“The Camel, the Lion and the Child: Our Rides to the Overman”
by Paul Ewing
In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Zarathustra suggests we must go through three metamorphoses to achieve Overman status. First we must be the camel, then the lion and finally the child. Why these three and in that order? Here is an answer to that question.
Zarathustra’s choice of a beast of burden, the camel, is perfect for beginning the transformation. We need to load up our camel with the baggage of the past: the customs, traditions, and morality that we have carried with us all our lives. Also, we stack on the camel’s back pride, perseverance, comfort, hate, health… all our accumulated cultural norms. Once we load these up on our camel, we can begin our journey out into the desert.
Out in the desert we ditch the camel (and all its baggage) and become the lion, the predator who seeks its freedom and mastery over its own life. To do this the lion must fight its last master, the dragon named “Thou shalt.” This dragon could represent the Church, the State, perhaps any and all forms of authority. The dragon says “the value of all things-it gleams in me.” I can hear generals, priests, dictators, and parents saying the exact same thing. In order to seek freedom the lion must first destroy external authority. It’s perfect that the dragon says, “There shall be no more ‘I will.’ But the Overman must be an “I will” being! To become the Overman is to have the will to say “No!” to “duty” To become the Overman is to exercise the “will to power. The lion must slay the dragon named “Thou shalt”!*
At first the transition from lion to child seems incongruous, to go from something so predatory to something almost helpless. But if the camel and the lion have done their work, the child now has a “blank slate” to write upon, a totally fresh start, completely free of cultural baggage and authority figures of the past. I am reminded of a primary source reader from my Western Civ course at the University of Toledo in 1966-67; it was called “Hang-ups from Way Back.” The child no longer has any hang-ups. And the goal can be achieved, “the spirit wants its will, the one lost to the world now wins its own world.”
*Note: Archilochus said “No!” to his generals in the following poem.
“Some lucky Thracian has my shield,
For, being somewhat flurried,
I dropped it by a wayside bush,
As from the field I hurried;
Thank God, I made it clear away,
To blazes with the shield!
I’ll get another just as good
When next I take the field.”
–Archilochus, lyric poet of Ionia, seventh century B.C.E.