Volume 84, Issue 2, Spring 2010
Nietzsche’s Madman Parable
A Cynical Reading
Focusing on Nietzsche’s madman parable from The Gay Science, this essay shows how the language/imagery of aphorism 125 draws on a Cynical critique of
morality that has far-reaching consequences for understanding Nietzsche’s notions of nihilism, transvaluation of values, and amor fati. My claim is that the work of
Diogenes of Sinope will shape both the rhetorical structure and the philosophical thematics of The Gay Science. As the “Socrates gone mad,” Diogenes/the madman brings his lantern to the marketplace to seek a God who has fled, the deus absconditus. Countering Christian-Platonic metaphysics with Diogenean satire, Nietzsche advocates the embrace of physis as the sphere of human creation and valuation. Against this Cynical background we can see how the madman parable’s announcement of God’s death has less to do with atheism or the argument about the existence of God than it does with the existential concerns of the human being.