Who Is Nietzsche's Zarathustra?

Yet the teacher knows that what he is teaching remains a vision and a riddle. He perseveres in such reflective knowledge.

We today, because of the peculiar ascendancy of the modern sciences, are caught up in the strange misconception that knowledge can be attained from science and that thinking is subject to the jurisdiction of science. Yet whatever unique thing a thinker is able to say can be neither proved nor refuted logically or empirically. Nor is it a matter of faith. We can only envisage it questioningly, thoughtfully. What we envisage thereby always appears as worthy of question.

To catch a glimpse of the vision and the riddle which the figure Zarathustra manifests, and to retain that glimpse, let us once again cast our eyes on the spectacle of Zarathustra's animals. They appear to him at the outset of his journeyings:

. . . He looked inquiringly into the sky-for above him he heard the piercing cry of a bird. And behold! An eagle soared through the air in vast circles, and a serpent hung suspended from him, not as his prey, but as though she were his friend: for she had coiled about his neck.

"These are my animals!" said Zarathustra, and his heart was filled with joy.

A passage we cited earlier—yet purposely only in part-from the first section of "The Convalescent" reads: "I, Zarathustra, the advocate of life, the advocate of suffering, the advocate of the circle—I summon you, my most abysmal thought!" In the second section of the episode "On the Vision and the Riddle," in Part III, Zarathustra describes the thought of eternal recurrence of the same in identical words. There, in his confrontation with the dwarf, Zarathustra tries for the first time to think that riddlesome thing which he sees as meriting his longing. The eternal recurrence of the same does remain a vision for Zarathustra; but it is also a riddle. It can be neither proved nor refuted logically or empirically. At bottom, this holds for every essential thought of every thinker: something envisaged, but a riddle—worthy of question.

Who is Nietzsche's Zarathustra? We can now reply in the following formula: Zarathustra is the teacher of eternal return of the same and the teacher of overman. But now we can see more clearly—perhaps also beyond our own formula—that Zarathustra is not a teacher who instructs us concerning two sundry items.