By coincidence, today I finished reading two works of philosophy. These were Nietzsche’s ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’ and Voltaire’s short story ‘Micromegas’. Each, in their own way, put me in mind of Swift’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels’. Voltaire’s piece was in the well-tried form of a philosophical journey, the device used in the English writer’s political allegory. These two tales can be read simply as entertaining stories without understanding their deeper meaning. Like most of us, I read of Gulliver’s adventures as a child without having a clue about their satirical political undertones. Having no idea, half the time, what Nietzsche is on about, was for me a link with this sublime ignorance.
Never having read the German before, I am now clear about why he was so frowned upon by the Jesuits who educated me. This man was no lover of God, and an implacable opponent of Christianity. He doesn’t much seem to like humans either. My Folio Society edition has been translated by Graham Parkes. He has no doubt assisted in the ease with which one can, if not struggling too hard for fuller comprehension, read what must be the original flowing, yet experimental, prose. I enjoyed the language and the style, if not the cynical sentiments.
I have not read the Avesta, scraps of which are all that remains of the writings of that ancient Persian mystic, Zarathustra, but it is evident that much of what Nietzsche puts into his mouth are the author’s own thoughts. Unless that earlier teacher was able to see into the future he could not have known about ‘The Last Supper’ which Nietzsche chose to parody.
Peter Suart’s illustrations skilfully and approprately supplement the Folio edition.
‘God is dead’ for Nietzsche, yet not for Voltaire. The Frenchman, in his short story, presents man as delusional, but demonstrates humour and sensitivity I find lacking in the German born writer. The little tale seems to be, both literally and metaphorically, about cutting humanity down to size. Two giants from other planets, on a journey pre-dating twentieth century space travel, seeking other life forms, land on a minuscule Earth peopled by ‘insects’ they need a microscope to view. Discovering that they are dealing with men, they engage in discussions on such topics as the soul and warfare. Voltaire, in debating the indefinable spirit introduces the views of other philosophers. Interestingly, Nietzsche’s references mostly seem to be from the Bible.
Voltaire’s precursors of the ‘Star Trek’ crew find, on Earth, a boatload of philosophers and teachers who introduce the subject of war, through allusion to the Turko-Russian wars of the 1730s. He writes a few simple sentences which should be rquired reading for world leaders throughout the globe. One of the travellers demonstrates how it is possible to amend one’s pre-determined views by listening to reasoned argument.
This evening Maggie and Mike will collect me and drive me to Eymet for a meal at their home. Gourmands who are hungry for information about the repast must starve until tomorrow.