Feb 07 2018


ZARATHUSTRA: Three Metamorphoses of the Spirit

On the Three Metamorphoses

Friedrich Nietzsche, in the first of Zarathustra’s speeches, cites three metamorphoses of the spirit:

On how the spirit transform itself into a camel, the camel into a lion and the lion into a child. We obviously refer to symbolic mutations that lead the human being to become an Overman.[1]


On the metamorphosis into camel

The human spirit, by means of the first mutation, turns into a camel, an animal that symbolizes strength, resistance and endurance.

The first metamorphosis of which Zarathustra spoke


In order to do this, the spirit wonders what looks heavier, more difficult to endure and overcome. Which road seems more difficult to travel but more meaningful. How to chase the truth, aware of the adversity that this research entails.

Aware of marginalization, of selfish whims and of the pity that others reserve for us.

When the spirit load itself with these heavy burdens, it becomes a camel and heads into the desert of solitude.

Loneliness and marginalization constitute two key phenomena needed in every process of personal development and search for truth.

Plato for example, in his book Apology of Socrates [2], tells us how the love for philosophy and the truth of the latter, caused him many enemies who first avoided him with scorn and subsequently condemned him to death with rage. Socrates died of his virtue as Overmen do.

We can find a second example in the book of Nietzsche himself in which Zarathustra, after ten years of solitude in the mountains, comes back to the city to share his awareness with the people. Unfortunately, however, the common people do not understand the greatness of his ideas and make fun of him staving him off. He receives attention only from beggars, hermits and animals because the closeness to the earth predisposes them to grasp the message of Zarathustra.

A third confirmation of this tendency to marginalize those who set off on the arduous path of personal development, comes to us from one of the greatest masters of the sector: G.I. Gurdjieff.

The legendary Armenian mystic used to undertake a ritual with his students: The toast of the idiots; a way to celebrate one’s idiocy.

As one of those students later wrote:


«The word idiot has two meanings: the true meaning, that was given to it by the ancient sages, was to be oneself. A man who is himself looks and behaves like a madman to those who live in the world of illusions, so when they call a man an idiot they mean that he does not share their illusions. Everyone who decides to work on himself is an idiot in both meanings. The wise know that he is seeking for reality. The foolish think he has taken leave of his senses. We here are supposed to be seeking for reality, so we should all be idiots: but no one can make you an idiot. You must choose it for yourself.»

(J.G. Bennet, E. Bennet – Idiots in Paris) [3]


The camel moves then towards loneliness, loaded with heavy tasks and judgments of people who consider him an idiot. However, it keeps going with determination and carelessness.


On the metamorphosis into lion

A second metamorphosis takes place in the desert of solitude. The camel, determined to take the reins of his own destiny, turns into a lion that symbolizes freedom and rebellion.

The second metamorphosis of wich Zarathustra spoke


After loneliness and marginalization, the camel must face a flesh-and-blood enemy that blocks his path: a dragon, fierce lord of the desert, which symbolizes the power of tradition and old values.

This dragon has golden scales, each of which bears the inscription  “You must”. The lion, however, opposes to the various “You must”, deriving from tradition and millenary values, with his “I want”.

Moved by the desire to become the new lord of the desert himself, the lion goes in search of his enemy.

The mutation in lion does not have the purpose to create (the lion can’t do it)
but to earn the freedom to create. To the will of the dragon based on old values, the lion opposes his own.

The issue of the will represents a key point in Nietzsche’s thinking. In fact, the Overman does not only accept the inevitable tragedy of his life but he wants it with strength and awareness. From the object of fate it becomes subject. He wants to exercise his will (what Heidegger defines “Will to will”) throwing it against what deserves defection (“Will to power”), first of all the old values ​​that force man to a sick and self-inflicted life.

When the lion defeats the dragon, he finally gets free. Free to want what he wants and free to can what he can.


On the metamorphosis into child

The lion now possesses the will and the power to create but in order to put it into effect it has to undergo a last metamorphosis, it has to transform into a child.

The third metamorphosis of which Zarathustra spoke

The child, not having yet assimilated the moral burden of adults’ society, lives Beyond Good and Evil [4]. He therefore symbolizes innocence, play, saying yes, the will to act upon the world and to create. In doing so, the nomadic and wordless spirit creates its new world.

“Thus Spoke Zarathustra”.[5]





1️⃣ We can find the German word “Übermensch” usually translated in English with the word “Superman”. I consider it a bad translation because Nietzsche did not intend to write about a Super-being, as Nazis claimed due to a wrong re-interpretation of his writings.

Since he used the word “Über” whose best translation corresponds to “Over” or “Beyond”, we should avoid the popular English translation “Superman” and replace it with “Overman”.
2️⃣ Plato – Apology of Socrates (IV sec. B.C.) [Read it here]

3️⃣ Idiots in Paris: Diaries of J.G. Bennett and Elizabeth Bennett, 1949; iv (1980- posthumous) [This one]

4️⃣ Friedrich Nietzsche – Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future (1886) [Read it here]

5️⃣ Nietzsche uses this phrase both to conclude all the discourses of Zarathustra, and as the title of the book itself:
Friedrich Nietzsche – Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None (1891)
[Read it here]


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