Nietzsche's Death of God: Why Zarathustra?



Has there been any literature dealing with the question why Nietsche chose to make Zarathustra the "prophet" of his "Death of God"? in the Gay Science the madman remains unnamed, even though the parallels in thought are already noticeable.

Nietzsches background suggests, that he knew very well who Zarathustra was and during his study times several translations and commentaries on the Zoroastrian scriptures were published, e.g. by Friedrich von Spiegel. It was for sure not a mere coincidental choice but much more a decision he had thought through very well.

Are there any books or articles treating the question of "Why Zarathustra"?


Sorry for not having worded my question clearer. Nietzsches reasoning of "Why I Am Fatality" chapter 3 in Ecce Homo is known to me that is why I asked if there are any texts treating it outside of this.

I think that for merely that thought others would have been better or at least equally well suited, e.g. the whole Epicurean school, Gilgamesh, et al., and Nietzsche was surely very familiar with them. It is also questionable that the historico-critically influenced Nietzsche (see his Texts on David Friedrich Strauss in Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen/Untimely Meditations) would have held up an early dating of Zarathustra given that the discussion of the time was mainly about whether he lived around 1200BC or 600BC (see 1st ed. of the Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, Art. "Parsismus", col. 1364-1382).

I strongly believe that Nietzsche also aimed at the biblical prophets when chosing Zarathustra as the prophet of the Death of God, especially since the discussion of the time was the connection between postexilic Judaism and Zoroastrism (cf. RGG1, col. 1382).

Patric Hartmann

Posted 2016-02-09T23:26:57.813

Reputation: 161



Nietzsche himself talks about it in his auto-biography "Ecce Homo". He chose Zarathustra because he saw the real Zarathustra (Zoroaster) as being the first one to establish the moral system which eventually evolves into Judeo-Christian morals, and which Nietzsche sets out to demolish in "Thus Spake Zarathustra". He saw it fitting that a fictional Zarathustra should be the one who brings down the moral system that the real Zarathustra started.

Alexander S King

Posted 2016-02-09T23:26:57.813

Reputation: 25 810

Even accounting for Nietzsche's individualistic leanings, it is quite telling of the state of historiography at the time (heroes and bursts of genius) that he thought something like morality got "started", and by a single guy at that. – Conifold – 2016-02-10T01:06:19.547

Thank you for your answer! I am aware of this passage in Nietzsche's work, however, I think it cannot explain the full thought behind it. There would have been other options Nietzsche probably knew about. I expanded my question, sorry for not doing this earlier. – Patric Hartmann – 2016-02-10T09:19:45.190


As Alexander writes Nietzsche answers this question in paragraph 3 of the chapter "WHY I AM A FATALITY" from his work Ecce Homo:

[...] but because of the more important fact that Zarathustra was the most truthful of thinkers. In his teaching alone is truthfulness upheld as the highest virtue — that is to say, as the reverse of the cowardice of the " idealist " who takes to his heels at the sight of reality. Zarathustra has more pluck in his body than all other thinkers put together. To tell the truth and to aim straight : that is the first Persian virtue. Have I made myself clear? . . . The overcoming of morality by itself, through truthfulness, the moralist's overcoming of himself in his opposite — in me — that is what the name Zarathustra means in my mouth.

According to this quote it was the "overcoming of morality by itself, through truthfulness". This was indeed Nietzsche's goal; e.g. see Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits (1878) and On the Genealogy of Morality: A Polemic (1887).

But concerning the historical Zarathustra this ascription does not seem justified.

Jo Wehler

Posted 2016-02-09T23:26:57.813

Reputation: 17 204

Thank you very much for your answer! I am aware of that passage yet I think, it doesn't cover the entire thought behind it, simply as there would have been other options to choose from. I added some more thoughts to my question I should have mentioned before already, sorry for that! – Patric Hartmann – 2016-02-10T09:18:05.460

1@Patric Hartmann According to all we know about Zarathustra, his point was not to overcome morality, as Nietzsche acribes to him. This fact shows that Nietzsche - at least in this passage - reads into Zarathustra what he later wants to read off from the historical person. Nietzsche was not sincere with history. - I do not know any precursors of Nietzsche who questioned morality as forcefully as he did. Why do you think that the Epicureans or Gilgamesh would have been better protagonists? - How do you see the relation between Jewish prophets and Zarathustra? – Jo Wehler – 2016-02-10T09:45:58.790

Thank you for your efforts in answering me! Gilgamesh: in the Ungnad/Gressmann transl. of 1911 (GER) on Table X, 274-289 I found verses very close to the Eternal Recurrence or, at least, naming the strive for immortality futile. The parallels to OT proph. are hard to explain in so few words. I will update my question some time again. – Patric Hartmann – 2016-02-10T20:02:47.040

@Jo Wehler I can think of cynics ("cynic practices shamelessness or impudence (Αναιδεια) and defaces the nomos of society; the laws, customs, and social conventions which people take for granted") and Machiavelli, not to mention Nero and Caligula. Also, "Pyrrhonian skeptics' attitude toward morality (really, toward moralizing) is echoed in Nietzsche's thought and provides for us the best possible model on which to understand his critique of morality".

– Conifold – 2016-02-11T04:22:11.673