that are clearly formulated and even set in italic type. The sentences occur in that work by Nietzsche which expressly delineates the figure of Zarathustra. The book, composed of four parts, was written during the years 1883 to 1885, and bears the title Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Nietzsche provided the book with a subtitle to set it on its way. The subtitle reads: A Book for Everyone and No One. "For Everyone," of course, does not mean for anybody at all, anyone you please. "For Everyone" means for every human being as a human being, for every given individual insofar as he becomes for himself in his essence a matter worthy of thought. "And No One" means for none of those curiosity mongers who wash in with the tide and imbibe freely of particular passages and striking aphorisms in the book, and who then stagger blindly about, quoting its language—partly lyrical, partly shrill, sometimes tranquil, other times stormy, often elevated, occasionally trite. They do this instead of setting out on the way of thinking that is here searching for its word.

Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and No One. How uncannily true the work's subtitle has proven to be in the seventy years that have passed since the book first appeared—but true precisely in the reverse sense! It became a book for everybody, and to this hour no thinker has arisen who is equal to the book's fundamental thought and who can take the measure of the book's provenance in its full scope. Who is Zarathustra? If we read the work's title attentively we may find a clue: Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Zarathustra speaks. He is a speaker. Of what sort? Is he an orator, or maybe a preacher? No. Zarathustra the speaker is an advocate [ein Fürsprecher*}. In this name we encounter a very old word in the German language, one that has multiple meanings.


* Ein Fürsprecher, literally, is one who speaks before a group of people for some particular purpose. In what follows, Heidegger discusses the related words für ("for") and vor ("fore," "in front of'). The English word "advocate" (from ad-vocare: to call, invite, convene) offers a kind of parallel. For a full discussion of the German words see Hermann Paul, Deutsches Wörterbuch, 6th ed. (Tübingen: M. Niemeyer, 1966), pp. 758-62.