Friedrich Nietzsche

Selection from Thus Spake Zarathustra, part four.

The Higher Man

Nietzsche's masterpiece, Thus Spake Zarathustra, is the story of a sage who has been living on a mountain contemplating the fate of mankind for many years.  When he feels he has some answers to share, he comes down and attempts to preach.  First he discovers (in the market-place) that there doesn't seem to be anyone who wants to hear what he has to say.  He realizes that he has come down from the mountain too soon, that the people his message was for -- "the higher men" -- simply don't exist yet.  Nevertheless, he gives this speech.

As you read it, keep in mind that what he is preaching is not intended for the ordinary people of today, but for a better people of the future.  Some of it seems harsh, even negative.  But the message is one we can recognize and sympathize with:  We should avoid getting sucked into the conventional, restrained, even shrivelled lives of the ordinary, mediocre people around us but, instead, strive to realize our fullest potentials.


When I came to men for the first time, then did I commit the hermit's folly, the great folly: I appeared in the market-place.

And when I spoke to all, I spoke to none. In the evening, however, rope-dancers were my companions, and corpses; and I myself almost a corpse.

With the new morning, however, there came to me a new truth: Then did I learn to say "Of what account to me are market-place and crowd and crowd-noise and long crowd-ears!"

You higher men, learn this from me: In the market-place no one believes in higher men. But if you will speak there, very well! The crowd, however, sputters "We are all equal."

"You higher men," -- so sputters the crowd -- "there are no higher men, we are all equal; man is man, before God -- we are all equal!"

Before God! -- Now, however, this God has died. Before the crowd, however, we will not be equal. You higher men, go away from the market-place!


Before God! -- Now however this God has died! You higher men, this God was your greatest danger.

Only since he lay in the grave have you again arisen. Only now comes the great noontide, only now does the higher man become -- master!

Have you understood this word, O my brothers? You are frightened: Do your hearts turn giddy? Does the abyss here yawn for you? Does the hell-hound here yelp at you?

Well! Take heart, you higher men! Only now does the mountain of the human future begin to work. God has died: Now we desire that the Superman live!


The most careful ask today "How is man to be maintained?" I, Zarathustra, ask, as the first and only one: "How is man to be surpassed?"

The Superman I have at heart;-- that is the first and only thing to me -- and not man: Not the neighbour, not the poorest, not the sorriest, not the best.

O my brothers, what I can love in man is that he is an over-coming and a down-going. And also in you there is much that makes me love and hope.

In that you have despised, you higher men, that makes me hope. For the great despisers are the great reverers.

In that you have despaired, there is much to honour. For you have not learned to submit yourselves, you have not learned petty policy.

For today the petty people have become master: They all preach submission and humility and policy and diligence and consideration and the long et cetera of petty virtues.

Whatever is of the effeminate type, whatever originates from the servile type, and especially the crowd-mishmash -- that is what wishes now to be master of all human destiny -- O disgust! Disgust! Disgust!

They ask and ask and never tire of asking: "How is man to maintain himself best, longest, most pleasantly?" Thereby are they the masters of today.

These masters of today, surpass them, O my brothers:  These petty people, they are the Superman's greatest danger!

Surpass, you higher men, the petty virtues, the petty policy, the sand-grain considerateness, the ant-hill politeness, the pitiable comfortableness, the "happiness of the greatest number!"

And rather despair than submit yourselves! And verily, I love you, because you do not know how to live today, you higher men! For thus do you live best!


Have you courage, O my brothers? Are you stout-hearted? Not the courage before witnesses, but hermit courage and eagle courage, which not even a God any longer beholds?

Cold souls, mules, the blind and the drunken, I do not call stout-hearted. He has heart who knows fear, but conquers it; who sees the abyss, but with pride.

He who sees the abyss, but with eagle's eyes, he who with eagle's talons grasps the abyss: He has courage.


"Man is evil" -- so all the wisest ones said to me for consolation. Ah, if only it were still true today! For evil is man's best strength.

"Man must become better and more evil"- so do I teach. The most evil is necessary for the Superman's best.

It may have been well for the preacher of the petty people to suffer and be burdened by men's sin. I, however, rejoice in great sin as my great consolation!

Such things, however, are not said for long crowd-ears. Every word, also, is not suited for every mouth. These are fine far-away things: At them sheep's hooves shall not grasp!


You higher men, do you think that I am here to put right what you have put wrong?

Or that I wish henceforth to make snugger couches for you sufferers? Or show you restless, lost, and confused climbers new and easier footpaths?

No! No! Three times No! Always more, always better ones of your type shall succumb, for you shall always have it worse and harder.

Thus only does man grow upwards to the height where the lightning strikes and shatters him: High enough for the lightning!

Out to the few, the long, the remote go my soul and my seeking: Of what account to me are your many little, short miseries!

You do not yet suffer enough for me! For you suffer from yourselves, but you have not yet suffered from man. You would lie if you spoke otherwise! None of you suffers from what I have suffered.


It is not enough for me that the lightning no longer does harm. I do not wish to conduct it away: It shall learn to work for me.

My wisdom has accumulated long like a cloud:  It becomes stiller and darker. So does all wisdom which shall one day bear lightning.

To these men of today will I not be light, nor be called light. Them will I blind: Lightning of my wisdom! Put out their eyes!


Do not will anything beyond your power: There is a bad falseness in those who will beyond their power.

Especially when they will great things! For they awaken distrust in great things, these subtle false-coiners and stage-players --

Until at last they are false towards themselves, squint-eyed, pale cankers, glossed over with strong words, parade virtues and brilliant false deeds.

Take good care there, you higher men! For nothing is more precious to me, and rarer, than honesty.

Is this today not that of the crowd? The crowd however knows not what is great and what is small, what is straight and what is honest: It is innocently crooked, it always lies.


Have a good distrust today, you higher men, you enheartened ones, you open-hearted ones! And keep your reasons secret! For this today is of the crowd.

What the crowd once learned to believe without reason, who could refute it to them by means of reason?

And on the market-place one convinces with grand gestures. But reason make the crowd distrustful.

And when truth occasionally triumphs there, then ask yourselves with good distrust: "What strong error has fought for it?"

Be on your guard also against the intellectuals! They hate you, because they are unproductive! They have cold, withered eyes before which every bird is unplumed.

Such persons brag about not lying: but inability to lie is still far from being love of truth. Be on your guard!

Freedom from fever is still far from being knowledge! Icy spirits I do not believe in. He who cannot lie, does not know what truth is.


If you would go up high, then use your own legs! Do not get yourselves carried aloft; do not seat yourselves on other people's backs and heads! Are you mounted, however, on horseback? You now ride briskly up to your goal? Fine, my friend! But your lame foot is also with you on horseback! When you reach your goal, when you alight from your horse, precisely at your highest, you higher man, then will you stumble!


You creating ones, you higher men! One is only pregnant with one's own child.

Do not let yourselves be imposed upon or put upon! Who then is your neighbor? Even if you act "for your neighbor"-- you still do not create for him!

Unlearn, I pray you, this "for," you creating ones: Your very virtue wishes you to have nothing to do with "for" and "on account of" and "because." Against these false little words shall you stop your ears.

"For one's neighbour," is the virtue only of the petty people: There it is said "birds of a feather," and "one hand washes the other." They have neither the right nor the power for your self-seeking!

In your self-seeking, you creating ones, there is the foresight and foreseeing of the pregnant! What no one's eye has yet seen -- the fruit! -- this, shelters and saves and nourishes your entire love.

Where your entire love is, namely with your child, there is also your entire virtue! Your work, your will is your "neighbour": Let no false values impose themselves upon you!


You creating ones, you higher men! Whoever has to give birth is sick; and whoever has given birth is unclean.

Ask women: one gives birth, not because it gives pleasure. The pain makes hens and poets cackle.

you creating ones, in you there is much uncleanliness. That is because you have had to be mothers.

A new child: Oh, how much new filth has also come into the world! Go apart! He who has given birth shall wash his soul!


Be not virtuous beyond your powers! And seek nothing from yourselves opposed to probability!

Walk in the footsteps in which your fathers' virtue has already walked! How will you rise high, if your fathers' will does not rise with you?

He, however, who would be a firstling, let him take care lest he also become a lastling! And where the vices of your fathers are, there should you not set yourself up as saints!

He whose fathers were inclined to women, and to strong wine and flesh of the wild boar -- what would it be if he demanded chastity of himself?

A folly would it be! Rather, it seems to me, that he should be the husband of one or of two or of three women.

And if he founded monasteries, and inscribed over their portals: "The way to holiness" -- I should still say: What good is it?  It is a new folly!

He has founded for himself a penance-house and refuge-house: much good may it do! But I do not believe in it.

In solitude there grows what one brings into it -- including the brute in one's own nature. Thus is solitude inadvisable to many.

Has there ever been anything filthier on earth than the saints of the wilderness? Around them was not only the devil loose -- but also the swine.


Shy, ashamed, awkward, like the tiger whose spring has failed -- thus, you higher men, have I often seen you slink aside. A cast which you made has failed --

But what does it matter, you dice-players! Have you not learned to play and joke, as one must play and joke? Do we not ever sit at a great table of joking and playing?

And if great things have been a failure with you, have you yourselves therefore been a failure? And if you yourselves have been a failure, has man therefore been a failure? If man, however, has been a failure -- well then? Never mind!


The higher its type, always the less often does a thing succeed. You higher men here, have you not all been failures?

Be of good cheer; what does it matter? How much is still possible! Learn to laugh at yourselves, as you ought to laugh!

What wonder even that you have failed and only half succeeded, you half-shattered ones! Does not man's future strive and struggle within you?

Man's furthest, profoundest, star-highest issues, his prodigious powers, do not all these foam through one another in your cup?

What wonder that many a cup shatters! Learn to laugh at yourselves, as you ought to laugh! You higher men, oh, how much is still possible!

And verily, how much has already succeeded! How rich is this earth in small, good, perfect things, in well-constituted things!

Set around you small, good, perfect things, you higher men. Their golden maturity heals the heart. The perfect teaches one to hope.


What has until now been the greatest sin here on earth? Was it not the word of him who said: "Woe to them that laugh now!"

Did he himself find no cause for laughter on the earth? Then he sought badly. Even a child finds cause for it.

He did not love enough: Otherwise would he also have loved us, the laughing ones! But he hated and hooted us; wailing and teeth-gnashing did he promise us.

Must one then curse immediately, when one does not love? That seems to me in bad taste. Thus did he, however, this absolute one. He sprang from the crowd.

And he himself just did not love sufficiently; otherwise would he have raged less because people did not love him. Great love does not seek love -- it seeks more!

Go out of the way of all such absolute ones! They are a poor sickly type, a crowd-type: They look at this life with ill-will, they have an evil eye for this earth.

Go out of the way of all such absolute ones! They have heavy feet and sultry hearts -- they do not know how to dance. How could the earth be light to such ones!


Sinuously do all good things approach their goal. Like cats they curve their backs, they purr inwardly with their approaching happiness -- all good things laugh.

His step betrays whether a person already walks on his own path: Just see me walk! He, however, who comes close to his goal, dances.

And verily, a statue have I not become, nor yet do I stand there stiff, stupid and stony, like a pillar; I love fast racing.

And though there be on earth swamps and thick melancholy, he who has light feet runs even across the mud, and dances, as upon well-swept ice.

Lift up your hearts, my brothers, high, higher! And do not forget your legs! Lift up also your legs, you good dancers, and better still, stand upon your heads!


This crown of the laughter, this rose-garland crown: I myself have put on this crown, I myself have consecrated my laughter. No one else have I found today potent enough for this.

Zarathustra the dancer, Zarathustra the light one, who beckons with his wings, ready for flight, beckoning to all birds, ready and prepared -- a blissfully light-spirited one:

Zarathustra the soothsayer, Zarathustra the sooth-laugher, no impatient one, no absolute one, but one who loves leaps and somersaults; I myself have put on this crown!


Lift up your hearts, my brothers, high, higher! And do not forget your legs! Lift up also your legs, you good dancers, and better still if you stand upon your heads!

There are also heavy animals in a this state of happiness, there are thoroughly heavy-footed ones. Curiously do they exert themselves, like an elephant which endeavours to stand upon its head.

Better, however, to be foolish with happiness than foolish with misfortune, better to dance awkwardly than walk lamely. So learn, I pray you, my wisdom, you higher men: Even the worst thing has two good reverse sides...

...Even the worst thing has good dancing-legs: So learn, I pray you, you higher men, to put yourselves on your proper legs!

So unlearn, I pray you, the melancholy and all the crowd-sadness! Oh, how sad the buffoons of the crowd seem to me today! This today, however, is that of the crowd.


Be like the wind when it rushes forth from its mountain-caves: To its own piping will it dance; the seas tremble and leap under its footsteps.

That which gives wings to asses, that which milks the lionesses: Praised be that good, unruly spirit, which comes like a hurricane to all the present and to all the crowd --

That which is hostile to thistle-heads and puzzle-heads, and to all withered leaves and weeds: Praised be this wild, good, free spirit of the storm, which dances upon swamps and afflictions, as upon meadows!

That which hates the consumptive crowd-dogs, and all their ill-constituted, sullen brood: Praised be this spirit of all free spirits, the laughing storm, which blows dust into the eyes of all the dark-sighted and melancholic!

You higher men, the worst thing in you is that you have, none of you, learned to dance as you ought to dance -- to dance beyond yourselves! What does it matter that you have failed?

How many things are still possible! So learn to laugh beyond yourselves! Lift up your hearts, you good dancers, high! higher! And do not forget good laughter!

This crown of laughter, this rose-garland crown: to you, my brothers, do I cast this crown! Laughing have I consecrated:  You higher men, learn, I pray you -- to laugh!

Adapted from THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA by Friedrich Nietzsche (1891). translated by Thomas Common.
Available at
Interpretation by C. George Boeree.