Germany. Once the land of poets and thinkers. Above all, this flattering title is due to a man: Johann Wolfgang Goethe. A school-leaver’s fright, divine poet, unrivalled role model and epochal guide to world literature.
Anyone who is interested in german literature of the 17th and 18th centuries, anyone who studies German and/or literary studies, anyone who is interested in german history will sooner or later come across Goethe’s works. His poetic greatness will probably only be surpassed by the amount of secondary literature on his person and his works.
I admit, in the beginning I felt like almost every high-school graduate who has to take his german examination did. The dusty hams of long dead men and women who do not fit into our present time, neither in content nor in language, are laborious and costly, a lot of patience. Although I have always been an enthusiastic reader, at first it was difficult for me to gain access to our dear Goethe and his contemporaries.
If, however, one deals with the works of these great men and women outside the compulsory schooling imposed from outside, then quiet insight is drawn into our thinking apparatus – insofar as it is also actively used. In the course of my studies of German linguistics and literature, my eye was sharpened for the inner essence of literary works.
Before, I was unable to see and therefore to understand. An example: it is not uncommon for children with supposed reading disabilities to simply have too bad eyes, which is sometimes only noticed in later years. They receive a vision aid and zack! see them clearly. They are opened a door that was previously locked tightly. So it was not due to their inability, no, it was due to a circumstance – and circumstances are changeable. So it is with everything. Only when we sharpen our eye for things can we approach a clear picture of them.
The first work I read of him in full was his „Iphigenia on Tauris“. A closed drama that revolves around an ideal heroine who is torn between homesickness and a sense of duty. Admittedly, at that time my enthusiasm was still limited.
First his „Faust Part 1“, in which the highly scholarly Dr. Faust makes a covenant with the devil to get to know the real world, away from books, sober knowledge and cold logic. In this and especially in „Faust Part 2“, there are already so many wisdoms of life and hidden philosophies, of which I myself understood only a small part.
So I openly admit that in „Faust Part 2“ I really understood almost nothing and instead concentrated more on the power of Goethe’s words and the timbres of his syllables. For that is the art: to pour a complex content into a poetic form and to elaborate this poetic form beyond all measure.
Yes, it’s true, I rave like a fanboy about Goethe. Because it was above all a work that I unfortunately only received as an audio book that finally convinced me of his comprehensive wisdom.
„Wahlverwandschaften“ reads like a comprehensive study of interpersonal relationships. It gets to the bottom of many things. The central question, however, is whether personal inclinations and desires or social conventions weigh more heavily, whether reason or feeling should be man’s moral compass, and how complex a relationship between people becomes as soon as deeper affection arises and what can grow out of it.
In Goethe’s footsteps
Besides my main subject German, I also studied Italian language and literature. There we thematized how many poets and thinkers of the 17th and 18th century travelled to Italy to learn and be inspired by its culture, literature, theatre and music. And so it happened that around 1780 Goethe also embarked on a great journey through Italian climes. On 3 September 1786, at 3 o’clock in the night, he fled Weimar without saying goodbye to anyone.
He meticulously recorded his experiences in letters to his friends, general observations, notes and drawings. These documents were combined into a handsome work known today as the „Italian Journey“. At the time of his journey, Goethe was already a well-known writer. „The Sorrows of Young Werther“ was his literary breakthrough.
But when the creative power of creation threatened to get lost, he fled to warm Italy and worked on his „Iphigenia“, „Tasso“ and „Faust“. He describes his journey as a kind of „rebirth“ and the enthusiasm is clearly noticeable in his letters.
This travelogue, my own ancestry and my studies have led me to the decision to set off on my own journey through Italy. I will follow the route of Goethe, but I will make some detours. In our modern time we don’t need a day trip to the next village anymore and so I hope to get to Palermo in about 50 days.
I will use the time on the journey as well and do literary work, but the whole thing will happen classically offline again. For this reason there will be no more posts on my blog in the near future. When I return safely, you can expect a detailed travel report.
In this sense: patience and anticipation for what may come!
This is the english translation of the article:
Italienische Reise – Teil 1
by Marco Lo Voi