Introduced by Jonathan Rée
Illustrated by Peter Suart
One of the most explosive books ever published, filled with radical ideas and vivid imagery, it takes the form of a prose poem, recounting the story of a prophet, who descends from the mountains to preach to mankind.
Friedrich Nietzsche is one of the most controversial, unconventional and important figures in the history of modern philosophy. He wrote critically on religious, cultural and social mores, and was famously inspired by Darwinism to declare ‘God is dead’. His philosophy is expressed, not in traditional, objective prose, but in visionary and paradoxical speeches. Nietzsche’s own favourite of his books, and arguably the most influential, was the extended prose poem Thus Spoke Zarathustra – subtitled ‘a book for everyone and nobody’. It is an extraordinary work – forceful, passionate, full of colour and imagery and biblical resonance – in which Nietzsche expounds his philosophy through the prophet-like figure of Zarathustra. Among the many philosophers, thinkers and writers who drew on the work were Heidegger, Freud, Jung, Kafka and D. H. Lawrence, while Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler and Frederick Delius all composed music using text from the book.
'A bold work of force and power, a tragic masterpiece'
Zarathustra, having lived alone in the mountains, comes down to the world of humans to preach to them of a better life. Unable to find understanding among the many, the prophet turns to gathering a small group of disciples, but eventually decides that humanity is not yet ready to be reborn. Zarathustra leaves behind three fundamental ideas for mankind to contemplate: the Overhuman (Übermensch); the will to power, and eternal recurrence. Alongside these over-arching concepts are a host of other radical ideas: that virtue and pity diminish us; that professional scholarship trivialises thinking, and that worthy enemies are more important than friends. Notoriously, many readers have adopted Nietzsche’s ideas for their own purposes, from the fin-de-siècle aesthetes who revelled in the statement ‘nothing is true, everything is permitted’, to the Nazis, who decided that the Übermensch signified a literal master race, rather than Nietzsche’s concept of a spiritually evolved higher being. The philosopher Jonathan Rée has written an illuminating introduction for this Folio edition in which he outlines how Nietzsche’s stylistic innovation is essential to understanding his meaning.
The book is illustrated by Peter Suart, the perfect artist to portray Nietzsche’s imaginative connection between the comic and the profound. Suart has produced eight paintings as well as a fold-out landscape picture of one of the final scenes, Zarathustra’s ‘Ass-festival’.