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By: Prof. Daryoush Ashouri


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  Nietzsche in 1882 (Click to enlarge)


Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900), the great German philosopher, is known as a philosopher of culture. His insightful analyses of, and critical views on classical, medieval, and modern European cultures witness his superb knowledge and profound concern with the historical development of human cultures, specifically their moral systems of valuation. Inquisitive about great Asiatic cultures, i.e. Chinese, Indian, and Persian, he refers to them in his writings on numerous occasions. Nietzsche's curiosity for various historical developments of the human culture produced his unique philosophical understanding of the Oriental cultures and their traditional wisdom in contrast to the modern European culture. Here and there he puts the 'Asiatic' wisdom positively in opposition to the modern rationalism which he views despicably (see Asien and asiatisch in SW, "Gesamtregister").


Nietzsche was a brilliant student of classical philology and later taught it at the University of Basel. His vast knowledge of Greek and Roman languages, cultures, and history is reflected in his abundant discussions of, and innumerable references to them throughout his writings. His studies of the classical philology and deep involvement in Greek and Latin literature introduced him to the ancient Persian culture and history, as an Asiatic culture and imperial power challenging Greek city-states. In his collected works, including the bulky fragments left in his notebooks (Nachgelassene Fragmente), one finds recurring references to the ancient Persians. Nietzsche's concern with Persia is well reflected in his choice of 'Zarathushtrâ' as the prophet of his philosophy and inscribing his name on his main and most popular work, Also Sprach Zarathushtrâ (Thus Spoke Zarathushtrâ). He shows no particular interest in Persian history of the Islamic era, although makes minor allusions to Moslems occasionally, and at least once to the Assassins (Zur Genealogie der Moral/Genealogy of the Moral, Part III, Fragment 24). In his notebooks there is only one reference to Sa'di by citing an anecdote from him. But his references to Hâfez and comments on him appears in several occasions (see below).



Nietzsche and Ancient Persia

There are two references to Persia (Persien) in his Collected Writings (SW 1/792, 5/353) and several others in adjectival form (persisch, and once vorpersisch) that are essentially allusions to, and sometimes analyses of the relationships of the ancient Greek city-states with the Achaemenid Empire, primarily in regard to the Greco-Persian wars and their decisive effects on the Greek world that lead to Peloponnesian War. In addition, there are 28 general references to the Persians (die Perser), including fragments fully reflecting his views on Persian people of the ancient times and their culture (SW, "Gesamtregister", B. 15). He particularly praises their mastery of archery and horsemanship, their imperiousness and belligerency, and their emphasis on the virtue of truthfulness (SW 7/785; Thus Spoke Zarathushtrâ, Part I, "On the Thousand and One Goal"). These virtues positively correspond to the Nietzschean view of the valuable human life.


But Nietzsche's highest interest and respect for the Persians appears where he speaks about their notion of history and cyclical Eternal Time; a concept that resembles his own concept of the "Eternal Return", emphasizing on the recurrent temporality of being: "I must pay tribute to Zarathushtrâ, a Persian (einem Perser): Persians were the first who thought of history in its full entirety." (SW, 11/53). In this fragment Nietzsche uses the Persian word hazar referring to the millennial cycles (hazâra) in ancient Persian religious beliefs, "each one presided by a prophet; every prophet having his own hazar, his millennial kingdom." In Also Sprach Zarathushtrâ, he speaks of the great millennial (groszer Hazar) kingdom of his own Zarathushtrâ, as "our great distant human kingdom, the Zarathushtrâ kingdom of a thousand year." ("Das Honigopfer"/"The Honey Sacrifice", Part IV).


In a posthumously published fragment, he deplores a lost historical opportunity: "It was much more fortunate if Persians became masters (Herr) of the Greeks, than the very Romans." (SW, 8/65) In this note Nietzsche reveals, once more, his radical opposition to the Greek metaphysical thought, as developed by Socrates and Plato, which later, by supremacy of the Greek culture inside the Roman Empire, became dominant and then integrated into the other-worldly, 'nihilistic', tenets of Christianity. While, in his view, the dominance of the positive outlooks of the Persians toward worldly life and time would have prevented the prevalence of such a sinister event in human history.



Nietzsche's Zarathushtrâ and Persian Zarathushtrâ

It is interesting to know that Nietzsche used the familiar name of Zoroaster in his early writings. This name, which is of Greek origin, is used in his notes of 1870-71, about a decade before writing Also Sprach Zarathushtrâ. There he speaks with great admiration of Zoroaster and his religion and expresses his partiality for prevalence of Zoroastrianism in Greece (SW, 11/53). And, again, in his posthumously published work of the same period, Die Philosophie in tragischen Zeitalter der Griechen (Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks), he refers to the story of the studentship of Heraclitus by Zoroaster (SW, 1/806; English tr. P. 29). The name of 'Zarathushtrâ', as such, first appears in Die frölische Wissenschâft (Gay Science, fragment 342), published in 1882. Nietzsche inserts here the first section of the Prologue to Also Sprach Zarathushtrâ (Thus Spoke Zarathushtrâ), i.e. Zarathushtrâ's prayer before the sun, that appears following year in the published text of the First Part of Zarathushtrâ.


It is appropriate to enquire why Nietzsche abandoned the familiar name of Zoroaster in favor of the original Old Persian form of it, which was probably known only to the philologists of the ancient Indo-Iranian languages. By choosing the name of 'Zarathushtrâ' as prophet of his philosophy, as he has expressed clearly, he followed the paradoxical aim of paying homage to the original Aryan prophet and reversing his teachings at the same time. The original Zoroastrian world view interprets being essentially on a moralistic basis and depicts the world as an arena for the struggle of the two fundamentals of being, Good and Evil, represented in two antagonistic divine figures. In contrast, Nietzsche's Zarathushtrâ puts forward his ontological immoralism against this view, and tries to reestablish the primordial innocence of 'being' by destructing philosophically all moralistic interpretations. In this way, the ontological immoralism of the Nietzsche's Zarathushtrâ stands, philosophically and historically, antipodal to the moralism of the archaic prophet and thinker.


In the intellectual outline of his life and works, Ecce Homo, Nietzsche describes his reasons for choosing Zarathushtrâ as portent of his philosophy:

What the name of Zarathushtrâ means in my mouth, the mouth of the first immoralist: for what constitutes the tremendous historical uniqueness of that Persian is just the opposite of this. Zarathushtrâ was the first to consider the fight of good and evil the very wheel in the machinery of things: the transposition of morality into the metaphysical realms as a force, cause, and end in itself... Zarathushtrâ created this most calamitous error, morality, consequently, he must also be the first to recognize it.... To speak the truth and to shoot well with arrows, that is Persian virtue.----Am I understood?---The self-overcoming of morality, out of truthfulness; the self-overcoming of the moralist, into his opposite---into me---that is what the name of Zarathushtrâ means in my mouth. (Kaufmann, pp. 327-28)


Nietzsche's Zarathushtrâ, like original Zarathushtrâ according to traditions, goes to the mountain for meditation when he is thirty years old and, like him, descends ten years later to convey his message for humanity. But second Zarathushtrâ's teachings are reversal of the initial one. The early Zarathushtrâ stands at the dawn of the spiritual life of the humanity proclaiming the early immature human ideas interpreting being on moralistic and religious terms, while the second one appears at the end of the 'spiritual', or metaphysical, history to teach the worldly, life-âffirming philosophy. The prophetic mission of the second Zarathushtrâ starts with the announcement of the most dreadful and consequential news for humanity: the death of God. The indispensable fundamental logical implication of this most tremendous event in human history is the impossibility of the moralistic interpretation of being evermore, and erasing eschatological expectations from the horizon of the human life.


Nietzsche, Sa'di, and Hâfez (q.v.). Sa'di and Hâfez (Hâfis) are the only Persian names of the Islamic era mentioned in Nietzsche's writings. In his notebooks an anecdote from Sa'di is found, which originally belongs to the preface of his Rose Garden (Golesta@n q.v.). Nietzsche's source of this quotation is not known (SW, 14/650). The anecdote, according to his citation, says: "From whom did you learn that much, asked Sa'di from a wise man. And he replied: from the blind who never put a foot forward without first examining the ground with their stick." Nietzsche provides no comments on this story. But on the context of his philosophy, one can say that the anecdote means to him the worst example of the miserable cautious rationality, the rationality of the 'blind', which stands thoroughly in opposition to the Nietzschean concept of the courageous ecstatic life of the deep-sighted man, which involves recklessness. (The 'wise man', in the Preface of Rose Garden, is Loqmân, a legendary figure, master of wise sayings in Persian literature.)


Hâfez, however, represents him a prime example of 'Dionysian' ecstatic wisdom, which he extolls so extensively in his philosophy. The number of references to Hâfez (Hâfis) in his writings are considerable. Obviously, Goethe's admiration for Hâfez and his 'Oriental' wisdom, as expressed in West-östlisches Divan, has been the main source of attracting Nietzsche's interest in this Persian poet. The name of Hâfez, usually in the company of Goethe, appears about ten times in his writings. He admires both as summits of human wisdom. For him Hâfez exemplifies the Oriental free-spirit man celebrating joys of life as well as its sufferings. Nietzsche commends such an attitude as sign of a positive and courageous valuation of life. There is even a short poem in Nietzsche's Collected Works, entitled An Hâfis. Frage eines Wassertrinkers (To Hâfez: Questions of a Water Drinker). The poem glorifies the insightfulness of Hâfez and his poetical achievements. At the end, he asks Hâfez, as a 'water drinker', why he demands wine while having the power of making intoxicated everybody (SW, 11/316).





Friedrich Nietzsche, Sämtliche Werke, kritische Studienausgabe in 15 Bänden. 

Herausgegeben von Giorgio Colli und Mazzino Montinari, München, 1999. Idem, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in The Portable Nietzsche, tr. by Walter Kaufmann, The Viking Press, New York, 1965. Idem, Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, tr. by Marriane Cowan, Regnery Publishing Inc., Washington DC, 1998. Idem, Ecce Homo, in The Portable Nietzsche, op. cit.




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Source/Extracted From: Encyclopaedia Iranica


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