28 Mar 2015

Nietzsche (§341) The Gay Science, §341 ‘The Greatest Weight’

by Corry Shores
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[The following is summary. The original text is reproduced below.]

Summary of

Friedrich Nietzsche

The Gay Science

Book 4: Sanctus Januarius


‘The Greatest Weight’

Brief summary:
What if we must relive our lives, exactly as we have, infinitely more times throughout eternity? Each minute detail, and each and every trivial and unpleasant moment, would become an eternal experience. Would we feel condemned to an unbearable fate? If so, we do not find affirmative value in everything about ourselves and our lives. However, if we rejoice in this prospect, we would see that each moment we live is supremely important, valuable, and necessary. In both cases, we would find this idea, and as well every moment of our lives, to be of the greatest weight, since it gives ultimate significance to everything about our existence. The question is, can you learn to see that all things in your life no matter what are supremely affirmable? Could you for example be the victim of torture or other trauma, and experience it affirmatively as an important, valuable, and eternally repeatable event?


Nietzsche will present to us an idea of the greatest weight or importance. But he wants us to imagine learning it from a demon speaking to us when we feel as lonely as we possibly can. [The loneliness is perhaps important, because in such moments, we would not be inherently inclined to want to continue being in this state or be in it again. Also it would mean that we regard the question as being of a highly personal matter. The fact that it is told by a demon may indicate some things as well. For example, perhaps this means it is a tempting idea, or an idea that is subversive to what we consider morally proper or religiously dogmatic. It also may suggest that it is a very dangerous idea that could ruin us somehow, perhaps mentally or spiritually. Also, the fact it comes from such a non-worldly being having special knowledge of reality that we do not have may suggest that we would be compelled to believe it to be true or at least very possibly true. And also, the fact that the idea comes from a demon may suggest it is demonic or that it may make us crazy or ‘possessed’ in a way, perhaps possessed with a certain crazed mentality. Note as well that this is a supposition, “what if … a demon …”. We need for some reason to first conceive this as a hypothetical possibility, perhaps because if we first conceive it as a real possibility, we may be unable to properly handle its implications emotionally or psychologically.] The demon tells us that we will have to live our life exactly as we have, with absolutely no variation at all, infinitely many more times. Nietzsche wonders how you will react. Will you be filled with dread and extreme disappointment? Or will you regard it as a wonderful and divine prospect? It is a powerful concept, since were we to realize it, we could be fundamentally changed and perhaps even morally destroyed inside. As we can see, this possibility is of the greatest weight, since each and every of our experiences, including the most trivial and unpleasant, will be of ultimate value and importance, since they are eternalized. If we do not want to eternally re-experience each of these trivial and unpleasant moments, then we must deal with the fact we are condemned to eternity to keep reliving experiences we are averse to. Nietzsche ends by wondering how much we would need to appreciate everything about ourselves and our own lives in order to desire such an eternal return.

[The section in quotation:]


The greatest weight: – What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence – even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!”

Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: “You are a god and never have I heard anything more | divine.” If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you. The question in each and every thing, “Do you desire this once more and innumerable times more?” would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Gay Science. Transl. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1974.
PDF of the Thomas Common translation available:



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