Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”: Part 4 “Ass Worship”

The fourth part of Thus Spoke Zarathustra was originally intended by Nietzsche to be published separately. In some ways, the fourth part reads like an appendix to a book, or even like a sequel, rather than like an integral part of the entire work.

Parts one to three, in some ways, remind me of Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy, with a general movement from a beginning of prose to an ending dominated by poetry. The songs of the end of part 3, though, find their continuation in part 4, but the effect, at least on this reader, was lost. Much of the “songs” are garble, and it would seem that Zarathustra would agree with this assessment.

The basic plot outlines of the fourth part read as follows. The scenes take place entirely on Zarathustra’s mountain. In general, a simple pattern occurs repeatedly: Zarathustra, seeking “the higher man,” hears the latter’s cry of distress, but instead finds a human (such as a king, a retired pope, the murderer who killed God, etc.). He invites this person to his cave, and continues seeking his higher man. Zarathustra’s selling is very much like that of a politician seeking to invite all comers to a big tent; the prophet advertises his “big cave” as sufficient and safe. In the end, all the people Zarathustra has met converge in his cave, seeking wisdom. Zarathustra is evidently now something of a celebrity, but the quotes, misquotes, and misunderstandings of his teaching show that it has not been received and transmitted accurately.

The exchange of Nietzsche’s prophet with the retired pope is wonderful. The latter indicates how the character of God has changed, from an Eastern deity certain of his power to a kind of watered down, feminized (remember–Nietzsche had no great view of women) divine being. Nevertheless, the retired pope misses having something to worship.

The motley crew become a microcosm of humanity in general when Zarathustra leaves his cave for some fresh air. When he returns, he hears his disciples all worshipping the kings’ donkey, known happily throughout only as “the ass.” Thereupon the first “ass festival,” a parody of the rite of Communion/the Eucharist takes place. Zarathustra recognizes that the festival of the ass and the ass worship have brought his disciples joy, and so he encourages this ass worship to their faces while proclaiming to only himself and his animals that these are not the humans he needs to bring about his overman. The ass, incidentally, is recognized as a deity on account of his timely “hee-yaw” braying. In German, ja means “yes,” and stands in contradistinction to millennia of Christian “thou shalt not’s”; meanwhile, I suspect that the “yaw” sound also is a parody on the name of God in the Hebrew Bible. Similarly, the kings say that the ass has “taken the form of a servant,” an obvious parody of the Christian usage of Deutero-Isaiah to describe the character of Jesus as preached in the doctrine of the Incarnation. In any case, the point is that humanity will worship even a dumb ass, all puns intended–because something in humanity seems wired for worship, despite the evident lack of appropriateness for this.

I did find a number of connections to C.S. Lewis again. Everyone knows of Lewis’s portrayal of Aslan in his Narnia books; Aslan, a lion, is analogous to Christ. Oddly enough, a lion appears in the much earlier Zarathustra at the end, a “sign” to Zarathustra of his mission. Also, there is Lewis’s use of a donkey in The Last Battle; in this passage, an ordinary talking donkey is tricked into impersonating Aslan himself, and becomes an unwitting object of worship. Similarly, Lewis, in his book, The Pilgrim’s Regress–an obvious take on Bunyan’s more famous Pilgrim’s Progress, alludes to Nietzsche’s use of “wicked brown girls” with a whole troop of naughty “brown girls” of his own. Neither Lewis nor Nietzsche, it would seem, enjoyed the prospect of the equality of women. Finally, both Lewis and Nietzsche used refrains of joy to end their works. “Further up and further in!” in Lewis corresponds to “Come” and “up” and “joy is deeper than pain, and joy wants eternity” in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Zarathustra is at pains to say that his kingdom is not of Heaven; rather, he seeks people to populate his kingdom of Earth, turning the teaching of Jesus completely upside-down–or, rather, as Nietzsche would have put it, turning Jesus’ upside-down philosophy right-side-up. In this, he might be said to resemble a few biblical characters who are said to abuse their friends and befriend their enemies.

There are some pithy nuggets of wisdom in the piece: one should never will anything contrary to nature (contra the church, which, for example, crucifies just about every sexual impulse), and one should learn to laugh at one’s failures. The world is a deep, deep place–in other words, the natural world is enough for humanity to become lost in wonder in; one doesn’t need a fourth dimension.

In the end, though, Zarathustra finds that he has pitied the “higher men” (his guests, the same ones who are no higher than the ass), finding that he lacks the “proper human beings” who can bring about his overman. To the latter, the former are a mere bridge, and there will have to be bridges built on them before everything is through.

It would seem that Zarathustra’s constant references to “nausea” at the values of the “rabble” were mirrored in Nietzsche’s mind to some extent, for the fourth part of this work was late in coming, and Nietzsche ended up suffering from mental health issues. He didn’t much like people, it would seem. Zarathustra, in general, is a man who loves and hates people, just has he loves and hates humanity–but he finds both irritating. It’s a pity Nietzsche couldn’t have lived long enough to see a more open century–a century he had a great hand in making and shaping.