Whoosh! Issue 68 - May 2002

By Bradley Danbrook
Content © 2002 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 2002 held by Whoosh!
2002 words

Xena and Friedrich (01-03)
Warrior Soul (04-05)
Study in Evil (06-08)
The Struggle (09-11)
The Strength (12-19)


Xena and Friedrich

"Increscunt animi, virescit volnere virtus"
(The spirit grows, strength is restored by wounding)
--Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, pg.21

Hey!  You laughin' at my hat?

Xena as Valkyrie.

[01] At first glance, the above sentiment might seem a difficult and intellectually tenuous proposition. Attempting to compare the fictional character of Xena, Warrior Princess, with that of a largely inscrutable German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, might seem ridiculous. However, despite some obvious differences, one may comprehend some interesting similarities concerning, if not their personalities, their means of interpreting the world. Had Nietzsche lived in the present day, Xena: Warrior Princess would surely have been his favorite program. His most appreciated episodes would clearly have been the Wagnerian RHEINGOLD trilogy. No program has ever delved so deeply into the Nietzschian labyrinthine theme of moral ambiguity. It is this very ambiguity, this divine complexity, which makes Xena one of the most compelling and fascinating characters ever created.

[02] The goal of this paper will simply be to provide relevant Nietzschian thoughts and attempt to show how the character of Xena exemplifies these ideas. Obviously, it is not realistic to attempt a comprehensive disquisition on Nietzsche. Also, the various exploits of Xena are well documented and have been carefully examined by many others. Thus, many of the Xena references will consist of general overviews and observations drawn from her entire, cumulative development as a character.

[03] Nietzsche's most influential work, Beyond Good and Evil, proposes a system of thought that relates directly to Xena's character. He suggests that there exists a higher plane of spiritual attainment than the simplistic ideal of the greatest good. The ultimate spiritual realization is pure and unfettered strength of being. The character of Xena exists as an idealized form of this belief. Xena is "das Ubermunsch", that is, Nietzsche's "Superman for the future". In an effort then, to avoid the unfortunate, misogynist aspects of Nietzsche's ideas, we would christen Xena as this "Superwoman". It must be added that, although this term may carry with it certain unpleasant and destructive ideas associated with eugenics and racial theory, this is not the intention here. The idealization of Xena's essential being is spiritual and not racial in nature.

Warrior Soul

"Unconcerned, mocking, violent -- thus wisdom wants us -- she is a woman and loves only a warrior."
-- Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, pg.32

"Few are made for independence -- it is privilege of the strong."
-- Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, pg.42

[04] These two ideas, taken from Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil respectively, are apt descriptions of Xena's warrior soul. In the early episode, SINS OF THE PAST, Xena unsuccessfully rejects Gabrielle's offer of companionship. "I travel alone," she says. Both Nietzsche and Xena were individuals who became disillusioned with the moral landscape within which they found themselves.

[05] Nietzsche caustically and vituperously attacked the Christian church and its dogma. He forged a new system of thought, based not upon the Christian ideals of charity, piousness, and weakness, but rather upon the more ancient antecedents of Roman strength and power of will. There exists little in the way of forgiveness and personal salvation in the Nietzschian universe. For Nietzsche, the highest good exists in the manifestation of the will. To venture "beyond good and evil", is to strive to break the chains of human fallibility. He strove to be a God, and became, as some might assert, its antithesis -- the Antichrist.

Study in Evil

"All evil is dependent on strong will -- and perhaps there is nothing evil without strength of will."
-- Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, pg. 77

One ring to rule them all... oh, sorry, wrong story!

Xena has an evil plan.

[06] What is Xena, if not a creature of supreme, nay godlike willfulness? Why does the character of Xena continue to compel and compound us? Xena is neither Good nor Bad, but rather exists in a realm of pure will, of pure spiritual power.

"The most spiritual human beings, as the strongest, find their happiness where others would find their destruction: in the labyrinth, in the severity towards themselves and others, in attempting; their joy lies in self-constraint…"
-- Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ, pg.178

[07] The character of Xena is introduced to us as a malevolent, evil being. She not only commits acts of evil, but she revels in them as well. Gradually, Xena's character develops a new sensibility. She begins to understand that her former self was morally reprehensible. Yet, Xena does not ask Christian forgiveness for her past sins. Rather, she independently takes responsibility and strives to overcome the limitations of her former self. Throughout Xena's attempt to reclaim her soul, there exists a Sisyphus-like futility to her struggle. There is a persistent sense that, regardless of the magnitude of her transformation and putative redemption, ultimately her struggle will end in failure. Her soul will remain unsaved. How un-Christian and how very nihilistically Nietzschian.

[08] Morally, Gabrielle is a Christian. Depending upon which convoluted temporal landscape exists during that particular episode, the two intrepid adventurers lives pre-date Christianity. Thus, it is problematic to attempt to define either character in terms of contemporary religious ideas. Yet, the singularly Roman Catholic central theme of sin forgiveness is integral, both to Xena's psyche and to the relationship between the two women. Gabrielle cannot comprehend why Xena refuses to forgive herself for her past misdeeds. In LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN, Gabrielle asks Xena to forgive herself. Xena replies, "Gabrielle, that's not for me. But I won't let that monster I used to be, the one that's sleeping so close to my head, destroy all the good I can do now." Xena refuses to forget her terrible acts, despite the pain that they cause her. It is for this reason that Xena can never truly attain happiness. Her pain is her strength, and her strength is her being.

The Struggle

"He that strives with all his power, him we can save."
--not Nietzsche, but rather a German cousin in thought, Johannes Wolfgang Goethe

[09] It is Xena's struggle and her spiritual anguish that fascinates the observer.

"Good and evil have been engaged in a fearful struggle on Earth for thousands of years; and though the latter value has certainly been on top for a long time, there are still places where the struggle is as yet undecided."
-- Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, pg. 52

[10] Xena mirrors this Herculean battle within her own soul. The Greek words meaning "evil" and "fascination" are the same. A significant aspect of Xena's character is evil in nature and this accounts for much of her fascination as a personality. There exists a mystical union between Xena's darkness and her strength. The two elements are inextricably bound.

[11] By way of comparison, Gabrielle is more admirable and morally valid. Yet, she is nonetheless a far less compelling character study. Nietzsche, through his advancement of the dialectically opposed principles of the Dionysian and Apollonian, was foremost obsessed by ethical more than moral themes. It is suggested that Xena is also more inclined towards subjective ethics. Nietzsche essentially asserted that all moral values were imposed and not intrinsic to human nature. Xena seems also to incorporate this mutable, pragmatic attitude towards spiritual issues. Even whilst tangling with clearly morally bankrupt warlords such as Draco, Xena tends to deal in the currency of fairness, rather than moral judgment.

The Strength

"What does not kill me makes me stronger."
-- Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, pg.23

[12] The above is perhaps Nietzsche's most well known and ubiquitous aphorism. The remark might well have emanated from the Warrior Princess herself. Her remark that "hard times breed hard people" [WARRIOR PRINCESS (H09/109), Hercules: The Legendary Journeys], is very similar in tone. Xena's raison d'ętre then, differs markedly from those around her. She lives not for pleasure, but rather for strength.

Now *this* is horsepower!

It takes a strong chick to drive a flying chariot.

[13] This is not to say that Xena does not possess the capacity for Hedonistic urges. Certainly, she demonstrates a healthy sensual appetite. Rather, Xena lives to demonstrate the highest pinnacle of divine attainment. Simply put, this objective is pure, instinctive strength. It is strength not only of body, but also of the mind and spirit. This triumvirate of qualities, combined as they are in the personification that is Xena, precisely embodies the quintessential truth of Nietzschian thought: strength.

"First principle: one must need strength, otherwise one will never have it."
-- Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, pg. 93

[14] Nietzsche goes further.

"What is bad? All that proceeds from weakness."
-- Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, pg. 115

[15] The serious moral transgressions from Xena's past sometimes seem all too easily dismissed. Why is this the case? Xena possesses all: the encompassing strength of will. The truth of her strength of being negates her need to attain forgiveness. Her strength is the answer to all moral questions.

"He who possesses strength divests himself of mind."
-- Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, pg. 76

[16] Xena is an intelligent, but not an intellectual woman. "Act, don't react" and "Don't talk, fight!" are apt reflections of Xena's belief in action. Oftentimes she will proceed with a seeming disregard for the moral validity of her deeds. Xena says to Gabrielle, in THE WAY, "If the kill is there, you have to take it." In THE IDES OF MARCH, Xena says, "Gabrielle, he's an evil man, and he's trying to kill me. I have to take him out or die trying. It's the way of the warrior."

[17] Perhaps hypocritically, Nietzsche professes this same contempt for the intellectual being of contemplation. Xena repeatedly displays mistrust of those she encounters that profess to have attained any sort of alleged higher spiritual plane of being. Xena says to Eli, "Some things don't bear too much thinking about. Some things you've just got to take on faith." The warrior believes what she sees and feels, not what she thinks.

[18] "What happens when a person gets stuck between two ways?" Xena asks this of Hanuman, in the episode, THE WAY. Xena exists in a dichotomous, fractured moral reality. She is neither good nor bad. Xena seems acutely aware of the precarious balance of power within her spiritual nature. She says to Gabrielle in DEVI, "There are spirits that are good and bad, but they're smart, and sometimes you can't tell one from the other." Xena is not referring to herself, but she might well have been. Her acknowledgment of her own spiritual ambiguity dooms Xena to a noble but tragic end.

[19] Nietzsche believed that the highest human achievement was in the pursuit of divine strength. Xena was not a God, but might have achieved this state, had she so desired. Her decision to retain her mortality made her all the more divine. In the end, the spiritual battle proved to be unwinnable. Xena willfully succumbed to death. She was not killed, nor could she ever really die the death of a mortal. Her struggle was superhuman, and beyond the realm of the ordinary. Xena was and is a super-being. The timeless metaphysical battle between good and evil will forever play itself out in Xena's immortal soul.


danbrook Bradley Danbrook
I am a 37 year-old who has recently relocated to Nova Scotia. The past twelve years were spent at the Toronto Star newspaper. I now work occasionally in television production, and am working on a novel. I find that my passion for XWP serves as a fine remedy for a youth spent reading to much serious German philosophy.

Favorite line: Xena: "I like to be creative in a fight. It gets my juices flowing."
First episode seen: REMEMBER NOTHING
Least favorite episode: MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS



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