It is rather sad, but I read this section in Thus Spoke Zarathustra so many times. Both because I like the concept "arrows of longing" (for the overman), and find the phrase therein about also going over, interesting. One of those is

What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal: what is lovable in man is that he is an over-going and a down-going.

I love those that know not how to live except as down-goers, for they are the over-goers.

Does he love them because these are his Higher Types? I would also suppose that the other overgoers in that hateful list symbolise the lion and child, but am not sure.

Am I right then, perhaps something about inviolable principles, or amorality, or just greatness.

  • Read Zarathustra: A God That Can Dance. A very good answer I found there. Oct 28, 2019 at 22:53
  • Perhaps more that they are the only ones with a hope of becoming Higher? If you do not know how to live without suffering as if dying continually (undergoing, or being taken by the undertaker), you have motivation to discover something else. Those who can live without suffering, and know it, have a vested interest in maintaining existing ways of living, rather than discovering new ones. Nietzsche was very fond of his own suffering, and praised it, and his choice to accept it rather than making it go away, as a sign of his being truly alive.
    – user9166
    Oct 29, 2019 at 0:05
  • Nietzsche is also clearly exhilarated by the danger, the great challenge is necessary for the new more 'angelic' being. The depth of the abyss, the size of the challenge, defines the scope for greatness, which Nietzsche values above all else. A thirst for danger, towards down-going, is necessary for over-going, to prefer death in the attempt than never to try. From my answer here: philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/55074/…
    – CriglCragl
    May 5 at 12:48

4 Answers 4


I do believe that a bit of background on Nietzsche's Human, All Too Human would make any interpretation of Thus Spoke Zarathustra richer. Allow me, then, to draw from my knowledge of the said book, aside from so-called authoritative commentaries on Thus Spoke Zarathustra, such as The Mask of Enlightenment by Stanley Rosen.

Rosen used a translation different than yours: "those who do not know how to live, except by going under; for it is they who cross over." As I understand his interpretation, the people who "do now know how to live" are Zarathustra's disciples, hence Zarathustra loves them. You might ask as to why Zarathustra's disciples do not "know how" to live. The answer is that the reason why they came to Zarathustra in the first place, why they became his disciples, is to learn how to live authentically (as an ubermensch).

Now, in your translation, the "down-goers" are the ones who went "down" under Zarathustra's teaching, under the patronage and guidance of Zarathustra. Since they benefit from the teachings of Zarathustra, they are the ones who may or might become the ubermensch of tomorrow, the "over-goers."

While I agree with Rosen, I assert that there can be no single interpretation of Nietzsche, as Gregory Smith already asserted. Nietzsche himself wants to be interpreted multifariously. The reasons for these are: a)Nietzsche, as some degree, deliberately and consciously wants to be misunderstood; b) Being misunderstood will call for a closer examination of the work misunderstood; c) A closer examination will reveal the depth of profundity and the richness of the said work; d) Nietzsche, in his books, addressed different types of audience, yet believes that an advice to a type of audience may still be applicable to another. He is a bit of a subscriber to the thought that the author "does not matter" anymore after his books are published; e) Each person brings with him his own "lifeworld" in reading the text and the said "lifeworld" affects the way he reads the text, thus giving rise to valid, different interpretations.

Now, in my own reading of that passage, I can recall Nietzsche's teaching in Human, All too Human that when one becomes ill or burdened or "fettered" in some way, he/she will compensate for it in another way. Nietzsche's own example is the blinds who develop a superb sense of hearing. When hearing is concerned, they then are superior to the rest of mankind.

The same, I believe, is applicable to the "down-goers." Though in this case, "down-goer" must mean someone who is in the stage of the camel, extremely burdened, who, as a way of compensation, will increase his courage and will come later to throw off all that burdens him (lion) then create new values for himself (child.) The child is, obviously, the over-goer, for he went "over" that which afflicted him before.

  • i had assumed it meant the camel
    – user28117
    Aug 17, 2017 at 6:07
  • hi eugene, what about formerly the whole world was mad say the most sophisticated of them? (ps thanks for note on lion / child)
    – user28117
    Aug 17, 2017 at 10:49
  • Great answer. I'd change N's words to 'those who know that they do not know how to live'..
    – user20253
    Aug 17, 2017 at 11:25
  • hi @PeterJ you raise an interesting point, one i think meant to be conservative, and yet perhaps not so... i would very much like to chat about that, if you want a chat room ?
    – user28117
    Aug 19, 2017 at 19:56
  • @user329056 Sure. Always happy to chat. I don't know how the chatroom thing works though.
    – user20253
    Aug 20, 2017 at 11:06

You need to quote the whole context:

Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Overman -- a rope over an abyss.

A dangerous crossing, a dangerous wayfaring, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous trembling and halting.

What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal: what is lovable in man is that he is an over-going and a down-going.

I love those that know not how to live except as down-goers, for they are the over-goers.

I love the great despisers, because they are the great adorers, and arrows of longing for the other shore.

I love those who do not first seek a reason beyond the stars for going down and being sacrifices, but sacrifice themselves to the earth, that the earth may become the Overman's.

The introduction is a picture of "man" (the sheep, those who walk the path of others, those aiming for the stars and believing in the transcendental instead of the earthly as the highest value) as a rope over an abyss.

Thus, man are those who choose to follow a lofty trajectory that looses contact with the earth. They are in a predicament since their lofty way is "trembling and halting" because they are torn between their animalistic nature and their transcendental goals. Depth and earth are frequent synonyms for that which really counts, the bodily ("earthly") experience that nourishes the soul, not the other way round.

Therefore, he loves those who are down-gowers, those that do not try to escape the inescapable depths of life by balancing on a rope but "go down into the abyss", their feet fast on the ground. Those "know not how to live" because they do not follow traditional ways of life and values. It is a typical thing to say about people who do not take the "common" way (the rope, the camel) but want to find their own way through experience, even if it means to sacrifice what one once was (the abyss, the lion).

The implication is that the abyss cannot really be escaped. Those who do not realise that and only walk down (ie. try to cross the abyss by accepting the darker, more sinister parts of reality) because of "reasons beyond the stars" (ie. transcendental beliefs) can never truly understand man as a bridge between animal and over-man. They will try to cross the abyss that way but won't embrace or even accept the primacy of its reality, ie. they never really walk on its ground. What they fail to realise is that the over-man (the other side of the abyss) is just as earthly as the animalistic side and the abyss itself.

To speak in a different metaphor of his hinted at above, you need to be Camel and a Lion to become a child: Those that go down into the abyss for going down into the abyss, who start to question all beliefs and concentrate on what there is instead, who make the way and not the goal the centre of their existence, are those who can hope to become the over-man (the child that takes everything in with genuine curiosity and without prejudice or bias). This is the part about why he loves the "great despisers" (of habits, the transcendental, and believing for beliefs sake) who are the "great adorers" (of earthly reality, real existence, the tangible, bodily, and felt).

Generally, the tenor of the early chapters is Zarathustra's attempt to make people aware that there is more to be gained (and thus "given", another central theme) by embracing the "earthly" (bodily, phenomenological) reality as primary than by chasing the thoughts, dreams, and chimeras of others in a rejection of one's immediate instincts, urges, and senses, ie. that which makes the existence one's own. They are literally a story of his failure in trying to evoke that thought.

  • "rejection of one's immediate instincts, urges and senses" you're right that these can seem little more appealing than morality. i don't quite know what you mean by "transcendental"
    – user65758
    May 5 at 12:45
  • @trivia Transcendental is everything that supposedly exists "beyond the stars", ie. outside of the empirical reality that can be accessed through the senses. Things like God, an afterlife, an immortal soul, etc.
    – Philip Klöcking
    May 5 at 13:51

Those who know how to navigate the suffering inherent in participating in life are those who are ultimately the "super- or overmen", or enlightened? Just a thought. I don't claim to know anything.

  • Perhaps just the opposite. Those who can flourish will stop searching for ways to survive. His Creators, e.g. Zarathustra, Moses, the Buddha, Christ -- rose through and out of oppression that might ordinarily have killed a person (or his people, whom, e.g. in the case of Moses, he had the opportunity to forsake, and did not).
    – user9166
    Oct 29, 2019 at 0:11


It is often put forward that Nietzsche was a nihilist. This is not so! Nietzsche believed in virtue, and it is the very circumstance of having (or pursuing) virtue which makes one virtuous (going as spirit over the bridge, and a “knot for one’s destiny to cling to”.)

There are many kinds of virtue, and Nietzsche lists several kinds without telling you what sort you must have.

Finding one’s own virtue is “finding the path” for one’s own life.

Love those who know not how to live but as down-goers, as they are the over-goers”, these are “arrows of longing” who move us forward on our path as humanity!

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