What screams I am Greek
Goethe and Greece
Goethe admired the ancient Greeks unreservedly. He almost always saw them tall, great in spirit as well as in physical form; in his opinion they had received a unique revelation of beauty from the essential Trinity of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. Goethe's whole love was for the Greeks. For him, being Greek was synonymous with being human. Among all nations, the Greeks "dreamed the dream of life most beautifully", it says in his "maxims and reflections". Wherever he mentions the Greeks, it is always with the expression or suggestion of enthusiastic awe. His closeness to reality was his basic virtue from which all others arose.
For him, the Greek way of life was sharply opposed to the Christian view of life, and he also believed that there was a contradiction between modern falsehood and Greek sincerity ("Gods; Heroes and Wieland").
He considered the Greeks to be a people who had better understood how to shape life on a large scale, to grasp it without hesitation, to experience existence to the limit, whereby they had succeeded in keeping this urge within limits, so that it could itself never lost in formlessness, even if the Greek form could sometimes reach superhuman dimensions. According to Goethe, the Greeks achieved the perfection of humanity through the harmonious interplay of all human abilities and through being content to live, work and suffer within the world and in the present.
For Goethe they were role models, but he didn't want to copy them, just emulate them. His admiration for Homer did not tempt him to write epics in hexameters. In addition to Homer, he also refers to Sophocles and Theocritus, because "they taught me to feel." Above all, the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey" revealed a lot to him about the nature of man and the world as well as about genius and art. From this knowledge his "Götz", his "Werther", his "Prometheus" and his "Faust" emerged.
Goethe's turn to antiquity expresses in a personal way the world-historical conflict between polytheism and monotheism, between paganism and Christianity. In antiquity he saw a humane and at the same time religious form of paganism, to which he himself confessed several times, such as in the poem "The gods fear the human race .."
There is no doubt that Goethe felt close to the poetry of the Bible in many phases of his life. But the countermovement of the ancient spirit set in again and again, whose firm epic form, clear earthly order, pure sensual beauty he praised above all. In such a mood of opposition he wrote to the philologist Karl August Böttiger in 1790:
"It is only during the renewed study of Homer that I fully feel what an inexpressible calamity the Jewish ('and Christian' it says in some documents) Prass has inflicted on us. Had we never got to know the sodomites and the Egyptian-Babylonian crickets, and Homer would have remained our Bible ! What a completely different shape humanity would have gained! "
Goethe was just as much a pupil of the Homeric Greeks as a disciple of the biblical people. The poet drew from many sources, from Greek, Roman, Germanic, oriental. Contrast and reconciliation of the religions are the key words under which Goethe's encounter with antiquity is to be understood. "There are Jews among the Gentiles: the usurers; Christians among the Gentiles: the Stoics; Gentiles among the Christians: the Lebemenschen", he told Friedrich Wilhelm Riemer in 1807, and in an interview with Chancellor von Müller he said on June 6, 1824 : "The contrasts of the pagan and Christian religions offer a rich treasure trove for poetry:" But then the sentence follows: "But actually both are no good."
When Wilhelm Meister handed over his son Felix to the care of the "Pedagogical Province", he also got to know the sanctuaries, saw on the walls the first real religion in history, the Greeks, the philosophical religion, that of the wise, which Christ also taught.
In his Proverbs in Prose from 1821 it says:
concentrate the God in man,
Striving for the God on high. "
Apart from the time that Goethe spent with Schiller, "Goethe appears like a Greek who visits a lover here and there. With the doubt whether it is not a goddess", Nietzsche said in "Human, All Too Human", and is called by Eckermann it: "The Greek art, philosophy and literature cling to the character of the great, the efficient, the healthy, the humanly perfected, the high wisdom of life, the sublime way of thinking, the pure intuition and what other qualities one could enumerate."
In Goethe's boyhood, enthusiasm for the Greeks was often greater than a thorough familiarity with their literature and art. The world in which Goethe grew up, his surroundings, knew nothing about the Greeks, “but it was ready to believe the best of them”, writes Humphry Trevelan in his monograph “Goethe and the Greeks”. The poet had, so to speak, an innate or unconsciously assumed sympathy for the Greeks.
Only gradually was the importance of Greek tradition for Western culture rediscovered in Germany. In the Hirschgraben family there was no tradition of interest in Greek things. Goethe's Greek language lessons began in his ninth year. At ten or eleven he knew Greek and Latin mythology. Among the father's pictures were scenes from Ovid, which the older Tischbein had painted.
The first impressions of Greece were conveyed to Wolfgang through the old legends, which in 18th century Germany still enjoyed a vigorous survival, albeit often in a strange form. In the years before the French occupation of Frankfurt (January 1759), however, Wolfgang's knowledge of ancient history and literature, along with mythology, remained minimal. It was only important that his head already harbored the abundance of Greek gods and heroes, and that Hellas meant to him a pit of imagination that was at least as rich as ancient Israel.
In "Poetry and Truth" the poet talks about his studies and advances in Greek during his childhood and reports that he learned through the ear rather than through grammatical rules.
The first delight in the new language (Wolfgang was a lively student) let his teachers wither away. The glorious abundance of Greek literature which, under secure guidance, could have taken him from stage to stage to high perfection, remained unused. He thought of his own ways to transform the language into a living being. He wrote a novel in letters: Seven siblings were supposed to correspond with each other in different languages: in two stylistic variants of German, the oldest brother in good German, a "womanly" style with short sentences the sister, then in formal Latin and with Greek postscripts Theologian, a commercial assistant working in Hamburg in English, a musician in Italian, another brother in French, and finally the youngest, because there was nothing left for him, in "Jewish German". With the different languages Goethe wanted to typify the individual persons. But as becomes clear here, Greek was obviously still a cinderella among the many languages that clashed in the head of the young Goethe. Through Dr. Albrecht, from whom he learned Hebrew, may have come into contact with the works of Lucian, probably the only opportunity at that time to be able to read Greek. But the names of Orpheus and Hesiod were just as powerful on the young Goethe (around 1764) as those of Job and Solomon.
Even as a boy he felt drawn to Orpheus. The world "as the living clothing of the deity" is an Orphic conception (Faust). Goethe also admired Socrates the most of all Greek philosophers, and not so much because of his teaching, but because of his Christian-like life and noble death. He admired the attitude of the Stoics. He read Epictetus, Plotinus and Neoplatonism. When he was fifteen he hadn't read any work in Greek literature, save for the Iliad in a poor German translation.
The Leipzig years then brought him his first acquaintance with the plastic art of antiquity. Adam Friedrich Oeser, friend and teacher of the archaeologist Johann Joachim Winkelmann, encouraged him to become a student in his academy. That was Christmas 1765. He also encouraged him to read Winkelmann's works.
The strongest impression he had made with him of the ancient world in Leipzig were the myths. He used them to symbolize his own feelings. He compared his futile love for Käthchen and the sweet, tormenting imaginations that she ignited with the torments of Tantalus. (In Prometheus). In “Poetry and Truth” he tells of the awe with which he brooded over Winkelmann's thoughts and treatises and how he struggled to find meaning in even the most puzzling passages. He reports the elation with which Winkelmann was expected to arrive in Leipzig in the summer of 1768 and the dismay that befell her small circle when the news of his tragic and terrible death arrived instead of the adored master. Winkelmann was stabbed to death in Trieste on June 8, 1768 by an Italian named Arcangeli, who was greedy for gold medals that Winkelmann owned.
- Before Winkelmann's "Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums" (History of Ancient Art) in 1763 there was no book available that gave an exact account of the development of ancient art. In 1755, Winkelmann's "Thoughts on the Imitation of the Greeks in Painting and Sculpture" were published greeted with enthusiastic approval by the educated society. For Winkelmann, Greek art was the absolute ideal to which every artist should strive to approach. Winkelmann became famous overnight, the cultured elite of Germany eagerly awaited his next messages from Rome.
Through Winkelmann, who described the essence of Greek art as "a noble simplicity and a quiet greatness", Goethe got to know a Greece of the Palaistra. In ancient Greece, Palaistra was an architecturally designed place, mostly surrounded by colonnades, for the sporting education of young people. "All the rooms were decorated with works of art of all kinds, especially with statues of gods and heroes like Hermes, Apollo and the muses of beautiful bodies and the sun, where the spirit of the philosopher and the eye of the artist were formed for the sight of beauty: a country in which a friendly climate brought all of nature to its happiest development, where beauty was valued above everything and no civic rigidity inhibited the free and informal expression of youthful joys. "
In a letter to Friederike Oeser of February 11, 1768, Goethe wrote: "No nymphs were born under Germany's oaks as they were under the myrtle in the temple." The idea of the "happy nature of the Greeks" is clearly present to him. In Leipzig, Goethe probably read Lessing's "Laocoon" around 1766 and thus expanded his picture of the Greeks in a decisive way. If Lessing's "Laocoon" had not been published (1767), it would have been Goethe perhaps stuck with Winkelmann's idea of Greeks, in which a cold stoicism outweighed their joy of being, but from Lessing's "Laocoon" he learned that the Greeks had deep feelings and had a healthy and natural relationship with them as with all other objects Their relationship to death was healthy and natural too, for them he was not the frightening skeleton, but a lovely boy, the brother of sleep.
Lessing had written in "Laokoon": "Anger and despair did not desecrate any of your works." Goethe, on the other hand, believed that the figures Lessing referred to expressed anger and despair. "They did not shy away from the ugly as much as the wrong." One must "put the excellence of the ancients into something other than the formation of beauty " search.
Goethe now knew three things: that the Greeks knew suffering, that sincerity was the first law of their art, and that they were therefore not afraid to depict the most terrible suffering in both sculpture and poetry. They possessed (similarly Wieland saw it) the highest aesthetic-moral quality that mortals can achieve. Wieland's "Graces" (published in 1769) encouraged the poet Wolfgang Goethe to believe that all aesthetic sensuality stems from the essence of Greek art. Lessing had transferred his system of thought to the Laocoon sculpture. Although he had not seen her and only knew her from primitive illustrations, he nevertheless saw more than the eyes of the aesthetes. "You have to be a young man to realize what effect Lessing's Laocoon had on us, as this work carried us away from the region of a miserable contemplation into the free realms of thought," wrote Goethe.
After Goethe had read Lessing's "Laokoon", he based his findings on his own work and his understanding of ancient art, which Winkelmann helped to determine. The initial question, however, why Laocoon didn't scream, was answered by Goethe in a letter to Oeser and in his essay "About Laocoon" in 1798 in a way that deviated from Lessing's. In this essay, Goethe touched on a point for the first time that was of fundamental importance for an appropriate one Understanding his view on the Greeks is. He said there that the artist's sense of beauty shows itself in its highest energy and dignity when it "knows how to moderate and tame the passionate outbursts of human nature in the imitation of art". "
In October 1769, Goethe visited the Mannheim Antique Hall, which was famous at the time, because nowhere else in Germany were there so many plaster casts of ancient sculptures. Here he saw the first Greek statues. In a letter written in French on November 30th, he reported his impressions to Langer. The Laocoon group, so in "Poetry and Truth", had been given his greatest attention. In the essay “Laocoon” (1798) he came back to the question of why Laocoon didn't scream. He couldn't scream. The elaborate position of the main body was put together from two reasons: from striving against the snakes and from fleeing from the instant bite. To alleviate this pain, the abdomen had to be pulled in and screaming made impossible.
During the five years between Goethe's meeting with Herder and his departure for Weimar, he made considerable progress in knowing and understanding Greek art. He turned his thoughts and thinking back to the Greek poets and thinkers when he was in Strasbourg, where he had gone in April 1770 to continue his law studies. Pindar devoured Goethe with convulsive enthusiasm, he literally disappeared in Euripides, Orpheus and Aeschylus, Homer was his constant companion. He was well known with the Iliad and the Odyssey. "Homer and Theocritus, Plato and Pindar should be tackled and conquered one after the other, as if to compensate for the more intensive devotion to one's own creative activity," writes Trevelan.
The meeting with Johann Gottfried Herder, whom he later brought to Weimar as general superintendent, and from whom he received a wealth of religious and theological suggestions, had been particularly momentous for Goethe. The image of Greece that he had acquired in Leipzig and afterwards suffered the greatest changes through Herder. "I have here so increased my Greek wisdom that I almost read Homer without translation."
And Herder wrote to Merck in 1772: "Goethe began to read Homer in Strasbourg, and all heroes became so beautiful, large and freely wading storks with him."
First Goethe tested his new ability to read in Greek on Plato and Xenophon, then on Theocritus, Pindar and Sophocles. In doing so, he learned more through intuition than through grammar.
"Götter; Helden und Wieland" (September 1773) contains the first evidence that Goethe had read a Greek drama. But when it came to Greek tragedies, he often relied on translations. In order to gain knowledge and understanding of Greek art, he had done as much as anyone could do who was not exclusively an archaeologist and lived in Germany.
In Socrates he saw a heroic champion for truth and chastener of error, in Hercules the great hero of life, the "superman" in Nietz's sense, in Ganymede the embodiment of mystical ecstasy, in Prometheus the giver of life and, through his creative power, made him like the gods For Goethe, the great sufferers were Tantalus, Ixion and others.
Greece gave Goethe nine figures, which he used in different ways in his work: Ganymede, Hercules, Prometheus, Apollo, Bromius, Jupiter, Mercury, Venus and Minerva. The first poetic introduction of Greek characters as symbols happened in "Wandrers Sturmlied" (spring 1772).
For Goethe, Jupiter Pluvius was not only the "god of rain", but a symbol for all the mightiness and energy of the thunderstorm, for the fertilizing power that reveals itself in the rain as in the genius, like the Pindars. Ganymede symbolized the mystical ability, Hercules the "Sakerment Guy" and Prometheus the artist in his divine self-sufficiency. All were manifestations of the demonic power of genius. In this way Goethe was able to poetically portray the experiences that his demon brought him and thus free himself from the pernicious consequences of the connection with the demon. First and foremost, this image was a reflection of the storm and urge in one's own chest. Yes, he was never closer to the Greek genius than in the carefree days of storm and stress that ended in Weimar.
In Weimar (from 1775) preoccupation with the ancient Greeks began to become more than a mere sedative. The role of Greek culture preoccupied Goethe in his new life as a personal as well as a social problem. His findings were reflected in the "Triumph of Sensibility" (1777/78) and in the monodrama "Proserpina". In Weimar there was a historical link back to antiquity. Their this-sidedness, their inclusion of the divine in nature and lifeworld corresponded to Goethe's own convictions. He now began to appropriate the ancient as timeless examples and to dream of the Greeks, as was natural to the people, to whom a perfection that we desire and never achieve.
The ancient world of gods is now the subject of numerous poems. The old longing for the southern culture, which we know in the frosty north only through the poets of Greece and Rome, was now greater in Goethe than ever before, even if he had always been inspired by some views of the Greeks for the attacks to withstand his demon. The Greek sides that Winkelmann had emphasized gained in importance. He had also learned from Herder to imagine the golden age under Greece, the carefree life of dance and song, beauty and innocent love. He saw everything in the Greeks. what he longed for. Greece was his ideal.
Continued study of Greek sculpture helped him allay any doubts about the validity of Greece's moral message. In mid-July 1772, Goethe wrote to Herder from Wetzlar about the deep impression that studying the Greeks, especially Pindars, had made on him. Self-discovery and self-affirmation became apparent: "I now live in Pindar, and if the grandeur of the palace made people happy, it must be me." Homer, Xenophon, Plato, Anacreon and Pindar had seized him entirely.
It must have been a deep crisis affecting the whole of existence into which the almost thirty-seven year old had fallen and which he did not know how to deal with other than by temporarily isolating himself from his previous life. No wonder he thought of the Italian event with big words like "rebirth" and "new life".
When he started his trip to Italy, he was in an identity crisis. He had no longer known what his real destiny was. He no longer lived in harmony with himself. Under the conditions of the Weimar state, he had not found the fulfillment in his official work that he had hoped for. He had to gain some distance.
"In Weimar, his artistic genius had longed for objects that were worthy of his strength. He believed that he could find 'the big world' in Italy" and had fled. The Italian journey served mainly the poet's self-discovery in one life - and creative crisis.
He fled to Italy in September 1786 from the spa in Karlsbad. From Verona he writes about ancient grave reliefs: "They don't fold their hands, they don't look up at the sky, they are what they were, they stand together, take an interest in each other, they love each other." Folded hands, glances directed skywards, such worldly nonsense was, according to Goethe, alien to the thinking of the ancients.
Goethe reached Rome on October 29, 1786. "In Rome I first found myself, I first became happy and sensible in agreement with myself." (14 March 1788)
Goethe's stay in Italy is primarily characterized by his encounter with classical antiquity. In doing so, he not only expanded his literary repertoire and the objects of his art contemplation. His understanding of religion also deepened through insights into ancient mythology.
"My practice of seeing all things as they are, my complete renunciation of all pretension, once again come in handy and quietly make me very happy. Every day a new strange object, daily fresh, big strange pictures and a whole that one thinks and dreams for a long time, never achieved with the imagination. "
Goethe begins with the precise observation of different population groups, just as he was used to as a natural scientist to examine rocks and plants. "I started my observations early in the day, and all the people I found standing still or resting here and there were people whose jobs involved it at the moment."
Goethe writes that he was "completely surrendered" and "the more I have to deny myself, the happier I am." He tries to understand the strange life from the respective conditions of the place. The poet summarized the purpose and aim of the educational trip as follows: "I will try to use my stay here in such a way that I return enriched and joyful for myself and others."
He stayed in Naples until the end of March 1787. Here he felt for the first time what it could mean to be a southerner. Naples seemed like a paradise to him, here he had approached a piece of Greece. He visited Paestum with the painter Kniep. From Naples he moved to Sicily. Here he finally found what he was looking for, the real, unadulterated Hellas, free from northern fog, from Roman ordinariness and Christian escape from the world. "Italy without Sicily does not make a picture in my soul: Here is the key to everything", enthuses Goethe in the "Italian Journey".
Goethe once even suspected that the Odyssey was written in Sicily. His interest in the focal points of history was not based on history, it required a deep spiritual experience. In Sicily he wanted to see the culture, which was still completely untouched by Roman influence, and the land on which it had blossomed.
He arrived in Palermo on April 2nd. The sea voyage from Naples to Palermo took him into the world of Odysseus: a storm broke out, Homer had described the world that surrounded him. For Goethe, the "Odyssey" ceased to be a poem at that moment; it seemed to him to be nature itself. When he left Sicily, his longing was satisfied.
When he returned to Rome, he painted and drew. In Italy he is finally an artist among his own kind, not a secret councilor, not a courtier, not an ombudsman, but a free spirit who immediately gets himself a local mistress. For it seems that Goethe had his first sexual, erotic adventures in Rome.
But he had only had eyes for ancient Greece, no eye for baroque art. Only now did he understand the essence of Greek art. He was interested in art, nature and the "customs of the peoples". He began to appropriate antiquity as timelessly perfect and to dream of the Greeks. In Italy he turned to the life of the common people with devotion.
In Italy he was not only an art viewer, he also wanted to use the time seriously to train himself as a practicing artist and descriptive writer. But "it becomes clearer to me every day that I was actually born to poetry." He soon gave up practicing the fine arts.
On the return trip from Constance, he informed Herder that he had been "absolutely happy for the first time in his life" in Rome (June 1788). "I was in Italy" to Jacobi on July 21, 1788, "very happy." Only in Rome did he feel. "What a person actually is", Eckermann claims to have heard from him on October 9, 1828.
When he confessed to his duke that he had "found himself again in this one-and-a-half year loneliness" as an artist (in front of each there is a picture of what he is supposed to be), this confession showed above all the will to concentrate on what in the future seemed befitting to be productive.
The works of art, the casts, the inscriptions, stones that Goethe had packed up in Rome embellished his house in Weimar. Since then, visitors to the Frauenplan have had to enter via the word SALVE. He called the classic the healthy, the romantic the sick.
However, it was not only in Italy that Goethe became a classicist, a Greek. At least since 1779 he was inspired by the pursuit of truth, clarity, simplicity and silence. But it was only Italy that gave him the majestic orchestral sound in landscape and folklore, in the buildings of the Romans and the Renaissance, in sculpture and painting, whereas up to now he had had to be satisfied with a piano reduction. The eye man Goethe had enough to see for his life. Now the unique and individual is not important to him, from now on he praises the general and typical, he tries to shape the thought or the image according to the pattern of antiquity.
The Weimar poet prince was not interested in Greece historically, and he also knew that all of the surviving works of Greek sculpture were in Italy.
It remains a mystery why Goethe, when he had already penetrated as far as southern Italy, had not dared to travel to Greece. Was he afraid that reality might not withstand the dream of the Greeks and their art? Obviously, when he left Sicily, his longing was satisfied. He had seen and understood what had been seen. The confidence filled him that he would now be able to create like the Greeks.
Winkelmann, Wilhelm Heinse, Schiller, Hölderlin, the preachers of the Greek dream, never set foot in the country with its glorified past.
Goethe tried from his youth to get to know the Greeks, not because he wanted to acquire learning, but because he knew that knowing the Greeks would help him to accomplish his great task. The Greeks helped the man Goethe to survive his life. For to him a satisfactory, creative production was just as vital as the ordinary effectiveness of natural functions for more average people. But he hated the tendency to be a Greek man. He hated the shallow enthusiasm for everything Greek.
The drama “Iphigenie” (the first version of the play Iphigenie was written in the spring of 1779, on April 6th the premiere was with Corona Schröter as Iphigenie and Goethe as Orestes). The drama is the poetic expression of his victory over the furies of Sturm und Drang. At the same time it was the fruit of a new relationship with Greece. Goethe saw this in the fulfillment of Iphigenie's longing to return to her native Hellas.
“Searching for the land of the Greeks with the soul”, it says in the monologue. After the completion of the “Iphigenie” the influence of the Greeks served for a time to strengthen the peace of mind.
("Elpenor" (1781), like Iphigenia, was supposed to end with the victory of the new morality, but failed.)
For Goethe, Homer was one of the great productive encounters like Shakespeare. He got to know the material of the "Iliad" as a boy. In Strasbourg he led the "Odyssey" in a similar way to Werther. Even in the first years of Weimar she was a "remedy for the soul" (to Ch.v.Stein 24,3,1776). On the Italian journey in Sicily, light, sea and islands appear to him as a Homeric world. In an exchange of ideas with Schiller, he examines the Homeric works as models of the epic genre and tries to derive laws from them.
Homer's descriptions of man in his simplest relationship to nature had a soothing effect on Goethe. Besides Homer, Aeschylus is said to have been one of his favorite poets.
Even in the days of Storm and Urge, the Homeric man was something of a primordial man for Goethe. The knowledge of the Sicilian journey and the newly read odyssey had led him to the conviction that the Greeks were perfect people who lived in a completely natural environment and that in the future he would have to base his own work on the same laws. He saw the men and women of Homer as "primitive men".
With Homer he believed that he had found man as God had invented him, who brought all his possibilities to perfection. Goethe based his conception of art on Homer's incomparable role model. The canonical position of Homer and Sophocles could hardly be more firmly established than by Lessing, who presented Homer's poems as models from which one could deviate only to the detriment of the artistic effect.
"Hermann and Dorothea" is reminiscent of Homer in many ways.
To Herder, who also valued Homer very much, Goethe wrote from Wetzlar on July 10th, 1772: "Since I haven't heard from you, the Greeks have been my only study. First I restrict myself to Homer, then research about Socrates I in Xenophon and Plato, then my eyes opened at my unworthiness, got into Theocritus and Anacreon, in the end something attracted me to Pindar, where I am still hanging. "
(Anyone who would like to know more about Goethe's reception of Homer should read the essay “Always different. Goethes Homer” by Ulrike Landfester, published in: “Homer and German Literature”. Edition text & kritik, Munich, Heinz Ludwig Arnold (ed. ) Recommended in 2010.)
When the poet returned to Weimar in 1788, he was convinced that he had unraveled the secret of Greek superiority in art and life in Italy. With the return to Weimar on June 18, 1788, the mysterious vacation that the Secret Council of Goethe, alias Philipp Müller, had granted himself for almost three and three quarters of years, came to an end.
For Goethe, the excellence of Greek art rested on the excellence of the Greek way of life. The "Roman Elegies" and the "Venetian Epigrams" show his new style in the sense of the "old ones". After returning to Weimar, an unproductive era followed for Goethe from 1790 to 1793. He worked on Reineke Fuchs, whose world came close to Homer's world.
In the summer of 1794, Goethe's love for Homer was revived by the presence of the scholar and translator Johann Heinrich Voss in Weimar. The summer of 1794 brought him friendship with Schiller. This gave him the confidence that it was right to gain Greek standards for life and art and thus to achieve the highest form of existence that man is capable of.
However, the idea of recreating Greek literature by suppressing one's own individuality had turned out to be impracticable. Around 1805, Goethe had to realize that he could not bring Greece back to life. He had to be content with looking at antiquity as something eternally removed, something that has passed and never recurs.
He had to realize that he was a modern and a northern person and accepted his fate. Greece was “just” an experience. But this had changed and moved his worldview like no other. For a long time, especially around 1785, the German world had offered him no material for his artistic urge. It was only in Italy that he had gained the vision of man, especially through the Greek statues and through Homer.
How unreservedly Goethe regarded Greek culture as the basis of all true art is particularly evident from his statement that Homer has always been the richest source of material for artists. The Christian tradition is simply ignored.
After pulling everything from ancient Greece, his mind began to turn away from there. He saw that his passion for Greece had blinded him to the real virtues of other ways of life. But through all his endeavors he had won the idea of the Greek man, which never faded in his soul. For him, only the form of life that the Greeks had represented remained valid and possible. "Everyone is a Greek in his own way! But it is him."
Now its development was also over. Two thirds of his life were over. (The year was 1805.) Until then, everything that was not based on Greek standards had been classified as worthless or of secondary importance. Now he was ready to look at the world without passion or fondness, and to find good in every creative idea. His interest grew more general. Everything that moved and stirred in the world attracted his attention. He became more patient. His gaze had widened, freed from the tyranny of an absolute standard.His love for the Greek being ran as an undercurrent of his intellectual activity through all the years until his death.
In 1821 he began a new study of Euripides. Towards the end of his life he even became his favorite author. Three weeks before his death he defended Euripides with strong words against the scholars. Greece remained his first and only love until the end.
In his view, European culture could only advance if it was based on the Greek tradition. After 1805, Goethe's interests had expanded to include all known cultures on earth: Now the style of his work also became more comprehensive. This is shown above all in the second part of Faust in the marriage of Faust to Helena. Helena is not the symbol of the entire Greek existence, but of its highest achievement. Self control. Raw vitality, the Greeks had taught, to transform into shape, to be pure human and not half an animal, just to be humane As far as modern human beings were cultivated, they owed this to the Greeks. In prosaic terms, that is the meaning of the Helene episode in Faust. The Greeks were the first to live European life.
Goethe himself, however, regarded the Greeks as the ideal type of all, not just European humanity. In order to come to new life, an ancient ideal first had to pass through the living medium of a modern mind. Goethe was this living medium; in this we see the importance and the value of his link with Hellenism
Goethe lived in a time in which the unreflected, direct tradition of antiquity broke off, insofar as it was still present in the 18th century and during the Enlightenment. With Goethe, a text no longer gains its authority because it refers to Horace or Homer, for example, but because there is an artist who creates it from within - even if he uses content and images from antiquity.
Goethe's reinterpretation of antiquity, by making the artist a hero and identifying himself with Pindar or Homer, also has a clearly negative side, the shadows of which continue to this day: the depoliticization of art, the understanding of culture as a harmonious context and repression the need for a culture of debate. "And that comes from the time", so the thesis of Bernd Witte, "in which Goethe reinterpreted antiquity around 1770 to 1790. He used the image of antiquity to neutralize the disputes and contradictions of that time" in order to Example of setting up a social counter-image against the French Revolution.
In addition, since the German Classical period, the prevailing opinion was that poets and artists were citizens of another world, a world set high above the lowlands of politics. However, this opinion did not go unchallenged and was by no means shared by everyone. But the dispute as to whether art should be autonomous or should serve political purposes was sparked in particular by Goethe, although he was at least a decade more practical politician than poet, but then eventually joined the major political movements of the time the French Revolution or the Wars of Liberation were distant, even if he reflects them in his work in many ways, but not "partisan". He was resented by writers of various political stripes, starting with Börne and Heine, and, as Friedrich Nietzsche called it, "the fine silence" that became tradition and in the "Third Reich" led to looking the other way, to not wanting to know and finally, tacit complicity. The American historian Fritz Stern made Goethe the ancestor of fine silence in an article in the daily newspaper "Die Welt" on December 28, 1998. But not all Goethe connoisseurs and Goethe lovers followed him in this. Max Weber, Friedrich Meinecke, Gustav Radbruch and Ernst Troeltsch, all three proven Goethe connoisseurs and Goethe admirers, certainly had the courage to speak out political truths openly.
But there are also other objections to Goethe's reception of Greek antiquity.
In Faust II it says: "Now the spirit does not look forward, not back, the present alone is our happiness." This corresponds to the time experience of ancient philosophers, especially that of the Epicureans and Stoics. But Goethe, says the philosopher and religious scholar Pierre Hadot in the description of the ancient Greek soul, "a little too idealized and simplified the ancient Greeks."
Nietzsche also stated that Goethe did not always do justice to ancient reality and accuses “Goethe's conciliatory nature of incomprehension of the phenomenon of the tragic”, “which was ultimately related to a lack of understanding of the Dionysian”. According to Hans-Gerd von Seggern in the “Nietzsche Lexikon” published by Christian Niemeyer, Nietzsche sometimes stylizes Goethe as an Apollonian who lacked insight into the underground of the Greek soul. “As a result, Goethe did not understand the Greeks,” said Nietzsche in “Götzendämmerung”.
It should be pointed out briefly that Goethe's father, Johann Caspar Goethe, traveled to Italy in 1740 and Goethe's son traveled to Italy in August 1830 and died there. He is buried in Rome. A no-frills stone with a relief of the dead is erected there. "The son of Goethe, hurrying ahead of his father," is written on it in Latin. August's name is not mentioned.
Goethe himself, although he was an urban European and admirer of Italy, is said to have developed an irrepressible longing for America in his old age and to have found the occidental tradition to be a burden in some respects. Even if he had decided on a classic educational trip and not an American ideal of life when he left for Italy in 1786, in his poem from 1827 he raved about an America that is still unencumbered by cultural memory.
As our continent, the old one,
Don't have any ruined locks
And no basalts.
You don't bother inside
In the living time
And futile quarrel.
Use the present with happiness!
And if your children now write poetry,
Keep them good skill
Before stories of knights, robbers and ghosts. "
The new continent and the old Europe - this opposition, which has become virulent again in the global hegemonic conflicts of the 21st century, is anticipated in these verses of Goethe. Five years before the poem was written, Goethe noted that that "part of the world (was) happy to praise, that it lacks volcanic effects, whereby the geology of the new world shows a far more solid character than that of the old, where nothing is solid Seems to be standing ". The volcanic basalt rock appeared to him as a symbol of such negative eruptive forces.
- Collected works by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Volume 1-14. Hamburg edition. Munich 1998
- Goethe Letters Volumes 1-4. Stuttgart 1988
- Goethe's Conversations. Munich 1998
- Karl Otto Conrady: Goethe. Life and work. Düsseldorf and Zurich 1994
- Wolfgang Drews: Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. Monograph. Reinbek near Hamburg 1962
- J.P. Eckermann: Conversations with Goethe. Edited by Hellmuth Steger, Zurich 1969
- Pierre Hadot: Philosophy as a way of life. Berlin 1991
- Christian Niemeyer (Ed.): “Nietzsche Lexikon”. Darmstadt 2009
- Johann Prossliner: “Light becomes everything I can grasp”. Friedrich Nietzsche Read & Look Up. Quotes. Munich 1999
- Hans-Joachim Simm (Ed.) Goethe and religion. From his works, letters, diaries and conversations. Frankfurt / M. and Leipzig 2000
- Humphry Trevelan: Goethe and the Greeks. Hamburg 1949
- Gero von Wilpert: Goethe-Lexikon, Stuttgart 1998
- Bernd Witte: Goethe. The individual of modern writing. Wurzburg 2007
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