On Passing By
On his way back to his cave Zarathustra came across the gate of a giant city. A man consumed by wrath and indignation stood between him and the entrance, forbidding Zarathustra to enter, for he cared about his hero too much, to have him experience the disgust, nausea and contempt that he had experienced there himself. He was enraged by the inhabitants of the city, frothing at the mouth as he warned of their stupidity and retardation, fuming about their press, their educational system, their morality of custom, their religiosity, their decadence – their weakness. He tells Zarathustra that such a place is hell itself for a hermit such as he – that is, a man of rumination, thoughtfulness and concern. He tells Zarathustra that it is a city where “you could find nothing and lose everything.” That is, he himself has gained nothing there but heartache and misery, rather than the enrichment of his soul, and, in the process, he has lost his patience, his kindness, his love of humanity – possibly even his mind. Nothing consumes him now but indignation and disdain. “Don’t you smell the slaughterhouses and ovens of the spirit even now?” he asks Zarathustra. “Does not this town steam with fumes of slaughtered spirit?” In this way he betrays that his own spirit has been slaughtered by the rabid base-mindedness of the mob there, and now all that is left in him is the need to lash out at a city that has taken everything from him that made him the life-affirming free spirit that he once was, turning him into the man of resentment and hostility, standing before Zarathustra now.
He rants that they are easily fulfilled by base things such as alcohol, the empty words of disinterested spirits (or frozen spirits, as he calls them) and are mindlessly led like sheep by the status quo. He detests them more than anything he could ever possibly imagine, and so he spits and snarls as he raves and points his finger at the gate. The virtuous among them are not, this supposed disciple of Zarathustra explains, virtuous in Zarathustra’s sense, but rather virtuous in their sense. The virtuous ones of this morbid, forlorn city dwelling ominously behind the gate are flatterers, phonies, play-actors and liars; that is, they are the representatives of the inhabitants of the city, telling them what they want to hear, by merely echoing and affirming their thoughts, beliefs and so-called truths. They are the moral heroes of the town because they exalt the social mores and attitudes of the people within it, and so the citizens cheer on these ostentatious thinkers, writers and orators, and, in doing so, they cheer on their own vulgar, impoverished egos. They count on these so-called virtuous ones of theirs to justify their petty lives, petty thoughts, petty feelings, petty piety, petty virtues. So this man of wrath and dismay pleads with his master to spit at the entrance of the city, rather than enter it, and keep walking. For it is a city of “shopkeepers,” meaning plebeians of small lives and low-mindedness.
Zarathustra at this point silences this ranting, raving fool, foaming at the mouth, for he is officially as nauseated by him as he is by the town of degenerates. He feels that his teachings have been defamed by coming out of the mouth of such an unsophisticated, vengeance-fuelled fool such as this. He asks him why he so masochistically spent so much time in a lifeless place that he hates so much, until he himself was destroyed by it and made into a mere shell of the man he once was. All this madman can offer anyone now is his nihilistic wrath of despondence and unfaith. He has dark, hopeless veils over his eyes, and can’t affirm, since he no longer feels that anything there is salvageable. Zarathustra reprimands him for now being led and controlled by so much hateful resentment and revenge, two things which he has made clear that he despises. The fool has allowed the muck and swamp of a people he refers to as frogs and toads to pollute his spirit and turn him into one as well. He is called the ape of Zarathustra because he is merely an imitation of Zarathustra’s very high standard, and is too apish to realize that he is acting in a way that is pitiful and lowbrow in the eyes of the philosopher and poet that he so thoroughly admires. But Zarathustra realizes, after a long silence, that this misguided disciple of his was right in there being nothing to better or worsen in that great city, and wishes it the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, making his feelings towards the city just as hostile and acrid as the fool’s, if not more so. This shows, Lampert explains, that “Zarathustra and the fool have the same advice for each other based on” the irony “that each can see in the other but not in himself,” showing that “to abide in the place that is loathed,” thoroughly “corrupts the one who loathes,” even to the point of blindness towards the self. Before he leaves, however, he gives one piece of wisdom for the plight of the fool before him that “where one can no longer love, there one should pass by.” And continuing on in his journey, he left the fool and the great city behind. Perhaps if he had not heeded the warnings of the fool, and entered this great city, he himself would have lost all of his loving nature as well, and become as this fool, whose very presence is a warning on its own of what Zarathustra, or any free spirit, for that matter, could turn into, if consumed by the wrong surroundings – for too long.