Excerpts from GOETHE & THE GREEKS BY HUMPHRY TREVELYAN FOREWORD BY HUGH LLOYD-JONES CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY P… Author: Humphry Trevelyan | Hugh Lloyd-Jones – excerpts concerning Goethe on the subject of Greek sculpture and art
“The school of art directed by Adam Friedrich Oeser, who had taught Winckelmann, contained a few casts of Greek statues, and Oeser drew Goethe’s attention to the casts of ancient gems contained in the Daktyliothek of Philipp Daniel Lippert, which offered one of the few means of getting some notion of ancient art then readily available. Goethe was at all times deeply sensible to visual impressions; small objects of art were scarcely less fascinating to him than large ones, and he took special pleasure in the study of gems and coins. Oeser also introduced him to the works of Winckelmann. The great history of art, which had appeared in 1763, he did not read until he was in Rome in 1786; but he read at Leipzig, probably in 1766, Lessing’s Laokoon, Winckelmann’s essay on the imitation of the Greeks in painting and sculpture, and the two essays published to supplement that work during the following year. The effect of this may not have been immediate, for in 1768 he visited Dresden without seeing the collection of antiquities; but in 1769, after his return home from Leipzig, he made an expedition to Mannheim to see the Elector’s collection of casts, and a letter written at the time shows that the experience made a deep impression. Trevelyan has rightly pointed out that what impressed Goethe at this time was not Winckelmann’s aesthetic theory but his picture of the Greeks as a people devoted to physical and intellectual beauty and free from the constraints imposed by a society such as that which Goethe himself lived in. It was now that he formed the opinion which he never had occasion to revise, that the Greeks had been the people who, beyond all others, had lived in accordance with Nature. Winckelmann’s celebrated notion that the essence of Greek art lay in “noble simplicity and quiet greatness” did not at this time appeal to him. One of the casts that he had seen in Mannheim was of the Laocoon group, and Goethe took a lively interest in the celebrated controversy which it occasioned. Winckelmann had praised the sculptors for making Laocoon merely moan in his agony, and not scream as he does according to Virgil; Lessing had defended Virgil, pointing out that plastic art had different principles from literary art, and that Greek writers had been as ready as Virgil to represent the vocal expression of physical
agony. Sculptors, on the other hand, Lessing thought, moderated that expression in order that their statues should be beautiful. The young Goethe was greatly struck by Lessing’s treatise; but he refused to accept this theory. The Greeks, whose art was based so firmly upon Nature, could not have watered down the expression of strong emotion so as to give beauty to their statues; and Goethe suggested that Laocoon does not scream only because he cannot do so, the attitude in which he is portrayed rendering it impossible. Whatever may be thought about this ingenious solution of the problem, it is remarkable that even at the age of twenty Goethe asserted his conception of the Greeks as living and creating in accordance with Nature in such a characteristic fashion. The encounter with Herder in Strasburg during the winter of 1770/1, so decisive in many ways, brought about a marked change in his attitude towards the Greeks. Herder’s assertion of the rights of natural feeling against the intellectualism of the Enlightenment implied that the poetry of unsophisticated ages, epic, folksongs and ballads, scorned by the sophisticated admirers of Voltaire, in fact possessed a special value. The Goethe of the Sturm und Drang period admired Ossian; he admired Shakespeare far more; but a yet more important author in his eyes was Homer, upon whom he flung himself with altogether fresh enthusiasm.”
“Schiller had argued that man should seek balance between duty and inclination, spirit and matter, Sittlichkeit and Sinnlichkeit; he should not suppress his sensual instincts, or the higher morality that resided in the harmony between the two principles could never be achieved. This point of view coincided remarkably with that which Goethe had arrived at during his Italian sojourn. In this work and in the later essay Uber naive und sentimentale Dichtung, Schiller adopts the same view of the Greeks as a people living close to Nature and in accordance with her laws to which Goethe had for so long subscribed. Whether or not one agrees with Schiller in regarding Goethe as a “naive” poet, one who depicts Nature directly instead of reflecting on the difference between the world and the ideal, that is certainly the kind of poet Goethe wished to be. The aesthetic theory which the two men worked out during their collaboration strongly insisted that a work of art should express in a clear and necessary way the essential determinants (Bestimmungen) of its subject; it must not lose itself in details which are not related or are only loosely related to those determinants.”
“Greek art must have been almost unknown among the older generation in Goethe’s childhood. There were practically no antique statues in Germany, none at all of the best period of Greek art. Those at Dresden were stowed away in a lean-to, so that even Winckelmann could make little of them. 2 Doubtless there were some casts of ancient works, as in Oeser’s academy at Leipzig; but the formation of the famous collection of casts at Mannheim during the late ‘sixties was an epochmaking event for the knowledge of ancient art in Germany. Until 1769, when the Mannheim collection was completed by the addition of casts newly made in Italy,3 there was nowhere in Germany where a student could get a comprehensive view of ancient art. Some, Goethe’s father fcamong them, had travelled to Rome and seen the Laocoon and the Apollo with their own eyes; but such fortunate ones were few. Before the publication of Winckelmann’s Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums in 1763, there was no book which gave a proper account of the development of ancient art. The two books on antiquities most commonly used, Montfaucon’s Vantiquite expliquee (first edition 1719) and Caylus’s Recueils Vantiquite (1752-1767), both had serious shortcomings. Montfaucon was not interested in the ancient works of art for their aesthetic value, but only in so far as they threw light on the mythology and mode of life of the ancients. He made no distinction between Greek, Roman and Etruscan work. Caylus valued ancient art as art,4 and was the first to distinguish Greek art from Roman, Etruscan and Egyptian; but he discussed and reproduced only those works which he himself possessed, for the most part statuettes, busts and gems, so that the reader got no information about the masterpieces of ancient art. 5 1
Cf. H. Voelcker, Die Stadt Goethes, 1932, and E. Mentzel, Wolfgang und Cornelia Goethes Lehrer, p. 211. 2 Justi, Winckelmann und seine Zeitgenossen, Zweite Auflage, Leipzig, 1898, 1, p. 274, and Winckelmann, Werke, 11, p. 405. 3 G-J. XXVII, p. 150 fol., and Goethe’s letter to Langer, 30 Nov. 1769: see p. 38 below. 4 Avertissement to vol. 1. 5 For Goethe’s retrospective opinion of Caylus see his letter to Hirt, 9 June 1809.”
“In life and in art the Greeks and the Greeks alone are Winckelmann’s inspiration. In their minds and in their bodies the Greeks were “the most perfect creations of Nature”, for “in Greece, where man could devote himself to joy and delight from youth up, and where the bourgeois respectability of to-day never interfered with the freedom of manners, natural beauty could show itself undisguised, to the great advantage of the artists”. 2 Out of this perfect existence had grown Greek art, which was for Winckelmann not merely a better representation of Nature than modern art, but the absolute ideal, to approach which should be the sole striving of every artist. “Those who know and imitate Greek works find in these masterpieces not only Nature at its best, but something more than Nature, namely certain ideal beauties formed from pictures created only in the mind of the artist.” 3 “Hence the study of Nature must at any rate be a longer and more toilsome road to the knowledge of perfect beauty, than the study of the antique.”4 Upon this assumption of the ideal perfection of Greek art Winckelmann based his challenging exhortation: “The only way for us to be great, ay, if it may be, inimitable, is the imitation of the ancients.”5”
delight by the general public; Winckelmann became famous overnight; and the cultured elite of Germany eagerly awaited his next pronouncements from Rome. The long night of hostility and ignorance was over. With the decay of rationalism and the spread of classical knowledge the time had come when men would again seek inspiration and guidance from the achievements and example of the Greeks. In Goethe’s boyhood enthusiasm for the Greeks was commoner than a sound knowledge of their literature and art. We may safely assume that, before he went to Leipzig, Goethe came in contact with no one who knew as much about Greece as a sixth-form boy on the classical side in any English public school to-day. Still less can intelligent conversation on classical subjects have been customary among his father’s circle in Frankfurt. But even in Frankfurt, in spite of the presence of men like Loen, there were probably some who sniffed the fresh breeze from the Aegean; and from them the boy Goethe may have learned the fashion of the new enthusiasm. But he would have sought the Greeks in any case, for there was something in his nature which drew him to them. 1 This affinity was part of his “gepragte Form”. The world in which he grew up, his environment, was ignorant of the Greeks but ready to believe the best of them. Whatever picture of the Greeks his innate sympathy with them might paint for him, the world would influence it little, either by malicious distortion or by cramping knowledge. Goethe was born at exactly the right moment for the development of an ideal, not an historical, view of the Greeks. Born twenty years before, he would have had to fight against the modernist prejudice, and in the heat of battle his glance would have lacked the serenity which in fact carried it so deep into the nature of the Hellenic tradition. Born twenty, even ten years later, he would, with his opportunities, have known so much about the Greeks that he could hardly have seen in them ideal creatures raised above the accidents of time and space. 1”
“ It was Oeser, the friend and teacher of Winckelmann, endowed with little talent as a painter but with much insight into the nature of beauty, who first encouraged the young student to read what there was to read and see what was to be seen. Already by the Christmas of 1765, Goethe was a regular pupil in his academy1 and was soon a favourite with the old man and with his family. From him he heard of Caylus’s work, 2 and may, within the limits of its usefulness, have learnt something from it. At the academy there were casts of Laocoon (only the central figure) and a faun with cymbals,3 but nothing else. The faun, the first Greek statue he had ever seen, impressed itself so deeply on his inward eye, that still in his eightieth year he could recall perfectly how it looked and how it stood in Oeser’s studio.4 Oeser also drew his attention to Lippert’s Daktyliothekfi It was this famous collection of casts of ancient gems which enabled Goethe to get his first view of a large body of antique works of art. The majority of the gems were of course of Roman workmanship (or even modern imitations).6 They gave him, to our ideas, an over-refined, mannered picture of ancient art, but, as he says in Dichtung und Wahrheit, he learnt through them to value the ancients’ power of happy invention, of apt composition and of tasteful treatment. 7 He may, as Morris suggests,8 have tried to reproduce some figures and motifs from these gems in his poems, particularly Amor in the Hochzeitslied of October 1767. He may from this have gone on to study the question of date^ and styles when he undertook to rearrange a collection of gem impressions belonging to the Breitkopf family.9 The Breitkopfs also possessed “representations of antiquity” in engravings. Were these reproductions of ancient sculpture ? If they were they may have given Goethe his first sight of the then most famous statues 1
Letter to Cornelia, 12 Dec. 1765 (WA. iv, 1, p. 30). 3 WA. 27, p. 160, and see above, p. 5. WA. 28, p. 87. 4 WA. 32, p. 324. 5 See above, p. 6, and WA. 27, pp. 161, 387. 6 See Justi, op. cit. 1, p. 342. 7 8 WA. 27, p. 161. MM. vi, p. 70. 9 WA. 27, p. 179. The Breitkopfs moved house in the autumn of 1766. Goethe’s work with the gem impressions may therefore fall any time after this. By position in D. und W. it comes after the trip to Dresden in March 1768. 2
of antiquity—the Apollo Belvedere, the Niobe group, the Farnese Hercules and so on—about which he had heard much talk, without ever having had the chance to see them even in reproduction. Oeser it was, too, who led him to read Winckelmann’s works. 1 Important as this reading was for the development of his ideas, it added little to his knowledge of Greek art. It is almost certain that he read only the three short essays that Winckelmann wrote before he left Dresden.2 These are rich in ideas rather than in information. The great Geschichte der Kunst des Alterturns, which gave an historical account based on all the ancient works of art then extant, of the growth, flowering and decay of Greek and Roman art, was probably left unread by Goethe, who preferred at this time to be inspired rather than instructed.3 Even if he did attempt it, he must quickly have seen that he could learn nothing from it. Not until, twenty years later, he too was living in Rome, surrounded by the statues of which Winckelmann was writing, could he begin to learn from the Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums. He even neglected the one opportunity that came to him at Leipzig to see original works of antique sculpture. Three vestals, as they were then held to be, and an Agrippina, which had been brought from Herculaneum, together with some antique reliefs, were to be seen at Dresden, miserably housed and lighted indeed, but still reckoned by Winckelmann to be the most valuable collection of antiques then in Germany.4 In March 1768 Goethe spent several days in Dresden with the express purpose, so he says in Dichtung und Wahrheit, of getting visual material (Anschauung) for the ideas with which his head was filled from the reading of Lessing’s Laokoon. Yet he “declined” to see these antiques, though Winckelmann commended them in the Gedanken as “equal to Greek works of the first rank”,5 and spent all his time in the picture-gallery, where 1
WA. 27, p. 161. Gedanken uber die Nachahmung der Griechischen Werke in der Malerei und Bildhauerkunst, published in the spring of 1755; Sendschreiben uber die Gedanken and Erlauterung der Gedanken, both written in the summer of the 3 same year and published 1756. WA. 27, p. 183. 4 Werke, 11, p. 405, and justi, op. cit. 1, p. 274. 5 1, p. 27. 2
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“ It is probable he went to Dresden to test, and if possible to confirm, ideas of his own about the nature of art as a whole. The problem of the nature of Greek art was not yet of great importance to him. Back once more in Frankfurt he had no opportunity to add to the small beginnings that his acquaintance with Greek art had made in Leipzig. But he did not cease to ponder the aesthetic questions raised by Winckelmann and Lessing.2 The fact, however, that he had seen hardly any of the works of these Greek artists, who were continually called to give evidence by both sides, made it hard for him to come to any conclusion. Now, as he sat in Frankfurt, there came to him reports of a collection of casts, many of which had been newly made in Rome, more complete than anything of its kind in Germany, commodiously housed, and so lighted and arranged that every statue could be studied to the best advantage; and all this at Mannheim, within fifty miles of him.3 In the last days of October 1769 he made an expedition to Mannheim with the purpose, amongst other things, of studying the casts in the Electoral collection. “Entre bien de jolies choses que j ‘ y ai rencontre,” he wrote to Langer,4 “entre bien de magnifiques qui frappent les yeux, rien n’a pu tant attirer tout mon 1
WA. 27, p. 174. He read Lessing’s Briefe antiquarischen Inhalts, which deals in part with questions raised by the Laokoonstreit, during the winter of 1768-1769 (see letter to Oeser, 14 Feb. 1769, WA. iv, 1, p. 205, and MM. vi, p. 59). 3 For these and following details of the Mannheimer Antikensaal see J. A. Beringer’s article, G-J. xxvm, p. 150-8. 4 Goethes Briefe an E. T. Langer. This letter 30 Nov. 1769. 2
etre que la grouppe de Laocoon, nouvellement moulee sur r o r i g i n a l d e Rome. J’en ai ete extasie, pour oublier presque toutes les autres statues qui ont ete moulees avec elle et qui sont dans la meme salle. J’ai fait des remarques sur le Laocoon qui donnent bien de lumiere a cette fameuse dispute, dont les combatants sont de bien grands homines.” If Goethe had any eyes at all for the other statues besides Laocoon and his sons, he must have gone home with as clear a picture of what Greek sculpture was, as was possessed by any young German of his day, for the collection contained casts of twenty of the most famous antique statues, 1 all in fact that were then regarded as of outstanding beauty and importance. There were, it is true, few works of the great period of Greek art among them, hardly any indeed that are not n o w recognised as being Greco-Roman work. But still from that day on he had in his mind’s eye a picture of Greek art, different from that he had gained in Leipzig from Lippert’s Daktyliothek, and, with all its limitations, more typical.* 1
Beringer gives the following list: Apollo Belvedere, Dying Gladiator, Laocoon group, Castor und Pollux, Farnese Hercules, Farnese Flora, Borghese Gladiator, the Apoxyomenos, Borghese Hermaphrodite, Venus de Medici, Boy with Thorn, the Wrestlers, the Belvedere Torso, the Faun with Cymbals, the Ildefonso Faun, Antinous, a Dying Niobid, Idolino, Amor und Psyche, and heads of: Homer, Niobe, Alexander and Niobe’s daughter. 2 One question of great interest has been raised by the publication of the letter to Langer, quoted above. Before its publication it was assumed that the visit to the Mannheim collection, which Goethe describes in D. und W. as taking place on the return journey from Strassburg to Frankfurt—that is in Aug. 1771—was the first visit. It is now clear that this is not so. But the thought cannot help arising: Perhaps the visit of Oct. 1769 was the only visit. Perhaps Goethe, writing forty years later, had forgotten the date and circumstances of his visit and laid it in 1771, naturally assuming that he had made it on the way either to or from Strassburg. As evidence of a visit in Aug. 1771, there is the large role played by Apollo—”Pythos totend”—in Wandrers Sturmlied (early spring, 1772), and one sentence in a letter to Herder of late summer or autumn 1771: “Apollo vom Belvedere, warum zeigst du dich uns in deiner Nacktheit…” (WA. iv, 1, p. 264, and MM. 11, p. 117). There is unfortunately doubt as to the date of this letter. Morris refers it to “Frankfurt, etwa Oct. 1771″, in which case it would support the visit of 1771. But the Weimar Ausgabe heads i t ” Strassburg, Sommer 1771 ‘ \ If this dating is correct, Goethe must, as he was writing, have been thinking back to what he saw in Mannheim in 1769; and there is then no reference to a visit to Mannheim in the letters of the late summer or autumn 1771.
During the winter following his visit to Mannheim he was concerned to put his ideas about Laocoon into essay form. To enlarge his visual knowledge for this work he studied at least one book of reproductions of ancient art, Barbault’s Les plus beaux monumens de Rome ancienne (1761). 1 The engravings
throughout the work are miserably bad, and no attempt is made at critical explanation of the plates, not even to distinguish the Greek works from those of Roman or Etruscan origin. Goethe cannot have been helped by this work either to greater knowledge of Greek art or to a truer conception of it. Still he felt how little he knew beside what he would like to know. In April of 1770 he wrote to Langer from Strassburg, described the great tapestries woven from cartoons by Raphael, and fell thereby into violent longing for Italy. “To Italy, Langer ! To Italy! But not this year; I have not the knowledge that I need; I have still much to make up. Paris shall be my school, Rome my university.”” He was thinking here of his ignorance both of Greek sculpture and of Renaissance painting. There were Roman remains in Strassburg and the neighbourhood. The bas-reliefs at Niederbrunn especially aroused his enthusiasm.3 But in these he was only seeing in the original what such works as Barbault had already shown him in reproduction. Though he might feel himself in their presence “laved by the spirit of antiquity”, 4 it was a far cry from them Moreover, in this letter to Langer, 30 Nov. 1769, Goethe mentions having written to Oeser after the visit to Mannheim in Oct., to tell him of his discoveries on the subject of the Laocoon dispute. This letter to Oeser is mentioned also in D. und W., but of course as having been written after the visit in 1771. It is not likely that Goethe wrote twice to Oeser on this subject, not likely that he would write at all in 1771, when he had ceased to be under the influence of Oeser’s aesthetic ideas. If Goethe never visited Mannheim in 1771, but only in 1769, the description in D. und W. of the conflict between classical and Gothic art, which the visit aroused in him is Dichtung and not Wahrheit (WA. 28, p. 87). This is not impossible, especially as it was a conflict that was much in the air at the time Goethe was writing his memoirs (1812). N.B. In one Schema to D. und W. Book 7 (WA. 27, p. 388) Goethe put down “Mannheimer Sammlung” immediately after “Dresdener Gallerie”. This provides evidence neither for nor against a visit in 1771, except in so far as it shows how little Goethe cared about holding J to an exact chronological succession in D. und W. WA. 37, p. 90. 2 3 Goethes Briefe an E. T. Langer, p. 27. WA. 27, p. 3 39. 4 “Umspulte mich der Geist des Altertums.”
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“ The importance at that time of Winckelmann’s name and writings to any German who interested himself in the Greeks cannot be exaggerated. Goethe, as Oeser’s pupil, was brought into a peculiarly close relationship with the man and his ideas. He tells in Dichtung und Wahrheit of the reverence with which he pored over the Gedanken and Winckelmann’s other early essays,1 struggling to make sense even of the most enigmatical passages; of the jubilant expectation with which Winckelmann’s arrival in Leipzig was awaited ill the summer of 1768, and of the crushing dismay that befell their small circle when, instead of the revered master, the news arrived of his tragic and horrible death.2 There can be no doubt that Winckelmann’s writings, particularly the Gedanken uber die Nachahmung der Griechen,
made a deep impression on Goethe’s mind in Leipzig. The capital importance of the Greek element in ancient culture, the correspondingly subordinate and imitative role played by Rome, was here for the first time made clear beyond all chance of doubting. 3 In them, too, he found a different picture of the Greeks from that given by the French classical tragedy, till then his only source for visual impressions. He was shown now the Greece of the palaestra—of beautiful bodies and of the sun, where the mind of the philosopher and the eye of the 1
WA. 27, pp. 161, 182. Winckelmann was stabbed to death in Trieste on 8 June 1768, by an Italian named Arcangeli, who coveted some gold medals that Winckelmann had shown him. For a vital description of Winckelmann’s last weeks and fateful end see Miss Butler’s account in The Tyranny of Greece over Germany, Cambridge, 1935, pp. 40-3. 3 Werke, 1, pp. 6, 7, and G. Baumecker, op. cit. pp. 36, 37. 2
artist were alike trained on the aspect of beauty: a land where a kindly climate brought all nature to its most perfect development and led on the hearts of men to a natural joyfulness; where beauty was held in esteem above all else, and where no bourgeois respectability hemmed the free and natural outlet of all youthful joys. 1 This picture he got from Winckelmann as a student in Leipzig, and it remained with him throughout his life;2 later reading and observations, the influence of Lessing and Herder, only developed and added to the picture, they did not change it. A picture, then, he got from Winckelmann, a living picture with the power in it of growth; but he got nothing else. The central doctrine of the Gedanken, the imitation of Greek art in preference to nature, left him unmoved. He continued to draw from Nature, to copy landscapes when he etched, and to prefer naturalistic to ideal art.3 In August 1767 he tried, at his father’s suggestion, to study a book on the proportions of the body,4 but found it useless. This is the only evidence of any artistic interest in the human body, let alone in the human body as idealised by the Greeks. Had he become in any sense a disciple of Winckelmann he would have tried to apply the master’s teaching to his own poetical productions. He would have given up everything to study Greek literature and to reproduce what he found there in his own poems.5 But, as we have seen, he read no Greek while he was at Leipzig. Nor did he try to carry out Winckelmann’s recommendations for the allegorical use of mythology.6 We have already seen how he used mythological figures in his poetry. He had none of Winckelmann’s reverence for them. 1
Winckelmann, Werke, 1, pp. 9-15, 134, 138, 172. Its first visible manifestation is in a letter to Friederike Oeser, 13 Feb. 1769 (WA. iv, 1, p. 198): “Unter Deutschlands Eichen wurden keine Nymphen geboren wie unter den Myrten im Tempe.” It has here rather an Arcadian-rococo flavour, but the idea of the ” glucklichere Natur” of the Greeks is clearly present. 3 WA. 27, pp. 171, 175, 188. Volbehr, Goethe und die bildende Kunst, Leipzig, 1895, p. 85. Eduard Castle, In Goethes Geist, Vienna, 1926, realises the limits of Winckelmann’s influence on Goethe in Leipzig. 4 Letter to Cornelia (WA. iv, 1, p. 99). 5 The fact that Goethe wrote “dithyrambs” in his winter in Leipzig (WA. iv, 1, p. 33) need not arouse excitement. Gottsched in his Kritische Dichtkunst, p. 83, defines a dithyramb as a “satyrisches Gedicht”! 6 Winckelmann, Werke, 1, pp. 58, 59, 170, 190, 201. 2
Winckelmann had defined the essence of Greek art as being “a noble simplicity and a quiet greatness in attitude as in expression”.1 No matter what bodily and mental sufferings might be portrayed, Greek sculpture showed always “a great and restrained soul”.2 So Laocoon, though every muscle of his body shows the agony he suffers, does not allow this agony to express itself unrestrained (mit Wut) either in his face or in his attitude. He moans (ein beklemmtes Seufzen), he does not scream. Like Sophocles’s Philoctetes he bears his sufferings stoically. Only an artist who could himself endure suffering so heroically, could conceive and execute such a work of art. The ancient artists named the immoderate expression of suffering parenthyrsus and regarded it as a serious fault.3 Winckelmann saw the same noble simplicity and quiet greatness in the Greek works of literature of the best period—”the works of Socrates’s school”.4 This famous conception of the Greeks was no better able to strike root in young Goethe’s mind than had been Winckelmann’s exhortations to imitate the antique. He may have accepted in principle Oeser’s and Winckelmann’s doctrine that the highest ideal of beauty was simplicity and repose, but he felt he could not follow this rule, and resigned himself to the conclusion that no young man can be a master. 5 Even this partial acceptance seems to have come first in Frankfurt, during the months of brooding after his illness. In the letters from Leipzig there is no reference to Winckelmann or to his aesthetic ideas. The poems written in Leipzig show no attempt to paint noble simplicity or quiet greatness. They are for the most part the erotic day-dreams of a youth of eighteen, recounted with a slippery, Rococo grace. Where the emotions are stirred below the surface, there is no attempt to keep them from finding their 1
Werke, i, pp. 31-3: “Eine edle Einfalt und eine stille Grosse, so wohl in der Stellung als im Ausdrucke.” 2 3 “Eine grosse und gesetzte Seele.” Ibid. p. 33. 4 Ibid. p. 35. What did Winckelmann mean by “Socrates’s school”? Did he mean to include Sophocles under this heading? Goethe probably did not break his head over the question and we will not either. 5 Letter to Oeser, 9 Nov. 1768 (WA. iv, 1, p. 178), and to Reich, 20 Feb. 1770 (Ibid. p. 229), and Ephemerides, WA. 37, p. 101. Volbehr (op. cit. p. 75) points out that Oeser’s ideal of beauty is mentioned in the same breath witn Shakespeare and Wieland.
natural expression: the girl in danger bursts into a storm of sobs and flings her arms round her lover’s neck.1 Goethe might still have accepted Winckelmann’s definition of the nature of Greek art and have got from it an impression of the Greeks in which a certain cold stoicism would have outweighed their joyfulness, had not Lessing’s Laokoon appeared (1766) and saved him.2 Lessing took exception to the criticism of Virgil implied by Winckelmann in the Gedanken. Winckelmann had praised the artists of the Laocoon group, because they had represented Laocoon merely moaning, not screaming terribly as he does in Virgil’s account in the Aeneid? Lessing defended Virgil on the ground that the plastic arts and poetry are governed by different principles. Poetry does not appeal primarily to the visual sense but to the mind and feelings. It is therefore no fault in poetry to describe things which, if presented to the eye in sculpture or painting, would be ugly and revolting.4 In their literature the Greeks showed no restraint in giving expression to physical and mental agony. Sophocles’s Philoctetes fills the stage and the best part of an act with his cries and groans. Hercules too cries out in his death agony, and the Homeric heroes when they are wounded. We moderns think it indecent to cry and weep. Not so the Greeks! They felt deeply and were not ashamed to give free expression to their feelings.5 Why then does Laocoon in the group not cry aloud in his agony? Because the Greek artists knew that plastic art has laws of its own, the first of which is: only what is beautiful shall be represented. Rage and despair disfigured none of their works. Violent passions were toned down in their expression until all ugliness was banished from the form. 6 Lessing’s Laokoon had the profoundest effect upon Goethe.7 He saw now clearly the difference in kind between poetical and plastic creation. He was freed from any obligation he 1 “
“His interest in ancient art was indeed always keen, but for some time after that fruitful visit to Mannheim in 1769 the chances of increasing his knowledge were scarce and his progress slow. If we assume that he did not visit the Mannheim collection again in August 1771,3 there is a gap of nearly two years during which his occupation with ancient art seems to have been suspended. During the winter of 1770-1771 he probably heard from Herder most of those ideas on the nature of Greek sculpture which were later published in Herder’s 1
Bied. 1, p. 52: ” Kenner und Leser der Alten, besonders der Griechen.” The review of Bergstrdssers Realworterbuch (Morris, Goethes und Herders Anted, p. 247) shows knowledge of Plutarch and Theophrastus’s Characters. 3 See above, p. 38, note 2. 2
essay Plastik;1 but only his ideas, not his visual knowledge, were helped by these talks. From then on during his last summer in Alsace through the winter and spring of 17711772 in Frankfurt, the following summer in Wetzlar and the last months of 1772, which he spent again at home, he had no contact with Greek art. Not that the visions which he had from Mannheim faded altogether. Apollo especially stood clear and rather terrible in his mind.2 But through all these months there is no sign that he ever set eyes on any Greek art, nor even that he felt the need of such contemplation. By February of 1773 however he possessed casts of three antique heads—a Paris, a Venus and a Mercury—who stood beside him on his desk as he wrote. 3 Perhaps his interest had been revived by reading Heyne’s Einleitung in das Studium der Antike, which he reviewed for the Frankfurter Gelehrte Anzeigen in October 1772.4 From now on at any rate he continued to collect both casts and engravings of Greek works, until by the end of 1774 he had a small collection, which in those days would have been coveted by any amateur of the Greek. At the Easter Fair of 1773 he got from Italian pedlars good casts of the heads of the Laocoon group and of the daughters of Niobe.5 During the course of the same year he took a favourable opportunity and bought some good engravings of the most famous antiques, and these he hung around his room. 6 In April of the following year he was trying to add to his collection of casts through the good offices of Raspe, inspector of the Cassel art galleries, and of his friend Hopfner,7 and in December he wrote to Boie asking him “to send the Niobe in part payment”. 8 His enjoyment of all these works of Greek art was not only passive. He made drawings of heads of Apollo and Laocoon9 during the summer and autumn of 1773, and began, perhaps in con1
Werke, vm, pp. vii, viii, 116 foil. See the letter to Herder (WA. iv, 1, p. 264) quoted above, note to p. 38, and Wandrers Sturmlied, for which Apollo Belvedere and Iliad, 1, 43-52 were both in his thoughts. 3 Letter to Kestner (WA. iv, 2, p. 62). 4 WA. 38, p. 374. 5 WA. 28, p. 188. 6 7 Ibid. p. 189 and Bied. 1, p. 27. MM. iv, p. 77. 8 WA. iv, 2, p. 220: “Und schicken mir doch indess auf Abschla-g die Niobe.” 9 Ibid. pp. 102,118; MM. vi, p. 274 and Diintzer, Zur Goetheforschung, p. 29. 2
nexion with this drawing, a critical discussion of the heads of the Laocoon group.1 During these five years, between his meeting with Herder and his departure for Weimar, he advanced very far in knowledge and understanding of Greek art. He did not come to know many other statues than those he had seen at Mannheim in 1769; but now, by making a collection of his own, of all the reproductions in plaster and engravings that he could lay hands on, he made it possible for himself to contemplate and study much of the best Greek sculpture that was then known, and so to get a firm basis of visual knowledge for whatever ideas his contemplation might bring him. Even so the material that he could provide for himself, had serious limitations. Reproductions of full-length statues or whole groups could only be in the form of engravings, which, even if they were as fine as the plates of Apollo Belvedere and the Medici Venus in Spence’s Polymetis, could not convey as true an effect of plasticity as any reproduction in the round could do. His casts were all of heads detached from the torso; and this fact tended, as his Laocoon fragment shows, to concentrate his attention on the power of emotional expression in Greek art rather than on its greatness and perfection in representation of the human form. For all that, he had done as much as any man could do, who was not solely an archaeologist and who had to live in Germany, to gain knowledge and understanding of Greek art. From time to time still his thoughts turned with longing towards Italy. Already in the autumn of 1773 he spoke of this wish to Schonborn.2 Then in the summer of 1775 he stood with one friend on the summit of the St Gothard and looked over the snow-streaked precipices towards the sunny plains. How easy the descent!—to Milan, to Florence—to Rome! But love and Fate drew him back—northwards to another destiny. During the agonised months that followed, a journey to Italy seemed at times the only escape.3 But it was not yet to be. Eleven years were to pass before he could walk in daily worship among the great forms that already filled him with such longing. 1
A fragment of this essay is preserved WA. 48, p. 235. For date see v. Liicken, Natalicium, p. 88. 2 3 Bied. 1, p. 27. WA. iv, 2, p. 278; Bied. 1, p. 63.
68 “
“ In May 1778, he was in Leipzig, saw his old master Oeser and had talk with him on the principles of art.2 Winckelmann’s doctrine of “noble simplicity and quiet 1 WA. in, 1, p. 61: “Diese Woche viel auf dem Eis, in immer gleicher fast zu reiner Stimmung Stille und Vorahndung der Weisheit… Bestimmteres Gefuhl von Einschrankung, und. dadurch der wahren Ausbreitung.” 2 WA. iv, 3, p. 231.
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greatness’, and the art on which that doctrine was based, must have been brought vividly to Goethe’s mind even if, as seems to have been the case, he did not actually read any of Winckelmann’s works.1 In the July following he read the aesthetic works of Mengs, which may have served as a substitute for Winckelmann. Anton Rafael Mengs, a German painter of considerable repute in his day, had written much about the theory and practice of art.2 He had been an intimate friend of Winckelmann in Rome, whose maxims he echoed in his own writings. In these essays Goethe found a picture of Greece that had no room for the gigantic figures of old fable, from whom he was trying to escape. Instead he saw a beautiful youth, and an art that made this single figure the centre of all its labour, constantly refining the representation of it until out of perfect balance and proportion grew a thing of perfect beauty. Divine youth ! Was not just such balance and proportion the goal towards which Goethe had been struggling for close on three years, the goal at which he had now arrived ? In the same year Herder published his essay Plastik. The ideas in it were not new to Goethe. In Strassburg eight years before, he had read as much of the essay as was already written, or had heard the essence of it from Herder himself.3 But much had changed in those eight years, especially in the knowledge and insight with which Goethe approached the subject. Coming at this moment the essay must have worked as a revelation in his receptive spirit. “A statue”, Herder wrote, “stands there complete in itself under the clear sky as it were in Paradise: image of a fair creature of God, and around it is innocence.” “The forms of sculpture are simple and eternal”—these forms which the Greeks evolved.4 The human form with its mystical 1
Herder’s Preisschrift on Winckelmann, written for the prize competition instituted by the Cassel “Societe des Antiquites” and sent in in May 1778, cannot have attracted Goethe’s interest back to Winckelmann. It is almost certain that Goethe knew nothing of the essay (see Duncker’s edition of it, 1882). 2 The first edition of Mengs’s works (in Italian) appeared in 1780. All that Goethe can have read in 1778 were the Betrachtungen iiber die Schonheit,
Zurich, 1765, and the Letter to Don Antonio Pons, translated into Italian from the Spanish, 1777. 3 4 Cf. Herder, Werke, vm, p. vii. Ibid. pp. 25, 35, 36.
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symmetry, stripped of all particularity of time and place as only the Greeks had the wisdom to represent it2—this was to be the mediator henceforward between Goethe and God. Herder showed also how this vision of the human form could be used to produce new works of beauty and wisdom. He pointed out how the Greeks had used their ideal forms as means of expression. They were not “masks of a beautiful, eternal inactivity; the breath of life blew through their forms”. Apollo Belvedere expresses a noble anger and determination in his attitude. The other gods and heroes speak to us plastically.3 Inevitably as he realised the deeper significance of Greek sculpture, Goethe longed for more opportunity to study it. In the years of inner conflict he had felt out of touch with the serenity of Greek art. There were some antiques in his house,4 probably brought with him from Frankfurt, and in the spring of 1776 he had some antique gem impressions sent from Leipzig by Oeser.5 This seems to have been his only effort to gain new knowledge of Greek art. From 1779 onwards, however, he took every opportunity to see and contemplate reproductions of the great works of Greek sculpture.6 In the summer of 1778—just as the inner meaning of Greek art was dawning on him—he began to take an interest in the work of Klauer, the court sculptor,? who in time produced several plaster casts and some bronzes of Greek originals. One commission that Goethe gave to Klaueisis ofparticular significance. In December 1778 Klauer began a nude of Fritz v. Stein, Charlotte’s six-yearold son; Goethe commented on it in his diary of January 1779:8 “Klauer at work on the model of Fritz. At last, thank God, he is finding an unending field of study in the beautiful body He cannot wonder enough at its beauty. The story of how it 1
2 Cf. Herder, Werke, vra, p. 69. Ibid. pp. 19-20. Ibid. pp. 57 foil., 61. 4 Diintzer, Zur Goetheforschung, p. 34. 5 Letter to Oeser, 6 April 1776 (WA. iv, 3, p. 49) and Duntzer, Zur Goetheforschung, pp. 34, 35. 6 See below, pp. 118, 119. 7 See WA. in, 1, pp. 68, 70, 74. 8 Ibid. p. 78. Volbehr (op. cit. p. 143) points out the significance of this sudden interest in the human form. See also E. Wolf, Goethe und die 3
griechische Plastik in Neue Jahrbucher fiir Wissenschaft und Jugendbildung, 1
(1925), p. 35-
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has all happened from the beginning is worth remembering.”1 The tone of these words shows that it was his own conversion rather than Klauer’s that excited him. With the help of Winckelmann, Mengs and Herder, all of whom based their thought on the tradition of Greek sculpture, he had begun to realise the inner significance of the human form. The Greeks had understood this significance as no other race had done, and had revealed it in the ideal human forms of their sculpture. This was the principle on which from this moment Goethe interpreted Greek art. The greater knowledge that he gained in Italy, and afterwards, did not cause him to change his attitude; he used it only to develop the simple idea in ever greater detail. The way was now clear to create through the inspiration of the Greek ideal. He must reproduce in his poetical medium the “noble simplicity and quiet greatness” of Greek statuary. For the great work in which he would portray his struggle and his victory, such a style was aesthetically inevitable. Only thus in fact could the aesthetic significance of the new wisdom be expressed. So Iphigenie took shape in his mind during the last weeks of 1778,2 and was brought to paper in the intervals of administrative duties during the February and March following. In the statuesque simplicity, the grave restraint, the perfect humanity of the characters, Goethe was trying to re-create in words his vision of the Hellenic man. It may be maintained that he was not successful, that the characters in Iphigenie lack real plasticity. It is true we learn to know them entirely through their thoughts and feelings; their physical appearance is not portrayed. Such description seemed unnecessary to Goethe. Their physical attributes were those of Greek sculpture, which were well known and needed no description. He was concerned to portray the deeper significance of Greek contour and 1 “Klauer an Fritzens Modell gearbeitet. Er findet doch endlich, Gott sei Dank, an dem schonen Kdrper ein iibergros Studium Er kann jetzt nicht genug dessen Schonheit bewundern. Die Geschichte, wie es damit von Anfang gegangen ist, muss ich nicht vergessen.” 2 Some have held that Goethe began to think over a plan to Iphigenie in
1776 (seeDiintzer, Die drei dltesten Bearheitungen von Goethes ” Iphigenie \ 1854,
p. 143), but this view is not generally accepted. Even if this were so it is significant that he could not bring his plan to fruition until he had found a new line of approach to the Greek genius.
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Greek proportion, as he understood it, and in this he certainly succeeded. His use of the Greek sculptural ideal involved a reproduction in the poetic medium of certain qualities of Greek plastic art. It was in a sense “imitation”—a thing that he had never allowed himself in the days of Sturm und Drang. How far had he accepted the principle of imitation in other matters ? How far in fact should Iphigenie be regarded as an attempt to write a Greek tragedy? Before this question can be answered it is essential first to establish how well Goethe knew the body of Attic tragedy from personal study. Before he came to Weimar he had read the Alcestis and probably the Prometheus Vinctusy and was familiar at least with the story of the Philoctetes.1 For the first five years after his arrival in Weimar—until September 1780—there is no direct evidence of any interest in the tragedians, except a reference to Sophocles in a letter to his mother, which might or might not mean that Goethe had been reading him. 2 In letters and diaries there is no indication that Goethe read a single Greek play in preparation for his own Iphigenie. Negative evidence, however, can prove nothing, and in this case it is contradicted by strong evidence from other sources. In 1811 Goethe said to Riemer: “Incompleteness is productive. I wrote my Iphigenie from a study of the Greek works, which was however incomplete. If it had been exhaustive, the play would have remained unwritten.” 3 The evidence of this categorical statement is supported by an examination of the text of Iphigenie. A number of phrases and images in it are strongly reminiscent of passages in various Greek tragedies. When Goethe made Iphigenie say: “I came here young, yet old enough to remember those heroes, who, like the gods in the glory of their armament, went forth to fairest renown”, 4 he may well have had in his mind’s eye the picture drawn at much greater length by Euripides in the Iphigenia in Aulis (lines 171-300). Orestes describes how 1
See above, pp. 59, 61. 16 Nov. 1777 (WA. iv, 3, p. 187). 3 Graf, Drama, in, p. 211: “Das Unzulangliche ist produktiv. Ich schrieb meine Iphigenie aus einem Studium der griechischen Sachen das aber unzulanglich war. Wenn es erschopfend gewesen ware, so ware das Stuck ungeschrieben geblieben. 4 WA. 39, P-358. 2
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97 “
“ 2 It was the lack of just this delicacy which shocked Goethe when for the first time in his life he set eyes on a Greek temple. 3 A continued study of Greek plastic art also helped to allay his doubts about the validity of the moral message of Greece. Already in the summer of 1780 a cast of Apollo dominated his dining-room.4 Perhaps this was one of the many casts of antique statues made by Klauer during the early ‘eighties. Amongst others in Weimar were the Laocoon group, Niobe and daughter, the Medici Venus and the Antinous.5 In January 1782, two months before Tobler sent his last translations of Aeschylus, a cast of the Apollo Belvedere arrived from Gotha, 6 and in June of the following year Goethe saw the casts that the Duke of Gotha had collected.7 In September 1781 Herder’s essay on Winckelmann appeared8 in the Teutscher Merkur. It would have been natural, if Herder’s enthusiastic appreciation of the man and his work had fired Goethe at last to undertake a proper study of the Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums. He had by now seen so much of the great statues of antiquity that such a study would have been profitable. But apparently he still left the Geschichte der Kunst unopened, as he had done in his student days at Leipzig, and only three years before when the Greek youth had first appeared to him. In the following February and March he was reading Mengs,9 a complete edition of whose works, in Italian, had appeared in 1780. Again as in 1778 Mengs acted as proxy for Winckelmann. 1 2 3 5 6 8
Letter to Herder, late Nov. 1784 (WA. iv, 6, p. 400). An die Cicade, WA. 2, p. n o . Cf. WA. iv, 6, p. 165. 4 See below, p. 152. Bied. 1, p. 106. Teutscher Merkur, March 1785. WA. m, 1, p. 136. 7 WA. iv, 6, p. 171. Werke, xv, pp. 35 foil. 9 WA. HI, 1, p. 140.
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The better he came to know the remains of Greek sculpture, the more certainly he saw in them a visible expression of the highest moral and aesthetic ideal. Und Marmorbilder stehn und sehn mich an: Was hat man dir, du armes Kind, getan?1 Thus he summed up his feelings in the presence of a Greek statue. How was it possible that he, the modern, northern man, could have fallen so far below the physical and spiritual standard, that here stood, visible and tangible, not a mere idea, before him? In 1778 he had first fully realised the significance of Greek sculpture. The years passed and the vision never left him, but it was hard to keep it productive in a northern land. A few casts in Weimar, an occasional sight of some better equipped princely collection, a description of the Acropolis and its treasures from the pen of some travelling Englishman2— thus sparingly did the sunshine of the ideal filter through the Cimmerian cloud-rack to warm the seed that longed to flower. Except for these glimpses, his life was spent among the firforests and bare cornlands of Thiiringen, in a town of narrow gables and dark streets, among men and women without beauty, surrounded by an art without sense for the ideal. The vision was there but in such circumstances it could never be realised. It turned instead into a longing so violent that it became in time a sickness.3 It no longer found expression directly, as it had done in Iphigenie in the first strength of realisation. The longing for the ideal, not the ideal itself, became poetically active and produced a symbol of itself—not Pylades, a vigorous, beautiful youth, but Mignon, a frail child, pining for its sunny home, misunderstood, at times mishandled, by barbarian masters. Strangely Mignon resembles Proserpina. Both, condemned to wander in a dark land, pine with longing for the sunny country they have once known. In those last 1
“And marble statues stand and gaze at me: ‘What have they done to you, poor child?”‘ 2 Richard Chandler’s Travels in Asia Minor and Greece (Chaps, vni and ix), read by Goethe in a German edition in April 1781 (cf. WA. iv, 5, P- 119). 3 WA. in, 1, p. 290, and letter to Kayser, 24 June 1784 (WA. iv, 6, p. 3H)-
W E I M A R : 1775-1786
years in Weimar before the flight to Italy1 Goethe was back almost where he had started in his relationship to the Greek genius. Mignon symbolises a frustration almost as complete as that for which Proserpina had stood. There is but one difference. Proserpina’s longing was utterly hopeless. “What thou seek’st, lies ever behind thee”, she had told herself. At that time it seemed to Goethe that Greece was gone for ever, because it was past in time. Mignon is not without hope. The land of longing is not gone for ever. It is not here, but neither is it nowhere. It is there, just beyond the Alps, removed only in space not in time. The cloudy path that leads away can also lead back. The mules pass over with their loads, then why not she and her protector? Why not? Why not? The question hammered in his head, until to fight it down almost cost him his reason. He could not read a Latin book; he avoided the contemplation of Greek sculpture;2 except for the novel in which his Mignon lived, his poetical vein was almost dead; he turned the energy of his genius to exploring the secrets of Nature. He had seen Greece from afar, but, living as and where he did, he could never possess the holy land. The beautiful youth held out his hand to him and he could not take it. As the winter of 1783 closed down he asked his friend for maps of Italy.3 For two more summers and two more winters he endured. As the third spring tarried he could hold out no longer, and when in July he went to take the waters at Carlsbad, he knew—he and his secretary, but no one else—that he would not come back to another winter of living death in Thiiringen. Proserpina would be free, Mignon would be free, and Pylades would welcome them with quiet greatness as they came down from the Alps into the sunny land. 1 Mignon first appears in the third book of Wilhelm Meisters Theatralische Sendung, which was finished in Nov. 1782 (WA. iv, 6, p. 88). The poem Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt (Book vi, chap, VII, WA. 52, p. 225) was sent to Charlotte von Stein in June 1785 (WA. iv, 7, p. 67). 2 The visit to Gotha in June 1783 is the last indication of any interest in Greek art. 3 Letter to Charlotte von Stein, 26 Nov. 1783 (Ibid. 6, p. 217).
CHAPTER IV ITALY Hier! durch ein Wunder, hier in Griechenland! Ich fiihlte gleich den Boden, wo ich stand; Wie mich, den Schlafer, frisch ein Geist durchgliihte, So steh ich, ein Antaus an Gemiite. A. TOWARDS ROME N the 3rd of September at three o’clock of the morning, I stole out of Carlsbad; they would not otherwise have let me go.” 1 With the swiftness and secrecy of an escaped prisoner Goethe pursued his journey southward, through Munich and Innsbruck, over the Brenner, down along the shores of Garda to Verona, where for the first time he paused. From there he wrote to the friends in Weimar, but still gave them no hint of where he was. Even in Venice, where he stayed nearly three weeks, he still concealed his whereabouts, as though to reveal it before he had reached Rome might in some way jeopardise his whole plan. At last, two months after leaving Carlsbad, he wrote from Rome to tell his Duke and his other friends where he was and what had been the object of his unaccountable flight. This strange stealth, quite unjustified on rational consideration of the circumstances, is proof enough that Goethe was in no normal state during the summer and autumn of 1786. Suspicions and fears, the product only of his own strained phantasy, hunted him and would not be shaken off. He was in fact in danger of suffering some irremediable catastrophe such as has overtaken many of the noblest minds of German literature. “Forgive m e ! ” he wrote to Charlotte, “I was in a life-and-death struggle and no tongue can tell what was going on within me.” 2 It was not merely that he needed a holiday with sun, as many of us do after a northern winter, nor that Charlotte was holding him with too tight a rein, nor that society in Weimar had come to seem intolerably petty to 1
Tagebuch, 1786 (WA. in, 1, p. 147). 23 Dec. 1786 (WA. iv, 8, p. 102): “Ich kampfte selbst mit Tod und Leben, und keine Zunge spricht aus was in mir vorging.” 2
him. All these were only symptoms of a fundamental maladjustment. We must seek deeper for the cause of Goethe’s flight to Italy. “His genius, his daimon drove him”, Miss Butler says,1 and thus expresses excellently the terrifying power of the forces that were at work. Gundolf, less picturesquely but with no less appreciation of the vast emotional tensions which Goethe had somehow to keep under control, speaks of his “urge to give form to great impressions”, 2 and defines the cause of his mental sickness as the lack of a world which could provide these “great impressions”. In Weimar his artistic genius was starved for subjects worthy of its power. He believed he could find the “great world” in Italy, and so he fled. He did not expect to be inspired by everything he found in Italy. There, no less than in the rest of Europe, the Middle Ages had represented, in his opinion, a relapse into barbarism, and the culture of medieval Italy repelled him no less than a German fir-forest. In Assisi St Francis and Giotto were nothing to him. He climbed the hill straight to the piazza, where a Roman temple of Minerva still stands, worshipped there in his own way the wisdom of the ancients—and strode on to Foligno. For us it is important to ascertain to what extent Goethe regarded the rest of what he was to see in Italy as equivalent to the Greek tradition in art and in life. Was he seeking solely, or even primarily, the secret of Greek supremacy? Or were the statues in Rome, the only remnant, as was then thought, of Greek art, only one “great impression” among many that awaited him? Certainly it was not these statues alone that attracted him to Rome, like a needle to a magnet. On his journey thither Renaissance painting drew from him more comment than the examples of antique sculpture which he saw; arid throughout his eighteen months in Italy the study of Raphael, Michelangelo and other modern masters took up a large part of his time. Furthermore, no art however noble would have constituted for him a “great world”, unless seen against the ennobling background of Italian landscape, Italian climate and Italian vegetation. On the shores of Garda, on the Lido at first sight of the sea, among the Apennines or the Alban Hills, in Naples and in Sicily, Nature revealed herself to him on a scale 1 2
WA. iv, 8, pp. 104 foil. Goethe, p. 363: “Trieb nach Gestaltung grosser Eindriicke.”
and with a meaning that was new to him. This “grosse Natur” was one of the most powerful of the great impressions that he received. He had always expected that it would be so. In these two ways it was not Greece but modern Italy that gave him what he was seeking. In a third category were all those impressions of grandeur and truth which came to him from the works of u the ancients”. On innumerable occasions Goethe wrote thus ambiguously of “die Alten”, in such a way as to suggest that he had no clear idea of the difference between Greek civilisation and Roman. At times he undoubtedly thought in terms of two civilisations—the ancient and the modern—more or less opposed to each other in ideals and practice, and was not concerned to define how much of what was ancient was also Greek. In architecture especially such purely Roman works as the Amphitheatre at Verona and the aqueduct near Spoleto impressed him profoundly, and led him to generalise on the mighty conceptions and superb execution of “the ancients”.1 It is hard to say whether he was aware that the Greeks had known nothing of such giant structures, which were the product of a purely Roman spirit. The relative merits of Greek and Roman sculpture had been pointed out clearly enough by Winckelmann2 and were by now well understood; but in architecture, the same distinction was far less clearly established. Examples of Greek architecture were practically unknown—even the temples of Paestum, only sixty miles from Naples, had hardly begun to attract attention in Winckelmann’s day.3 Goethe used Palladio as guide in architectural matters, who founded his practice on that of “the ancients”, but to whom the true Greek Doric with its sturdy proportions was unknown. 4 There were moments however, even in the first days of his Italian journey, when Goethe realised that “die Alten” were not enough, and that even in Italy there were still veils between him and the light that had once streamed out from Greece. Italian art was crippled by its Christian subject-matter,5 and 1
2 WA. m, 1, pp. 197, 327. Werke, v, pp. 282, 290, 292. Winckelmann, Werke, 1, pp. 330 foil. 4 9 The First Book of Andrea Palladio s Architecture, London, 1742, p. 28. Cf. Winckelmann, Werke, 1, pp. 289, 292. 5 WA. in, 1, pp. 283, 308. 3
even the Romans were barbarians, who plundered the world of its beautiful things, and yet were always dependent on Greek craftsmen to help them use what they had robbed.1 At bottom he was seeking the Greek tradition in life and in art, and had no patience with the “modern”, “Christian” or “northern” tendencies which obscured it even in Italy. At times he found the true Greek or “southern” nature in the common people: the Odyssey he saw embodied in a Venetian beggar; Italian love of rhetoric, though only a feeble survival of the Athenian passion for all the forensic arts, explained to him the long harangues of Greek tragedy;2 and when he said that the common people of Italy still displayed the mentality and customs that are to be found in the “ancient” writers, 3 he must have been thinking primarily of Homer: nowhere in Latin literature are those qualities as vividly painted, which astounded Goethe when he first met them in Venice. The unreflecting naturalness, the passionate absorption in the business of living, the singing, the quarrelling, the chaffering, the law-suits in the open air, the rhapsodist’s intent audience4—this was life, direct, simple, intense, free from the distortions, the uncertainties, the impotence that had gathered round it in the two thousand years that had passed since Homer was the Bible of the Western world. In Germany and as he crossed the Alps, Goethe may not have realised how sharply he would have to distinguish between merely Italian or even “ancient” culture and the Grecian core in which the pure essence of what he was seeking was preserved. From his earliest childhood he had dreamed of Italy as the land where all longing would be stilled, and he never ceased throughout his life to speak of Rome as the capital of the world, or even as a world in itself. Even in Italy his desire to reach Rome was so great that he hurried through Florence with hardly a glance at its artistic treasures; and when he had at last to leave the Eternal City and return to the Cimmerian forests, he wept in anguish. Yet the longer he stayed in Italy the more clearly he saw that Rome too could not satisfy him. In so far as it was not Greece it was nothing, and in many ways 1 3 4
2 WA. m, i, p. 308. Ibid. pp. 248, 271. Bied. 1, p. 179 (8 Oct. 1791). Cf. WA. 31, p. 39. WA. in, 1, pp. 248, 249, 250, 260.
it was very far from being Greece. Why then, if he knew that Greece alone would satisfy him and that Greece was not to be found in Rome—why did he not go to Greece? The journey, though difficult, was not impossible. He had an opportunity to go and refused it. Was it simply lack of enterprise, inertia, fearfulness of the physical dangers and inconveniences ? Partly perhaps, but not at bottom. There was in fact no reason why he should go. As far as he knew, all the remains of Greek sculpture were in Italy—most of them concentrated in Rome. The Olympian pediment figures, the Hermes of Praxiteles, the Aeginetan marbles and innumerable other works were still buried. The Parthenon marbles had been seen by travellers; their existence was realised,1 but not their importance. Historically Greece did not interest him. It would have meant little to him to stand on the Pnyx and reflect that here Themistocles and Pericles and Demosthenes had swayed the Athenian Demos with the magic of words, or to look out from the Acropolis over the Saronic Gulf, and to think of all the famous events that had taken place on its waters or around its shores. This was not the kind of “great impression” which Goethe was seeking. In short there was nothing to induce him to make a hazardous sea voyage to a barbarous outpost of the Turkish empire. But though he never went to Greece, he did at one moment escape from Rome and make a journey that amounted in his mind to “going to Greece”. In Sicily he found at last what he was looking for—essential Hellas, free of northern mists, of Roman vulgarity, and of Christian other-worldliness. Great impressions with which to feed his creative genius were what he sought as an artist. As seer or seeker after truth he crossed the Alps in the hope that in Italy he would find life in closest contact with ideal reality. In northern lands there seemed to be a veil over the process of manifestation, so that neither Nature nor human life, and therefore also not art, could reveal themselves in great, simple forms of ideal signifi1
Goethe first saw drawings of the Parthenon marbles in August 1787, during his second stay in Rome (WA. 32, p. 63). They had been brought back from Athens by Richard Worsley (Goethe wrote Worthley), and were later published in the Museum Worsleyanum, 1794-1803. The Museum contains engravings of some metopes, much but not all of the frieze, and none of the pediment figures.
cance. In Italy he knew it would be otherwise, and so it proved. Even the Alps, the barrier between north and south, were to him the ” fairest and grandest natural phenomena of the land”. 1 On the shores of Garda, with a strong wind driving great waves against the strand and with the sun streaming down in southern strength,1 he was aware of a new power in Nature to carry through great ideas, without faltering, in simple immediacy. Next at Verona, as he stood in the Roman amphitheatre and filled it in imagination with a thronging multitude, as it was meant to be seen, there came to him a revelation of what man could do, when he worked like Nature directly, unfalteringly, from a vast and simple idea to its vast and simple fulfilment.2 It was thus that the ancients had worked; the temple at Assisi and the aqueduct at Spoleto confirmed this first impression; 3 and it was thus that he must learn to work. The conception did not need to be vast (the temple of Minerva was modest in proportions, befitting a small town), so long as it were true in itself and were carried out with a simple attention to the expedient means. The antique stelae in Verona exemplified this “true purposefulness” of ancient art most perfectly.4 Here was no armoured knight, awaiting on his knees a blissful resurrection, no folded hands, no heavenward glances; such other-worldly nonsense, Goethe implied, was foreign to the ancient way of thought. Instead: “There stand the father and mother, their son between them, and look at each other with indescribable naturalness; another pair clasp hands. There a father seems to bid his family adieu, as he lies on his death-bed…. The artist has just portrayed the simple presence of these men and women, and so prolonged their existence and made it eternal…. They are what they were, they stand beside each other, they are concerned with c>ne another, they love each other.” Despite often inadequate craftsmanship these simple ideas were so movingly expressed, that Goethe wept as he gazed on them. It is remarkable how little Goethe commented on the other works of antique sculpture which he saw on his way to Rome, although he dutifully visited the galleries and checked off the 1 2 3 4
WA. in, i, p. 182. Ibid. pp. 194 foil., 197. Ibid. pp. 323 foil., 327. Ibid. pp. 199 foil.: “Wahre Zweckmassigkeit.”
antiques in his guide-book. A Ganymede attributed to Phidias received a laconic “good”; a Leda in the same collection in Venice he found to be “nobly sensuous in conception”. 1 The antiques in Verona were “schon”, those in Ferrara “kostlich”. 2 Only the collection of antique sculpture in the Casa Farsetti in Venice drew from him any general comment: “These are works in which the world can rejoice for thousands of years and still will never exhaust the artist’s worth.”3 He probably saw little of importance that he did not know already, except perhaps the Niobe and daughter.4 In his haste to reach Rome he neglected the antiques in Florence, among them the Medici Venus, which moved him to such admiration on his return journey eighteen months later. More important than any lack of material was the fact that his eye was not trained to the appreciation of these more impersonal works of antiquity.5 They did not yet reveal to him any fundamental idea. He was disappointed, for he had come to Italy in search of revelations, among the most important of which was to be that which showed him the ideal significance of Greek art. That first revelation, which had produced Iphigenie, was too limited, too narrowly moral. It had fitted the stage of development at which he had arrived eight years ago. Now he was ready for something greater, something more profoundly simple, more subtly complex. On the hurried journey to Rome there was no opportunity for the intensive study and the undisturbed contemplation which alone would compel the vision to appear. In Venice he thought that the analogy with architecture was setting him on the right road,6 but it was not until a year later that he really saw and knew and understood. Nature revealing herself with simple power; ancient architecture that followed Nature in its immediate expression of great ideas; the life of the common people, unself-conscious, passionate, directly expressive, like that of men and women in Homer—these were three “great impressions” which Goethe 1
Ibid. p. 255: “Von hohem sinnlichen Sinn.” 3 Ibid. pp. 208, 299: “Beautiful” and “delightful”. Ibid. p. 261. 4 In the Teutscher Merkur, March 1785, this group is mentioned as being among the casts of antique statues in Weimar, yet Goethe mentions it in his diary (WA. in, 1, p. 260) among the works seen by him for the first time. 5 6 Ibid. pp. 153, 261. Ibid. p. 261. 2
received before he reached Rome. Each of these showed him the idea revealing itself without distortion or waste; and the example of ancient architecture taught him that man could find the way to such direct expression, as well as Nature. This example he must follow. He must learn to feel and think and produce as the ancients had done. He must make their power of vast conception and their methods of execution his own. Yet imitation, mere copying, was not enough. He was a modern man. The world that he knew was not Homer’s world. He could not write an epic poem full of bloody and heroic deeds, nor of mariners’ tales of ships and storms and giants and sorceresses. He had never seen blood spilt in anger, had never set foot on a ship; and in the modern world giants and sorceresses were only pretty fictions, not, as in Homer’s day, awful possibilities. Nor could he write a Greek tragedy of blood and hatred, larded with rhetorical harangues. He must draw his material from his own experience and in handling it remain true to his own nature. Only in interpreting and giving form to the world around him, he must rival the ancients in power and directness of expression. This principle was easy enough to state; in its application, it raised problems to which solutions were hard to find. How much, for instance, was the success of the ancients in giving expression to the idea due to the forms of expression which they had evolved? Was it possible to achieve equally powerful expression without using these forms ? If they were to be used, how would modern material fit itself into them ? Was it possible to write iambic trimeters in German ? Herder had advised against it, 1 and he was probably right. But could blank-verse ever convey the impression of dignity and restrained power which the trimeter gave? Again, could the greater emotional complexity of the modern world ever be expressed as directly as the Greeks had expressed their simpler, but more powerful ideas ? Would not the attempt to press this modern material into the old forms produce something monstrous, something half bull, half man, and neither quite ? These were the problems which Goethe brought with him to Italy. His failure with Elpenor, the success of his epigrams, and the work of versifying Iphigenie, had given him conflicting experience. The sight of the amphitheatre at Verona impressed 1
See below, p. 131.
him again with the vital importance of finding some way to interpret Nature as the ancients had done. At this critical moment he found a guide, one who had faced the same problem, had made the same mistakes, and had found at last a working solution. It was in Vicenza that Goethe first saw examples of Palladio’s work. 1 At once he was filled with wonder and recognised a companion in genius.2 Palladio too, he saw, had struggled with the problem of combining the tradition of antiquity with modern needs, and had not always been successful. These buildings in Vicenza showed plainly how he had experimented, first on this theory then on that. His attempt to use pillars in the ancient style on the fixed forms of modern domestic architecture was imposing, it revealed the force of Palladio’s genius, but the result was a monstrosity. In the Olympic Theatre, on the other hand, he had cut loose from all modern tradition and sentiment, and had reproduced an ancient theatre. The result was “indescribably beautiful”. But it did not suit modern needs. It was too lofty a conception for everyday life. In the Rotonda Palladio had tried another solution of the problem. 3 He had been free to build in any form he pleased. Instead of copying some ancient building, he had chosen to give expression to his complex, modern genius. Only the parts, not the whole, took their forms from the tradition of antiquity, and the result was “a bit wild”. 4 By a curious chance Goethe heard his own and Palladio’s problem debated in the Academy of the Olympians in Vicenza. The question for debate was: ” Whether invention or imitation is more advantageous to the fine arts.”^ Goethe had no sympathy with the supporters of imitation. Their arguments were just such specious sophistries as the many can appreciate. But in fact there could be no conclusion to a debate in which imitation and invention were set up as opposing, hostile principles. Goethe had long realised that the only solution of the problem lay in making a synthesis of the two. His difficulty 1
WA. in, 1, p. 213. Ibid. p. 214: “Palladio ist ein recht innerlich und von innen heraus grosser Mensch gewesen.” 3 4 Ibid. p. 218. “Ein wenig toll.” 5 Ibid. pp. 222 foil. 2
was to find means for putting the synthesis into practice. It was significant that Palladio was cited by both sides in the debate. In Padua Goethe bought Palladio’s great treatise on the theory and practice of architecture. In Venice, where he arrived on 28 September 1786, he studied it, his eyes were opened, and he saw the goal that he had come to seek. “The revolution that is going on in me, is that which has taken place in every artist, who has studied Nature long and diligently and now sees the remains of the great spirit of antiquity; his soul wells up, he feels a transfiguration of himself from within, a feeling of freer life, higher existence, lightness and grace.”1 Goethe does not tell what it was in Palladio’s book which revealed to him the secret of production in the manner of the ancients. It may however be hazarded that it was the sureness with which Palladio prescribed the proportion for every part in relation to every other part, and the unquestioning assumption that the product of these proportions would be beauty. These laws of beauty Palladio had from Vitruvius and from his study of ancient buildings. It was they which enabled the ancients to give complete, unfaltering expression to their great ideas. This system of proportions, worked out and perfected through centuries of diligent experiment, was the key to the greatness of the ancients in architecture. But merely to follow these specific laws—proportion of diameter to height in columns, height of pedestal to height of column and so on— would be imitation. The modern artist with modern emotions and material would not be helped by such superficial knowledge of ancient practice. It must be possible—Palladio had probably done it—to discover the fundamental law of proportion, upon which the ancients had worked in evolving all the specific laws, and from this fundamental law to evolve new specific laws for the creation of forms fitted to modern needs. Here was the key to the modern artist’s dilemma. If the ancients had had these laws for architecture, they had them 1 WA. in, 1, pp. 250 foil.: “Die Revolution, die jetzt in mir vorgeht, ist die in jedem Kiinstler entstand, der lang emsig der Natur treu gewesen und nun die Ueberbleibsel des alten grossen Geists erblickte, die Seele quoll auf und er fiihlte eine innere Art von Verklarung sein selbst, ein Gefuhl von freierem Leben, hoherer Existenz, Leichtigkeit und Grazie.”
also for sculpture and for poetry. Hard work and intuition would reveal them—first the specific laws, then the fundamental, and from that could be evolved new laws for use when modern needs demanded forms unknown to the ancients. No wonder Goethe spoke of Palladio with reverence and gratitude. He had learnt from him the method which in future he always used, to win from ancient art the secret of its ideal significance. In the meantime Goethe was confronted with a self-imposed task, whose completion he could not long postpone. Iphigenie in its loosely iambic prose had never satisfied him. He had polished it at intervals during the last seven years,1 especially during the summer of 1781, when he was reading much Greek tragedy, but had undertaken no radical change in the form. The decision to publish it in the first complete edition of his works forced him in 1786 to apply himself with energy to the task of giving Iphigenie an outward form worthy of its content. Encouraged in this decision by Wieland and Herder, he had taken the manuscript with him to Carlsbad and had set to work, with Herder’s active help in the solution of questions of prosody, to recast the whole in blank-verse. The task had proved more formidable than he had thought. He was perhaps glad to have to take the “sweet burden” with him over the Alps. On the shore of Garda, in Verona, Vicenza and Venice he had worked on. Now, after a week in Venice, he found it impossible to continue. Not till he had been ten days in Rome did he return to the charge, and two months more passed before in January 1787 the perfected fair copy was dispatched to the friends in Weimar. During this work on Iphigenie Goethe had the Greek tragedians always at his elbow. In Carlsbad he read the Electra of Sophocles in the Greek. The “strange rolling and turning” of the pauseless six-footed iambics made so strong a sensual impression on him, that he at once determined to recast his Iphigenie in trimeters rather than blank-verse.2 He even set to work to rewrite the first scene. But the idea was soon given up, probably on Herder’s advice, and the work on Iphigenie was continued in the simpler metre. Goethe took the tragedians in a Greek 1 2
For the full history of the text see WA. 39, pp. 449 foil. Letter to Herder, late Aug. 1786 (WA. iv, 8, p. 8).
text with him to Italy. In a letter to Herder from Venice he quoted the last lines of the Ajax in Greek;2 and the final version of Iphigenie shows indubitable traces of recent reading of many Greek tragedies. Iphigenie’s reflexions on woman’s lot in her opening speech3 are a close parallel to a passage in the Medea;* 4 ‘the shy glance” that Iphigenie cast at the departing heroes— a visual touch not in the first version—is taken directly from Iphigenia in Aulis (lines 187, 188); and Iphigenie’s appeal to Diana to save Orestes from madness (lines 1317-31) corresponds so closely to the similar appeal in Euripides’s Iphigenia in Tauris, that one line of Goethe’s text is actually a translation from the Greek.5 Already in the prose version these three passages show a vague resemblance to the Greek passages cited. The last two were probably suggested by reading of the two Iphigenias. But in the verse text the resemblance is one not merely of thought but of concrete images, in one case of actual words. These passages, and others in the final version of Iphigenie? prove beyond a doubt that Goethe had the Greek tragedians at hand, while he was engaged on the work of re-writing. Goethe hoped no doubt that a new soaking in Greek tragedy, combined with the great impressions of ancient art and southern life, would rid Iphigenie of its northern mistiness and make it worthily antique. In fact the influence of the amphitheatre at Verona and of the Attic tragedians can be plainly discerned in the finished play. Already in 1781 Goethe had added touches which made the story of the house of Tantalus still more dark and terrible,7 and emphasised the helplessness of mankind in struggling against implacable gods. In the final version the horror of the bloody deeds and their terrible punishment is made more present and compelling by a number of finely visual passages.8 Therewith the conflict is sharpened between Iphigenie’s lofty trust in goodness and the despairing philosophy 1
Ernst Maass, Goethe und die Antike, p. 168 and Schr. der G.G. 11, pp. 319, 439. Cf. also Egmont, Act v, WA. 8, p. 302, and Trachiniae, lines 1222 foil. 2 3 WA. iv, 8, p. 31. WA. 10, p. 4, lines 24-34. 4 5 Medea, 230-54. Iph. i$2i=Iph. Taur. 1401. 6 Cf. especially Iph. 307 and Ag. 629. 7 Especially WA. 39, p. 472, lines 8, 9. 8 Especially lines 384-7, 751-2, 1036, 1057-65, 1726-66 (the Parzenlied re-cast in verse).
which sees the world governed by gods who “kill us for their sport”. The conflict comes to its crisis in Iphigenie’s heart and finds expression in those famous lines: O dass in meinem Busen nicht zuletzt Ein Widerwille keime! der Titanen Der alten Gotter tiefer Hass auf euch, Olympier, nicht auch die zarte Brust Mit Geierklauen fasse! Rettet mich, Und rettet euer Bild in meiner Seele.1 In the first version the conflict and the danger are only implied, not stated. In Carlsbad Goethe may have wished merely to give Iphigenie %. more worthy outward form before publishing it. The re-reading of Greek tragedy and the sight of ancient works of art, especially the amphitheatre and the stelae, made him see that profounder changes must be made. The idea of Iphigenie must be expressed with the directness of an ancient work of art. The contrast of dark and light must be intensified, the whole made more visual, less abstract. So to Herder he wrote: “It is tending towards complete crystallisation. The fourth act”, in which the crisis of the play is reached, “is turning out almost completely new.” 2 So he progressed, with ever deepening insight into the nature of the problem, until he had been almost a month in Italy, one week in Venice. Then on 7 October he noted in his diary that he had been unable to compose a single line, and by the ioth he realised that he was not destined to finish Iphigenie immediately.3 He gave no reasons to explain this sudden impotence, but it was in fact inevitable that he should have to pause in his work on Iphigenie. His attitude to the problem of composition in the antique manner was changing daily. Great new impressions had thrown his ideas into confusion. Palladio’s ex1 Lines 1712-17: “Oh! may no opposition grow at last in my breast! May the deep hatred which the Titans and the old gods feel for you, Olympians, not seize my tender heart too with vulture-claws! Save me, and save your image in my soul!” 2 WA. iv, 8, p. 32. 3 WA. in, 1, p. 289. The letter to Herder (WA. iv, 8, p. 31), dated 14 Oct., was only sent on that date. It was written probably soon after Goethe’s arrival in Venice.
ample had shown him the pitfalls that awaited the modern artist. Finally on 2 October he had seen something which made him despair of ever making anything but a ” monstrosity” out of his attempt to give antique expression to so modern a conception as that oflphigenie. It was a Luilding by Palladio, 1 the reproduction of an ancient dwelling-house. Goethe was carried away. He had seen nothing more sublime, he wrote. Here at last “the artist with the in-born sense for greatness.. .had had an opportunity to execute a favourite idea… in circumstances where the conception was entirely suitable. There was nothing to cramp him and he acted accordingly.” 2 In contrast to this Goethe saw on the same day and the next fresh examples of Palladio’s failure, when attempting to combine ancient forms with modern conceptions.3 The lesson was all too clear. He would himself produce nothing truly in the style of the ancients, until he could set to work on a subject of his own choosing. He must be uncramped, like Palladio. All his tinkering at Iphigenie would produce at best a “beautiful monster”, neither truly northern nor truly southern.4 At first this realisation seems to have produced in him a resigned despair. On 5 October he wrote: ” O n this journey I hope I shall bring my mind repose on the matter of the arts. I want to stamp their holy image indelibly into my soul and keep it there for my own silent enjoyment. Then I shall apply myself to handicrafts, and when I come back, study chemistry and mechanics. For the day of beauty is past; our age demands only stern necessity.”5 In Palladio’s day, in that wonderful second blooming of the spirit of antiquity, it had still been possible, if only occasionally, for the great artist to achieve perfection. What hope was there that his own modern genius would ever discover for him a subject that would enable him to repeat Palladio’s experience with the ancient dwelling1 In the Convent of Santa Maria della Carita, now the Accademia di Belle Arti. 2 WA. in, 1, pp. 254, 268, 292: “Der treffliche Kiinstler mit dem innerlichen Sinn furs Grosse geboren,… findet Gelegenheit einen Lieblingsgedanken auszufuhren, eine Wohnung der Alten nachzubilden, Gelegenheit da wo der Gedanke ganz passt. Er ist in nichts geniert und lasst sich von nichts genieren.” 3 Ibid. pp. 257 foil. 4 Ihid. p. 275. 5 jyum p. 266.
house ? Better to resign himself in time and turn his energies to work that could be profitable. Thus once again Goethe’s spirit failed at the vastness of the task that had been thrust upon it. During those days in Venice he first fully realised the difficulty of making Greece live again in a world that had forgotten every ideal for which Greece had once stood. He saw that the attempt was foolishness and resolved to give it up. But his human common sense was no match for his genius and his destiny. The stone must be rolled to the top of the hill; the gods alone would decide whether the labour should be crowned with achievement, or the stone roll back and all be lost. His genius allowed him only a short breathing space. Two weeks later it revealed to him the new subject to which he could apply his antique manner “ungeniert”. “Early this morning,” Goethe wrote in his diary,1 “on the way here from Cento, I had the good fortune, between sleep and waking, to find the plan to Iphigeneia at Delphi complete. There is a fifth act and a recognition-scene that few can equal. I cried over it myself like a child, and in the treatment of it the southern quality2 will, I hope, be recognisable enough.” Next day in Bologna he saw a St Agatha by Raphael. The “healthy sure maidenliness without coquetry, but without frigidity or coarseness”3 of the saint seemed to him to be the visual realisation of his Iphigenie. He resolved to “read his Iphigenie aloud to this ideal and let his heroine say nothing that this saint could not say”. It is usually assumed that the Iphigenie here referred to was the old one, the Iphigenie auf Tauris. Goethe himself states as much in the Italienische Reise.* Nevertheless it is not impossible that he was there exercising his right of’”Dichtung” at the expense of ” Wahrheit”: the straightforward sequence of events of the diary is altered at this point so as to bring the two Iphigenies into more striking juxtaposition, and emphasise the inner struggle which their rival claims on his time and energies caused him.5 It is far more natural to suppose that Goethe was 1
2 Bologna, 18 Oct. {Ibid. p. 304). “Das Tramontane.” “Eine gesunde, sichre Jungfraulichkeit ohne Reiz, doch ohne Kalte und Roheit”: Ibid. p. 306. 4 WA. 30, p. 167. 5 Cf. also Italienische Reise, 6 Jan. 1787 (Ibid. p. 244). 3
still full of the Iphigenie auf Delphos when he saw St Agatha, and that it was his new play that he intended to read aloud to her as he composed it. An inspiration that had moved him so deeply only the day before, and that offered the opportunity of making the perfect modern work of art, can hardly have been forgotten or even deliberately laid aside so soon. It is more probable that Iphigenie auf Delphos continued to occupy him during the remaining ten days of his journey to Rome, and that it was at some point during the first days or weeks in Rome that his feeling of duty towards the old Iphigenie finally triumphed.1 Yet if this Iphigenie auf Delphos was the longed-for new subject in which Goethe was to be “ungeniert”, free of the cramping demands of modern-northern traditions, as Palladio had been when he made his ancient dwelling-house, how could the heroine of the new piece find her visual embodiment in the picture of a Christian saint ? Surely there could be no hope of making anything antique out of such a character. Let us examine the action of the play as Goethe intended it to be, and try to see how he hoped to make out of it something truly “in the style of the ancients”.2 Nothing of the new Iphigenie was ever written down; at least no fragment of it has survived for posterity. All that is known about it is contained in the passage from Goethe’s diary quoted above, and in the synopsis of the plot which he inserted from memory into the Italienische Reise nearly thirty years later.3 This synopsis runs as follows: “Electra, confident that Orestes will bring the ikon of the Taurian Diana to Delphi, appears in the temple of Apollo and dedicates the fatal axe that has caused so much woe in Pelops’s house, to the god as final offering of expiation. Unfortunately she is met by one of the Greeks, who tells her how he accompanied Orestes and Pylades to Tauris, how he saw the two friends led to death, and how he himself was fortunate enough to escape. The passionate Electra is beside herself, and does not know whether to direct her rage against gods or men. In the meanwhile Iphigeneia, Orestes and Pylades have also arrived in Delphi. Iphigeneia’s saintly 1
Other references to Iphigenie in the diary—whether the Delphic or the Taurian is not indicated—occur: WA. in, i, pp. 314, 315. 2 3 “Im Sinne der Alten.” WA. 30, pp. 167 foil.
calm contrasts most strangely with Electra’s earthly passion as the two figures meet without recognising each other. The Greek who escaped sees Iphigeneia, recognises in her the priestess who sacrificed the friends, and reveals it to Electra. She is about to murder Iphigeneia with the self-same axe, which she seizes up from the altar, when a fortunate turn saves the three from this last frightful calamity. If this scene comes off, it would be as noble and moving as anything that has ever been seen on the stage.” It is easy to see how this plot would provide Goethe with opportunity for treatment in the Greek manner, despite Iphigenie’s modern-Christian character. Electra was to be in every way the Electra of Greek tragedy, passionate, ruthless, bloodthirsty in revenge. In her rage against the gods she could blaspheme with Euripidean bitterness, and in her hatred of her brother’s murderess and in her resolve to requite blood with blood, she would reveal herself as one of those characters compounded of flint and fire, to which, as Goethe well knew, Greek tragedy owes its powerful effect. With this character as a foil even the gentleness of Iphigenie-Agatha would be compatible with the antique style of expression; by the powerful contrast of these two characters the idea of the play would be expressed with the direct simphcity that Goethe had learnt to wonder at in ancient works of art. The problem that Goethe was attempting once again to state and to solve in dramatic symbolism was the same that had inspired Elpenor: the problem of Greek inhumanity. Fresh reading of the Greek tragedians in juxtaposition with intensive work on his own Iphigenie had stirred up the old question. Now his genius had shown him the means, antique in their simphcity, of dramatising the problem and its solution. The two moralities were to meet, to come into conflict, the one was nearly to destroy the other; but they were to find reconciliation in the realisation that they were sisters, co-equals, diverse but not opposed, who had never wronged each other. This was to be the deeper meaning that underlay the moving drama of human emotions, hopes and fears. It will be objected that a reconciliation on this basis is still no solution. ” Iphigenie-morality” and” Electra-morality” cannot hold sway together as co-equals in one mind; and so long as Goethe was so much a modern at heart as to see his ideal in
Iphigenie, he must continue to reject Electra. In fact the moral of Iphigenie aufDelphos is a rebuke for Electra. She is proved fundamentally wrong in her belief that the gods deliberately lead human beings to destruction; and only this belief can justify her recourse to violence. In Goethe’s mind the Greeks were still condemned for their belief in an inhumane worldorder. Had Goethe set to work at once to write his new Iphigenie, he might have finished it. He delayed to do so, allowed himself to be caught up in all the wonder of Rome, and returned to the more mechanical task of versifying his old play; in the meantime that change began in his whole Weltanschauung which caused him to turn his back on the gentle Iphigenie, calmly trusting in the goodness of humane gods, and to dismiss the morality for which she stood as “quite devilish humane”. 1 As soon as that process had started, Iphigenie auf Delphos could never be finished. Goethe would have been condemning a view of life that he was himself coming to adopt. So the first great opportunity to compose in the style of the ancients was lost, because Goethe’s mind was still developing faster than his genius could gather the fruits of his experience. B. ROME Goethe arrived in Rome on 29 October 1786. Next day he visited the chief ruins of ancient Rome, and St Peter’s.* So began the most intensive and penetrating sight-seeing that the Eternal City has ever experienced. For the first six weeks he saw and saw without method, anxious only to obtain as quickly as possible a general impression of the city and all it contained. Ruins, statues, Renaissance painting and architecture occupied his time and energy equally. Only medieval Rome, like medieval Assisi, was neglected. New impressions of grandeur and beauty poured in on him daily, almost hourly. He made no attempt as yet to order them or reflect on them; but a few were so powerful that of themselves they took possession of 1
Letter to Schiller, 19 Jan. 1802 (WA. iv, 16, p. 11): “Ganz verteufelt human.” 2 WA. in, 1, p. 331.
his mind to the temporary exclusion of everything else. The Apollo Belvedere, seen at last in the living warmth of the marble, seemed to him the most inspired work of art in the world.1 The vast ruins of ancient Rome—the Colosseum, the baths of Diocletian, the imperial palaces on the Palatine, “that stand like cliffs”, the facade of the Pantheon—impressed him profoundly.2 He began to feel “a solidity of spirit.. .earnestness without dryness, and a firm but joyful nature”. 3 These were the Greek virtues as Winckelmann had described them. 4 It is significant that Goethe connected their growth in himself with the influence and example of Roman architecture. Apart from the Apollo Belvedere and the Ludovisi Juno, 5 works of ancient art drew from him less exclamations of enthusiasm during these first weeks than did Roman architecture and Renaissance painting. During the last days of November he could think and speak of little but of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo’s frescoes overwhelmed him, so that even Raphael and the ancient sculptors faded for the time from the forefront of his interest.6 Not that he was in any doubt as to the supreme excellence of ancient art. His naive certainty on this point is illustrated by a passage in a letter to Frau v. Stein.7 There was a picture in Rome which had been held to be “antique”, until Mengs on his deathbed confessed that he had painted it. Goethe sided with those who still believed it to be genuine or at least a copy of an “antique”, 8 on the grounds that the unrestored parts of it were “too beautiful even for Raphael”. Goethe presumably knew that the picture, if antique at all, was at best the work of a Greek artist of the early Roman Empire. Yet such magic lay in the word “antique” that even the nameless products of this decadent period were assumed to be superior to those of the greatest artist of the Italian Renaissance. It is true that in November 1786, when Goethe gave his opinion on this picture, he had not yet studied 1
2 WA. iv, 8, p. 45. Ibid. pp. 46, 51, 75. “Eine innere Soliditat… Ernst ohne Trockenheit, und ein gesetztes Wesen mit Freude”: Ibid. p. 51. 4 5 Winckelmann, Werke, 1, pp. 31, 161. WA. iv, 8, p. 117. 6 7 Ibid. pp. 63, 71, 75. Ibid. p. 56. 8 I thus interpret Goethe’s remark: “Ich habe eine Hypothese wie das Bild entstanden.” 3
Winckelmann’s Geschichte der Kunst, and had little idea of the historical development of ancient art or of the inferiority of Romano-Greek work.1 In later years an exacter knowledge of periods and styles gave his opinions more proportion; but throughout his classical period he tended to a habit of mind, exemplified by this judgment of Mengs’s “antique” picture, which divided culture into “ancient” and “modern”, and attributed all good qualities to the former and at best a power of imperfect imitation to the latter. By the middle of December he had obtained his general view, and could turn with deliberation to a deeper study of whatever seemed most worthy. 2 At once he threw himself onto the remains of Greek sculpture. The Apollo renewed in him inarticulate wonder. The mask of a Medusa now for the first time attracted him; 3 it remained throughout his life one of his dearest impressions. He began to buy casts of those works that delighted him most: first in mid-December a colossal head of Jove,4 three weeks later the Ludovisi Juno to match,5 and about the same time another Juno head and the head of the Apollo.6 In the first days of the new year he began to study Winckelmann’s Geschichte der Kunst des Alterturns.7 He had
bought it soon after his arrival in Rome 8 (from his reference to it in a letter to Herder it is clear he had never read it before), and had used it as a guide-book to the museums; 9 now at last, when he had seen with his own eyes the statues of which Winckelmann was writing, he felt himself ready to take Winckelmann as a guide in the task of ordering his impressions and deducing from their multiplicity the single ruling idea. Late in life Goethe said to Eckermann: “One learns nothing when one reads Winckelmann, but one becomes something.” 10 He had forgotten how little he had known of Greek art when he came to Rome, and how hard it would have been for him to find his way among that forest of undated statues, if he had not had Winckelmann to guide him. He learnt in fact from the Geschichte der Kunst the very fundamentals of an exacter 1
2 4 7 10
Cf. Winckelmann, Werke, v, p. 186.
W A . iv, 8, pp. 96, 100. Ibid. p. 101.
Ibid. p. 117.
8 Ibid. p. 119. WA. 30, p. 232. Eckermann, 16 Feb. 1827.
3 Ibid. p. 100. 6 Ibid. p. 135.
9 WA. iv, 8, p. 76.
knowledge of ancient art. Before January 1787 he had no clear conception of its historical development or of the relation of schools and artists one to another; as soon as he started to study the Geschichte der Kunst he realised the basic importance of Winckelmann’s “periods”. 1 They became the framework into which he fitted all the vast knowledge that came to him through years of observation and study. Winckelmann devoted one of the books of his Geschichte der Kunst to an account of the rise and fall of Greek art. He recognised four distinct styles: the archaic, in works dating from the earliest beginnings down to Phidias; the grand or lofty, with Phidias, Polyclitus, Scopas and Myron as its great exponents; the beautiful, from Praxiteles to Lysippus and Apelles; and the period of the imitators, in which ancient art (in Winckelmann’s opinion the Romans had no art independent of the Greek)2 slowly declined until it disappeared in barbarism.3 For Winckelmann Greek art reached its highest excellence in the period of the “beautiful style”. The “lofty style” was indeed worthy of profound admiration; it was great and powerful, nobly simple in conception and execution; but it lacked a certain “grace and charm”; 4 beauty was sometimes sacrificed in it to an austere correctness of proportions. The works of Praxiteles and Lysippus had a delicacy of thought and softness of contour which made them the perfection ofartistic achievement.5 Of all the ancient works of art in Rome Winckelmann recognised only two as dating from the period of the “lofty style”. These were a Pallas in the Villa Albani and the famous group of Niobe shielding her daughter from the shafts of Apollo. This work, now assigned to the late fourth or early third century, a product, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, of “the pathetic school”, appeared to Winckelmann to typify all the qualities of the lofty style (fifth century). The sublime simplicity of the idea executed with effortless perfection, as it were “blown by a breath”, could, according to Winckelmann, have been achieved only by a contemporary of Phidias.6 No work nor copy of a work by Phidias, Polyclitus 1 2 4 6
WA. iv, 8, p. 137 and WA. 30, p. 264. 3 Werke, v, pp. 282, 290, 292. Ibid. pp. 210, 236. 5 “Grazie und Gefalligkeit.” Ibid, v, pp. 236-45. Ibid. pp. 239 foil.: “Von einem Hauche geblasen.”
or Myron was known. Goethe believed he had discovered another example of the lofty style, overlooked by Winckelmann, in an Athene in the Giustiniani palace.1 The beautiful style was better represented in Rome. Outstanding among examples of it, and in their different ways the most perfect works of all ancient sculpture, were the Apollo Belvedere and the Laocoon group. Lessing and others had doubted whether the Laocoon could date from so early a period, but Winckelmann placed it in the fourth century on the grounds solely of its supreme perfection.2 It is now known to be Rhodian work of the first century B.C. It is not surprising that Winckelmann was often wrong in his attempts to date the remnants of ancient art. He was the first to try to arrange these remnants in chronological periods. There were no criteria, established by a tradition of scholarly investigation. He had to evolve his criteria for himself, and inevitably he was forced to rely rather on intuition than on reasoning from observation. It was unfortunate that his taste led him to stress the excellence of such works as the Apollo, the Niobe and the Laocoon, which give no idea of what Greek sculpture at its highest could achieve. His fault here was due partly to the age in which he lived, in which grace and delicacy were held in higher esteem than to-day, but still more to the fact that the greatest works of Greek sculpture, such as the Parthenon marbles, the pediment figures from Olympia, and innumerable others, were unknown to him. He did not know the best and so was forced to commend the second best. His merit was that he defined the characteristics of the different periods so truly, that later discoveries of Greek works of art of the best period did not disturb the picture which men had learnt from him, but merely confirmed it. He sensed, as it were, the existence of the Elgin Marbles. It was they that he unwittingly described when he wrote of the lofty style. Only in looking round for an example of this style to which he could point, he was forced to light on an inferior work such as the Niobe. Winckelmann’s importance for Goethe was just this: he established the periods of Greek art and the characteristics of each so rightly, that Goethe was able to fit all his knowledge, as it accumulated, into this framework; and when thirty years 1
WA. iv, 8, pp. 130, 131.
Werkey vi, 1, p. 101.
later the Parthenon sculptures came at last to be fully known, their qualities were not strange or unexpected, as the temples at Paestum had been at first sight; they were the fulfilment which Winckelmann had foretold and for which Goethe had been waiting. In the meantime, it is true, Goethe worshipped the Apollo Belvedere and the Laocoon, but that was inevitable in the state of knowledge of those days. The Geschichte der Kunst suggested to Goethe a second line of enquiry which led him in time to strange depths of contemplation. The problem was to discover what the Greeks had intended to express in the statues of their gods and heroes. In writing up the Italienische Reise he defined the problem thus: “to find out how those incomparable artists set to work, in order to reveal, through the medium of the human form, the circle of the divine nature, which is completely closed, and in which no primary character is lacking any more than the intermediary stages and connecting links.1 I have an idea they followed just those laws which Nature follows and of which I am on the track. Only there is something else there, which I would be at a loss to define.”2 It is not likely that in January 1787 Goethe was already so clearly aware of the nature of the problem. The passage is probably an interpolation, made at the time when he was working up his letters and diaries for publication as the Italienische Reise. But there can be no doubt that, during the last weeks of his first stay in Rome, he was beginning to realise the capital importance of the question and to make his own studies and observations. Winckelmannhadnot attempted to define the significance which the Greeks attached to the statues of the gods, but he had emphasised an important fact, which Lessing had already pointed out, 3 namely that each god was represented in a stereotyped form which was recognisable through the individual variations of each statue. Thus Mercury could be distinguished from Apollo by a “special fineness in the face”; 4 the elder gods, Jupiter, Neptune, Pluto, Vulcan 1 German: “zu erforschen wiejene unvergleichlichen Kiinstler verfuhren, urn aus der menschlichen Gestalt den Kreis gottlicher Bildung zu entwickeln, welcher vollkommen abgeschlossen ist und worin kein Hauptcharakter so wenig als die Uebergange und Vermittlungen fehlen.” 2 WA. 30, pp. 264-5 (28 Jan. 1787). 3 Wie die Alten den Tod gebildet, Werke, xi, p. 8. 4 Winckelmann, Werke, iv, p. 84.
are as easily recognised and distinguished as the portraits of famous men of antiquity ;* Juno can be known by the large eyes, Pallas by the thoughtful look in half-closed eyes and gently bowed head.2 Lessing had attributed the origin of these different forms to chance, their general acceptance and continued use to convenience; Winckelmann had indicated that they were held in antiquity to be the result of special revelations received by the great artists,3 but he had not gone more deeply into their significance. Goethe could not rest until he had probed the matter to the bottom, for in the solution might lie the key to the meaning of Greek art, even perhaps to the whole Greek genius. He surrounded himself with heads of the great gods, in the hope that in their constant presence he might be granted the revelation of their secret.4 He applied himself to the study of antique gems and coins,^ which offered the richest material for a study of the forms of the gods. He wrote to Herder that he was practising himself in the study of the different gods and heroes. “What the ancients accomplished in this line, has never been told and never could be told. I won’t speak of it, but will demonstrate it to my friends when I have made myself sure of it.” 6 His interest in the second part of Herder’s Zerstreute Blatter, which he read aloud to his artist friends,7 lay partly in the fact that in the essay on Nemesis Herder was attempting to re-define the characteristics of one of the Greek goddesses from the picture that the Greeks had made of her in their literature and their art.8 During the last days of January and the beginning of February Goethe was indefatigable in visiting and re-visiting the museums, seeking out anything that he had missed, seeing the great works again and again.9 A new conception of the significance of Greek art was beginning to take shape in him, 10 but he was still far from having evolved a 1
2 Winckelmann, Werke, iv, pp. 96, 98, 102. Ibid. pp. 115 foil. Ibid. p. 135. 4 It is true that Goethe bought the Jupiter and the Juno before he started his systematic reading of the Geschichte der Kunst. But he had been using it ever since his arrival in Rome, and he had probably come across what Winckelmann says about the Greek gods during the earlier reading. 5 6 WA. iv, 8, pp. 135, 150 (13 and 25 Jan.). Ibid. p. 153. 7 Ibid. p. 155. 8 Herder, Werke, xv, pp. 395-428. 9 Io Ibid. pp. 156, 170, and WA. 30, p. 270. WA. iv, 8, p. 150. 3
system of interpretation, which would enable him to judge clearly and formulate his judgments. 1 At this moment he found a companion whose kindred mind was at work on the same problems. Karl Philipp Moritz had become known to Goethe in the previous November. A relationship of extraordinary intimacy sprang up between them. Goethe described himself as Moritz’s “father-confessor and confidant, finance-minister and private secretary”, and looked on Moritz as his younger brother; for the story of Moritz’s life seemed a replica of Goethe’s own, save that fortune had always been hard on Moritz while she had smiled on Goethe.2 Moritz had an active and sensitive mind. His theories of prosody were of great value to Goethe in the final work on Iphigenie^ At the beginning of 1787 he began, perhaps at Goethe’s suggestion, to occupy himself with Greek mythology. His object was to reinterpret the myths in such a way as to make them once again a source of living symbols for artist and poet. He worked throughout in close co-operation with Goethe and the result of his labours, Die Gotterlehre, undoubtedly sets forth essentially Goethe’s own views on the origin and significance of the Greek myths.4 Die Gotterlehre was not published until 1791; Goethe and Moritz were most actively engaged on it in the summer of 1787, after Goethe’s return from Sicily ;5 but it will not be out of place to quote from it at this point, since the interpretation of mythology which it sets forth was already forming in Goethe’s mind. By 17 February 1787, when he wrote to Herder asking him to help Moritz in his “antiquarian undertaking”,6 Goethe had already passed into a new stage of his unending development. He had freed himself at last from Iphigenie and Charlotte. He had become a pagan. In Moritz’s view the myths reveal, through the medium of the poetical faculty (“Phantasie”), the nature of the fundamental forces which create and maintain the world. The gods are these forces made visible by poetry to human understanding. Moritz hoped that his book would be the evangel of a new 1 2
Cf. E. Wolf, Goethe und die griechische Plastik, p. 57.
3 WA. iv, 8, p. 115 and p. 94. WA. 30, p. 248. 4 This is denied by Rudolf Fahrner in his essay Karl Philipp Moritz Gotterlehre, Marburg, 1932. 5 6 WA. 30, p. 70. WA. iv, 8, p. 189.
religion, based on the pagan tradition, which Christianity had destroyed. He speaks of the “new dawn” that will come if the myths are properly understood.1 All the myths, even the most primitive, are full of the eternal wisdom that has significance for men of all ages. According to the Greeks Night enfolded within her “all the forms which the light of day reveals to our eyes”.2 This is the Neo-Platonic conception of the world of Ideas, as active in our day as three thousand years ago; it is Goethe’s “Realm of the Mothers”, where Faust sought the magic tripod. The war of the old gods against the new was not just a strange old tale to the Greeks; it symbolised the victory of proportion and form over the monstrous and unformed.3 Most significant of all is a defence of anthropomorphism in religion. Nature created mankind in order that she might be conscious of herself. In return mankind has learnt how to re-express Nature in his own form. “For the expression of the divine form, nothing nobler could be found than eye and nose, brow and eyebrow, cheek, mouth and chin; since only from a living thing which has this form, can we know that it has conceptions like ours, and that we can exchange thoughts and words with it.” 4 The Greeks it was who in their art reached the summit of achievement in this holy work; they created forms of gods, that were human yet raised above human stature, forms from which everything accidental was excluded, in which all essential characteristics of power and sublimity were combined.5 It was wrong in Moritz’s opinion to seek ethical precepts in the myths. In them “man is of such secondary importance that little regard is taken of him or his moral needs. He is often nothing but a sport of the higher powers.” The gods punish not so much injuries done by man to man, as “every appearance of encroachment on the prerogatives of the gods”. (This was the sin of Tantalus.) In fact these higher powers are not moral beings. Their attribute is power. Each one of them represents Nature with all her “luxuriant, wanton growths”, and is therefore above morality.6 Conflict between the gods, often 1 2 4
Die Gotterlehre, 3. unveranderte Ausgabe, 1804, p. 6. Ibid. p. 9. 3 jhil p . J6. 5 Ibid. p. 22. Ibid. p. 73; cf. also pp. 38, 81-2. Ibid. pp. 5, 6: “Uppigen Auswiichsen.”
portrayed in Greek mythology, is not a barbarous conception, fit only for primitive religions. All these higher powers coexist in Nature, so that conflict between them is inevitable, a basic law of Nature. Conflict such as that between the young gods and the Titans was not a conflict of Good against Evil, but simply of Power against Power. 1 The young gods won, because they were more “gebildet”, their being was more firmly established and defined. But the vanquished gods remain great and venerable. They are part of Nature and cannot be destroyed. The younger gods—Zeus, Hera, Mars, Apollo “the destroyer”—are anything but humane in the sense in which Iphigenie’s gods were humane. “Jupiter begot with Juno implacable Mars, the dreadful god of war. Jupiter was often wroth with him, and threatened to fling him from Heaven, but spared him, because he was his own son.” 3 Conflict and violent destruction are part of the order of Nature. Though they may seem at times to disturb the plan of the supreme deity, the Greeks knew they must be allowed to play their part in the world. Hera’s jealousy is not ridiculous but noble and beautiful; for it is not impotent, but is armed with divine might, and successfully opposes the Thunderer himself on the highest summit of his power.3 It is entirely fitting that the heroes should result from secret matings that Zeus enjoys only with difficulty, for the Greeks well knew that “everything beautiful and strong… must struggle against opposition and difficulties and must go through many a trial and danger”. 4 The Greeks fully realised the implacable essence of life. They depicted it in the Fates and the Furies. But even to these dreadful, and to human beings hateful, powers they gave beautiful forms; not because on aesthetic grounds they avoided the hideous in art, but because in their deep wisdom they knew that these highest powers, who ruled even the gods, were beautiful. “The Fates represent the terrible Power to which even the gods are subject, and yet they are portrayed as beautiful women…. Everything is light and easy for the unlimited highest Power. Nothing laborious or difficult exists on this plane; all opposition ceases at this culminating point. “5 Gods, and still more mortals, know pain and trouble, but on the highest plane of being there 1
Ibid. p. 17. 3 Ibid. p. 62.
Ibid. p. 61. • Ibid. p. 64.
5 ibid. p. 34.
is nothing but unimpeded power. For an existence so perfect and so easy the only possible symbol was the youthful female form in idealised perfection. Iphigenie’s gentle doctrine of understanding, non-violence and trust in the goodness of God has no place in this interpretation of the world. The gods had turned out to be inhumane and cruel, as Iphigenie had feared but had refused to believe. ” Every attempt of a mortal to measure himself against their lordly power, is terribly punished”, Moritz wrote,1 and quoted the Parzenlied from Iphigenie, to illustrate the Greek conception of the relation of men and gods. Iphigenie’s doubts had conquered; her faith had been misplaced. The sight of the Apollo Belvedere, the Zeus of Otricoli and the Ludovisi Juno had carried Goethe past the barrier that we know as the problem of good and evil. He had seen the inner meaning of conflict, the justification of “Electra-morality”. The tendency that was fundamental in him, to admire what was great, beautiful and powerful, though it might be in no way beneficent on the human plane, now found itself supported and justified by the wisdom of the Greeks, which they had incorporated in their myths, their poetry and their art. Already on 23 December 1786 he wrote to Charlotte that his moral sense was undergoing as great changes as his aesthetic ideas.* The new wisdom was breaking through. During the next two months his intense study of the remains of ancient art and his talks with Moritz on mythology, helped it to take root, to grow and to gain shape, so that when on 21 February he left Rome for Naples, he went a pagan, with eyes open to see the world as it is, in its beauty and its terror. C. NAPLES AND SICILY Already in the middle of December Goethe had made up his mind to leave Rome at the New Year and spend some weeks in Naples. His object was “to enjoy the glorious countryside, wash my mind clean of so many mournful ruins, and to get relief from over-austere aesthetic conceptions”.3 He stayed 1
2 Gotterlehre, p. 263. WA. iv, 8, p. 101. Ibid. p. 33: “Mich der herrlichen Natur erfreuen und meine Seele von der Idee sovieler traurigen Ruinen reinspiilen, und die allzustrengen BegrifFe der Kunst lindern.” 3
six weeks longer in Rome than he had intended, because his study of Greek sculpture had brought him to the problem of the Greek gods and their significance. But his objects, when he did start out for Naples, were the same as they had been two months before. After five months in Italy, of which three and a half had been spent in Rome, he realised that he had not got to the heart of what he was seeking. None of the country that he had seen quite fulfilled his expectations as a direct manifestation of the forces of Nature. He hoped that the landscape and the vegetation round Naples would show him what he wanted: Nature revealing herself unhindered in great and simple forms, that were perfect expressions of the ideas behind them. His search for the same quality in human culture, which he had expected to find in Rome in the remains of “ancient” civilisation, had also not been entirely successful. Much of what he had seen was indeed of the highest conceivable excellence and value; but Rome itself, he was coming to see, contained too much that blurred the outlines of his great impressions”. Already in December he had begun to have a horror of the “mournful ruins”, and to see that their interest was little more than historical. His study of Greek art during January and February and his reading of Winckelmann made him realise, more and more clearly, that the Romans had left behind little or nothing that could help him in his search for aesthetic-philosophical truth. In art the Romans had been nothing but imitators. Their importance lay in their history, which Goethe studied in Livy during January,1 and in their political achievement; their significance for later generations was therefore conditioned by the changing circumstances of human life. Goethe was seeking eternal ideas, which should be as valid now as they had been two thousand years ago. For these, he now saw, the Greeks had been the sole fountain-head. Did he know that he would find Greece, if he journeyed farther south to Naples and Sicily? He could hope at least to come nearer to the forms he was seeking, if he got away from “form-confusing Rome” 2 to a land where Nature was great and simple, and where the memories of wars, of consuls and of emperors were not so oppressively present. 1 2
Ibid. pp. 143, 146, 152. WA. 31, p. 120: “das gestaltverwirrende Rom.”
It was natural too that, after two months’ intensive study of Greek sculpture, he should feel the need of a period of contemplation during which to set in order the crowd of impressions that he had received. He must strive to find the idea that governed this mass of phenomena and gave to each and all their pure significance. This effort to lay bare the kernel of Greek art would lead him, he knew, to strange planes of thought; the pursuit of the new-found problem of the Greek gods would link the contemplation of art with the contemplation of Nature. There could be no better background for this aesthetic enquiry than the “herrliche Natur” of the Neapolitan countryside. During his stay in Naples, where he remained until the end of March 1787, Goethe gave himself a holiday from the study of Greek sculpture. Except for an antique horsehead, the coin collection of Prince Waldeck, and the decorated household utensils that had been brought from Pompeii, 1 he did not take special notice of any of the ancient works of art in Naples. He spent his time observing the way of life of the Neapolitans and in making expeditions to the places of interest in the neighbourhood—Pozzuoli, Vesuvius, Pompeii and Herculaneum, Capua, Paestum. On these expeditions he was surrounded by the splendour of Nature, and he was not disappointed by what he saw. The situation of Naples, the sweep of the gulf, Vesuvius, the rich lands sloping to the sea, the sea itself—real sea with real waves and storms—the islands, the luxuriant vegetation, and over all the blue Heaven—here was nothing half-expressed, veiled, distorted.2 As Goethe and the artist Kniep were driving back from Paestum and came over the high ground that lies between Salerno and the Bay of Naples, the whole picture lay before them in all its nobility and beauty. Suddenly their ecstatic contemplation was interrupted by a “ghastly singing or rather shrieking and howling ofjoy “. It was the Neapolitan lad who had accompanied them. Goethe rebuked him sharply. “For a while he never moved; then he touched me gently on the shoulder, stretched his right arm between us pointing and said * Signor, perdonate! questa e la mia patria!’—Poor Northerner that I am, something like tears came into my eyes! ” 3 * WA. 31, pp. 33,35, 60. Ibid. pp. 23, 24, 34, 47, 48, 75.
3 fad. p. 73.
In Naples he felt, for the first time, what it could mean to be a “Southerner”. The happy-go-lucky way of living, that in Northern Italy and Rome had repelled him as often as not, here seemed to him utterly good. “Naples is a paradise; everyone lives in a sort of drunken half-consciousness. I feel the same. I hardly know myself; I seem to be another being altogether. Yesterday I thought: either you were mad before, or you are mad now.” 1 The Neapolitans, even those of the educated class, had a naivete that brought them near to being the unspoilt hommes naturels, of whom so many in Goethe’s day dreamed.2 Goethe felt himself turning natural in spite of himself.3 He had now seen with his own eyes that marvellous background of sky and landscape from which the Greek civilisation had sprung, and had experienced something of that happy carelessness, that capacity to live without thinking, without problems, without “Thou-shalt-nots”, which he and his contemporaries held to be one of the basic qualities of the Greek character.4 Here too Goethe saw the idea finding expression directly; even these modern southerners had something “elementally human” about them.5 How much more nearly ” Urmenschen” must the ancients have been, above all the Greeks! By coming to Naples he had come closer to Greece. He was enchanted by the “passion for art and pictures displayed by a whole people” which the painted walls and household things of ruined Pompeii revealed.6 He did not regard Winckelmann’s warning voice, who had condemned the wall decorations in Herculaneum as being “of a period, in which good taste no longer ruled”. 7 These ancients with their simple spontaneous joy in life had known how to use art, so as to “cheer the spirit and give it breadth”.8 Goethe knew of course that the inhabitants of Pompeii had not been Greeks, but he had no difficulty in regarding this riot of daintiness as in keeping with the Greek spirit. He greeted it as confirmation of his belief in the “Heiterkeit”, the productive cheerfulness, of the Greek way of life. 1
2 Ibid. p. 52. Ibid. p. 49. 4 Ibid. p. 63. Cf. Ibid. p. 260. 5 ” Urspriingliches der Menschengattung”: Ibid. p. 49. 6 Ibid. pp. 38, 60: “Kunst- und Bilderlust eines ganzen Volks.” 8 7 Werke, v, p. 186. WA. 31, p. 60.
How strangely then was his belief upset when for the first time he stood before a Greek temple! In the second half of March he visited Paestum with Kniep. In the marshy barrens by the sea three temples stand, as the Greek settlers built them five hundred years before the birth of Christ. Two of them date from the early days of the colony when the Greek temple form was still evolving. The middle temple, a little later than the Parthenon and the temple of Zeus at Olympia, represents the perfection of the Doric style.1 These were the first buildings which Goethe had seen, in which the voice of Hellas spoke to him directly, undistorted by Roman or Renaissance imitators. “The first impression could rouse only astonishment. I found myself in an utterly unfamiliar world. For as the centuries progress from the severe to the pleasing, so they modify mankind with them, indeed they create him so.2 Now our eyes, and through them our whole inner being, is adapted and accustomed to slenderer architecture, so that these squat, tapering column-masses, pressed close one against another, seem to us oppressive, even terrifying. Yet I quickly pulled myself together, remembered the history of art, thought of the age which found such a style fitting, called to mind the austere [i.e. Winckelmann’s ‘lofty’] style of sculpture, and in less than an hour I felt myself at home.” 3 Thus Goethe describes his feelings in the Italienische Reise. There is no record in letter or diary of the first visit to Paestum, but there is no reason to doubt that this account of the impression which the temples made upon Goethe is essentially true. It was a profound shock to his whole conception of the ” ancient” attitude to life. The “Bilderlust” of the old Pompeians, which had survived even to the present day among the Neapolitan peasantry,4 the care-free life and the untrammelled flourishing of Nature, had all emphasised in his mind the ease and joyousness of existence in ancient times. The Rococo element in ancient art was beginning to mean too much to him.5 Roman superficiality had seduced him, though he had left Rome to escape just such 1
Encyclopaedia Britannica, eleventh edition, Paestum. “Denn wie die Jahrhunderte sich aus dem Ernsten in das Gefallige bilden, so bilden sie den Menschen mit, ja sie erzeugen ihn so.” 3 WA. 31, pp. 71 foil. 4 5 Ibid. p. 39. Ibid. p. 60. 2
dilution of the true Greek spirit. Now these stark temples, utterly lacking in ornament, scorning all elegance save that of solidity and proportion, reminded him of the austerity of his quest, and revealed to him how far he still was from feeling and seeing as a Greek. Since January, when he had read the Geschichte der Kunst, he had been needing some visible example that should demonstrate the difference between Roman and Greek culture. He had found it in the temples of Paestum. He saw now that Palladio had known nothing of Greek architecture, that his “ancients” were merely Romans.1 It was essential for him to avoid the same mistake. Since the early days of his stay in Naples he had been thinking of making a journey to Sicily. In Naples he felt the same kind of longing for the little-known island as in Germany he had felt for Rome and all Italy.2 He had not yet found what he had come to find. Yet for many days he could not decide to go. The decision, whether to go or stay, he felt to be of profound importance to his whole life. He seemed to himself hardly a free agent: “Two spirits are fighting over me.” 3 When at last he had made up his mind to go, he felt immense relief, and knew that the journey would be “decisive” for him. 4 What did Goethe expect to find in Sicily ? The hints that he gives us in the Italienische Reise are confusing, and the letters and diary help but little. Sicily, he said, pointed on to Asia and Africa. It would be an experience to stand on “the remarkable point, where so many radii of the world’s history are focussed”.5 Later he spoke of his hope that Sicily and “Neugriechenland” (presumably Magna Graecia) would free him from the evils of an education based on “formless Palestine and form-confusing Rome”; 6 and in the only letter from Palermo which has survived, he told Fritz v. Stein: “I have seen an enormous amount that was new to me; only here does one get to know Italy.” 7 Before he left Naples he announced his intention of being back in Rome before the end of June. “Since I have missed Easter, I must at least celebrate St Peter’s Day there. My Sicilian journey must not distract me too far from my original purpose.” 8 1 2 4 7
Cf. W A . iv, 45, p. 115. W A . 31, pp. 23, 24. Ibid. pp. 76, 90. W A . iv, 8, p. 211.
Ibid. p. 76.
3 ibid. p. 53; cf. p. 57. Ibid. p. 121. 8 W A . 31, p. 76.
It was not Goethe’s way in his autobiography to reveal the inner springs of action that led him to adopt this course or that. That sentence for instance, in a letter to Charlotte—”Ich kampfte selbst mit Tod und Leben”—which shows the whole seriousness of Goethe’s condition before the flight to Italy, does not appear in the Italienische Reise. So we should not expect to be told the exact nature of the hopes that drew Goethe to Sicily, and of the fears that nearly held him back. Nor should we be surprised, if some of the hints given are hard to reconcile with the main body of the evidence. Deliberate mystification was not Goethe’s intention, but it often happened that in working up his letters, he gave as much prominence to what had at the time been a secondary consideration, as he did to any hints of his fundamental motive. It is highly improbable that Sicily was of much importance to him as a stepping-stone to Asia and Africa or as the scene of so much of the world’s history. It is hard to know what interest he can have felt in Asia at that time, unless it were in Asia Minor as the land of the Ionian Greek cities, of Troy and of the probable birthplace of Homer. His reading of Livy had shown him the important part played by Sicily in the Punic Wars as no-man’s land between Rome and Carthage. As Meinecke points out,1 Goethe’s interest in a focal point of history of this sort was not purely historical. He derived rather an aesthetic satisfaction from being able “to scan all the roads that once led outwards from such a centre of mighty events into the world around”. That he undertook the Sicilian journey primarily in order to taste this pleasure is obviously impossible. He was seeking a far deeper spiritual experience than this. He went to Sicily in order to see two things: Greek culture untouched by any Roman influence, and above all the land on which this culture had grown. 2 With these things seen and understood he was confident that the revelations which he was seeking would soon come to him, and his quest would be at an end. When he said that one had to go to Sicily in order to understand Italy, he meant that Sicily revealed the quintessence of the southern spirit, without any of those impurities and complications that had made him dissatisfied with the im1 2
Die Entstehung des Historismus, n, p. 515. Cf. Rehm, op. cit. p. 144.
pression that Rome and Italy had made on him. Italy without Sicily, he said, “makes no picture in the mind”. 1 The purity and the simplicity of the impressions which he expected to receive in Sicily, would drive out the confusion of his Roman impressions. Yet one more problem remains. If in Sicily he hoped to come to the end of his quest, to find at last in its purest essence the knowledge that as a northerner he lacked, why did he speak of the journey to Sicily as leading him aside from his original purpose? Surely his original purpose had been to find this essential knowledge. N o doubt it had been: but inextricably bound up with this fundamental purpose had been the longing to see Rome. When he left Germany, Goethe never doubted that he would find in Rome complete satisfaction of all his desires.2 For thirty years his mind had been acquiring a habit of veneration and longing for Rome. The realisation that Rome was not enough, was unwelcome. Mental inertia resented the necessity of modifying this habit, and opposed any step, such as the Sicilian journey, which this necessity brought about. The lesson of Paestum had been accepted; but it had been a shock, not only to his preconceived notions, but to his pride. It left him curiously touchy, on the defensive against any demands which the new realisation might make on him. The Sicilian journey was as far as he would go in altering his plans for the sake of ancient Hellas. ” T h e Prince of Waldeck”, he wrote the day before he sailed for Sicily, “unsettled me just as I was saying good-bye. He actually suggested that I should be ready on my return to go with him to Greece and Dalmatia. When once you set out into the world and get entangled with it, you must be on your guard that you don’t get led astray, or even driven crazy by it. I am incapable of another word.” 3 Strange outburst! He longed to go and knew he ought to. But it would have meant another change of plans; he might encounter more shocks like that of Paestum. He knew in his heart that these objections were worthless, and sought to hide 1
“Macht kein Bild in der Seele”: WA. 31, p. 124. WA. iv, 8, p. 37. 3 WA. 31, p. 78, last two sentences: “Wenn man sich einmal in die Welt macht und sich mit der Welt einlasst, so mag man sich ja hiiten, dass man nicht entriickt oder wohl gar verriickt wird. Zu keiner Silbe weiter bin ich fahig.” 2
his weakness behind a spurt of annoyance against the Prince and “the world”. On 2 April Goethe arrived in Palermo, after a rough crossing made in the face of contrary winds. As in Naples, his interest in Greek art was secondary to other interests. Not until 11 April did he visit the antiques, then housed in the Palazzo. He was disappointed to find the statues in confusion, owing to redecoration of the gallery, but he was delighted by the two bronze rams, ” mighty figures of the mythological family, worthy to bear Phrixus and Helle”. 1 He attributed them to the “best Greek period”. With some reluctance he allowed himself to be taken to see a collection of antique coins. He knew so little of the subject and did not want to be troubled by a new branch of learning just at that moment. In the end he was glad to have gone, for he gained a vivid new impression of the wealth and high culture of the old Siceliot cities, and a fresh proof of the superiority of Greek things over Roman.2 But the problems of ancient art were not in the forefront of his mind. On the 15th, on a last sight-seeing trip around the city, he happened on some statues, much damaged and badly placed for investigation. ” We had not the patience to make out what they were.” 3 On 18 April Goethe left Palermo, accompanied by the German artist Kniep, whom he had engaged to go with him and sketch whatever of landscape and ruins was worth preserving. On the third day they visited the temple of Segesta, a Doric building of the late fifth century B.C. The temple stands below the ancient city on a small hill in the cup of a great valley. It was never finished, but all that was completed—the outer rectangle of columns with their architraves and the pediments— is still standing. The columns were left unfluted. Goethe’s description of the temple in his diary is matter of fact in the extreme. Not a word of praise, not a touch of enthusiasm; and one suggestion of criticism. As at Paestum he felt a forbidding austerity, a lack of charm. “The wind whistled through the columns as through a wood, and birds of prey wheeled screaming above the entablature. I suppose they had young in the crevices.”4 The sense of transience, of destruction, of the past 1 4
WA. 31, p. 119. WA. in, 1, p. 341.
Ibid. p. 120.
Ibid. p. 146.
as something irrevocably gone, oppressed him, the more so as these Greek temples should have pointed him to the eternal ideas that he was seeking. The proportions of the Greek temple were still so strange to him, that he could not see in them the timeless truth that conquers the destruction of the centuries. At Selinus, a few miles away, there were remains of other great temples of the fifth century. But of them not even the columns stand. He left them unvisited. He was seeking ” Anschauung\ a picture for his mind’s eye. Foundations and tumbled drums could not help him. So too at Girgenti, where he spent five days (23 to 28 April), the vast ruins of the temple of Zeus impressed him by their size—he could stand comfortably inside the fluting of the fallen columns—but the “shapeless chaos” gave him no pleasure. When he had viewed it, he felt that he had “seen nothing and gained nothing”. 1 The temple of Concord on the other hand, again a Doric structure of the late fifth century, which has been preserved almost intact, spoke to him a language that he understood. “Its slender style approaches our standard of what is beautiful and graceful. It compares with the temples at Paestum as a god’s form with that of a giant.” 2 It is true that the columns of the temple of Concord are taller in proportion to their breadth at the base than those of the temple of Neptune at Paestum. In the former temple the relation is 5 to 1, in the latter about 4J to i. 3 But by Palladio’s standards, who gives the proportion for Doric pillars as q\ or 8 to 1, the columns of the temple of Concord are still absurdly stocky. In the case of the Paestum temples Goethe had also complained that the columns were set too close together. 4 In fact the columns of the temple of Concord are set closer than the temple of Neptune (Concord: 13 columns in 130 feet; 6 feet between each. Neptune: 14 columns in 197 feet; 9 feet between each). Goethe’s eye, helped by the enthusiasm with which his guidebook* described these ruins, was beginning to become accustomed to Greek proportions. But still he derived most pleasure 1
2 WA. 31, p. 163 and WA. iv, 44, p. 84. WA. 31, p. 162. Measurements taken from the Encyclopaedia Britannica. 4 “Enggedrangt.” 5 Riedesel’s Reise dutch Sicilien und Grossgriechenland, Zurich, 1771; cf. pp. 40-1. 3
from the sight of the T o m b of Theron, a work of the Hellenistic period. 1 In the cathedral at Girgenti Goethe admired the relief-work on a marble sarcophagus as the finest he had seen, and noted it as ” a n example of the most graceful period of Greek art”. 2 Actually it is late Roman work, though perhaps a copy of a fourth-century Greek original. 3 From Girgenti Goethe and his companion struck inland and made a four days’ journey across the island to Catania. T o do this they had to give up their intended visit to Syracuse. Riedesel mentions a wellpreserved temple at Syracuse in the Doric order, like those at Paestum and Girgenti, 4 but this was no attraction to Goethe in comparison with the chance of seeing the rich cornlands of the interior. He probably knew nothing of the Athenian siege of Syracuse in the Peloponnesian W a r (Riedesel does not mention it, and Goethe had never read Thucydides); Nicias, Epipolae, the fateful quarries were not even names to him. But even had he known, he would not have greatly cared. In Catania Goethe viewed the antiques in the palace of the Biscari family, but found little of interest. The Prince’s coin collection on the other hand gave him opportunity to continue the study that he had begun in Palermo. Here, as always now, he found Winckelmann’s periods an infallible guided On 12 May Goethe sailed from Messina and arrived in Naples on the 15th. 6 O n the crossing he looked back over his Sicilian journey and summed up its results. Sea-sickness made him overrate the failures and forget the achievements. ” W e had really seen nothing but the vain efforts of men to maintain themselves against the violence of Nature, the malicious caprice of time, and their own quarrels and dissensions. The Carthaginians, the Greeks, the Romans and innumerable races that followed them, had built and cast down. Selinus lies deliberately destroyed: two thousand years had not sufficed to reduce the temples of Girgenti to ruins, but a few hours, nay moments, had been enough to wipe out Catania and Messina.” 7 The 1 3 4 6 7
2 WA. 31, p. 164. Ibid. p. 159. Cf. Eduard Castle, In Goethes Geist, Vienna, 1926, p. 201. Op. cit. p. 85. 5 WA. 31, p. 187. For the problem of the dates at this point see Ibid. pp. 306, 340. Ibid. p. 224.
Greek temples had not succeeded in giving him that vision of eternity which he had hoped for. They had come nearer to doing so than he yet realised; but still on this score he was perhaps justified in feeling disappointment. Fortunately his Sicilian journey had had another goal, and this had been attained with a richness of fulfilment that amazed and awed him. He felt deep happiness at ” possessing the great, beautiful, incomparable conception of Sicily so clear, complete and pure” in his mind.1 To the Duke he wrote that his vision of Sicily was an “indestructible treasure” for his whole life.2 In the Sicilian landscape he had hoped to find that unthwarted Nature which he had been seeking ever since he left Germany. He found it and he found much more—the link between this vision and that of the ” Urmensch”, which he had been approaching in Rome and in Naples. This link was the Odyssey. With profound insight Rehm has pointed out,3 that the understanding of Greece and the understanding of Nature were two aspects of the same problem for Goethe. If he had not seen the ” Urlandschaft” in Naples and Sicily, Greece would have remained a riddle; if he had not re-read the Odyssey and known what he did of Greek art and culture, the deepest significance of the ” Urlandschaft” would have been lost to him. The voyage from Naples to Palermo introduced him into the world of Odysseus. There was a storm; the ship was driven out of her course, and had to go far about to reach Palermo. For the first time in his life Goethe saw islands on the horizon, as Odysseus had often seen them as he sailed to and from Ithaca.4 It affected him deeply, so that he often spoke of his journey through Sicily, which was really confined to the single main island, as a journey to “the islands”.5 As the vessel approached Palermo, Goethe first observed that “hazy clarity”, which transfigured hills and sea.6 Later he described it poetically: Ein weisser Glanz ruht iiber Land und Meer, Und duftend schwebt der Aether ohne Wolken,7 1
Ibid. p. 237. 3 WA. iv, 8, p. 221. Op. cit. pp. 144 foil. 4 5 WA. 31, p. 84 and Od. ix, 26. WA. 31, p. 237; cf. p. 198. 6 Ibid. p. 91: “Dunstige Klarheit.” 7 WA. 10, p. 423: “A white radiance rests on land and sea, and fragrant and cloudless hang the heavens.” 2
and had in mind the abode of the Olympians as Homer describes it: dAAoc [xaiK3 cci0pr| TTCTTTCXTOCI ccv^eAos, AevKf) 5* irnS£6poiJev aiyAri. 1
In Palermo the presence of the sea never let him forget the Odyssey. The dark waves sweeping in on the bays and headlands, the smell of the sea, carried him in spirit to the island of the Phaeacians.2 And when in the public gardens by the sea he saw around him the full luxuriance of southern vegetation in its unbroken fruitfulness, he felt himself to be in the gardens of Alcinous.3 He had no Homer with him, but on 15 April, after nearly two weeks in Palermo, he bought a copy, Greek with Latin version.4 He sat in the public gardens and read again with wonder and joy of that enchanted island of the Phaeacians. But now he saw that it was not enchanted, not a fairyland that could never exist. Homer had described the world that he saw around him.5 That world—its hills, its plants, its colours, the sea, the men—was an “ideal” world, but not in the sense that it existed only in the beautifying imagination of the poet. It was ideal because in it all Nature’s intentions were perfectly realised. Nothing was half-expressed or distorted. Homer’s greatness, like that of all the Greek writers, had lain solely in his power of seeing this world in all its grandeur, its beauty, its outward forms and inner relationships, and in describing what he saw in such a way that nothing remained half-expressed. By doing so he had himself made Nature’s intentions manifest; he had created as even Nature could only sometimes create. For Goethe the Odyssey ceased at this moment to be a poem; it seemed to be Nature herself.6 In Naples and Sicily Goethe saw with his own eyes the same ideal landscape that Homer had known.7 The summits of the hills were as “eternally classical”8 as in Homer’s day; the sea was as fascinating to him in its manifold beauty, as terrible in its 1
2 Od. vi, 44. WA. 31, p. 106. WA. iv, 8, p. 211; WA. 31, pp. 105, 106. 4 Cf. WA. 10, p. 413. 5 Goethe once suggested that the Odyssey was composed in Sicily (Spring, 1795: Bied. 1, p. 229). 6 Letter to Schiller, 14 Feb. 1798 (WA. iv, 13, p. 66). 8 7 Rehm, op. cit. p. 147. WA. 31, p. 95. 3
latent power as it had been to Homer; the journey through the interior from Girgenti to Catania had shown him what fruitfulness in Nature could be: he had seen Ceres manifest; and in the ” gardens of Alcinous” at Palermo he had hoped that he might find that imaginary plant which Schiller saw was “only an Idea”—the “Urpjianze”. With this picture in his soul he hoped to be able to reproduce, even when back at home in the north, “shadow pictures of this blest abode”. 2 If he could keep what he had seen, he would be able to create as the Greeks had done, by merely describing this ideal nature. But Goethe could never depend solely on the beauties of Nature for his poetic material. His poetry had to be primarily human. To create as the Greeks had done he must have seen and known ideal men and women as well as ideal Nature. The vision of the ” Urmensch” was even more necessary to him than that of the ” Urlandschaft”. The modern Italians had not satisfied him. In Venice they had shown some qualities that had marked them as decadent descendants of true “natural men”. Still more had the carefree life of the Neapolitans seemed to give a hint of what the existence of the ” Urmensch” would be like. But Goethe never supposed for a moment that the modern Neapolitans expressed fully and undistorted God’s idea of man. In Sicily too he found nothing that brought him nearer his goal. The ” Urlandschaft” was there, and perhaps the ” Urpflanze”; but the ” Urmensch” no longer walked those hills or sailed those bays. He, it was all too plain, was only an idea. Yet he had once been real, for Homer had described him; and Homer did not invent or idealise—he described what he saw “with a terrifying clarity and inner understanding”. 3 The picture that Goethe needed, of man as he is, with all his essential qualities, passions and abilities, free to develop within his set limits, unhampered by unfavourable natural surroundings, by cramping customs or religious taboos, this picture Goethe found in Homer, at present in the Odyssey, especially in the 1 WA. 31, pp. 89, 90, 106, 198 foil., 203, and WA. 10, p. 419. Cf. Od. vm, 138, 139, underlined by Goethe in the copy bought at Palermo (cf. WA. 10, p. 413). 2 WA. 31, p. 91: ” Schattenbilder dieser glticklichen Wohnung.” 3 Ibid. p. 239: Mit einer Reinheit und Innigkeit gezeichnet, vor der man erschrickt.” 162 ITALY description of the Phaeacians, and later with undiminished truth in the Iliad. Already in the days of Sturm und Drang Homeric man had been something of an ” Urmensch” to Goethe. He had represented man stripped of the falsities of civilisation, simple in habits, sincere in feeling. It had been a limited ideal, because it had contained in it a negative idea: hostility to civilised life. In the new conception of the Homeric man as the ” Urmensch” none of the positive qualities of the human spirit could be excluded. The passages which Goethe marked in his Sicilian Odyssey1 show how his appreciation of Homer’s men and women had developed since Wetzlar. The simile of the ploughman who longs for his supper2 would have delighted the author of Werther no less than the mature Goethe. This is the ”Urmensch” as “Naturmensch”. The same sensual appreciation of the value of meat and drink attracted him also in the marked passage at the beginning of the ninth book (lines 5-11). But here the earthly pleasures of palate and belly are secondary to the artistic pleasure of listening to the divine minstrel. This was the new emphasis in Goethe’s reading of Homer. The “Urmensch” had known that without art life was incomplete. He did not take delight in living primitively, as Werther imagined the Homeric heroes to have done. The Phaeacians (in another marked passage)3 boast modestly of their love of “banquets, music, dancing, changes of raiment, warm baths and the couch”. These Homeric men were sensual, but not coarsely so. They delighted in all the sensations of life and prized art as the noblest of these. No doubt Goethe thought of the Pompeians as he read this passage. They too had used art to set the peak of joyfulness on a life of vigorous sensuality. And as with the Phaeacians (did Goethe think of this?), their lovely city had been buried by a mountain. This then was the realisation that the Sicilian journey and the Odyssey, re-read in that setting, brought to Goethe :4 the Greeks had been perfect men living in perfect natural surroundings. That had been their good fortune. Their merit, which made their art and their literature pre-eminent, had lain in their 1 3 4 Cf. WA. 10, p. 413. 2 Od. XIII, 31 foil. Od. vm, 246-9. Cf. letter to W. v. Humboldt, 26 May 1799 (WA. iv, 14, p. 95). NAPLES AND SICILY 163 capacity to know and to understand the perfection of the world they lived in, and in their simplicity of soul, which made them content merely to describe what they saw, not what they felt. “They portrayed the reality, we usually its effect; they described terrible things, we describe terribly; they pleasant things, we pleasantly, and so on.” 1 In this way they had achieved the highest of which art is capable. They had made manifest the ideas of God more directly and more perfectly than Nature herself is usually capable of doing. In old age he said to Eckermann:2 “He who would make something great, must have trained himself to such a pitch, that he is able like the Greeks to raise the less perfect actual world to the level of his own spirit, and to make actual that which in the world of phenomena has remained unfulfilled, whether owing to inner weakness or thwarting from without.” It was in Sicily that he first clearly understood that this was the nature of Greek art, and that his own production must in future be based on the same principles. As soon as he arrived in Palermo, Goethe began to put on paper a poetical project that had occupied his thoughts from time to time for some months. The idea of dramatising Odysseus’s stay among the Phaeacians had come to him first on the last stage of his journey to Rome, in October of the previous year. He had then called the tragedy Ulysses auf Phda.3 Scherer suggests that the plan was again in his mind in Naples,4 and it is likely he gave it more thought during the voyage to Palermo.5 Some time before 15 April (when Goethe bought a Homer)6 the whole plan was written down, the subject of each scene being indicated in a few words. This scheme is preserved.7 The first scene8 was also written before Goethe began to read Homer.9 The other fragments that have been preserved, he wrote with the Odyssey open at his 1 WA. 31, p. 239: “Sie stellten die Existenz dar, wir gewohnlich den EfFekt; sie schilderten das Furchterliche, wir schildern furchterlich; sie das Angenehme, wir angenehm, usw.” 2 20 Oct. 1828. 3 4 WA. in, 1, p. 315. Goethe-Aufsatze, p. 209. 5 Cf. WA. 10, p. 412, and Ernst Maass, Goethe und die Antike, p. 188. 6 Cf. JA. xv, p. 352; also WA. 10, pp. 412 foil, and 31, p. 147. 8 7 WA. 10, pp. 417 foil. Ibid. pp. 99 foil. 9 Ibid. p. 413. 164 ITALY 1 side. Most was written in the public gardens during his last three days in Palermo. Only at this stage did the tragedy receive the name Nausikaa by which it is always known. More would have been written had not the luxuriant vegetation of the gardens distracted his interest from his poetical plans to the search for the ” Urpflanze” .2 But the interruption was only momentary. At times during his journey through the island, Goethe pondered the detailed execution of his plan and jotted down a line or two. 3 Especially in Taormina Nausikaa was much in his mind. 4 Scherer suggested5 that the plan as first written down in Palermo was considerably changed in Taormina, and that this second plan is contained in the version given in the Italienische Reisef* Morris has shown? that this view is not tenable, and that the plan in the Italienische Reise was, as Goethe indicated, composed from memory thirty years later,8 and can therefore not be considered in any reconstruction of Goethe’s intentions for Nausikaa. All the hundred and seventy-five lines and fragments of lines of Nausikaa that were ever written, were written in Sicily. Once Goethe had left the island where Homer had become for him “a living word”, 9 the figures of his Homeric tragedy faded from his mind, and never returned to disquiet him or bring him joy. It may be questioned whether Homer meant to hint that Nausicaa had fallen in love with Odysseus, when she found him sea-battered on the shore, and won him her father’s protection and favour. A modern reader is inclined to conclude as much, and to wonder at Homer’s restraint in not treating in more detail so promising a motive. Goethe saw in this unfulfilled episode all the material for a tragedy. Nausicaa was to fall in love with Odysseus; ignorant of his name and of the fact that he was married, she was to make an avowal of her 1 WA. 10, p. 409, lines 16-20: Od. v, 483, 488; ibid. p. 416, line 24: Od. vi, 20 foil.; ibid. p. 418, lines 7-11: Od. VII, 114-21; lines 16-18:. Od. VII, 129; ibid. p. 422 (a): Od. xi, 363-8; (b) Od. vi, 44. 2 WA. 31, p. 147. 3 WA. 31, p. 201; WA. 10, p. 418, line 15; cf. ibid. p. 419, line 4; ibid. p. 418, lines 23-4, Girgenti to Catania; p. 420, line $b [iv], Etna, but cf. WA. iv, 8, p. 91. 4 5 WA. 10, p. 414; 31, p. 198. Goethe-Aufsatze, p. 213. 6 7 WA. 31, pp. 200 foil. G-J. xxv, pp. 109 foil. 8 9 Cf. WA. 10, p. 4i5;JA. xv, p. 353. WA. 31, p. 239. NAPLES AND SICILY 165 love, only to find that he was about to return to his native land and his wife. Partly from shame at having compromised herself, but chiefly owing to the realisation that her passion was hopeless, Nausicaa was to kill herself.1 Morris may be right in maintaining that such romantic love, for which life loses all value except in relation to the beloved, is a human passion unknown to Homer. Goethe probably did not feel that his central theme was unantique: Sappho’s leap and Phaedra’s suicide would have been sufficient warrant for him that it was antique enough, if he considered the question at all. Moreover since he regarded Homer’s men and women as “Urmenschen”, he can hardly have believed that they were ignorant of an emotion so fundamental in modern man. a Be that as it may, the theme of Nausikaa was taken from Goethe’s own experience. All too often his personality had roused a woman’s love, and always his fate had made it necessary for him to desert her. There may have been recent flirtations in Rome and Naples, as is suggested in the Italienische Reise? but the immediate experience which provided the material for Nausikaa was undoubtedly his own breaking away from Charlotte, and the suffering that he knew he had caused her. The treatment of this very personal theme was to show the effects of his new insight into the nature of Greek wisdom and art. In the first place the play was to be a real tragedy. No lofty trust in the goodness of God could here avert the fatal conflict of natural forces. Ulysses’s share of guilt was to be a very minor one, deriving from his having told Nausicaa that he was unmarried. The catastrophe would be represented as a “misfortune sent from God”. 4 The world-order would be revealed as inhumane: inhumane the daemonic power of attraction in Ulysses’s character; inhumane the love that drives the girl to destruction. Had Goethe wished to use the conventions of Greek tragedy, he could have let Aphrodite foretell 1 There have been various attempts to reconstruct the action of Nausikaa. Scherer’s essay in Goethe-Aufsdtze and Max Morris’s in the Goethe-Jahrbuch, xxv are the most important. 2 Compare his discussion of this question in Winckelmann und sein Jahrhundert, WA. 46, p. 26. 3 4 WA. 31, p. 201. “Gottgesendet Uebel”: WA. 10, p. 422. 166 ITALY Nausicaa’s doom in a grim speech modelled on the prologue to Hippolytus. In this way Nausikaa was nearer to the spirit of Greek tragedy than either Iphigenie or Elpenor. The form was still to be modern: five-footed iambic lines, five acts, no chorus. It was in the style, that the new closeness to Greece would emerge most clearly. It would be a description, carried out with Homeric “clarity and inner understanding”, of the ideal world of men and Nature, which the Greeks had known and which Goethe now believed he had seen. He would “portray the reality”, not, as modern writers do, the effect;1 and so having ideal man and ideal Nature for his subject, he would give perfect manifestation to ideas that often lie unfulfilled in Nature. The fragments that he wrote down contain examples of this new style of “naiv”, not “sentimental”, description. In the most successful he crystallised his observations of that phenomenon of “hazy clarity” that filled him with such wonder: Ein weisser Glanz ruht iiber Land und Meer, Und duftend schwebt der Aether ohne Wolken.2 Description of the ” Urlandschaft”—the sea, the coast, the islands, the hills, the vegetation, the harmonising colours— was to form as important a part of the play as the human action of which it was the setting.3 That no essential element might fail in this microcosm of Nature, a large part of the second act was to be taken up with a description of a storm and of its destructive effect on the beauty of the gardens. The men and women who move in this setting harmonise with it in the simple perfection of their humanity. Phaeacian society was to be drawn on the lines of the picture given in the Odyssey: a simple community, still founded on the essential needs of man, uncorrupted by over-complication and false conventions, yet cultured in every way that ennobles the human spirit. Morris points out 4 that the characters in Nausikaa are psychologically less complicated than those of Iphigenie 1 2 3 4 See above, p. 163. WA. 10, p. 423; see also above, p. 159. WA. 31, pp. 198 foil, and 10, pp. 417 foil. G-J. xxv, p. 114. NAPLES AND SICILY 167 and Tasso. As “Urrnenschen” they were to have only those basic emotions which are common to all men who have emerged from a state of barbarism. They were to be free of scruples and subtleties such as plague and thwart modern refined society. Perhaps the naive manner in which Alcinous and Ulysses arrange to marry off Nausikaa to Telemachus was intended as a trait proper to simple humanity, which is more concerned with realities than sentiment.1 Nausikaa and Ulysses were to represent most clearly this essential, unthwarted humanity. She is unable—perhaps she does not even try— to conceal her passion; nor when it is shown to be hopeless, does she wish to overcome it and drag on a wretched, unsatisfied existence. Ulysses appears first as naked man, stripped of every aid to life but his bare wits. By these he wins back to fortune and to the accomplishment of his single purpose—his return. It is in pursuit of this purpose that he commits the fatal error of concealing his identity.2 In this undeviating determination to survive and to achieve his end he is ” Urmann”, as much as Nausikaa, by her absorption in her passion, is “.Urweib”3 His “manly bearing” was to be stressed by Nausikaa’s brother.4 It is the ideal perfection of these opposed emotions which brings on the catastrophe. Had they been tempered by inhibiting subtleties of feeling, there would have been no storm in the world of men to match that in the world of Nature. Goethe left Sicily with all his longing stilled. He had seen and he understood. He was confident that he would now be able to create as the Greeks had created. He even hoped that he might live as they had lived. Fear of his old northern self had gone: on his return to Naples he agreed to meet a stranger who wished to discuss Werther with him; “six months ago.. .1 should have refused. My acceptance showed me that my Sicilian journey had had a good effect on me.” 5 His last misunderstandings with the spirit of Hellas had been removed by what he had seen in Sicily. The day after his return to Naples 1 WA. 10, p. 421. I have already pointed out that Goethe introduced this idea into the last act of Egmont (written in Rome during the summer of 1787), and that he may have taken it from the Trachiniae (line 1222 foil.). 2 WA. 10, p. 419. 3 “Essential man” and “essential woman”. See below, p. 171. 4 5 WA. 10, p. 420. WA. 31, p. 241. 168 ITALY he went once more to Paestum. “It is the last and, I might almost say, the most glorious idea, that I now carry northwards with me complete. The middle temple (of Neptune) is in my opinion better than anything that is still to be seen in Sicily.” 1 His settled opinion of the Greek Doric 2 was less enthusiastic but still respectful. He granted that its effect was majestic, sometimes even inspiring (reizend), but he took leave to prefer the slenderer Ionic, defending his preference on the ground that it is natural for human taste to develop “even beyond its goal”. In other words he could not accept the fifth-century style of architecture as canonic. In order to justify his own taste he was forced, contrary to the tendency of his thought on other matters at the time, to stress the right of aesthetic standards to change and progress. He never came to feel at home in the world of the Doric temple. In his old age he spoke of it with reverence but called it a “fairy world”. 3 Any difficulty that he may still have felt, at fitting Greek tragedy into his picture of the Greeks, was finally dispelled in Sicily. His own experience of a storm at sea had brought vividly home to him the terrifying power of Nature. 4 In the Odyssey he had found more perfectly portrayed man’s helplessness in the face of implacable natural forces. He had hoped to give expression to this fundamental callousness of life in Nausikaa. The Greeks had done the same in their tragedies, and in so doing had given proof not of barbarity of mind and morals, but of their greatness in seeing and depicting the world as it is, not as it might be. “Humanitdt”, as he had preached it in Iphigenie and as Herder still preached it in his Ideen, was to Goethe now only a “fair dream-wish”. In a letter to Charlotte from Rome, 5 he mocked at Herder for clinging to the old ideal. ” T h o u g h I may believe that ‘Humanitdt’6 will finally conquer, I fear that at the same moment the world will be one great 1 WA. 31, p. 238. Contained in the essay Zur Theorie der bildenden Kunst (WA. 47, pp. 60 foil.), 1788. 3 WA. iv, 45, p. 115. 4 Cf. also WA. 31, p. 203. 5 8 June 1787 (WA. iv, 8, p. 233). Humanitdt cannot be translated by “humanity”, nor “humanism”. “Humane ethics” is too ambiguous a term. It is simplest to identify Humanitdt with “Iphigenie-morality”. See above, p. 137. 2 ROME AGAIN 169 hospital, and each will be occupied in being the other’s humane ” T nurse. The ten years’ aberration towards a Christian-ethical interpretation of the world was over. Once more Goethe could admire the Greeks as he had done in the days of Gotter, Helden und Wieland, even for those qualities in which they had run counter to modern sentiment. Having seen, in Sicily and in the Odyssey, God’s ideas made manifest, he could only say: “That which is, is moral.” D. ROME AGAIN On 6 June 1787 Goethe was back in his old quarters in Rome. He returned at once to his interrupted studies in art. In order truly to understand the possibilities and the limits of artistic expression, he drew and painted. In the beginning of July he began to copy casts of antique heads.2 Along with this practical activity went repeated contemplation of the ancient statues.3 In August he and Moritz returned to those discussions of ancient mythology which resulted in Moritz’s Gotterlehre.* On 22 August Goethe saw sketches which an English traveller had brought back from the eastern Mediterranean. Among them were drawings of the Parthenon frieze. “The few simple figures” at once roused Goethe’s wonder.5 It was the first time he had seen any reproduction of the Parthenon sculptures. In the following days he made the final discovery that rounded off what he had learnt in Sicily, so that in future he could say he understood Greek art, as he understood Homer and the world of Nature in which the Greeks had lived. “The human form”, he wrote to Charlotte, “is asserting its rights…. I have found a principle which will lead me, like Ariadne’s thread, through the labyrinth of the human structure. . . . It is as though a veil had suddenly been removed from all statues. I have begun to model a head of Hercules. My artist 1 Cf. WA. 31, p. 238 arid WA. iv, 11, p. 100, Herder as “Freund Humanus”; Suphan in Preussische Jahrbiicher, XLIII, pp. 430 foil.; and Irmgard Taylor, Kultur, Aufklarung, Bildung, Humanitdt und verwandte Begriffe bei Herder, Giesseh, 1938, pp. 14 foil. 2 3 WA. 32, p. 28. Ibid. pp. 6, 32, 35, 39. 4 Ibid. p. 59; see also above, p. 145. Material both to the Gotterlehre and to Anthousa, Moritz’s work on the antiquities of Rome (publ. 1791) was 5 probably discussed. WA. 32, p. 32. 170 ITALY friends are amazed, because they think I have hit the likeness by chance, but I have made it according to my principle and can make others so, if I have time and industry to develop this principle.” 1 The Italienische Reise throws further light on this revelation. “The alpha and omega of all known things, the human form, has gripped me and I .it, and I say: Lord, I will not let thee go, till thou bless me, though I be lamed in my wrestling…. I have come on an idea, that makes many things easier…. My obstinate study of Nature, the care with which I have worked at comparative anatomy, now enable me to see much as a whole in nature and in antique sculpture, which an artist has to seek singly and with difficulty.”2 His “principle” linked up with his old studies in physiognomy. 3 In the following weeks he applied his principle to the study of the antiques and also to his drawing and modelling of the human figure. He found it worked in every case.4 It was like Columbus’s egg—so simple and so perfect a solution of the problem. November and December he spent on the study of the head and face; with the new year he passed on to the body, working downwards section by section, until by the middle of March he had reached the foot.5 Neither in letters nor in the Italienische Reise did Goethe reveal the nature of his “principle”. It is plain from the manner in which he speaks of it and of his studies of the human 1 WA. iv, 8, p. 255: “Die menschliche Gestalt tritt in alle ihre Rechte und das Ubrige fallt mir wie Lumpen vom Leibe. Ich habe ein Prinzip gefunden, das mich wie ein Ariadnischer Faden durch die Labyrinthe der Menschenbildung durchfuhren wird…. Indess bin ich sehr vergnugt, weil mir auf einmal wie ein Vorhang vor alien Statuen wegfallt. Ich habe einen Herkuleskopf angefangen, woriiber sie sich alle wundern, weil sie denken ich hab ihn durch einen Zufall so getrofFen, ich hab ihn aber nach meinem Grundsatz gemacht und wenn ich Zeit und Fleiss habe diesen Grundsatz zu entwickeln und mich mechanisch zu iiben, kann ich andere eben so machen.” 2 WA. 32, p. 62: “Nun hat mich zuletzt das A und O aller uns bekannten Dinge, die menschliche Figur, angefasst, und ich sie, und ich sage: Herr, ich lasse dich nicht, du segnest mich denn, und sollt ich mich lahm ringen Wenigstens bin ich auf einen Gedanken gekommen, der mir vieles erleichtert…. Es lauft darauf hinaus: dass mich nun mein hartnackig Studium der Natur, meine Sorgfalt, mit der ich in der comparirenden Anatomie zu Werke gegangen bin, nunmehr in den Stand setzen, in der Natur und den Antiken manches im Ganzen zu sehn, was den Kiinstlern im Einzelnen aufzusuchen 3 4 schwer wird.” Ibid. p. 113. WA. 32, pp. 73, 77, 81. 5 WA. iv, 8, pp. 316, 320, 329; WA. 32, pp. 208, 212, 294. ROME AGAIN 171 form, that he was occupied with just such an apperception of the nature of things, as had come to him in his vision of the “Urpflanze”. It was a revelation terrifying in its profundity and its power. He had struggled in thought to win it, as Jacob struggled. It had opened to him the door of the temple,1 and he knew that if he could follow the thread of Ariadne as the ancient artist had followed it, it would be granted him to see God, the ultimate Necessity.2 He spoke of receiving revelations, of seeing deep into the nature of things and their relationships, and in clear connexion with this he wrote: “The study of the human body now holds me completely. Everything else is as nothing to it.” 3 Formerly he had been unable to bear the brilliance that streamed from the human form, as from the sun, but now he was able to contemplate it and to linger on it with rapture.4 The human form he called the “non plus ultra of all human knowledge and activity. “5 There can be no doubt that his study of Greek sculpture, supported by the knowledge of comparative anatomy acquired before he came to Italy, had given him a vision of the ” Urmensch”, just as the southern vegetation had brought him the vision of the ” Urpflanze”‘. The two conceptions are precisely parallel. The ” Urpflanze” was, in Platonic language, the Idea of the plant form; that essence common to all plants, by which we know that a plant is a plant and not an animal or a stone; that binding influence that prevents any plant species from straying so far from the norm, that it loses its character as plant. With this ideal plant clear in mind it was possible “to invent plant forms ad infinitum.. .which, even though they do not exist, yet could exist, and are not merely picturesque or poetical shadows or seemings, but have an inner truth and necessity”. Significantly Goethe added: “The same law will be capable of application to the rest of the living world.” 7 1 2 3 WA. 32, p. 77. Ibid. p. 78. Ibid. p. 208 (5 Jan. 1788). 5 WA. iv, 8, p. 329. WA. 32, p. 212. 6 WA. 31, pp. 147-8; cf. WA. 32, pp. 470, 471. 7 WA. 31, p. 240: “Mit diesem Modell und dem Schliissel dazu kann man alsdann noch Pflanzen ins Unendliche erfinden, die consequent sein miissen, das heisst: die, wenn sie auch nicht existieren, doch existieren konnten und nicht etwa mahlerische oder dichterische Schatten und Scheine sind, sondern eine innerliche Wahrheit und Notwendigkeit haben. Dasselbe Gesetz wird sich auf alles iibrige Lebendige anwenden lassen.” 4 172 ITALY So, in the world of ideas at least, there is an ” Urmensch”, an idea of man, which is present in more or less degree in every race of men and in every individual man. The Homeric men and women of whom Goethe read in Sicily, brought him close to the vision of the ideal man. They had portrayed the moral qualities of the “Urmensch”, But they lacked that quality which is the essence of the Platonic ideas—form. Goethe could not get the imprint of the form of the ” Urmensch9′ from Homer. It was the “Urmensch” as visible, tangible, measurable form, that was revealed to him during his second stay in Rome. That he should have wrung this revelation from the grudging hands of Nature, was the supreme achievement of his Italian journey. It was of course the Greek statues from which he derived the form of the ” Urmensch”, Not abstract speculation alone— “der Betrachtung strenge Lust”—had brought him this revelation; “der Vorwelt silberne Gestalten” had appeared before him and had shown him the way. Thus poetically he described his experience in one of the scenes of Faust that were written in Rome.1 Outside Rome, he said—that is, away from the statues—one could have only an imperfect idea of the human body.2 In his detailed study of each part of the body he always had before him examples from Nature and from antique works of art. Those from Nature showed him the imperfect expression of the idea, those from the antique the perfect expression, as God conceived it.3 For, just like Homer, the Greek artists had known Nature from within and without; they had known what her intentions were, even if in the actual world she was seldom able to realise these; and. they had created untrammelled according to her laws, so that what they produced was the complete expression of her ideas. “These noble works of art are at the same time the noblest works of Nature, produced by men according to true and natural laws. Everything capricious, everything merely imagined collapses; there is Necessity, there is God.”4 Not that any one Greek statue was the “Urmensch” made 1 “The silver figures of the past”: WA. 14, p. 164 (Wald und Hohle). WA. iv, 8, p. 320. Ibid. p. 329 and WA. 32, p. 294. 4 WA. 32, pp. 77 foil., last sentence: “Alles Willkurliche, Eingebildete fallt zusammen, da ist Notwendigkeit, da ist Gott.” 2 3 ROME AGAIN 173 visible. No single statue could express all the qualities that lay in God’s idea of man. All that art could do was to express each one of these qualities in perfection. This the Greeks had done in their statues of gods and heroes. A statue of Apollo was the perfect visible expression of a certain aspect of man’s moral and physical existence. Jupiter represented another aspect or character, Athene another, Mars another, and the heroes yet others. The moral or spiritual character of each was expressed in the form and the attitude. In the eleventh Roman Elegy1 Goethe stressed rather the characteristic attitude, but the pure form was at least equally important. 2 All were ” Abweichungen”, variations, from the basic idea; yet behind each variation, as the Greeks portrayed it, the norm of the ” Urrnensch” was visible, and the circle of gods and heroes taken together expressed the idea of man completely. Already before his journey to Naples and Sicily Goethe had been investigating this question of the ideal characters of man, as represented by the statues of the Greek gods. 3 He had learnt from Winckelmann that the Greek artists had unalterable rules for the portrayal of each god, but he had not then discovered the secret of these rules. The vision of the “Urmensch” gave him the secret. He saw the norm, the common denominator, of all these variations, and so could deduce the rules which the Greek artists had followed in leaving the norm to produce the ideal characters. Goethe told none of his friends in Rome, except Meyer and Moritz, of the essence of his discovery,4 nor did he reveal it in the essays on art which he wrote and published on his return from Rome. It was a mystery not fit for the ears of any but the few who could truly understand. But one day in September after his return to Germany, as he was driving with Caroline Herder and Fritz v. Stein down the Saale valley from Rudolstadt to Jena, while the sun shone with mild late-summer radiance, he was moved by discussion of Schiller’s newest poem, Die Gotter Griechenlands, to open his heart to the trusted friends. “Goethe came to speak”, Caroline wrote to Herder, 5 “of the 1 2 WA. 1, p. 246. Cf. Schr. der G-G. v, p. 29. 4 See above, p. 143. WA. 32, p. 77. 5 Bied. 1, p. 150: “Goethe kam auf die Eigenschaften, die die Alten in ihren Gottern und Helden in der Kunst dargestellt haben, wie es ihm 3 174 ITALY qualities which the ancients represented in art in their gods and heroes, and of how he has succeeded in finding out how they did it…. The whole idea lies, it seems to me, as a great unfulfilled task in his mind. He said at the end, he believed, if Louis XIV were still alive, he could manage the whole business with his support;… he could work it out in ten years—in Rome of course. The moral implications of his idea moved me extremely.. .. No single man, he said, could have one character in perfect manifestation; he could not live if he had; he must have mingled qualities in order to exist. As he said all this he was truly in his Heaven, and we had to promise at the end to speak to no one about it.” In a later letter to Herder,1 Caroline gave more details: “I will tell you something about the gods and heroes that I heard from Goethe that time, when he spoke of the characters in statues… .It is hard to find a true head of a god or hero even among the antique works. The artist often took the portrait of someone he wished to honour, as model for a god or hero… .Deep study is necessary to discover the true ideals….If Goethe were favoured by fortune, money, and artists in Rome, I am sure, he could work out each human character from the crown of the head to the soles of the feet.” Caroline’s account gives us a clearer idea of what Goethe meant by” ideal characters”. Any human being is compounded gegliickt sei, den Faden des Wie hierin gefunden zu haben…. Die ganze Idee liegt wie ein grosser Beruf in seinem Gemiit. Er sagte endlich: Wenn Ludwig XIV. noch lebte, so glaubte er durch seine Unterstutzung die ganze Sache ausfuhren zu konnen… .Er konnte es in zehn Jahren, in Rom versteht sich’s, ausfuhren. Der moralische Sinn darin hat mich sehr geriihrt…. Gar schon war’s, wie er sagte, dass ein einzelner Mensch nie einen Charakter in dem hochsten Ausdruck haben konne; er wiirde nicht leben konnen; er musste vermischte Eigenschaften haben, um zu existieren. Er war in der Stunde, da er dies alles sprach, recht in seinem Himmel, und wir haben ihm endlich versprechen miissen, mit niemand davon zu reden.” 1 Bied. i, p. 151: “Ueber die Gotter und Helden will ich dir doch etwas sagen, was ich damals beilaufig von Goethe gehort habe, als er von den Charaktern in den Bildsaulen sprach, als wir von Kochberg zunickfuhren. Es ist selbst schwer einen echten undwahren Gotter- und Heldenkopf unter den alten aufzufinden. Der Kiinstler hat oft, wenn er diesen oder jenen ehren wollte, sein Portrat zum Gott oder Helden, oder jenes Frauenportrat zur Gottin genommen. Dazu gehort ein Studium, die echten Ideale aufzufinden. . . . Wenn Goethe begiinstigt wiirde durch Gliick, Geld und Kiinstler in Rom, so glaube ich gewiss, dass er jeden menschlichen Charakter vom Scheitel bis zur Fusssohle, wie er glaubt, herausbringen konnte.” ROME AGAIN 175 of a number of spiritual qualities, which influence and interfere with each other so that none appears “im hochsten Ausdruck”. In the Idea of man these characters exist side by side in perfection. But so long as they are merely ideas, so long as their manifestation in the actual world is through the imperfect medium of human individuals, Nature has failed in her highest object. Greek art was of supreme value because it had evolved a means of giving complete expression to these ideal characters in the actual world. In ten years, Goethe thought, he could rediscover the lost tradition that the Greek artists had evolved, and reduce it again to a system that could be handed on from master to pupil. It would involve a minute study of all the antiques in Rome, careful measurements of every statue in all its parts, comparison of the results, deduction of the norm for each god and hero, then of the ultimate norm, the form of the ” Urmensch”. So the vision that came to him in August 1787 would be made actual, given tangible, communicable shape, and art could be re-founded to fulfil its highest mission, as it had done in ancient Hellas. Already in Rome, immediately after the discovery of his “principle”, he started to work out the proportions between the different parts of the body. He learnt from his artist friends what they knew of the matter;1 he tried to find out from such works as Camper’s Kleinere Schrifteti2′ what other moderns had discovered; and he compared all this, as well as he could, with the antiques. Even at night, in the arms of his Faustina, the great problem did not leave him: Dann versteh’ ich den Marmor erst recht; ich denk’ und vergleiche.3 He noted down the statues that were especially important for his purpose;4 but he had to leave Rome before the task was one-tenth accomplished. In Weimar he pushed on with his investigation despite the lack of material. He attended lectures on anatomy in Jena “as preparation for the study of characters 1 WA. 32, p. 77Cf. ibid. p. 113 and Herder, Werkc, xiv, p. 108. WA. 1, p. 239: “Only then do I understand the marble aright; I ponder and compare/’ « WA. 32, p. 4542 3 iy6 ITALY 1 in the human body”. In December 1788 he wrote to Herder that he had made good physiognomical discoveries relating to the formation of ideal characters.* In July of the next year he was at work himself on a profile of Jupiter.3 Amid unfavourable surroundings, with the innumerable distractions of his life in Weimar, his determination flagged at times,4 but revived again especially under Meyer’s influence. In March 1791 he asked for Meyer’s help in “working out a canon of male and female proportion; seeking the variations through which characters arise; studying the anatomical structure more closely and seeking the beautiful forms which make outward perfection”.5 It is impossible to say how far the two friends progressed at this attempt. Three years later there was much still to do. Meyer spent the summer of 1794 in Dresden at work in the art gallery. He asked leave not merely to copy the antiques but to take measurements. This was not permitted, and he wrote to Goethe: ” l a m the most unfortunate of men, for the chief hope and purpose of my whole journey is thus brought to naught.”6 Nevertheless Goethe and Meyer were clear about the general rules of the Greek tradition for portraying ideal characters by the mere form. Winckelmann had observed some of them: Mercury’s greater fineness of feature in comparison with Apollo;7 Juno’s large eyes;8 the rounded brow of Hercules, indicative of his strength and ceaseless labour;9 Jupiter’s cheeks, less full than those of the younger gods; his loftier brow.10 Goethe had observed that Venus’s character wa£ expressed by the smallness of the spaces between her features.11 Meyer interpreted Odysseus’s character from an antique head, in a manner strongly reminiscent of Lavater’s physiognomical 1 Caroline to ‘Herder, 14 Nov. 1788 (W. Bode, Goethe in vertraulichen Briefen, p. 391). 2 WA. iv, 9, p. 67. 3 4 Ibid. p. 145. Cf. Schr. der G-G. v, p. 14. Cf. WA. 47, p. 21. 5 WA. iv, 9, p. 248: “Auf einen Canon mannlicher und weiblicher Proportion loszuarbeiten, die Abweichungen zu sudien wodurch Charaktere entstehn, das anatomische Gebaude naher zu studieren, und die schonen Formen, welche die aussere Vollendung sind, zu suchen.” 6 Schr. der G-G. xxxn, p. 98, also p. 116; cf. also xxxm, p. 8. 8 9 7 Werke, iv, p. 84. Ibid. p. 115. Ibid. p. 87. 10 Ibid. p. 94. ” Bied. 1, p. 180. ROME AGAIN 177 1 theories. The character was expressed not only in the face, but equally in the form of the whole body.2 Apollo’s long thighs had significance no less than Bacchus’s broad, almost womanish, hips, or Jove’s massive solidity of torso. All these proportions had to be discovered by measuring, and the results correlated, before the Greek tradition could be made active in the world again. In this drudgery of measuring and comparing, the original vision of the ideal form of man was in danger of becoming intellectualised and losing itself in a desert of figures. But while it was fresh and vivid in Goethe’s mind, and at times for many years after his return from Rome, it had all the power and the depth of a religious revelation. Through it he had gained far more than a new insight into Greek art, more even than a new understanding of the nature of man. It was a revelation of the ultimate nature of existence, of the forces which govern the whole physical and spiritual universe. The circle of gods, as the Greek sculptors represented them, was Goethe’s creed expressed in forms instead of words. To Goethe the Greek gods were as real as they had been to any ancient Greek. They were not allegorical figures, artistic formulae, convenient by reason of their associations for expressing certain intellectual or moral concepts. “Statues of gods in themselves have no meaning outside themselves, but are really what they represent: Jupiter, the image of the loftiest dignity of boundless power; Minerva, the image of reflective wisdom; Hercules, of strength; Venus, of woman created for love; that is, they are characters of the purest kind, or general ideas given form by art. Such representations are called symbols, as distinct from allegories.”3 The Greeks, or at least their poets and artists, had looked into 1 2 Schr. der G-G. XXXII, p. 21. Cf. Iliad, 11, 477, 478. ” Gotterbilder aber, an sich selbst, haben keine fernere Beziehung, sondern sind wirklich was sie darstellen: Jupiter, das Bild hochster Wiirde unumschrankter Macht; Minerva, sinnender Weisheit; Herkules, der Kraft; Venus, des zur Liebe geschafFenen Weibes usw.; also Charaktere von der hochsten Art, oder allgemeine von der Kunst verkorperte BegrifFe, und solche Darstellungen nennt man, zum Unterschiede von eigentlichen Allegorien, Symbole” (Winckelmann, Werke, 11, p. 684). The notes to this edition were written by Meyer (cf. Justi, op. cit. in, p. 220), and therefore contain Goethe’s views of Greek art as finally established in Italy. For Goethe’s interest in this edition see Bied. v, p. 67. For symbol and allegory c£. WA. iv, 9, p. 251. 3 178 ITALY the heart of the universe and had seen there certain vast forces whose action and interaction created and still uphold the world in which we live. The poets, especially Homer, had first personified these forces as gods in human form; later the artists had evolved a means of representing them in visible and tangible shape, also in the medium of the human form. It was possible to express such fundamental forces or ideas by means of the human form, because in man Nature becomes self-conscious, contemplates and reflects herself.1 Man is a microcosm of the whole universe. While at work on a profile ofJupiter Goethe had “very curious thoughts about anthropomorphism, which is the basis of all religions”, and remembered with pleasure the bon mot: ” Tous les animaux sont raisonnables, l’homme seul est religieux.”* Goethe believed that in Italy the ultimate truth about the nature of things had been revealed to him, as it had been revealed to all the supreme artists of the past, above all to Raphael and to the Greek artists and Homer. The highest art could only be produced by an individual who was in touch with the whole universe, and understood the laws on which it was built. This is the central idea of Moritz’s essay Ueber die bildende Nachahmung des Schonen, which is the codification of Goethe’s new aesthetic ideas.3 Goethe himself wrote, in his essay on Einfache Nachahmung, Manier, Stil, “style [the highest form of artistic expression] rests on the foundations of knowledge, on the nature of things”. 4 This knowledge, which he now possessed, had come to him in Italy: first through sight of the ” Urlandschaft” round Naples and in Sicily, then through reading of Homer in those surroundings, and finally and most completely through study of Greek sculpture, by which he won the vision of the form of man, in unity and variety, a microcosm of the universe, key to the knowledge of God. 1 Gotterlehre, p. 22; already quoted above, p. 146. Letter to Herder, July 1789 (WA. rv, 9, p. 145). 3 For the Genie s relation to the universe cf. especially pp. 25-8, 31-3, 35, 36 (reprinted edition, Heidelberg, 1924). Cf. also Bied. 1, pp. 163-5, 1734 WA. 47, p. 80: “So ruht der Stil auf den tiefsten Grundfesten der Erkenntnis, auf dem Wesen der Dinge.” This essay appeared in the Teutscher Merkur, February 1789. 2 CHAPTER V FULL CLASSICISM: 1788-1805 Beim erneuerten Studium Homers empfinde ich erst ganz, welches unnennbare Unheil der jiidische Prass uns zugefugt hat. Hatten wir die Sodomitereien und agyptisch-babylonischen Grillen nie kennen lernen, und ware Homer unsere Bibel geblieben, welch’ eine ganz andere Gestalt wiirde die Menschheit dadurch gewonnen haben. A. BACK IN WEIMAR W HEN Goethe returned to Weimar in June 1788, and settled down to a new life in the old surroundings, he believed that he had found in Italy the secret of Greek supremacy in art and in living. In Naples and Sicily he had seen the conditions of climate and land which had made the Greek man possible. In the Italian character he had caught glimpses of this Greek man, but they had been fleeting and unsatisfying. In Homer then, re-read in Sicily, he had found the picture for which he was searching: man as God conceived him, developing with instinctive Tightness all his faculties to their allotted perfection. This “Urmensch” lived in harmony with Nature, however much he might have to battle with her in many of her manifestations. He did not ask that life should be other than what it was. Thus, at peace with God, he was granted exceptional revelations of ultimate truth, and, with the sure instinct of his nature, found the simplest means of giving artistic expression to these revelations, by faithful reproduction of the God-filled world around him. Goethe knew that the Greeks had been exceptionally favoured by circumstance. It had been enough for them to reproduce the world around them, because in that world Nature’s intentions were more perfectly expressed than in the modern world, more so particularly than in the modern world north of the Alps. It was therefore unlikely that any modern, northern artist could achieve what the Greeks had achieved. But Goethe knew of no alternative; the Greek way of artistic production was the only way by which the artist could fulfil 179 180 FULL CLASSICISM: 1788-1805 his function. The attempt must be made to follow the Greeks, despite the unfavourable circumstances of a northern artist’s life. The excellence of Greek art was based on the excellence of the Greek way of life; and the Greek way of life was based on the principle that every faculty in man should be allowed to develop freely in accordance with its nature. In modern society with its innumerable social and religious taboos, such free and natural development was impossible. Nowhere was the modern social code so destructive of the proper growth of mind and body as in the restrictions which it put on the sexual relations between man and woman. In der heroischen Zeit, da Gotter and Gottinnen liebten, Folgte Begierde dem Blick, folgte Genuss der Begier. Glaubst du es habe sich lange die Gottin der Liebe besonnen, Als im Idaischen Hain einst ihr Anchises gefiel? Hatte Luna gesaumt, den schonen Schlafer zu kiissen, O, so hatt’ ihn geschwind, neidend, Aurora geweckt. Hero erblickte Leander am lauten Fest, und behende, Stiirzte der Liebende sich heiss in die nachtliche Flut. Rhea Sylvia wandelt, die fiirstliche Jungfrau, der Tiber Wasser zu schopfen, hinab, und sie ergreifet ein Gott.1 This was the teaching and example of the ancient world in such matters, and Goethe was determined to follow it. Whether or not there was in fact a Roman “Faustina”, with whom he had had a semi-permanent relationship, there is no doubt that he took steps in Rome to satisfy the physical needs of his sexual nature, and so to keep his body in a “delightful equilibrium”. 2 It is clear that he attributed his “physical-moral troubles” of the last years before the Italian journey partly to the unnatural state of celibacy in which he had lived.3 On his return to 1 Romische Elegien, m (WA. i, p. 236; WA. iv, 8, p. 347; also ibid. p. 314): “In the heroic age, when gods and goddesses loved, desire arose at first sight, enjoyment came hard on desire. Do you suppose the goddess of love deliberated long, when once in the grove of Ida Anchises took her fancy? Had Luna been slow to kiss the fair sleeper, swiftly Aurora would have waked him in envy. Hero caught sight of Leander at the busy festival, and straight the lover plunged into the midnight flood. Rhea Sylvia, the royal maiden, goes down to the Tiber to draw water, and a god seizes her.” 2 “Ein kostliches Gleichgewicht.” 3 Cf. WA. iv, 8, p. 327, lines 17 foil. BACK IN WEIMAR 181 Weimar he lost little time in ensuring that he should not make the same mistake again. As Mars took Rhea Sylvia on her way to draw water at the Tiber, so Goethe took Christiane and made her his mistress. It was a relationship in the Italian style,1 founded not on a sentimental community of ideas or outlook (Christiane was illiterate and utterly incapable of sharing Goethe’s intellectual life), but on the simpler, deeper need of man and woman, and on the common joys and sorrows of making and rearing a family. Warum treibt sich das Volk so, und schreit? Es will sich ernahren, Kinder zeugen, und die nahren, so gut es vermag. Merke dir, Reisender, das, und thue zu Hause desgleichen. Weiter bringt es kein Mensch, stell er sich, wie er auch will.* This was the fundament of life, an existence based on the primary instincts. The common people lived so; the Greeks had lived so; the modern disciple of the Greeks must live so too. The return to “Nature” in sex matters carried Goethe even further than this. He loved Christiane and regarded her as his wife, but this did not prevent him, while in Venice, from seeking sexual satisfaction where he could find it. He was following a natural law, which was accepted as valid by the Greeks, that a certain degree of promiscuity is natural to the male. All the Achaean heroes at Troy had their mistresses; and Odysseus, though faithful in mind to Penelope through all his ten years’ wanderings, slept with Circe and Calypso and thought no wrong. A similar fundamental faithfulness, that is not disturbed by occasional promiscuity when circumstances demand, is one of the themes running through the Venetian Epigrams.3 For a pagan, promiscuity needed no other justifica1 Cf. WA. iv, 8, p. 314: “Was das Herz betrifft, so gehort es gar nicht in die Terminologie der hiesigen Liebeskanzley.” 2 Venezianische Epigramme, x (WA. 1, p. 310): “Why does the common folk jostle and shout so? They want to feed themselves, get children and feed them, as well as they may. Note that, traveller, and do the same at home. No man can do more, try how he will.” 3 In Nos. 3,13, 28, he longs for Christiane; 36-45 (Bettine), his eye begins to rove; 49, he remembers Christiane; 68-72 and 85, he goes to the brothel; 90, 91, 94, 96, 98, 100, 101, 102, but is fundamentally true to his wife and their son. 182 FULL CLASSICISM: 1788-1805 tion than the example of Zeus. In the myths of the loves of Zeus, that shock modern sentiment, the Greeks had given religious sanction to a practice that springs from the nature of man. In Goethe’s opinion modern sentiment was unnatural and therefore wrong. He was not ashamed to follow the Greeks. Goethe took Christiane in order to maintain the “kostliches Gleichgewicht” that he had established in Rome; but he soon found, what he had probably expected to find, that physical and spiritual are brothers not enemies. Goethe’s love for Christiane was a very different thing from his soul-matings with Lotte Buff and Frau von Stein. It was fundamentally physical, while these had been purely spiritual. But for a while at least it was for him a spiritual experience of great purity and intensity. Here too the Greeks showed him the way. Their holiest mysteries had taught the secrets of love-making. 1 Physical delights were hallowed by them as the command and teaching of a god. The discovery of what love in this sense meant, filled him with awe and wonder, and a deep joy. With his eyes he saw the very human body of his little German flower-girl; his spirit saw and worshipped the great goddess, Kupris-Aphrodite. The success of his experiment in pagan love enabled him for a moment to feel himself in harmony with life, as the Greeks had done. From the strength of this serenity he was able to give his experience poetic form in the Greek manner. Lebe gliicklich, und so lebe die Vorzeit in dir. He was happy, and for a brief space antiquity lived again in his poetry. He found the door to the “school of the Greeks” still open; the years had not closed it. 2 The Romische Elegien (“Erotica” Goethe first called them) were written between October 1788 and April 1790.3 The Roman elegists, especially 1 Romische Elegien, xn: WA. 1, p. 247. Goethe sought guidance also in the Priapea, a collection of Latin carmina in honour of Priapus. See WA. 53, 2 pp. 197 foil., 492. Elegy xm: WA. 1, p. 247. 3 Goethe was certainly misstating the facts when he told Goschen (4 July 1791; WA. iv, 9, p. 277) that he had written the elegies in Rome. Even if some of the elegies were begun in Rome, the greater part of the work was certainly done in Weimar (cf. Hans v. Arnim, Entstehung und Anordnung der Romischen Elegien. Deutsche Revue, XLVII, 2, p. 135). BACK IN WEIMAR 183 Propertius and Tibullus, provided the model for their form as well as for much of their content. But on a deeper plane their inspiration lay in Homer. In them for the first time Goethe was able to practise the style of composition that he had learnt in Sicily from his reading of the Odyssey. Their central theme is the love of the poet for his “Liebchen”. Goethe was no novice in this branch of poetry. Friederike, Lili, Charlotte von Stein, had all inspired him. Around each name there clings a group of Goethe’s love-poems. Each group is different in style and mood, but all have this in common, that they are lyrics, direct expressions of the emotion aroused in the poet by his love. From none can one learn much of the circumstances of that love, still less of the character or appearance of the beloved. 1 In the Romische Elegien the poet’s approach is entirely different. Several whole elegies and large parts of many others are devoted to a close description of his relations with his girl in their various aspects. The end of Elegy II explains the business basis of the liaison. In Elegy III he dispels her fears that he may despise her for having yielded to him so quickly. The fourth Elegy hints at the secret rites that lovers know, and at the end contains a description of the beloved as she first appeared to him. So each Elegy adds some touch to the picture of the two lovers, or sheds some light on the progress of their love. These passages of objective description are treated with the greatest simplicity, but with an “indescribable clarity and inner understanding”, 2 which makes them great and moving just as Homer’s description is great and moving. But this is not their only beauty. They are the essential element in the whole series of elegies. Without them the other themes—the Roman background, the conflict with society, the ancient gods and goddesses—could never have been brought together to give each its shade of deeper significance to the whole. At first Goethe intended to write just “Erotica”, descriptions of his love. Then because this love had helped him to recover the antique poise in living, he painted his Erotica on a Roman background, to symbolise this return to antiquity.3 The strictures of society 1 Those to Lili are the most objective, especially “Lili’s Park’, which is not really a lyric at all. But still it would not be possible to reconstruct the story of Goethe’s relationship to Lili from these poems alone. 2 3 Cf. above, p. 161. Cf v. Arnim’s article and Elegy VII. 184 FULL CLASSICISM: 1788-1805 were woven in, so that the happy love of man and woman might appear as a green island, in the sea of human pettiness; and through the whole there walk the radiant figures of the gods, who raise the poet’s common human experience to ideal significance, because like him they did not disdain to love. The simple experience which inspired the Romische Elegien worked like a stone dropped into a pool; from it spread rings of significance that lapped at last on the obscurest problems of existence. This was “style” as Goethe understood it after finding Greece in Italy: a faithful reproduction of Nature in a manner that rested on “the knowledge of the nature of things”. 1 For the execution of his intentions in detail Goethe also practised imitation of Greek and Latin models on a large scale. From his return to Italy until the end of the century the majority of his poetical works were written in classical metres, 2 and resembled classical models in their outward form. But this was not all. He was not ashamed to borrow innumerable traits, situations, metaphors and turns of phrase from classical authors. This was indeed nothing new: Iphigenie, even in its earlier form, was full, as we have seen, of such borrowings; and even in the days of Sturm und Drang the Greek authors sometimes lent him material. 3 But now this borrowing was an essential part of his poetic technique, and was made into a principle of composition. This principle is laid down in a letter to Meyer, written while Goethe was at work on the Romische Elegien. Meyer, who had sent Goethe a sketch for a picture representing Oedipus guessing the riddle of the sphinx, 5 had excused himself for making Oedipus’s attitude resemble a figure of Pylades on an antique vase. Goethe replied 6: “It 1 See Einfache Nachahmung, Manier, Stil: WA. 47, p. 80; and cf. Elegy XIII, line 24: WA. 1, p. 249. 2 3 See Appendix below. See above, pp. 61-62. 4 April 27, 1789 (WA. iv, 9, p. n o ) ; cf. ibid. p. 26, line 22; also WA. 48, pp. 43, 64; WA. 49, 2, p. 19, line 22, and WA. 33, p. 254. 5 Reproduced in Schr. der G-G. xxxvm, No. 2. 6 WA. rv, 9, p. n o : “Es hat gar nichts zu bedeuten, dass Ihr Oedipus dem Pylades auf der Vase einigermassen gleicht. In dem Kreise, in welchem Sie arbeiten, liegen die Niiancen gar nah beisammen. Die menschliche Figur ist von den Altenso durchgearbeitet, dass wir schwerlich eine ganzneue Stellung hervorbringen werden, ohne aus den Grenzen des guten Geschmacks zu schreiten. Es kommt nur darauf an dass sie das ausdrucke, was wir gedacht haben, und dass wir sie zu unsrer Absicht wieder hervorbringen konnen.” BACK IN WEIMAR 185 does not matter, that your Oedipus is somewhat like the Pylades on the vase. In the field in which you work, the nuances are so very slight. The human figure has been so thoroughly worked over by the ancients, that we can hardly expect to produce an entirely new attitude without transgressing the limits of good taste. The important thing is that it should express what we have thought, and that we should be able to reproduce it for our own purpose.” Goethe was thinking of his own problems as well as Meyer’s when he wrote this judgment. He had accepted the whole of ancient literature and art as an indispensable source from which to draw the means of sensual expression for his ideas. A certain amount of adaptation to the individual context was all that these borrowed traits needed. In the manner of this adaptation lay Goethe’s opportunity to exercise his genius. The Romische Elegien offer innumerable examples,1 amongst which the myth of Fama and Amor, in the nineteenth Elegy, presents the best occasion for a study of Goethe’s methods. This myth of the eternal conflict between reputation and love occurs nowhere in ancient literature or mythology. It was invented by Goethe to give poetic expression to the trouble which the gossips of Weimar were causing him. But each individual motiv in the execution of the idea is taken from some writer or work of art of antiquity. Bronner has proved direct use of material from the Latin elegists, Ovid, the Greek Anthology, an antique gem, the Odyssey and “Anacreon”.2 The result of this wholesale plagiarism is a poem of great originality, true in its conception and vital in its expression. The same method of direct imitation, with a larger or smaller element of adaptation, is easy to detect in all the other “classicising” works of this period. The Venezianische Epigramme take their material chiefly from the Latin elegists and Martial. 3 In Amyntas and Der neue Pausias Goethe made free use of Theocritus, the Anthology and other Greek and Latin authors.4 The Achilleis is full of reminiscences of Homer, Hesiod and the tragedians. The Helena of 1800 1 Cf. Goethes romische Elegien und ihre Quellen, by F. Bronner, in Neue Jahrbucher fur Philologie, 1893’» also Die Gottin der Gelegenheit, by Leitzmann, in Euphorion, XVIII, p. 158. 2 4 P. 453. Cf.JA. 1, pp. 354, 355. 3 Ernst Maass,/r&. der G-G. XII, pp. 68 foil. 186 FULL CLASSICISM: 1788-1805 borrows freely from the tragedians. Only Hermann und Dorothea carries its sources of material within itself. The Romische Elegien, and in a lower degree, the Venezianische Epigramme, show Goethe’s new style of composition “im Sinne der Alten”. Tasso, on the other hand, composed for the most part during the first months of Goethe’s work on the Romische Elegien, owes almost nothing to the new principle of “Homeric style”. Apart from the use of a few Greek turns of speech1 (a habit that had by now become subconscious with Goethe), there is nothing in Tasso to remind one of the Greek tragedians or of Homer. Its greatness lies in the combined power and subtlety with which it portrays the psychological condition of an abnormally subjective man, who through the fault of his nature falls into a state of morbid distrust of the world around him. It is a state as far removed as possible from that of the Greek man, living in perfect harmony with Nature; and the means suitable for its portrayal were not any that the Greeks had known, but rather those that Goethe had perfected in Iphigenie for exploring emotional conditions into their finest ramifications. In style and mood Tasso is nearer to Iphigenie than to any other of the great works that Goethe produced during the fifteen years after his return from Rome. The lofty “Humanitdt” that inspires all the characters was Goethe’s preItalian ideal, which after Italy he tended to despise. The conflict between “Erlaubt ist, was gefallt” and “Erlaubt ist, was sich ziemt” 2 was the chief problem of his first ten years in Weimar, and the essence of his relationship with Frau von Stein. In Italy he found the synthesis, and so the conflict ceased to interest him. Tasso is a relic of the troubled years before the Italian journey. That is precisely its interest to us. It reminds us that Goethe’s genius was always more powerful than any particular obsession that might for a time have a hold on his intellect. After Rome Hellenism was an obsession with Goethe. It was an ideal from which, with German concentration, his intellect was busy drawing “last consequences”, and demanding that he should put these into practice in art and in life. If Goethe’s intellect had not been more than balanced by an 1 Cf. H. Morsch, Goethe und die griechischen Buhnendichter, p. 35. Lines 994-1006: “What is pleasant, is allowed” and “What is proper, is allowed”. 2 BACK IN WEIMAR 187 emotional life of great power and depth, this obsession might have worked negatively, so as to make him reject any productive urge that could not be made to conform to the rules of the obsession. The need to give the Tasso-problem its final expression was imperious after Goethe’s return from Italy. It was a subject that could not be treated “in the manner of the ancients”; and so in spite of his obsession, Goethe treated it as it had to be treated, in the manner that suited it. The first eighteen months after Goethe’s return to Weimar saw Tasso finished and the greater part of the work on the Romische Elegien completed. In the spring of 1790 the Venezianische Epigramme came as a pendant to the two great works of this productive period. After the Epigrams, which already show his genius flagging, there lies a period of three years in which Goethe could produce nothing worthier of immortality than der Burgergeneral and der Gross-Kophta. The only literary work of this period that has any connexion with Goethe’s Hellenism is the unfinished allegorical story, Die Reise der Sohne Megaprazons. The political problems of the day form the subject of the allegory; the setting is taken in part from Rabelais; the local colour, in so far as there is any, is modern;1 but the names of the six brothers are Greek. This mixture of Greek and modern throws light on Goethe’s attitude to the Greek tradition. The sons represent human characters in ideal expression. It was fitting therefore to give them Greek names— Epistemon the understanding eldest brother; Panurg the tireless worker; Eutyches the carefree youngest—since the Greeks had first evolved, and best understood, the representation of ideal characters. The Greek names also helped to preserve for the individualised ideas their timeless significance. But it was not necessary to place the whole story in an ancient Greek setting, with Greek costume and historical background. The significance of Greece for the modern world was in Goethe’s view quite independent of the outward circumstances of Greek life. The unproductive period, 1790-1793, was for Goethe a period of generally lessened interest in Greek things. On 5 November 1789 he wrote to Karl August: “I am going 1 WA. 18, p. 371. 188 FULL C L A S S I C I S M : 1788-1805 ahead eagerly with Greek.” 1 From then until November 1793, when he turned once again to Homer, there is evidence on only one occasion of Greek reading: in the last days of January 1793, he read the Symposium, Phaedrus and Apology of Plato with great delight.2 His interest in Greek art was kept alive by his correspondence with Meyer; and, from November 1791 onwards, by Meyer’s presence in Weimar. But his researches, except those connected with the portrayal of ideal characters in sculpture,3 were desultory and unproductive. The most important event in this period for the development of his knowledge and understanding of Greek art was his acquisition on loan of the gem collection of Princess Gallitzin. The collection arrived in Weimar in January 1793,4 and remained in Goethe’s hands until February 1797.5 The possession of this fine collection enabled Goethe to acquire a comprehensive and thorough knowledge of a branch of ancient art which he had previously been able to study only for fleeting moments, as the chance of his travels brought him in contact with this collection or that. He was never tired of expressing his thanks for the loan both privately and publicly.6 In January 1793, Goethe’s genius struggled clear of the deadening influences which had reduced it to impotence for three years, and produced in less than three months the four thousand hexameters ofReinecke Fuchs. According to Goethe’s own account in the Campagne in Frankreich? he chose the hexameter for his re-working of this medieval epic, because he wished to give himself practice in writing this metre according to the stricter rules which Voss was beginning to preach and to practise.8 In fact the reason for his choice lay deeper. In its 1 “Das Griechische wird eifrig betrieben”: WA. iv, 9, p. 161. Theocritus and the other Greek idyllic poets were probably his chief study. Cf. WA. in, 2, p. 323. 2 WA. iv, 10, p. 47. The reference in a letter to Jacobi of March 1790 (Ibid. 9, p. 184) to “studying the ancients and following their example”, probably alludes to Goethe’s study of the Priapea. Cf. WA. 53, pp. 491-2. 3 4 See above, p. 176. Cf. WA. in, 2, p. 30. 5 WA. iv, 12, p. 32. 6 Ibid. 12, pp. 8, 32; 33, pp. 253 foil., 259; 48, p. 133; 49, 2, p. 102. For further occupation with ancient art in this period (1790-1793) see Schr. der G-G. xxxn (Goethe-Meyer Briefwechsel), pp. 60, 65, 67, 74, 76; also WA. iv, 9, p. 218, 10, pp. 37, 54, 73. 7 8 WA. 33, p. 266. See Appendix below. “ “ BACK IN WEIMAR 189 FULL CLASSICISM: 1788-1805 B. SCHILLER The summer of 1794 is a landmark in Goethe’s life. It brought him Schiller’s friendship. To Schiller is usually given all the credit for the reawakening of Goethe’s genius; but in fact the process had begun with Reinecke Fuchs, and was continuing in the return to Homer, and still more notably in the work on Wilhelm Meister. Goethe had taken this up again in March 1793, and had found the courage to bind himself to finish it, before the “Bund mit Schiller” had been formally sealed by the exchange of letters of 23 and 27 August 1794. Nevertheless Schiller’s friendship completed the process of emancipation, and enabled Goethe to enter on a period of productivity hardly less remarkable than the hectic years of Sturm und Drang. With extraordinary speed and sureness Schiller broke down the many fences of distrust that guarded Goethe’s heart. Goethe gave him passage, because he found in the younger man understanding for his new life-purpose, such as no one else had been able to show him since his return from Italy. Not the smallest part of Goethe’s delight was due to Schiller’s clear realisation and approval of the position and function of the Greek ideal in that purpose. On 23 August 1794, when the rapprochement between the two proud men of genius had been in progress little more than two months and was still a far from hardy shoot, Schiller took a step that a lesser man would not have dared to take, or, had he dared, would not have carried out successfully. He wrote to Goethe and analysed to him his own genius and the nature of the task which he had set himself to accomplish. “For long,” he wrote, “although at a considerable distance, I have watched the progress of your spirit, and have with ever renewed admiration noted the road that you have set for yourself. You are seeking law in Nature, but you seek it by the hardest path, that any weaker mind would avoid. You take the whole of Nature together, in order to get light on the individual; you seek the explanation of the individual in the sum of Nature’s manifestations. Beginning from the simplest organism, you mount step by step to the more SCHILLER 193 complex, so that at the last you may construct the most complex of all, man, organically out of the materials of the whole temple of Nature. By re-creating as it were in Nature, you seek to probe the secret technique of man’s creation. A great and truly heroic idea ! that displays sufficiently, how well your spirit holds the varied totality of its conceptions in a proper unity. You can never have hoped that your life would suffice for the accomplishment of such a purpose; but only to set out on such a path, is worth more than to complete any other. You have chosen, like Achilles in the Iliad, between Phthia and immortality. If you had been born a Greek, or even an Italian, and had been surrounded from the cradle by an ideal Nature and an idealising art, your way would have been enormously shortened, perhaps made quite unnecessary. With your first perception of things you would then have absorbed the form of the ideal, and with your first experiences the great style would have developed in you. Now that you have been born a German, now that your Grecian spirit has been thrown into this northern world, you had but the two alternatives, either to become a northern artist, or to provide your imagination by means of your intellect with the material which the real world could not give it, and so to produce your Greece as it were from within, by an intellectual process. In that period of your life when the spirit is creating its inner world out of the outer world, you were surrounded by imperfect forms, and so had already been imbued with a lawless, northern world; but your victorious genius, mightier than the material world, discovered this imperfection from within, and was confirmed in its view by evidence from without, through acquaintance with the Greek world. You then had to correct the older, worser world, that had been forced upon your imagination, in accordance with the pattern that your creative spirit made for itself. That can be accomplished only with the help of guiding principles. But this logical tendency, which the spirit cannot avoid in contemplation, is not easily compatible with the aesthetic function, through which it creates. You had therefore one more labour: as you previously passed from perception to abstraction, so now you had to turn logical conceptions back into intuition, and change thought into feeling, since genius can bring forth only with the help of the 194 FULL CLASSICISM: 1788-1805 1 latter.” In these words Schiller gave back to Goethe his lost confidence in the Tightness of his struggle to recapture Greek standards in life and in art, and so achieve the highest form of existence of which man is capable. 1 Jonas, m, pp. 472-4: “Lange schon habe ich, obgleich aus ziemlicher Feme, dem Gang Ihres Geistes zugesehn, und den Weg, den Sie Sich vorgezeichnet haben, mit immer erneuerter Bewunderung bemerkt. Sie suchen das Notwendige der Natur, aber Sie suchen es auf dem schwersten Weg, vor welchem jede schwachere Kraft sich wohl hiiten wird. Sie nehmen die ganze Natur zusammen, um iiber das Einzelne Licht zu bekommen; in der Allheit ihrer Erscheinungsarten suchen Sie den Erklarungsgrund fur das Individuum auf. Von der einfachen Organisation steigen Sie, Schritt vor Schritt, zu den mehr verwickelten hinauf, um endlich die verwickeltste von alien, den Menschen, genetisch aus den Materialien des ganzen Naturgebaudes zu erbauen. Dadurch dass Sie in der Natur gleichsam nacherschafTen, suchen Sie in seine verborgene Technik einzudringen. Eine grosse und wahrhaft heldenmassige Idee, die zur Geniige zeigt, wie sehr Ihr Geist das reiche Ganze seiner Vorstellungen in einer schonen Einheit zusammenhalt. Sie konnen niemals gehofFt haben, dass Ihr Leben zu einem solchen Ziele zureichen werde, aber einen solchen Weg auch nur einzuschlagen, ist mehr wert, als jeden anderen zu endigen,—und Sie haben gewahlt wie Achill in der Ilias, zwischen Phthia und der Unsterblichkeit. Waren Sie als ein Grieche, j a nur als ein Italiener geboren worden, und hatte schon von der Wiege an eine auserlesene Natur und eine idealisirende Kunst Sie umgeben, so ware Ihr Weg unendlich verkiirzt, vielleicht ganz (iberflussig gemacht worden. Schon in die erste Anschauung der Dinge hatten Sie dann die Form des Notwendigen aufgenommen, und mit Ihren ersten Erfahrungen hatte sich der grosse Stil in Ihnen entwickelt. Nun, da Sie ein Deutscher geboren sind, da Ihr griechischer Geist in diese nordische Schopfung geworfen wurde, so blieb Ihnen keine andere Wahl, als entweder selbst zum nordischen Kiinstler zu werden, oder Ihrer Imagination das,, was ihr die Wirklichkeit vorenthielt, durch Nachhilfe der Denkkraft zu ersetzen, und so gleichsam von innen heraus und auf einem rationalen Wege ein Griechenland zu gebaren. In derjenigen Lebensepoche, wo die Seele sich aus der ausseren Welt ihre innere bildet, von mangelhaften Gestalten umringt, hatten Sie schon eine wilde und nordische Natur in sich aufgenommen, als Ihr siegendes, seinem Material iiberlegenes Genie diesen Mangel von innen entdeckte, und von aussen her durch die Bekanntschaft mit der griechischen Natur davon vergewissert wurde. Jetzt mussten Sie die alte, Ihrer Einbildungskraft schon aufgedrungene schlechtere Natur nach dem besseren Muster, das Ihr bildender Geist sich erschuf, corrigieren, und das kann nun freilich nicht anders als nach leitenden Begriffen von Statten gehen. Aber diese logische Richtung, welche der Geist bei der Reflexion zu nehmen genotigt ist, vertragt sich nicht wohl mit der asthetischen, durch welche allein er bildet. Sie hatten also eine Arbeit mehr, denn so wie Sie von der Anschauung zu der Abstraction iibergingen, so mussten Sie nun riickwarts Begriffe wieder in Intuitionen umsetzen, und Gedanken in Gefiihle verwandeln, weil nur durch diese das Genie hervorbringen kann.” SCHILLER 195 The fundamental importance of Hellenism became ever clearer as the two friends revealed to each other more of their problems and beliefs. Schiller had for some time been devoting his best energies to a philosophical enquiry into the nature of beauty and its importance for man. The first results of this enquiry were published in June 1793, in the essay Ueber Anmut und Wurde. Reduced to the simplest language, Schiller’s contention in this essay is that a complete victory for man’s moral nature in the age-old conflict between duty and inclination, spirit and matter, ” Sittlichkeit” and ” Sinnlichkeit”‘, is not desirable because it is not “beautiful”. For him the highest form of human existence is reached when man can stand above the moral conflict because he desires only what his moral instinct approves.1 To despise the world of sense is as much an imperfection in man as to become subjugated by the material element in life. Harmony and co-operation between the two instincts are necessary before “the ideal of perfect humanity” can be attained.2 Of course such a condition of harmony presupposes complete control of the sensual instincts by the will. But this alone is not enough; it gives man only dignity. 3 As long as any trace of conflict or effort in suppressing the sensual instincts is visible, perfection is not achieved, because beauty 3 is lacking. The Greeks understood this highest morality, that is above morality, and gave it expression at least in their art. Schiller cites the Niobe and the Apollo Belvedere.4 This was the point at which Schiller had arrived when he and Goethe came together in the summer of 1794. By a very different road he had reached the same position as Goethe. To their surprise they found themselves side by side on the same lofty pinnacle, looking down on a misunderstanding world. It was the miracle that Goethe needed to restore his faith in himself and God. Schiller was already engaged on a fuller exposition of his morality of beauty. Since June 1794 he had been at work on those letters which later became the Briefe Uber die dsthetische Erziehung des Menschen, in which he intended fully to define and establish the nature of beauty and its dominant position 1 Schiller, Werke, xiv, pp. 33-43, especially pp. 36 and 42, 43. Ibid. p. 54. 4 3 “Wurde” and “Anmut”. Werke, xiv, p. 57. 2 ip6 FULL CLASSICISM: 1788-1805 in the nature of the proper man. Before he had advanced far, his contact with Goethe had begun to enrich and deepen his ideas. Joachim Ulrich has attempted with great skill to establish the exact extent of Goethe’s influence on the Aesthetische Briefe.1 He attributes, no doubt rightly, the contrasted pictures of Greek and modern society in the Sixth Letter2 to his influence. The essence of this contrast is that the Greeks were complete men, whereas we are cogs in the machine of the community. Each individual Greek was a worthy representative of the species. With us the individual represents only one aspect of the idea of the species. Thousands of individuals must be taken together in order to get a true conception of that idea. Until each individual is once again complete, with all his powers fully developed and in use, society will not recover from its ills. In the later letters Schiller points the road that is to lead mankind upwards to the new “completeness”.3 His solution is the morality of beauty, by which the conflict of spirit and matter is overcome. Ulrich’s contention that Goethe is responsible for the whole conception of a third, harmonising instinct (the ” Spieltrieb”, play-instinct), is perhaps misleading. Already in Ueber Anmut und Wurde Schiller had used the term “Spiel” to denote that condition of moral freedom which results when man is able to .rise above the conflict of duty and desire.4 But it may be true that Goethe’s encouragement induced Schiller to give man’s capacity for harmony the rank of an “instinct” (Trieb), to make it, that is to say, as fundamental an element in man’s nature as his “Fortntrieb” (moral instinct) and his “Stoffirieb” (material instinct). Once again in the Aesthetische Briefe the illustration of the morality of beauty is taken from Greek art. The Greeks embodied their ideal of life in their gods. “They released the blessed ones from the bonds of every object, every duty, every care, and made idleness and indifference the envied lot of godhead, applying merely human names to the freest and loftiest existence.”5 The Ludovisi Juno (Goethe’s favourite antique) is cited as the perfect expression of the highest moral state, above conflict, above desire, above moral effort of any sort. 1 3 5 Jrb. der G-G. xx, pp. 164-212. “Ganzheit.” Ibid. pp. 175 foil. 2 4 Werke, xiv, pp. 132-4. Ibid. p. 36. SCHILLER 197 Schiller’s next philosophical essay, Ueber naive und sentimentalische Dichtung* shows even clearer traces of Goethe’s influence. For here it is not merely the Greek gods, in their representation in art, who are cited as illustrations of perfect humanity. The Greeks themselves are given the credit of having achieved perfection in real life. Schiller contrasts the modern way of life with that of the Greeks. Why, he asks, do we moderns feel a sentimental delight in contemplation of inconscient Nature, in brooks and trees, in sunsets and birdsong? And why was this emotion unknown to the Greeks? It is because we have exiled ourselves from Nature by our artificial manner of life. We long to return, but we cannot. Our society is an artificial patchwork;* our religion the product of over-subtle reasoning: we feel that our humanity is a failure and are only too glad to escape from “a form that has failed so utterly” to the naive Tightness of Nature.3 The Greeks on the other hand were still part of Nature. They felt no need to escape from a humanity divided within itself. For they were not divided. They were whole. “United in himself and happy to feel himself a man, he was content to regard humanity as the highest and to endeavour to raise the rest of Nature to this level.”* This is in all essentials the picture of the Greeks which Goethe won for himself in Sicily. It was part of Goethe’s belief, that the Greeks really had been perfect men (just as he hoped to find the ” Urpjlanze” growing in Sicily), not merely that they had been able to express the ideal in their art. This passage in Ueber naive und sentimentalische Dichtung can be taken as being a very exact expression of Goethe’s own view of the Greek ideal and its relation to modern man. There is no relevant utterance of this date from Goethe himself. For Goethe the Greek way of life was at this time too living a necessity for him to be able to define it in any but poetically allusive terms. Ten years later, when he had at last realised that it was unattainable, he wrote: 5 “Man is capable of much through proper use of isolated 1 Werke, xv, pp. 1-102. Begun in 1794, but mostly written in the latter 2 half of 179 5. Machwerk der Kunst. 3 “Eine so mislungene Form”: Ibid. pp. 18-21. 4 Ibid. pp. 18-21. 5 W A . 46, pp. 21-3: Winckelmann und sein Jahrhundert, “Antikes”. 198 FULL CLASSICISM: 1788-1805 abilities; he can produce extraordinary results if he combines several gifts; but the unique, the utterly unexpected, he achieves only when all his qualities unite in him in equal force. This last was the fortunate lot of the ancients, especially of the Greeks in their lpest period. We moderns are forced by Fate to content ourselves with the first two.” 1 The highest creation of Nature is man, when he “works as a whole, when he feels himself in the world as in a great, fair, worthy and valuable whole”.* Modern man attempts the unlimited and, failing, must be content to confine himself to some specialised sphere of activity; the ancients were content to occupy themselves within “the delightful boundaries of the lovely world. Here they had been set; this was their appointed place; here they found room for their energy, material and nourishment for their emotional life.”3 “Feeling and thought were not yet split in pieces, that scarce remediable cleavage in the healthy nature of man had not yet taken place.”4 How consistently Goethe held to the essence of his Greek creed can be seen when these passages from Winckelmann und sein Jahrhundert (1805) are compared with the words in which he described his emotion at sight of the antique stelae in Verona, nearly twenty years before.5 There the “scarce remediable cleavage” of modern life is symbolised in the knight in armour who casts his eyes to Heaven and awaits the mystical bliss ofa resurrection in a better world. The ancients on the other hand, even in their thoughts of death, stayed within the “pleasant boundaries of the lovely world”. “There one sees a man, who stands with 1 “Der Mensch vermag gar manches durch zweckmassigen Gebrauch einzelner Krafte, er vermag das Ausserordentliche durch Verbindung mehrerer Fahigkeiten; aber das Einzige, ganz Unerwartete leistet er nur, wenn sich die sammtlichen Eigenschaften gleichmassig in ihm vereinigen. Das letzte war das gliickliche Los der Alten, besonders der Griechen in ihrer besten Zeit; auf die beiden ersten sind wir Neueren vom Schicksal angewiesen.” 2 “Als ein Ganzes wirkt, wenn er sich in der Welt als in einem grossen, schonen, wiirdigen und werten Ganzen fuhlt.” 3 “Innerhalb der lieblichen Grenzen der schonen Welt. Hieher waren sie gesetzt, hiezu berufen, hier fand ihre Tatigkeit Raum, ihre Leidenschaft Gegenstand und Nahrung.” 4 “Noch fand sich das Gefuhl, die Betrachtung nicht zerstiickelt, noch war jene kaum heilbare Trennung in der gesunden Menschenkraft nicht vorgegangen.” 5 WA. m, 1, pp. 199 foil. SCHILLER 199 his women-folk and looks out of a niche as though out of a window. There stand father and mother, their son between them, and look at each other with indescribable naturalness. There a couple take each other’s hands.”1 In Verona, if not earlier, the sickness of the modern world and the soundness of the ancient were revealed to Goethe. What he saw and learnt in Rome and Sicily confirmed that revelation and enriched it. The necessity for “Ganzheit”, wholeness, as the complement to antique contentment in the world, came to him in Italy also.2 In both its senses—both as freedom from the moral conflict and as the ability to develop the human personality in well-balanced universality—Goethe took “wholeness” as his creed during the fifteen years after his return from Italy. In preparatory work for an unwritten essay of 1798 or 1799 he wrote: “The highest idea of man can be attained only through manysidedness, liberality. The Greek was capable of this in his day. The European is still capable of it.” 3 It is far truer to say of him than of Winckelmann that his life was “whole and rounded, entirely in the antique manner”. 4 Winckelmann was only a scholar of genius. The gift that made him great was confined in its working to a very limited sphere of human activity. But Goethe was a universal genius such as even Greece had not known, except perhaps (who can say?) in Homer. The unfailing energy which is the basic element of genius, found in his case an outlet not only in his poetic gift (which was itself of an extraordinarily universal character); in the realm of the spirit he was not content to accept the condition of an amateur in any branch of natural science or art. In politics, so essential a part of the life of every Greek,5 he was 1 “ “ See above, p. 126. WA. iv, 8, pp. 231-2, 324. Cf. KorfF, Geist der Goethezeit, 11, p. 321. Herder’s clear picture of the Greeks in his Ideen (Werke, xrv, pp. 92-150), with its emphasis on their many-sided genius (pp. 92, 98, 129) and on the perfect flowering of their culture (pp. 143, 121), no doubt gave Goethe valuable support in clarifying his own conception of the Greeks. Goethe read this part of the Ideen in Italy (WA. 32, pp. 105, n o , 112, 113, and iv, 8, p. 233). 3 WA. 47, p. 292: “Der hochste Begriffvom Menschen kann nur durch Vielseitigkeit, Liberalitat erlangt werden.—Dessen war zu seiner Zeit der Grieche fahig.—Der Europaer ist es noch.” 4 WA. 46, 24: “Ganz und abgeschlossen, vollig im Antiken Sinne.” 5 Cf. WA. 46, p. 23, line 3. 2 “ To write as a German under the guidance of the Greek ideal, no longer satisfied him. He would write now as a Greek; he would continue the Iliad; he would add jewels to the broken necklace of Greek tragedy. The possible had been granted him. Now, still Faust at heart for all his Hellenism, he would accomplish the impossible. C. CRISIS AND FAILURE In the summer and autumn of 1797 Goethe set to work to codify his beliefs on the nature and proper practice of the plastic arts. His aesthetic ideas had attained their final form in Italy; but the essays which he published in the Teutscher Merkur on his return to Weimar1 are in no way an exhaustive exposition of these ideas. During the following years he com1 Zur Theorie der bildenden Kunst, WA. 47, pp. 60-76; Einfache Nachahtnung der Natur, Manier, Stil, ibid. pp. 77-83; Ueber die bildende Nachahtnung des Schonen von C. P. Moritz, ibid. pp. 84-90; Ueber Christus und die zwolfApostel, ibid. pp. 227-34; Von Arabesken, ibid. 235-41; Frauenrollen aufdem romischen Theater durch Manner gespielt, ibid. pp. 269-74. 216 FULL CLASSICISM: 1788-1805 municated his aesthetic theories only to Meyer. Their correspondence contains many important utterances on the subject. But it was not until Schiller’s friendship gave him courage again to work for the good and the true, that Goethe roused himself to write down and to publish his ideas on art. Even these essays, which appeared in, or were intended for, the Propylden, do not form a logically developed theory of art in its nature and application. Goethe’s fundamental conception of the function of art in the world could not be discussed in the antechamber of the temple.1 Nevertheless a fairly complete picture of his beliefs can be put together from these essays and fragments. In particular the position of Greek art in the whole structure is clear enough. “Re-creation from the idea” was here, as in literature, the basic conception in Goethe’s theory and practice. Mechanical imitation of the Visible world was not art in its highest sense; nor yet could this high title be claimed by “Manier”‘, a system of conventional formulas that represented nothing but the artist’s individual manner of seeing and expressing the world. 2 The artist who would deserve the name, must know how to see through the confusion of phenomena to the ideas or intentions that strive unsuccessfully to find expression in the world and so “rivalling Nature, to bring forth something spiritually organic”. 3 This highest art, which “seizes the object on that plane where it is stripped of all that is common and individual”,4 was understood and practised by the Greeks as by no other race.5 The stupendous task of re-expressing Nature’s intentions in sculpture or painting was fulfilled by the Greeks with extraordinary ease. This was due only in small part to the excellence of their technical methods, though this excellence was assumed by Goethe not only in sculpture but also in painting. Both Goethe and Meyer at this time denied that the Greeks had understood less about painting than the moderns; 6 their under2 Cf. WA. 47, p. 5 . Ibid. pp. 77-79, 82, 83. ? “Etwas geistig Organisches”: Ibid. p. 12 in Einleitung in die Propylden. 4 “Man fasst inn auf der Hohe, wo er von allem Gemeinen und Individuellen entkleidet [ist].” 5 Ueber die Gegenstdnde der bildenden Kunst, Ibid: pp. 91, 92. 6 Schr. der G-G. xxxn, p. 175; WA. n, 3, p. 120. By 1803 Goethe had modified his claims for Greek painting (Polygnot, WA. 48, pp. 100, 102), 1 3 CRISIS AND FAILURE 217 standing of the mysteries of colour-harmony was believed by Goethe to be greater than that of any modern painter or scientist.1 Their success in expressing the ideal was due to the instinctive Tightness with which they chose their subjects. In the first place they knew exactly what could, and what could not, be expressed in paint or marble. They avoided the fault so often made by modern artists of trying to express moral ideas in a sensual medium. Only certain moral ideas are suitable to representation by the plastic arts, namely those “which are most closely related to the sensual world and permit of expression through form and attitude”. 2 The Greeks knew that a work of plastic art must express everything in and by itself.3 The supreme example of such a self-expressing work of art was the Laocoon. Goethe believed, as we have seen,4 that the statues of the gods were the greatest contribution of the Greek genius to art and to the human race. They were a revelation, for those who had eyes to see, of the ultimate nature of the world and of man in it. When the brothers Riepenhausen dared to suggest that Greek art was incapable of symbolising such profound truths, which had become the property of art only with the revelation of the Christian religion, Goethe’s ire was roused and he thundered against the “neo-catholic sentimentality” and “das klosterbrudrisirende, sternbaldisirende Unwesen”.5 Nevertheless he never expounded his doctrine of ideal characters in public. In the Propylden essays there is hardly a hint of this inner teaching. It was the mystical basis of Goethe’s aesthetic creed, and it was not communicable to all and sundry. The statues of the gods are not often cited by Goethe in these essays. though in 1808 he still resented the commonly repeated assertion that in painting the Greeks had not been the equals of the moderns (Bied. n, p. 12). 1 Schr. der G-G. xxxn, pp. 175, 195, 208, 217, 270; WA. n, 3, pp. 61, 108-23, especially pp. 116, 120. 2 Schr. der G-G. xxxn, p. 37. Cf. Einleitung in die Propylden, WA. 47, p. 18. 3 Schr. der G-G. xxxn, p. 28: “Man sollte sich nicht etwas bei dem Bilde 4 denken.” See above, pp. 177-8. 5 W A . 48, p. 122: Herzensergiessungen eines kunstliebenden Klosterbruders by Wackenroder and Tieck’s Franz Sternbald were the two works in which the standard of Romantic medievalism in art was raised against Classicism. .218 FULL C L A S S I C I S M : 1788-1805 Their pre-excellence is assumed; they are “the first and favourite subjects of sculpture”; 1 but no analysis of their greatness is given. In the less lofty subjects of human action and suffering the Greek genius showed itself no less supreme; and Goethe was eager to point out the reasons for this excellence. His ideas found their most consequent expression in the essay Ueber Laokoori2 and in his reconstruction of the wall-paintings of the fifth-century Athenian painter, Polygnotus. 3 In both these works Goethe admired above all the profundity of the conception and the wisdom with which the central theme was set off by balancing or contrasting secondary motives. In the paintings by Polygnotus Goethe admitted that the technique must have been so crude that the composition can have had no unity of visible form but only of thought and feeling.4 Nevertheless the idea itself was so powerful in its simplicity, yet so rich in effective motives, that Goethe recommended it and similar “simplelofty and profound-naive” subjects with eager insistence to the artists of his day. W e need quote only a short passage, from his comments on the central painting, the “Glorification of Helen”, to illustrate what it was that Goethe most admired in Greek works of art of this kind. The moment chosen by the artist is after the sack of Troy, when the Greeks are about to sail home with their booty. The captured Trojan women are shown, herded together, bewailing their lot. Wounded Trojans, the last remnant of that glorious army that for ten years successfully resisted the Greek attack, are also shown in captivity. “And all this suffering of body and spirit, for whose sake is it endured? For a woman’s sake, the symbol of the highest beauty. There she sits, a queen again, waited on and surrounded by her maids, admired by a former lover and suitor, greeted with awe by a herald…. Among the crowd of captives she sits as a queen, in whose power it lies to loose and to bind. Every sin against her majesty brings the bitterest consequences; her sin is wiped out by her presence…. U p to this moment the 1 WA. 47, p. 105. Published in the Propylden, Snick 1, 1798: WA. 47, pp. 101-17. Polygnots Gemdlde in der Lesche zu Delphi. 1803, published in the Jena Allgemeine Litteratur-Zeitung: WA. 48, pp. 83-122. 4 Ibid. p. 104. 2 3 CRISIS AND FAILURE 219 object of a destructive war, she now appears as the fairest prize of victory; raised upon heaps of dead and of captives, she sits enthroned at the summit of her power. All is forgiven and forgotten; for she is there again.”1 Every subsidiary figure was designed by position and association to impress on the onlooker this central idea. The Laocoon group shows the same grandeur of conception and the same faultless planning of the means of execution. These qualities, together with the technical mastery of the material, made it in Goethe’s view a perfect work, from which one could deduce all the laws of art.2 It is not necessary for my purpose to discuss the whole of Goethe’s analysis of the group. That has often been done before; and it would throw little light on Goethe’s conception of the Greeks, except to emphasise the fact that he held them to have been all-wise and allcompetent in matters of art. Two points alone need be stressed* The first conception of the Laocoon group was great in Goethe’s eyes, because the artists had stripped the subject of all its local and secondary associations such as Laocoon’s priesthood, his Trojan nationality, and all the special circumstances of the fable, and so permitted the purely human aspect of the situation to receive all the emphasis of their art. Laocoon “is nothing of all that the myth makes him to be. It is a father with two sons in danger of succumbing to two dangerous beasts.”3 Two aspects of the Greek genius were illustrated by this: its instinct for seizing the ideal essence of a subject, before it has become confused and obscured by the world; 4 and its insistence on man as the sole subject for artistic representation, and as the adequate measure of all things. In the essay Ueber Laokoon Goethe touched for the first time on a point which is of fundamental importance for a proper understanding of his view of the Greeks. The artist’s genius, he wrote, “shows itself in its highest energy and dignity, when i t . . . knows how to moderate and restrain the passionate outbursts of mans nature in its artistic representation.”5 We are carried back by these words to that old controversy begun by Winckelmann and pursued by Lessing, in which Goethe as a lad of 1 3 4 Ibid. pp. 107-9; c£ p- I 0 5Ibid. p. 106. Ibid. p. 91, quoted above, p. 216. 2 WA. 47, p. 103. 5 Ibid. p. 116. 220 FULL C L A S S I C I S M : 1788-1805 twenty had thought of taking part: the controversy over the reason for Laocoon’s half-closed mouth. Since that lost essay and the remarks in the Ephemerides,1 Goethe had shown little interest in the subject. Now his attention had been brought back to the whole question by an essay published in the Horen2 and written by the antiquarian, Aloys Ludwig Hirt, whom Goethe had known in Rome. In this essay, the subject of which was also the Laocoon group, Hirt roundly denied that the expression on Laocoon’s face was toned down (gemildert) at all; Laocoon did not scream, because he could not scream; and he could not scream, because he was in the last agony, about to succumb to the poison of the snake’s bite.3 The moment chosen was in fact the most terrible of the whole gruesome tale. From this Hift proceeded to deny that beauty, as Lessing had held, or “noble simplicity and quiet greatness”, in Winckelmann’s phrase, was the basic principle in Greek art. “Individuality of meaning, and character”4 was its peculiarity.^ The thought or meaning peculiar to, or characteristic of, the subject to be treated, had to be expressed as clearly and fully as possible. So if the artist chose to portray the destruction of a father and his two sons by monstrous snakes, a subject in the highest degree tragic and horrible, his object must be to convey the tragedy and horror of it to the onlooker with the greatest possible force and clarity. Goethe was impressed by Hirt and by his essay. He and Schiller agreed that character and individual meaning ought to be stressed as qualities of Greek art, as the tendency at the time was to regard Greek art as only ideal.6 But he held Hirt’s point of view to be one-sided; and as he developed his own views, while at work on his Laocoon essay, he came more and more to feel the danger of Hirt’s theories. He replied to them not only in Ueber Laokoon but also in der Sammler und die Seinigen, where Hirt appears, somewhat unsympathetically sketched, as the ” Charakteristiker”. In Goethe’s view Hirt applied the principle of ideal characters too pedantically, so 1 See above, p. 47. 3 1797, Snick 10, pp. 1-25. Pp. 7 foil. 4 5 “Individuellheit der Bedeutung, Karakteristik.” Pp. 11, 12. 6 Goethe-Schiller Briefwechsel, 1 to 8 July 1797; especially Schiller to Goethe, 7 July, and Goethe’s reply. 2 CRISIS AND FAILURE 221 that with certain subjects, particularly terrible subjects like the Laocoon, he was forced to attribute to great works of art a purpose and meaning which was incompatible with the highest function of art. If the Laocoon group really were as Hirt held it to be, “it would deserve to be instantly broken in pieces”.1 Goethe demanded that terrible subjects such as the stories of Laocoon and of Niobe should be treated so that they should make a pleasant impression on the eye and mind. This was achieved by the Greeks by careful consideration of principles of symmetry, balance, contrast of masses and so on, by all in fact that could give the work beauty or “Antnut” of appearance. He held the Laocoon group to be “a model of symmetry and variety, repose and movement, contrasts and gradations, which together impress themselves on the onlooker, some through his senses and some through his mind, and so alongside the high emotional content of the representation arouse a sensation of pleasure, and moderate the storm of suffering and passion through beauty both sensual and spiritual”.2 The spiritual means adopted to moderate the impression of terror that such a subject could produce, were illustrated in the Laocoon group by the condition of the two sons. “In order to moderate the violent impression of terror (aroused by the sufferings of the father), it inspires pity for the condition of the younger son, and anxiety for the elder, while yet leaving some hope for his survival.”3 It was the business of art to please and uplift even in representations of terrible subjects. This the Greeks had known and had proved not only in their sculpture but also in their tragedies. The subjects chosen by the tragedians were often intolerable and loathsome. But the tragedies themselves are not loathsome nor even terrible. “Of course if one sees in poetry only the material out of which the poem is formed, if one speaks of the work of art as though one had experienced what it portrayed, in real life instead of through its medium, then 1 Sammler, WA. 47, p. 167. Laokoon, Ibid. p. 105. Cf. ibid. pp. 162 foil.: “Ein Muster von Symmetrie und Mannigfaltigkeit, von Ruhe und Bewegung, Gegensatzen und Stufengangen, die sich zusammen teils sinnlich teils geistig, dem Beschauer darbieten, bei dem hohen Pathos der Vorstellung eine angenehme Empfindung erregen, und den Sturm der Leiden und Leidenschaft durch Anmut und Schonheit mildern.” 3 Ibid. p. 115. 2 222 FULL CLASSICISM: 1788-1805 even the tragedies of Sophocles can be made out to be loathsome and horrible.” But they are not, for the treatment of the material makes everything not merely tolerable but beautiful.1 Goethe does not defend more fully the necessity for this “law of moderating beauty”.* The fact that it prevents a work of art from arousing “unpleasant sensations” in the onlooker, is apparently sufficient justification. This may hardly seem the case to us, for some degree of sincerity must be sacrificed to it in such subjects as the Laocoon. But Goethe was afraid of such “unpleasant sensations”, still more of any art whose object it was to produce them. The acute susceptibility that was the basis of his genius in the days of Sturm und Drang, had not grown less with the years, though it had perhaps been driven deeper underground. It was there still, ready to respond to any sudden stimulus and to break through in all its old terrifying force. Men like Hirt knew nothing of such dangers. But the Greeks had known. They had felt the cruelty of Ufe with souls sensitive by nature to pain no less than to joy. They had not tried to shut their eyes to suffering. They had used it, as all great artists must, as material for their art; but they had created out of it, not something that made the world more horrible to live in, but something that enriched man’s life and strengthened him to endure and to enjoy, by showing that new life, new beauty, new greatness could grow even out of pain and death. The ancient artist who adorned a sarcophagus with the destruction of Niobe’s children achieved thereby the “greatest audacity of art”. 3 “Art adorns no longer withflowersand fruits, but with corpses of men, with the greatest catastrophe that can overtake a father and mother, the sight of a blooming family reft at one stroke from before their eyes.”4 1 WA. 47, pp. 167,168: “Freilich, wenn man in der Poesie nur den StofF erblickt, der dem Gedichteten zum Grund liegt, wenn man vom Kunstwerke spricht, alshatte man, an seiner Statt, die Begebenheiten in der Natur erfahren, dann lassen sich wohl sogar Sophokleische Tragodien als ekelhaft und 2 abscheulich darstellen.” “Milderndes Schonheitsprinzip.” 3 “Die hochste Schwelgerei der Kunst.” 4 Ibid. p. 163: “Sie verziert nicht mehr mit Blumen und Friichten, sie verziert mit menschlichen Leichnamen, mit dem grossten Elend, das einem Vater, das einer Mutter begegnen kann, eine bliihende Familie auf einmal vor sich hingerafFt zu sehen.” CRISIS AND FAILURE 223 “ “ He continued especially that educative campaign in favour of Greek standards in art, which he had launched in the Propylden. His chief 1 The significance of Goethe’s explanatory essay has been discussed above, p. 218. 2 Keudell, op. cit.t gives 1801, Xenophon, January-February; Statius, Achilleis, October; Plato, October; Philosophia vetus et nova, and Aristotle, November. Other Greek reading: G-J. XIII, p. 132; Iliad, January 1804; late summer and autumn, 1804, several Greek tragedies, especially Sophocles, with the younger Voss (Bied. 1, pp. 373, 375, 377, 405); November 1804, Timaeus (WA. iv, 17, p. 219). 3 Op. cit. p. 163. 252 FULL CLASSICISM: 1788-1805 vehicle of education was the yearly prize competition on set subjects, in which all German artists were invited to take part. This annual event began in 1799 under the auspices of the Propylden, and continued after the collapse of that periodical in 1801, until 1805. Its object was to combat the prevailing tendency to “historical, sentimental-unsignificant, and uninspired-naturalistic” subjects, by setting subjects which gave opportunity for the practice of the proper sensual-symbolical function of art.1 All but one of the subjects set was derived from Homer or from Greek mythology and legend. In his announcement of the first competition in 1799, Goethe recommended Homer as “the richest source from which artists have always taken material for their works of art”. 2 And in the announcement of the subject for 1801, he repeated his recommendation on the same ground.3 This advice was repeated in 1803, and the tragedians were commended to the artist’s attention as interpreters of the body of traditional myths.4 How utterly Goethe regarded Greece as the foundation of all true art is shown especially by that first statement, that “Homer has always been the richest source of material for artists”. The Christian tradition is simply ignored. Christ and his Mother and all the Saints might never have been subjects of painting or sculpture, for all Goethe appeared to know, or at least to care. The excellence of art in Stuttgart and Cassel Goethe attributed to the presence there of antiques, which artists could copy; the sentimental-theatrical tendency noticeable in Saxony was due to the absence of antiques. Goethe suggested that some should be acquired and exhibited for a moderate entrance fee. “The capital outlay would bring in a good return; while an artistic talent, banned to these Northern parts, would not lack all light.”5 In this educational work in the cause of higher art, Goethe’s genius showed itself at its lamest. It is not surprising that the wind of artistic inspiration listed to blow in quite another direction from that which Goethe recommended. But it was inevitable that Goethe should attach immense importance to this attempt to found a true tradition of art in Germany. He believed that his failure 1 3 4 WA. 48, pp 65 foil. Ibid. p. 20: “Grundschatz aller Kunst.” Ibid. p. 60. 2 5 Ibid. p. 4; cf. p. 223. Ibid. pp. 21-2. HELENA 253 to re-create Greece in his own poetry was due not only to the meaner forms of German life, but also to the lack of any tradition which could help the man of genius like himself quickly and easily over the first stages of artistic production to the fulfilment of the highest tasks that his genius might set him. Raphael was an example of the genius who was born already on the pinnacle of a great tradition. All the preparatory work had been done for him by the artists of the quattrocento, so that he could devote all his energies to the production of the highest art. So too the masterpieces of Phidias and Lysippus were possible only because earlier artists had made the way straight. With some bitterness Goethe felt that he had been left to blaze his own trail, to make his own mistakes and learn from them, and so had wasted half his life and the best part of his energies in fruitlesSvOr mistaken labours.1 He was determined to do his part at least to start German art in the right way, so that the period of experiment might be as short as possible. “ “The personality of wellknown actors is obliterated. At once appears, for you to look at, a multitude of strangers, as the poet wills, to give you varied delight.” 3 Cf. WA. 40, p. 74. 2 HELENA 255 whose label they bear. It was a new technique for Goethe.1 Never before, certainly not in Hermann und Dorothea, where the subsidiary characters also have no names, had he withdrawn so completely into a world of abstractions. He probably thought that he was doing as the Greek tragedians had done. Schiller at least regarded the characters of Greek tragedy as “ideal masks”: Odysseus in the Ajax and Philoctetes was the “ideal of deceitful shrewdness”; Creon in the Oedipus and Antigone was “simply cold regal dignity”; and Schiller added: “Such characters are obviously a great advantage in tragedy. They expound themselves more quickly, and their features are firmer and more permanent. Truth does not suffer through this type of character, since they are no more mere logical beings than they are mere individuals.”2 It is hard for us to recognise even a reflexion of the vigorous figures of Greek tragedy in the bloodless shadows of the Naturliche Tochter. The influence of Greek art is almost more obvious. The second, third and fourth scenes of the third act3 contain an ideal representation of paternal grief, constructed and executed in accordance with the principles which Goethe saw embodied in the Laocoon group. Like Laocoon the duke is stripped of all unessential attributes such as nationality or rank; he is the man, the father, suddenly bereft of a beloved child. This “profoundnaiv” idea is composed of a nunjber of aspects, all of which are given expression in such a way as to illustrate and emphasise the basic idea. This was the manner of conception and execution which Goethe admired in Greek works of art such as the Laocoon and the frescoes of Polygnotus,4 and which he recommended so urgently and with so little success to the artists of his day. Goethe’s picture of the father’s grief cannot move us emotionally, since we can feel no sympathy for so unreal a character as the duke; but it is undoubtedly a powerful manifestation of poetic art. The Naturliche Tochter, which was finished in March 1803, marks a stage in Goethe’s retreat from pure Hellenism.5 After the Achilleis and the Helena fragment, he never again attempted 1 Cf. Graf, Drama, 111, p. 550. Letter to Goethe, 4 April 1797 (Jonas, v, p. 168). 3 4 WA. 10, pp. 307-25. See above, pp. 218 foil. 5 Cf. WA. 40, pp. 79-80. 2 256 FULL CLASSICISM: 1788-1805 to reproduce the form of Greek epic and drama (except in his continuation of the Helena in 1825). In the Naturliche Tochter form and material are modern; only the idealising technique is borrowed from the Greeks. In Hermann und Dorothea too Goethe had cleansed the modern world of its insignificance and raised it out of its meanness by contact with the Greek spirit. But there the purifying agent had been a vision, a spiritual experience of the greatest intensity, an ideal of life. The idealisation of the material in the Naturliche Tochter sprang only from an intellectual belief in the efficacy of a certain artistic technique which Goethe held the Greeks had evolved. Hellenism had ceased to be a vital urge from below; it was in danger of becoming a barren intellectual ideal. In February 1804, Goethe turned seriously to the publication of a work, which he had long planned as a worthy monument to the great founder of German classicism, Winckelmann. 1 The composite essay, which contained hitherto unpublished letters of Winckelmann and contributions from Meyer and Wolf, was published in the summer of 1805 under the title Winckelmann und sein Jahrhundert.2 Goethe’s contribution was written between December 1804 and April 1805. In it he stressed Winckelmann’s personality, insisting that its greatness was based on its affinity to the Greek nature. In this way Goethe gave himself the opportunity of making full confession of his Hellenic faith. The Greeks achieved the perfection of humanity by balanced co-ordination of all human faculties and by contentment to live and work and suffer within the world. By achieving this ideal they fulfilled the last and highest objective of the created world. “For to what purpose is all this array of suns and planets and moons, of stars and Milky Ways, of comets and nebulas, of created and creating worlds, if at the last a happy man does not rejoice unwitting in his existence?” 3 Out of this perfection of vigorous life grew the flower art, which gives permanence to the necessarily transient condition of earthly perfection, and reveals in ideal reality the man as god, the god as man.4 The Phidian Zeus was the highest manifestation of this highest function of spirit. 1 3 Cf. W A . 46, p. 391. Ibid. p. 22. 2 4 Ibid. pp. 1-101. Ibid. p. 28. HELENA 257 At the same time as Goethe thus depicted the absolute beauty and value of the Greek existence, he contrasted the modern world with it. No modern could ever achieve that balanced co-ordination of all faculties by which the Greeks had produced their unique achievements.1 The modern man attempts to know and to achieve the infinite and, failing, must resign himself to a limited field of activity.2 He is hopelessly divided within himself,3 the result of his divorce from Nature in his social and religious life. In the matter of knowledge and science the Greek may have been at some disadvantage, since the firm unity of his character made it hard for him to divide his attention sufficiently to advance far in any one branch of technical knowledge; but his case was not as hopeless as that of the modern, who loses himself in an infinity of unconnected sciences and lacks the formative element in his character that might make a whole out of these disjointed parts.4 The pagan characteristics and beliefs that gave the Greek his “indestructible soundness”,5 alike in good fortune and bad, Goethe held to be fundamentally opposed to the Christian view of life.6 So in a last eloquent outburst of admiration and longing Goethe said farewell to his Greek endeavour. The note of resignation runs strongly through the whole essay. He had ceased to struggle. He had failed to make Greece live again; he must be content to look on antiquity as something eternally distant, as something past and gone.7 In those dark late-winter months of 1805, with the ideal that had supported him for twenty years no longer valid, with no new goal to take its place, Goethe’s vitality was at its lowest ebb. He was sick himself, and he was racked by fears for Schiller’s health. “In doloribus pinxit”, he wrote to Schiller, should be the motto for his Winckelmann? The sun of Greece had set, and no new dawn yet glimmered to lighten his darkness. All that he could do was to rear this monument to a dead ideal, and wait till the germs of life began to stir once more in his spirit. 1 3 5 6 8 Ibid. p. 21. Ibid. p. 23. “Eine unverwiistliche Gesundheit.” Ibid. pp. 25-6. 20 April 1805 (WA. iv, 17, p. 273). 2 4 Ibid. p. 22. Ibid. p. 24. 7 Ibid. p. 38. 258 “ “His love for Greek things ran as an undercurrent to his intellectual activities through all the years up to his death. To some aspects of the Greek genius in fact he devoted more attention after 1805 than before. The pre-Socratic philosophers especially contributed many vital conceptions to his thought.1 Their influence may be recognised not only in Goethe’s ideas on the nature of light and other scientific subjects,2 and in such poems as Urworte Orphisch? but in subtler form in certain poems of the Divan* and in Pandora. At times the old passion for Greece welled up and occupied the main channel of his thoughts. So in 1817 and for some years after, he spent long hours of study on the Elgin Marbles, the Aeginetan sculptures and the frieze from Bassae,6 all of which had become generally known at about the same time. Dissatisfied with the small-scale reproductions in published works, he arranged for life-size drawings of two groups from the pediment figures of the Parthenon to be sent from England. They arrived in January 1819; in June a cast of the horse head from the east pediment arrived for Goethe’s order.7 These new discoveries8 brought about no change in Goethe’s views on Greek art; they were rather the confirmation of those conclusions that he had drawn from the Apollo Belvedere, the Zeus of Otricoli, the 1
Cf. C. Bapp, Aus Goethes griechischer Gedankenwelt, Leipzig, 1921. WA. n, 3, pp. 1-4,108-13; 7, pp. 37, 203; and Klassische Walpurgisnacht, WA. 15, 1, pp. 146-76. Cf. JA. xiv, p. 348. 3 WA. 3, 95. Cf. Letters to Knebel, 9 Oct. 1817 (WA. iv, 28, p. 272), and to Boisseree, 16 July 1818 (Ibid. 29, p. 240). 4 Cf. JA. v, pp. xlviii, 335, 383. 5 Cf. Morris, Goethestudien, 1, p. 279. 6 Elgins: WA. iv, 28, pp. 96, 140, 282, 292, 304, 389 foil.; WA. 36, pp. 105, 124, 145. Bassae: WA. iv, 29, pp. 45, 105 foil.; WA. 49, 2, p. 16. Cf. G-J. xix, 11. Aeginetans: WA. iv, 22, p. 320; 28, pp. 282, 390; 29, p. 105; WA. 49, 2, p. 20; 36, pp. 76, 124. 7 WA. iv, 31, p. 180; Letter to August v. Goethe, 14 June 1819. 8 Goethe had previously seen drawings of some of the Parthenon sculptures in Rome in 1787 (see above, p. 169), and in Darmstadt in 1814 (WA. iv, 25, p. 57) he had seen casts of part of the frieze. Cf. also G-J. xix, p. 9. 2
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Ludovisi Juno and all the other remains of ancient art that he had found in Italy. For this very reason the Elgin Marbles were for him of supreme value. He had no desire to go again to Italy; but he would not be surprised to find himself one day on the road to the British Museum. “You would have to share my conception of what these remains mean, in order to see how utterly reasonable the absurdity of such a journey would be…. For after all here alone [in the Elgin Marbles] are law and evangel side by side. Everything else one could, if need were, do without.” 1 He advised every German sculptor to go to England and live there for as long as possible for the purpose of studying the Elgin Marbles.2 It seems he realised that they were worth more than all the statues in Rome together.3 The Elgin Marbles brought about a renaissance in Goethe’s active interest in Greek things. Between 1817 and 1823 he not only finished and published two essays on ancient art, Myrons Kuh and Philostrats Gemdlde,* which he had begun some years before; he also followed closely the controversy between Hermann and Creuzer on Greek mythology; 5 and in 1820 and 1821 he revised and published the digest of the Iliad which he had made for his own use in 1798.6 In connexion with this work he returned with delight to Homer’s world, and revived his long-dormant interest in the Homeric question.7 With obvious relief he came back to a belief in a personal Homer, an arch-editor of genius, and greeted the work of the younger critics who opposed the Wolfian heresy, in these lines: Scharfsinnig habt ihr, wie ihr seid, Von aller Verehrung uns befreit, Und wir bekannten iiberfrei, Dass Ilias nur ein Flickwerk sei. 1 “
“On the other hand any attempt to set Greek things down on a level with the achievements of other cultures was abhorrent to him. When F. Creuzer attempted to prove a common origin for the myths of all Indo-Germanic peoples,2 Goethe did not conceal his displeasure. “When the attempt is made to leave the Hellenic circle of god-in-man and to point to every region of the earth and indicate similarities in word and form, here the frost-giants, there the fire-brahmas, it causes us really too much pain, and we take flight again to Ionia, where loving spring-daemons mate, and bring forth Homer.” 3 Auf ewig hab’ ich sie vertrieben, Vielkopfige Gotter trifft mein Bann, So Wischnu, Cama, Brama, Schiven, Sogar den AfFen Hannemann. Nun soil am Nil ich mich gefdlen, Hundskopfige Gotter heissen gross. O, war’ ich doch aus meinen Hallen Audi Isis und Osiris los.4 This was Goethe’s opinion of the gods of other races. To suggest that Zeus, and Apollo and Pallas, were even distant cousins of these monsters, seemed to him no better than wanton sacrilege. The Greeks were different from all other races. “One has to make allowances for all other arts, to Greek art alone one 1 2
Noten und Abhandlungen zum Divan. Warnung, W A . 7, p. 108. In Briefe uber Homer und Hesiodus, vorzuglich uber die Theogonie, Heidel-
berg, 1818, pp. 38, 55, 93 onwards. 3 WA. iv, 28, p. 267: c£ WA. iv, 31, p. 276; 33, pp. 242-3: “Geht’s nun aber gar noch weiter, und deutet man uns aus dem hellenischen GottMenschenkreise nach alien Regionen der Erde, urn das Ahnliche dort aufzuweisen, in Worten und Bildern, hier die Frost-Riesen, dort die FeuerBrahmen, so wird es uns gar zu weh, und wir fluchten wieder nach Ionien, wo damonische liebende Quellgotter sich begatten und den Homer erzeugen.” 4 WA. iv, 35, p. 237; cf. WA. iv, 25, p. 274: “I have banned them for ever; I am done with many-headed gods—Vishnu, Cama, Brahma, Shiva, even the monkey Hanneman. Now they want me to feel at home on the Nile and call dog-headed gods great. Oh! would that I were rid of Isis and Osiris from my halls.”
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is eternally in debt.”1 So in 1827, while talking with Eckermann about the age of ” Weltliteratur” which was dawning, he said: “However much we value foreign literatures, we must not cling to one in particular and try to take that one as our model. We must not think the Chinese, or the Serbian, or Calderon, or the Nibelungen can be that. If we are in need of a model, we must always go back to the ancient Greeks, in whose works the object of representation is always beautiful humanity (der schone Mensch). Everything else we must look at from a purely historical standpoint, and take in what is good in it as far as may be.” 2 Goethe’s reasons for setting Greek culture in this unique position were the same now as they had been at the height of his Hellenism. In their art and literature the Greeks had expressed Nature’s intentions more perfectly than was commonly the case in the world of phenomena. He cited two horse heads from the Parthenon: “The English, the best judges of horses in the world, are forced to admit that two antique horse heads are more perfect in form than those of any breed extant to-day. These heads date from the best period of Greek art. Our wonder and admiration is not to be explained on the assumption that those artists were working from more perfect individuals than those which exist to-day. The reason is rather that they had, with the progress of time and art, themselves become something, so that they brought an inner greatness of spirit to their observation of Nature.” 3 A French visitor in 1828 reported him as having said: “Celui qui veut faire quelque chose d’ideale, doit avoir amene son developpement interieur a un point tel que, comme les Grecs, il puisse elever la realite mesquine de la nature a la hauteur de son esprit. Le role de l’artiste est de transformer en une realite sans lacunes ce que dans la nature, par suite d’une faiblesse intime, ou de quelque obstacle exterieur, est reste a l’etat d’intention.”4 The other chief reason for the unique value of Greek culture was that for the Greek the object of art and the centre of all spiritual activity had been “der schone Mensch”.5 This was 1 2 3 5
WA. 48, p. 183. Eckermann, 31 Jan. 1827. Cf. WA. 41, 2, p. 233. 4 Eckermann, 20 Oct. 1828. Bied. iv, p. 166; cf. in, p. 24. Bied. m, p. 339; cf. WA. 41, 2, p. 233.
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what gave the Greek tradition its eternal value. Man in any age had only to look back at what the Greeks had been and had created, to see himself as he was in intention and as he might be in fact, with labour and the grace of God. The form of European man especially was akin to the Greek.1 In Goethe’s view European culture could advance only when it based itself on the Greek tradition. This is what he meant when he said: ” W e should still be living in barbarism, if the remains of the ancient world in its different forms were not extant.”* After the Roman Empire, which had continued in the Greek tradition, had been destroyed by barbarians and Christianity, 3 there had come a vast break in the tradition; and European culture had resumed its advance only when the achievements of the ancient world had once again become known and its standards, in part at least, accepted. “