Nietzsche: Promethean Übermensch

Prometheus is a Titan of Greek mythology who stole fire from Mount Olympus and gave it to mankind, defying the decree of Zeus. As punishment, Zeus ordered Prometheus to be chained to a rock where an eagle daily tore at his entrails. In this video, we will discuss the myth of Prometheus and its relevance to Nietzsche’s idea of the Superman.

In Aeschylus’ version of the myth, Prometheus knows the identity of the person who will overthrow Zeus as King of the Gods. Zeus desperately tries to extract the information from Prometheus, but the Titan remains defiant. Zeus might possess more physical power than Prometheus, but Prometheus’ intellectual power renders him much stronger than Zeus.

Nietzsche draws a comparison between Zeus and the God of the Bible. Just as Zeus became frightened by the knowledge of Prometheus, the God of Genesis became frightened by the knowledge of mankind after it ate from the forbidden tree of knowledge. “It was through woman that man learned to taste of the tree of knowledge. The old God was seized by mortal terror. Man himself had been his greatest blunder; he had created a rival to himself; science makes men godlike—it is all up with priests and gods when man becomes scientific! So the old God comes to his final resolution: “Man has become scientific—there is no help for it: he must be drowned!”

But mankind proved to be as resilient as Prometheus. It survived the flood and the expulsion from Eden into the world of suffering. As Prometheus overcomes Zeus with knowledge, so too does mankind overcome the belief in God with the developments of modern science. However, Nietzsche warns of the nihilism looming over us after the death of God. “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?”

God bestowed value and meaning upon life. Something must replace God – otherwise humanity will sink into an undesirable state of nihilism. Thus, Nietzsche introduces his concept of the Ubermensch or Superman. Nietzsche’s Superman is entirely free from external influence. He is the creator of new values that replace the old values given by God. “I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him? All beings so far have created something beyond themselves. Do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock and a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the Superman: a laughingstock and a painful embarrassment.”

The Superman finds value and happiness in activities that most would least expect – in suffering and in overcoming resistance. “The most intelligent men, like the strongest, find their happiness where others would find only disaster: in the labyrinth, in being hard with themselves and with others, in effort; their delight is in self-mastery; in them asceticism becomes second nature, a necessity, an instinct. They regard a difficult task as a privilege; it is to them a recreation to play with burdens that would crush all others.”

To conclude, the myth of Prometheus is similar to the story of mankind. Prometheus overcomes Zeus with the power of knowledge, and mankind overcomes the belief in God with the power of modern science. But Nietzsche recognizes that science cannot replace the void left by God. Science cannot bestow value and meaning upon life. The rise of the Superman – the creator of new values – is required to rescue mankind from the abyss of nihilism. And the Superman finds our lost meaning after the death of God in suffering and in overcoming resistance.

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15 thoughts on “Nietzsche: Promethean Übermensch

  1. Very well-written piece. Short, but very analytical and thought-provoking. I wonder if we ourselves are finally at this stage, the death of God? There are those who are flailing to preserve the corpse of God, who want to go down with that ship as it were. And the rest of us, though content and some even proud of the death of God, we are still waiting for the Superman to emerge truly. No one has the strength as yet to stand and be that Superman, partially out of lack of conviction and partially out of fear of those who cling to the corpse. I wonder when that Superman will arise, and how that Superman will overturn those last screamers of God.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You raise some very interesting points. I agree that the Superman has not emerged yet, but I don’t think that the Superman needs to “overturn those last screamers of God.” I interpret the Superman to be a person who has become entirely free. He obeys no person or thing other than himself. He is the creator of new values that replace the old values once given by a belief in gods.

      Other people do not need to follow him in order to prove that he is the Superman. In fact, I believe that there could be many Supermen – each with a different set of values.

      • You defining factors remind me of the current Dalai Lama. If ever there was a Superman of our times to identify, it would be him I feel.

      • “I interpret the Superman to be a person who has become entirely free. He obeys no person or thing other than himself. He is the creator of new values that replace the old values once given by a belief in gods.”

        Yes I agree with you. Superman isn’t turned towards the other: in the post-metaphysical age that overcoming is an overcoming of oneself, first and foremost. Artistic creativity as a remedy for which to traverse nihilism that follows the wake of the death of God.

      • I have always interpreted the Overman to be an ideal to pursue rather than a realization of an ideal. The point is not to wait until the Overman appears and solves all our problems, but rather we should all strive to become a superior being in our own way. Collectively this we will strengthen our species and transcend our present condition. Look not to the Overman for guidance, but become the Overman yourself, or die in the pursuit.

  2. Parallel between Zeus and God depicted in the book of Genesis is interesting. Just right now I’m listening to series of lectures “Myth in Human History” (by Professor Grant L. Voth) and the most prominent thing which you can’t help but notice is a common patterns across most of the myths, epics and religions… It all leads to tempting idea about some point of convergence/root story, in the same way that when you start learn linguistics it seems that there are all signs of language universalism/common proto-language… But they say it is not quite true in both cases, unlike it seems at a first glance 🙂

    • Humans tend to seek patterns; and therefore they often find patterns in truly random phenomena. As you remarked, it may just be a coincidence. Thanks for the comment 🙂

  3. I’ve read somewhere that Zeus and Yahweh probably share a common Sumerian lineage.

    As for Nietzsche, the idea I find most interesting is that understanding is an act of violence, of murder. Honestly, I kind of like it, since to understand a new thing is very often to mutilate an existing belief.

    • I agree. Nietzsche revered Heraclitus. They both believed that strife and change were the natural conditions of reality. Every creative act has a destructive consequence and vice versa.

      “If a temple is to be erected a temple must be destroyed: that is the law.”

  4. This makes me think about the concept of l’angoisse as proposed by Sartre. The idea that our responsibility is the greatest burden is fascinating to me especially in the context of the Neitzschean will to power (because is power not too the greatest pleasure?). Thoughts?

    • I am glad that you mentioned Sartre. I need to write a post about him very soon.

      In response to your comment, I agree that Sartre’s emphasis on the responsibility of the individual to create his own “essence” is closely related to Nietzsche’s philosophy. Both of them exhorted readers to take command of their life – to be active, not passive.

  5. Waste of time in the bible it never says God feared man’s knowledge 😂😂😂 he could perish is if he wanted to but he’s too nice he is the God of love love has no fear .smh

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