Nietzsche’s Parable The Madman: An Interpretive Exercise
The Gay Science
("la gaya scienza")
I live in my own place,
have never copied nobody even half,
and at any master who lacks the grace
to laugh at himself—I laugh.
OVER THE DOOR TO MY HOUSE
Published in 1882. Second
Edition published in 1887, adding: Preface, Book V, and Appendix of Songs.
Excerpts from translation by Walter Kaufmann.
Text amended in part by
The Gay Science
The madman. — Have you
not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to
the market place and cried incessantly: "I seek God! I seek God!"— As many of
those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked
much laughter. Has he got lost? Asked one. Did he lose his way like a child?
Asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage?
emigrated? — Thus they yelled and laughed. The madman jumped into their midst
and pierced them with his eyes. "Whither is God?" he cried. "I will tell you.
We have killed him—you and I! All of us are his murderers! But how did we do
this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the
entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun?
Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not
plunging continually? And backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is
there still any up or down? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing?
Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night
continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning?
Do we not hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying
God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? —Gods, too,
decompose! God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him! How shall we
comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and
mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our
knives, —who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean
ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to
invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves
not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater
deed, —and whoever is born after us, for the sake of this deed he will belong to
a higher history than all history hitherto!"— Here the madman fell silent and
looked again at his listeners: they, too, were silent and stared at him in
astonishment. At last he threw his lantern to the ground, and it broke into
pieces and went out. "I have come too early," he said then; "my time is not yet.
This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering—it has not yet
reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the
stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and
heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the most distant stars—and
yet they have done it themselves!"— It has been related further that on the
same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his
requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have
replied nothing but: "What after all are these churches now if they are not the
tombs and sepulchers of God?"
B. Nietzsche’s Madman: Questions
1. In what sense is the madman insane? Upon
what basis, or according to what standard, is he considered insane?
2. What might be the symbolic or analogical meaning of the madman utilizing a
lighted lantern to search for God on a bright morning?
3. According to the madman: “we have killed God, we are his murderers.”
Beginning with “But how have we done it?” the madman poses a series of
passionate questions in response to the murder of God. What do you think is the
basic point of these questions? What do these questions imply about the
consequences of the ‘death of God’ for his murderers?
4. The madman claims that the murder of God is the greatest event ever
and that those born after it belong to a higher history. What do you
think the madman means? Why do you think he makes such strong claims?
5. The madman throws down his lantern, in response to the silent and stunned
audience, and proclaims that he has come too early. He also states that
this murderous deed “is as yet further from them than the furthest star—and
yet they have done it!” What might the madman mean? Why do you think
he throws his lantern to the ground, so that it’s light is extinguished, at this