At the age of thirty, Zarathustra goes into the wilderness and so enjoys his spirit and his solitude there that he stays for ten years. Finally, he decides to return among people, and share with them his over-brimming wisdom. Like the setting sun, he must descend from the mountain and "go under."

On his way, he encounters a saint living alone in the forest. This saint once loved mankind, but grew sick of their imperfections and now loves only God. He tells Zarathustra that mankind doesn't need the gift he brings, but rather help: they need someone to lighten their load and give them alms. Taking his leave of the saint, Zarathustra registers with surprise that the old man has not heard that "God is dead!"

Upon arriving in the town, Zarathustra begins to preach, proclaiming the overman. Man is a rope between beast and overman and must be overcome. The way across is dangerous, but it must not be abandoned for otherworldly hopes. Zarathustra urges the people to remain faithful to this world and this life, and to feel contempt for their all-too-human happiness, reason, virtue, justice, and pity. All this will prepare the way for the overman, who will be the meaning of the earth.

On hearing this, the people laugh at Zarathustra. Zarathustra suggests that while it is still possible to breed the overman, humanity is becoming increasingly tame and domesticated, and will soon be able to breed only the last man. The last men will be all alike, like herd animals, enjoying simple pleasures and mediocrity, afraid of anything too dangerous or extreme. Zarathustra says, "'We have invented happiness,' say the last men, and they blink." The people cheer, and ask Zarathustra to turn them into these last men.

Just then, a tightrope walker begins walking between two towers in the town. A jester comes out behind him, following him, and mocking him for being so awkward and moving so slowly. Suddenly, the jester jumps right over the tightrope walker, upsetting him and making him fall to the ground. Zarathustra approaches the dying man, and allays his fear of damnation by explaining that there is no devil and no hell. But then, the tightrope walker suggests that his life has been meaningless and that he has been a mere beast. Not at all, Zarathustra suggests to the dying man: "You have made danger your vocation; there is nothing contemptible in that."

That night, Zarathustra leaves town with the dead tightrope walker to bury him in the countryside. A poor day of fishing, he muses metaphorically: he has caught no men, but only a corpse. On his way out, the jester approaches him and warns him to leave. The jester says that Zarathustra is disliked here by the good and the just, and by the believers in the true faith. Only because Zarathustra isn't taken seriously is he allowed to live.

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