Modern History Sourcebook:
Parable of the Madman
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? 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 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
Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners;
and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment.
At last he threw his lantern on 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 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?"
Source: Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882, 1887)
para. 125; Walter Kaufmann ed. (New York: Vintage, 1974), pp.181-82.]
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(c)Paul Halsall Aug 1997