Three metamorphoses of the spirit do I designate to you: how the spirit becometh a camel, the camel a lion, and the lion at last a child... To create new values—that, even the lion cannot yet accomplish: but to create itself freedom for new creating—that can the might of the lion do... Innocence is the child, and forgetfulness, a new beginning, a game, a self-rolling wheel, a first movement, a holy Yea. Aye, for the game of creating, my brethren, there is needed a holy Yea unto life: its own will, willeth now the spirit; his own world winneth the world's outcast.

Thus Spake Zarathustra, as wrote the philosopher Nietzsche.

I have a friend, we'll call him Zac. He seems to strongly, if not fervently, believe that spirit has metamorphosed into the child, and that he is a child (he is actually 33).

I think that wouldn't make him the Ubermensch, just a willful playful child man (Actually, he seems to agree he needs to change and grow --what use is the intellect of a child in a world dominated by lions?)

Why, according to Nietzsche, does the Ubermensch have the spirit of a child, and what else does my friend need in order to complete his transformation?

I also found this additional quote which may be relevant:

I love him who reserves no share of spirit for himself, but wants to be wholly the spirit of his virtue: thus he walks as spirit over the bridge.

So if I told "the child" to simply enjoy his virtues as he plays with them, would that be enough to make him the "over man"?

  • 2
    Proposing to put this question on hold as the philosophical problem isn't clear.
    – user2953
    Jan 13, 2015 at 9:09
  • could u be more precise, i am asking for clarification of a philosophical text ?
    – user6917
    Jan 13, 2015 at 9:10
  • "So if I told him to simply enjoy his virtues as he plays with them, would that do?" - do for what? What specific part of the text do you not understand?
    – user2953
    Jan 13, 2015 at 9:12
  • would that make his metamorphosis that of the overman ?
    – user6917
    Jan 13, 2015 at 9:12
  • Please edit your question to make the philosophical problem clear.
    – user2953
    Jan 13, 2015 at 9:14

4 Answers 4


A possible interpretation is given in Kaufman, W. (1955). Nietzsche and Rilke. The Kenyon Review, 17(1), 1-22.

His thesis is that this textbit is about the constant change and reinvention, the creativity and not being bound to making sense, i.e. purposeless striving that allows for doing something really original which then should be repeated eternally (transforming it to a will striving to dominate in order to achieve reoccurrence). Hence, the spirit of a child:

Interpreters have paid insufficient attention to Zarathustra's opening discourse "On The Three Metamorphoses" in which the highest stage in the development of the spirit is represented by the child. One possible and particularly important attitude toward the eternal recurrence of the same events is neither moralistic nor speculative but rather like a child's delight in a merry-go-round--or a child's wish to have a story it likes repeated again and again and again. (p.16)

By this, both the Nietzschean aspect of creating value and of risking the historical by trying something new (or the same to reoccur) are embodied by the spirit of a child:

There is no meaning outside, but Rilke and Nietzsche proclaim that a certain kind of life is its own reward, that a certain mode of experience makes life infinitely worthwhile, and that "the secret of the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment of existence is: to live dangerously!" (p. 22)

Therefore, it is about a mode of life, a not being bothered by anything but one's own enjoyment. Mind: "Geist" is an abstract standing behind reality, a moving and forming factor in German. This is exactly what can best be described in English by "a mode of happening/living".


Whatever else Nietzsche was, he was aware of Christian texts. Jesus once prominently said that "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3 http://biblehub.com/niv/matthew/18.htm ) Nietzsche was making an amplification or re-working of a somewhat mystical Bible doctrine which Jesus does go on to explain.

  • Christ's "child" is a person who acknowledges dependence on a parent and delights in being helped... appropriate for a person whom God forgives and sustains. Nietzsche's child is forgetful, not a good quality in a 33-year-old man... Nietzsche's child is innocent, hardly a plausible quality for a 33-year-old man. Apr 9, 2018 at 15:07

'The spirit of a child' : this isn't quite what Nietzsche says. He talks rather of 'how the spirit becomes a camel, and the camel a lion, and finally the lion a child' (TSZ, Cambridge : CUP, 2006, 16) - wie der Geist zum Kameele wird, und zum Löwen das Kameel, und zum Kinde zuletzt der Löwe.

That aside, though it is no small point, on my free reading Nietzsche does not suggest that the lion, or the person and potential Übermensch, is to become childish (uncontrollable, irksome, easily defeated and readily upset) but childlike in the sense of regaining the freshness of a child's sense of possibilities, of freedom from preconceived ideas, and so able to create a new world unsoiled by the old values.

I could be completely wrong but I seem to catch an echo of the famous verse in St Matthew's Gospel : 'Except ye . . become like little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven' (Matthew, 18:3). I have no religious line to push here - there may be no connexion. But 'Zarathustra' does have, as Erich Heller points out (see references below, 76), distinct touches of Biblical pastiche.

The answer to your question is, then, if I am any near right, that only by recovering something of the child's attitude to life, its pure, unfettered openness to possibilities can a person create the new world of the Übermensch.

By the way, I would add that I don't think that the Übermensch is childlike. Rather, only by becoming childlike in the ways I've described can a person achieve Übermenschlichkeit. He or she does not remain childlike after that state has been attained. Childlikeness is only the preparatory condition.


Erich Heller, 'Zarathustra's Three Metamorphoses: Facets of Nietzsche's Intellectual Biography and the Apotheosis of Innocence', Salmagundi, No. 21 (WINTER 1973), pp. 63-80.

Duncan Large, 'Nietzsche's Use of Biblical Language', Journal of Nietzsche Studies, No. 22 (FALL 2001), pp. 88-115.


This does not refer to being “child like” in the sense that you “tell a child.”

This refers to being “like a child” having a free spirit, one not yet indoctrinated by societies awkward self deceits.

Not a child in the sense of incompetence, ignorance, and helplessness. Child like in the sense of unselfconscious and unregulated openness to new and familiar things.

Like old people when they finally realize certain things don’t actually matter outside of the mind of those uptight. They start to act “child like” again, though we don’t quite mean without intelligence or conscientiousness.

It is worth noting that new comers often make brilliant advances in various fields (“citizen scientists” particularly), as their minds are uninhibited by dogma or overfamiliarity. Driven by curiosity, unaware of what has been tried and established before them. Like a child at play!

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