A sparsely furnished room; white walls, black furniture, a little morning sunlight falling on the uneven boards of the floor from a window. A rigid figure sits in an upright, leather backed chair, clutching the wooden armrests. Parchment skin drawn tightly over broad cheekbones, haunted eyes staring into nothingness beneath craggy brows, burning within twin caves of forgetfulness. A veined and mighty forehead looms above, crowned with a shock of dark hair, still unsalted by half a century of unremitting toil. No mouth is visible beneath the shaggy growth, blooming from nostrils to jutting chin. The whole fearful aspect weakened, somehow, by small ears, as if to deny the soaring music within.
An old woman dressed in black enters, followed by another, a middle-aged simulacrum of the first.
“Elisabeth is here to see you, Friedrich; you know who she is, don’t you?”
The older woman reaches out with obvious concern, touching the veined hand clasped tightly round the arm of the chair. In a while, the leonine head turns in her direction, as if hearing rather than seeing the stooping woman.
”Is your name Franziska, by any chance?”
The voice is gentle, cultured, kind.
The hausfrau puts her hand to her mouth, stifling a spontaneous reply.
“Of course it is mother, who else could it be?” the younger woman says, with ill concealed annoyance.
“Ah! Die Mutter, Die Mutter, ha-ha, yes..”
“Friedrich, please try and pull yourself together.”
“And you, who are you?” the seated man replies, with the authority of a king.
“You know very well who I am. Elisabeth, your sister.”
“What do you want with me now, is it time for my walk?”
“We have received a letter from Oehler, your work is to be published in England; isn’t that wonderful?”
“Ha, pearls for the other swine!”
“I felt I should let you know. Mama has agreed, but I thought you should be told.”
“More light, more light, more..”
The old woman moves to the window and pulls on the already fully open curtains.
“Dead, summarily dead. More light, soon it will be dawn, more light..” the man continues to mutter, almost inaudibly now.
“It’s no good Mother, I shall have to proceed alone, I’m the only one who can act for him now.”
The women have left the room. Alone now, the invalid turns his head from side to side, as if scenting the sunlight from the window. Faint sounds drift up from the street, the shaft of sunlight moves slowly to illuminate the wall. He stares at the light reflected from the dark wood of a polished table, standing along the wall. Several leather-bound but unread volumes are arranged on the table, in a row. Above them hangs a wooden crucifix, its doleful figure looking down at the books.
The eyes of the author, too, come to rest for a while on his works, then look up at the crucifix. An inner voice reverberates from within.
‘Am I understood? Were you understood? Your time is past, your will is done; mine is yet to come. Let my song go forth to greet the new day and the new man who will be born, fit for a new beginning, for a new dawn.’
He glowers at the figure on the wall.
“What say you, son of man?” he says out loud.
The crucifix looms large in his vision; he strains to hear the voice rising from the abyss.
‘Yima, son of Vivanghat, why do you persecute me?’
The sage leans forward in his chair, smiling maliciously.
“Without persecution, where would you be? Just one of countless men crucified by your betters; just another body rotting on a tree. Was your pain worth the pain of all those who suffered in your name? Was it greater than the pain of even one of those millions, whose lives were twisted and tormented by your priests?”
He strains to hear the faint reply.
‘And were you not born out of yourself, as I was born, son to the father and father to the son?’
“Heh, heh. Why ask what you already know? From the Earth I was born and of the Earth I shall remain. No imaginary spirit I, but a real spirit, a spirit of the future born out of a dying past.”
‘None shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, except through me.’
“Ha, then empty it shall remain, for my kingdom is here on Earth, a kingdom freed from the sickness of ideals and maundering ghosts.”
‘And what of suffering humanity?’
“Bah! How can there be joy without pain? Without pain man would be no better than some mindless sheep, grazing thoughtless in your father’s pastures. Great suffering, great agony, such as I have known, breeds great men, men fit to serve the one yet to be born – the Superman.”
‘Will this Superman choose the path of righteousness or the path of sin?’
“He will be beyond good and evil, he will follow his own creative path, unbound by the chains of history.”
‘In my father’s house, there are many mansions, fit for such as these, but none may set himself above the Almighty.’
“Have you not heard, then? Your God is dead.”
‘I am the way, the truth and the light; none shall be redeemed except through me.’
The light from the window fades, and the room darkens. The man closes his eyes and waits.
The servant, Alwine, enters the room, places a candle on the table and closes the curtains. She lights a taper from the candle flame, switches on the gaslight over the bed and ignites it. She adjusts the pressure until the mantel glows white-hot. The light hisses and illuminates the cavernous features of the seated man, casting a stark shadow on the wall, and on the crucifix.
Franziska enters the room, extinguishes the soft candle flame and turns down the covers on a narrow, wooden bed. As in a ritual, the two women haul the tall man to his feet. He stands patiently while they help him to undress. They put a white nightgown over his head and seat him at the table. Alwine leaves the room and returns with a meal of bread and soup. The man grunts with satisfaction and eats with gusto, washing down the food with a glass of water.
When the meal is over, the man is led to the bed. While Alwine clears the table, Franziska waits until he has finished with the bedpan before pulling up the covers. She kisses the domed forehead and turns off the gaslight, leaving only the flickering candle to illuminate the room.
“Alwine,” she calls.
In a while, the servant returns with a candle and removes the bedpan. Franziska follows her out of the room and closes the door.
The man stares at the ceiling for a while, and then at the candle, which casts distorted shadows of the crucifix on the wall. His eyes follow the flickering shapes until they finally close. His breathing assumes the regular pattern of sleep.
An old Hermit emerges from a cave and stands staring into the East at the brightening sky. A few grey clouds still hang over the horizon. A quickly moving speck catches his attention. He watches until it assumes the shape of a large bird, flying towards the mountain where he stands. He half raises a hand in greeting as the bird flies overhead. He sees that it is clutching a snake in its talons.
“My animals,” he calls out, in a raspy voice, long unused to speech, “you have returned.”
The eyes of the man in the bed move rapidly beneath the eyelids.
“A sign! I too must return to my people and give them the glad tidings.”
The sleeping eyes see a youthful figure walking up the slope towards the cave, his features hidden by the long shadow of the morning sun.
“You have come at last,” the hermit cries, running eagerly towards the approaching youth.
“Are you not afraid, old man, to finally meet your God?”
“I fear nothing, certainly not a figment of my imagination!”
“Have you not heard about the fate of Pentheus and of all those who oppose my will?”
“Ah! I was mistaken; you are not the one. Just an old Arcadian spirit whom I loved when I was young.”
“Beware, old man, lest you dance to my tune. You shall know my madness before Morpheus claims you.”
“I fear nothing, I have seen all that was and that will be. No one before me has seen so much.”
“I do not speak of your crazy dreams or of the fear of death but of that unknown terror, that eternal anguish of the self torn to pieces and scattered to the winds. It is I who was rent asunder, until my father retrieved my still beating heart and sewed it in his thigh.”
“Another bleeding heart; why not join your successor on his cross?”
“I too am merciful and accord the foolish a second chance, but you have dared too much.”
The old man cries out as the venom of the God enters his mind. A pit opens up beneath his feet, seething with corruption. Clawing hands and ravening mouths suck and tear at his body. In the distance, he hears the laughter of the young God as he is drawn down into the bowels of the earth. A tangle of vines and ivy boil up into the air, marking the place where the hermit stood.
The man jerks upright in his bed. A strangled cry escapes his gaping jaw. His hands feel his face convulsively in the flickering candlelight. He stares, wide eyed, at the dark shadows cast by the crucifix.
“Ask and you shall receive,” a gentle voice says from the shadow on the wall.
“Never, never! The man replies.
Elisabeth enters the room, followed by Franziska.
“Friedrich, whatever is the matter?” the old woman asks.
Elisabeth opens a drawer in the table and takes out a brown bottle and a metal spoon. She goes to the bed and forcefully administers the opiate. The man resists feebly, seemingly unaware of the identity of his carers.
“Light, more light!” he cries out, droplets of elixir running down his chin from beneath the luxurious moustache. He soon slumps back on the pillows, his head moving from side to side. The women wait until his fitful movements subside into a drugged sleep.
His body is suffused with a blissful warmth. A soft but ample breast is pressed against his cheek. He turns his head and suckles blissfully on the proffered teat. He feels a powerful erection. Soft hands caress his tightening scrotum and he feels his penis enveloped in the firm softness of a woman’s clasp. Sweet lips kiss his face, crooning his name softly, a heavy body moves rhythmically over his.
“Lou?” he mutters, revelling in waves of perfumed delight.
Voices whisper softly about him: many hands reach for him and many arms and legs entwine his body. His virility increases but without climax, like a Wagnerian aria. The women begin to cry out in ecstasy, and then in anger, fighting with each other, clawing at his flesh in a frenzy. They scratch his skin, pinch and bite, until the blood runs from the welts. Spurred on by the taste of blood, their teeth chew and rip strips of flesh from his neck, sharp nails open up holes in the softness of his side and pull at the organs within.
Like vultures, they probe into every orifice and finally pick out his eyes.
Alwine enters the room and draws the curtains. She looks at the dishevelled figure on the bed. The bedclothes lie on the floor and the nightdress is pulled up to reveal the still strong body, scarred and scratched from self-inflicted wounds. Elisabeth comes in.
“Alwine, quickly; fetch hot water and towels.”
“We should clip his nails too, Madam.
“Yes, but don’t tell Frau Nietzsche about this, it upsets her so.”
When the servant has left, the woman kneels at the bedside and begins to pray.
28 August 2003