As an Iranian citizen I have read most Nietzsche's books which have been translated in Persian/Farsi language as my mother tongue.

There are still debates between translators,philosophers and enthusiasts of philosophy about what this sentence from the book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra actually means:

"And thus spoke the little old woman: You go to women? Do not forget the whip!"

Some say it doesn't mean the same you read it word by word and has a different deeper meaning! It would be nice to find the ideas of German language audiences or experts who know German and have access to the original sources to find the correct meaning.

  • The German Wikipedia provides a possible key to the interpretation. Perhaps somebody can translate (better than I would).
    – user3164
    Apr 13, 2013 at 17:26
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    The German Wikipedia gives one such interpretation. Obviously it does that in German. :) Therefore, the interpretation (not the quote) would have to be translated for you to grasp this interpretation.
    – user3164
    Apr 13, 2013 at 17:37
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    Thanks! I'd want to at least do some minimal reflection and research before posting an answer; but did want to share some quick thoughts in passing... Welcome to Philosophy, by the way!
    – Joseph Weissman
    Apr 13, 2013 at 18:00
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    Here's some commentary on the symbolic import of the whip in Nietzsche's times: jstor.org/stable/1432204
    – DBK
    Apr 13, 2013 at 20:43
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    I will check out the German Wiki and summarize what seems to be important.
    – iphigenie
    Apr 13, 2013 at 21:41

7 Answers 7


Abstract: Zarathustra addresses a ‘little old woman’. Everything about women, he tells her, has pregnancy as a solution. A man should be brought up for war and the woman for the recreation of the warrior. The woman’s task is to bring out the child in the man. The happiness of a man is ‘I will’, of a woman ‘he wills’. Her world becomes ‘perfect’ when she obeys out of total love. The old woman replies with‘a little truth’: ‘You are going to women? Then don’t forget the whip’.

It seems to be quite irrelevant that it is put in the mouth of the old woman – this is merely a rhetorical device designed to intensify the force of Zarathustra–Nietzsche’s views on women: ‘You see, even old, that is, wise, women agree with me’, he implies. Nietzsche's biography might be brought to bear on his views on women. He was raised in a family of women of rigidly moralistic views. His marriage proposals were all rebuffed; and the women whom he seemed most to admire, Lou Salomé and Cosima Wagner, were strong-willed individuals who did not especially subscribe to conventional roles for women. No doubt, Nietzsche had many motivations for complicated reactions to "woman as such.”

Though the formal point of this passage is to advise the potential free spirit on how to comport himself with women, its main value is as a manifestation of how deeply the Lou Salomé affair had damaged Nietzsche’s attitude to women. There is a very marked contrast between Nietzsche’s empathetic stance towards the plight of women in nineteenth-century Europe in the pre-Lou period and this raising of male chauvinism to the point, even by nineteenth-century standards, of caricature, this insulting slapping down of everything Lou aspired to. It is not hard to see what has happened. In the aftermath of the affair, Nietzsche eased his pain by taking a kind of fictional revenge. The passage, in other words, is cut from the same cloth as the pathologically disturbed letters he wrote to Rée and Lou Salomé at precisely the same time as he was writing Part I of Zarathustra. It is, as he himself says of those letters, incompatible with the rejection of ‘resentment’ by his innermost mode of thinking.

Nietzsche might also be seen as sexist's divided attitude because he personifies Life and Wisdom as women in Zarathustra posing Zarathustra as the lover of both. To be set against Zarathustra awful remarks about women in Part I, however, is the fact that in its two ‘dance-songs,’ one in Part II and the other in Part III, ‘Life’ (whom Zarathustra claims to love unreservedly) is portrayed as a woman, ‘wild and not virtuous’( Zarathustra II §10) who dances in an ecstatic circle with ‘flaming, flying hair’( Zarathustra III §15, in part, surely, a portrait of the heroine of Nietzsche’s favourite opera, Carmen). One can analyse this divided attitude to women in terms of Nietzsche’s own categories of the ‘Dionysian’ and the ‘Apollonian’. Women attract Nietzsche because the erotic represents transcendence of suffering individuality, à la Tristan und Isolde, the ‘intoxicated’ absorption into a ‘higher community’, Dionysian, as described in The Birth of Tragedy. Burnt by the Lou affair, however, he reacts with the exaggerated Apollonianism represented by The Birth of Tragedy as the Doric response to the harmful side of Dionysianism: Apollo’s ‘majestic rejection of all licence’ (Birth of Tragedy §2) So dangerous are women that they must be pressed back into the cage of nineteenth-century Apollonian's chauvinism.

By Part III of Zarathustra, written towards the end of 1883 as he was beginning to recover a certain, at least temporary, equilibrium after the Lou affair, Nietzsche’s text has calmed down somewhat, and even performs a kind of penance for the whip remark. In The Other Dance-Song ( Zarathustra III §15) Zarathustra tries to make Life dance to his tempo by cracking his whip – as seemingly advised to do in Part I. Life asks him to stop. Surely he knows that ‘noise murders thoughts’, in particular the ‘tender’ thoughts she is beginning to have about him. Even in Part III, however, Nietzsche remains opposed to female emancipation: ‘women are becoming mannish,’ he claims, because there is so little ‘manfulness’ in men – only a properly mannish man will ‘redeem the woman in women’(Zarathustra III §5).

Nietzsche's sexism's divided attitude is a complex topic. In some of his writings he mouths the inflammatory misogynistic imagery of Schopenhauer's "On Women," arguably the most notorious denunciation of women in German. For Nietzsche's repetition of Schopenhauerian images (see, for example, Beyond Good and Evil, §232-39). At other times, he presents psychological brief descriptions depicting interactions among women and men; frequently in these, he seems to be sympathetic to women.(This is particularly evident in, for example, Gay Science, §71, which concludes, "In sum, one cannot be too kind about women."). He frequently personifies abstract ideas in female form, and he appeals to stereotypical images of women, although in the latter cases he often plays with the images or refers explicitly to male perceptions of women. Presumably, his preface remark in Beyond Good and Evil, "Supposing truth is a woman - what then?" has been interpreted as sexist because it utilizes stereotypical images of women. An example of Nietzsche's explicit discussion of male fantasy occurs in Gay Science, §59.

  • Thanks! A very good answer! I like to read it several times and compare it with some other answers here and somewhere else. :) Apr 13, 2013 at 23:57
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    Why do you feel the need to label beliefs “sexist” and “misogynistic”? It serves to moralistically and sociopolitically frame works of great philosophers - to imply a moral attitude that proper people should have about a work. These are labels that do nothing more than signal propriety. Why do you psychologize Nietzsche, implying psychological reasons for his writings? It’s undermining and dismissive. The content of his work speaks for itself, and it does not shine through any paint cast upon it through psychological speculation. We don’t imply Carnap wrote “Aufbau” because he likely had OCD. Sep 5, 2020 at 18:24

The German Wikipedia provides a possible key to the interpretation.

Nachdem man nun weiß, was die Zukunft von Ehe und Gattin sein soll, versteht man auch, was die „kleine Wahrheit“ des „alten Weibleins“ bedeutet. „Die Peitsche dient anscheinend dazu, die eigenen sinnlichen Begierden bei der Wahl und im Umgang mit einer Gattin im Zaume zu halten, damit sie nicht als entscheidender Gesichtspunkt vorherrschen, sondern dass die Hervorbringung des Übermenschen dabei im Mittelpunkt steht.“

The quote within the quote is from: Eugen Roth-Bodmer, Schlüssel zu Nietzsches Zarathustra: Ein interpretierender Kommentar zu Nietzsches Werk „Also sprach Zarathustra“, Meilen-Druck AG, p. 58.

This translates as:

After knowing what the future of marriage and wife should be, you also understand what the "little truth" of the "little old woman" means. "The whip apparently serves to keep in check the sensual desires in the choice of and in the interaction with a wife in order not to allow them to be a dominant aspect but that the creation of the Übermensch occupies the center."

Translation by @Em1

Die fröhliche Wissenschaft answers who the old woman actually is: "The Truth this old woman was called [...]".

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    That's exactly how I read the German Wiki: +1. Nonetheless I disagree about it making sense - the interpretation has one serious problem. It doesn't say "when you go to your woman", but "go to women". If the man is supposed to take the whip to keep his desires for his wife in check, what does he need the whip for, when he goes to see other women?
    – iphigenie
    Apr 14, 2013 at 10:37

Wikipedia gives this interpretation via Emma Goldman:

Nietzsche's memorable maxim, 'When you go to woman, take the whip along,' is considered very brutal, yet Nietzsche expressed in one sentence the attitude of woman towards her gods... Religion, especially the Christian religion, has condemned woman to the life of an inferior, a slave. It has thwarted her nature and fettered her soul, yet the Christian religion has no greater supporter, none more devout, than woman. Indeed, it is safe to say that religion would have long ceased to be a factor in the lives of the people, if it were not for the support it receives from woman. The most ardent churchworkers, the most tireless missionaries the world over, are women, always sacrificing on the altar of the gods that have chained her spirit and enslaved her body...

This seems to fit in with what would be my "instinctual" reading of the maxim, which I was tempted to expand upon in the comments -- that women are the uncomplaining victims of a kind of astonishing biological-cosmic-social conspiracy. The remark, strange as it sounds, is "pro-feminist" in the sense that, as D+G might put it, feminists can never take their "becoming-woman" far enough. I think we definitely miss the point if we reduce the insight here to the level of procreation-filiation, even at the asymptotic limit of giving birth to the "overman" -- here I am tempted to remind us of Derrida's remarks about mothers, especially about "thinking" mothers; he says they are something like the most important thing, the point of his work...

At any rate this seems to me resonant with the sentiment I feel like Nietzsche might be articulating here. In terms of places to explore further I might suggest referring to Derrida's Spurs; Deleuze's Nietzsche and Philosophy also might be particularly useful here.


The woman represents the nurturing and conserving part of Society. No great man has emerged in the course of History, who is not a fabric of his education and "kinderstube" (Nursery). This is what brings forth and also smothers great thinkers. How should a Genius be like? We're like Circus animals doing a trick while the whip is lashing. Nietzsche wanted people to go beyond what our culture could afford or offer. At least that's my explanation.


I think it's important to bear in mind that Nietzsche's style is often deliberately opaque or misleading. He expected his work to be fully appreciated only long after his death, and in many respects that's exactly what's happened. Many of his aphorisms don't mean exactly what they seem to mean at first glance.

And there's an ambiguity in the whip passage that nobody seems to have noticed. He says that when the man "goes to women" he should bring his whip. He doesn't say who's going to end up holding the whip.

The reason I think this is significant is that Sacher-Masoch's "Venus in Furs", published in German in 1870, contains a number of themes that are developed in Nietzsche's later work. Some of these include the contrast between German and Italian culture, the role of reflective understanding in modern social life, and--perhaps most importantly--Sacher-Masoch's claim, which Nietzsche later reiterates, that all forms of civilized society rest on a basis of slavery and domination.

Nietzsche never credited Sacher-Masoch as an influence and it's not hard to imagine why. But it's worth pointing out that in the novel, the male protagonist bullies a reluctant woman into whipping him. Make of that what you will.


You can read loads on the 'eternal feminine'.

Perhaps a suggestion that women, and sexual relations in general, are either for pleasure or forever:

Joy accompanies, joy does not move


The snake is the whip, of which it took advantage of the man's love for the woman, in order to fool the man into partaking of something forbidden and taking advantage of the man's desire for the woman. In my culture men speak of being "whipped" or taken over by desire of women. This may be most of all referring to the biological hormonal power induced in mankind's mind and the release of dopamine into the body. http://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/dopamine

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    To what extent dopamine release is the physical instantiation of reward is irrelevant in this context. How would any of your answer be any different if it were a consequence of, say, non-dopamine neurons in the anterior cingulate?
    – Rex Kerr
    Apr 14, 2013 at 20:01

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