Nietzsche has been on my mind lately, and more about that in subsequent posts. Right now I want to talk about this quote that I pulled from GoodReads. It’s a translation of an epigram from Beyond Good and Evil (#147):

“Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

I’m not sure where this translation comes from, but you see it quite frequently. It’s one of my favorite examples of a horrible mistranslation.

The original German reads:

Wer mit Ungeheuern kämpft, mag zusehn, dass er nicht dabei zum Ungeheuer wird. Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein.”

And it’s more accurately translated:

“Whoever battles monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster himself. And when you look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”

The first translation says, mistakenly, that you shouldn’t battle monsters, since if you do, you’re in danger of becoming one yourself. The second, accurate, translation doesn’t say you shouldn’t battle with monsters, only that, when you do, be sure that in the process you don’t become one.

Nietzsche would never say we shouldn’t battle with monsters. In fact, one of the main thrusts of all his work is that we should confront and destroy the monsters of falsehood, mythology, and everything anti-nature and life-denying. He spent his whole life battling such monsters.

Sometimes translation is everything.

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My preferred translation of the book.

 

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