“Becoming and Purification: Empedocles, Zarathustra’s Übermensch, and Lucian’s Tyrant.” In: Vanessa Lemm, ed., Nietzsche and the Becoming of Life. New York: Fordham University Press. September 2014. 245–261; 359–368.


Classical Literature and Philology | Continental Philosophy | Philosophy


Nietzsche’s Übermensch is derived from Lucian of Samosata’s term hyperanthropos. I argue that Zarathustra’s teaching of the overman or Übermensch should be read in correspondence with the context of its (terminological) origination in Lucian’s satirical dialogue Kataplous, referring to the journey of the soul from its life on earth into the afterlife, as escorted by Hermes and ferried by Charon along with myriads of others facing the same fate, traditionally the journey is downward journey and the human soul does not tend to be translated to regions above its former station (the literal meaning of the Übermensch). The Kataplous he tyrannos, a title usually rendered as the Downward Journey (or The Tyrant), is a Menippean satire telling the tale of the “overman” so regarded by contrast with others of “lesser” rank in life and the same tyrant after his ludicrously recalcitrant transposition (and this is where the satire comes in, told as the tale is told through the mouth of the shoemaker, who is literally one the 'philosopher's poor' of which Ranciere speaks) to the underworld. Reflecting on the life (and the death) of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, this essay also explores the politics of kingship for Empedocles as reformer as a political model for Zarathustra in terms of Hölderlin’s Death of Empedocles and Nietzsche’s unpublished drafts on the same. In his Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None, Nietzsche points to a perspective beyond the here and now, beyond the “values” of our all-too-worldly and all-too-human concerns, whether in terms of perceived political/economic advantage or the pursuit of more everyday enjoyments. In addition to Zarathustra’s literal death (The Adder’s Bite), the essay includes a discussion of Zarathustra’s golden fishing rod (which only makes sense in connection with Lucian’s references in another dialogue, Piscator), food (“with Zarathustra even a king may be a cook”), and Zarathustra’s flight into the volcano together with C.G. Jung’s invocation of Hölderlin’s admirer, the Swabian poet and ghost story teller, Justinius Kerner, who also saw the poet's collected works into a volume that appeared even in his lifetime, not a posthumous work, only known after the poet was six feet under, as we say, but above, and still in the bloom of life.



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