Friedrich Nietzsche? Zarathustra? John Strachey? Hubert Griffith? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Different people hold divergent views of the world. Here are three versions of a germane remark:
- You have heard my truth; now tell me yours.
- This then is my truth. What is yours?
- This is my way; where is yours?
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche has received credit for this comment. Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: Between 1883 and 1885 Friedrich Nietzsche published “Also sprach Zarathustra: Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen” (“Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None”). Zarathustra was an important religious figure, but Nietzsche constructed his own fictional didactic version of the prophet. The third part of the Nietzsche’s book contained a passage in which the character Zarathustra discussed his pursuit of truth. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1
By many ways, in many ways, I reached my truth: it was not on one ladder that I climbed to the height where my eye roams over my distance. And it was only reluctantly that I ever inquired about the way: that always offended my taste. I preferred to question and try out the ways themselves.
Zarathustra continued his commentary by signaling that his way/truth might be different from the way/truth of the reader:
A trying and questioning was my every move; and verily, one must also learn to answer such questioning. That, however, is my taste—not good, not bad, but my taste of which I am no longer ashamed and which I have no wish to hide.
“This is my way; where is yours?”—thus I answered those who asked me “the way.” For the way—that does not exist.
Thus spoke Zarathustra.
QI conjectures that the saying under analysis evolved from Nietzsche’s words. The translation above was created by Princeton University Professor of Philosophy Walter Kaufmann in 1954. An excerpt from the original German is presented below together with additional English renderings.
The following text is from Digital Critical Edition of the third part of “Also sprach Zarathustra” based on the publication from 1884: 2
Auf vielerlei Weg und Weise kam ich zu meiner Wahrheit; nicht auf Einer Leiter stieg ich zur Höhe, wo mein Auge in meine Ferne schweift.
Und ungern nur fragte ich stets nach Wegen, — das gieng mir immer wider den Geschmack! Lieber fragte und versuchte ich die Wege selber.
Ein Versuchen und Fragen war all mein Gehen: — und wahrlich, auch antworten muss man lernen auf solches Fragen! Das aber — ist mein Geschmack:
— kein guter, kein schlechter, aber mein Geschmack, dessen ich weder Scham noch Hehl mehr habe.
„Das — ist nun mein Weg, — wo ist der eure?“ so antwortete ich Denen, welche mich „nach dem Wege“ fragten. Den Weg nämlich — den giebt es nicht!
Also sprach Zarathustra.
In 1896 a multi-volume edition of “The Works of Friedrich Nietzsche” included an English translation of “Also sprach Zarathustra” created by Alexander Tille: 3
By many ways and modes I have come unto my truth; not on one ladder I climbed up unto the height, where mine eye roveth into my distance.
And I have always asked other folk for the way unwillingly. That hath ever been contrary unto my taste! Rather have I asked and tried the ways for myself.
A trying and asking hath all my walking been. And, verily, one must also learn how to answer such questioning! But that — is my taste —
No good, no bad, but my taste, for which I have neither shame nor concealment.
‘This — is my way, — where is yours?’ I answered unto those who asked me ‘for the way.’ ‘For the way — existeth not!'”
Thus spake Zarathustra.
In 1911 a different multi-volume edition of “The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche” included a translation of “Also sprach Zarathustra” created by Thomas Common: 4
By divers ways and wendings did I arrive at my truth; not by one ladder did I mount to the height where mine eye roveth into my remoteness.
And unwillingly only did I ask my way—that was always counter to my taste! Rather did I question and test the ways themselves.
A testing and a questioning hath been all my travelling:—and verily, one must also learn to answer such questioning! That, however,—is my taste:
—Neither a good nor a bad taste, but my taste, of which I have no longer either shame or secrecy.
“This—is now my way,—where is yours?” Thus did I answer those who asked me “the way.” For the way—it doth not exist!
Thus spake Zarathustra.
In 1933 British politician and author John Strachey published “The Coming Struggle for Power” which included the following passage. Strachey attributed an instance of the saying to Nietzsche’s fictional prophet: 5
The first answer to that question is that the discovery of historical truth is a more complicated matter than had been supposed. “This then is my truth,” remarked Zarathustra. “Now, tell me yours.” Historical truth for, say, the working class of Great Britain, may be something rather different from historical truth for the professional historians. We have been taught by the physicists that the position of the observer is an integral factor in the characteristics of the thing observed.
In 1937 “The Observer” newspaper of London printed a piece by drama critic Hubert Griffith which contained the following: 6
There is a phrase in Nietzsche, “I have told you my truth—now tell me your truth.”
The saying has often been attributed to U.K. politician Aneurin Bevan, and a separate article centered on that attribution is available here.
In conclusion, Friedrich Nietzsche constructed the character Zarathustra who employed the phrase „Das — ist nun mein Weg, — wo ist der eure?“ (“This — is my way, — where is yours?”). QI conjectures that this phrase evolved by 1933 into the saying “This then is my truth; now, tell me yours”.
Image Notes: Detail from the painting “The School of Athens” by Raphael circa 1509. the detail shows Zoroaster (Zarathustra) displaying a globe to fellow philosophers.
(Great thanks to Mark Wainwright whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Wainwright asked about the connection to Aneurin Bevan which will be discussed in a separate article.)
- 1976 (1954 and 1968 Copyright), The Portable Nietzsche by Friedrich Nietzsche, Translation by Walter Kaufmann (Princeton University), Thus Spoke Zarathustra: Third Part, Quote Page 307, The Viking Press, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 1884, Book Title: Also sprach Zarathustra: Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen, Author: Friedrich Nietzsche, Part: Dritter Theil, Publisher: Verlag von Ernst Schmeitzner, Chemnitz. (Accessed via nietzschesource.org) link ↩
- 1896, The Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Volume 8, Thus Spake Zarathustra, Translated by Alexander Tille, Third Part, Chapter: Of the Spirit of Gravity, Quote Page 283, The MacMillan and Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1911, The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Edited by Oscar Levy, Volume 11, Thus Spake Zarathustra: A Book for All and None, Translated by Thomas Common, Chapter LV: The Spirit of Gravity, Quote Page 238 and 239, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, The MacMillan and Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1933, The Coming Struggle for Power by John Strachey, Chapter 1: The Struggle for the Market, Quote Page 30 and 31, Covici, Friede Publishers, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 1937 May 23, The Observer, “What Is Truth?”: Two Pictures of Russia by Hubert Griffith, Quote Page 7, Column 5, London, England. (Newspapers_com) ↩