on 29 January 2011
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is widely considered to be one of the greatest writers ever. Apart from being a poet, play write and novelist, he also studied the natural sciences and served as privy councillor to duke Karl August of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. Politically, Goethe was arch-conservative, opposed the French revolution and supported the Holy Alliance.
And then, there's the other Goethe...
The other Goethe, the Goethe with an uneducated mistress, the Goethe who spend years at a "sex clinic" in Rome, the Goethe who some people suspect was bisexual. And, of course, the Goethe who wrote pornographic poetry!
"Erotic Poems" is a translation of Goethe's sexually laden poetry, some of which was censored for almost a century after the great man's death. Reading it, I can see why. The selections from the "Venetian Epigrams" are particularly shocking, considering the fact that this man was a Paleo-Con pillar of Throne and Alter. Was Goethe an early Alan Bloom, I wonder, who preached conservatism outwardly, while following quite another law in private?
Still, the fact that Goethe's pornographic and blasphemous statements might offend some prudish little conservative somewhere, does make me smile. The epigrams leave little to the imagination, and Amazon's filters would stop any attempt from my part to quote the most explicit contents. So I must rest contented with quoting the blasphemy: "I'm not surprised that our Lord Jesus Christ liked consorting with sinners and with whores, after all, that's just what I fancy too.".
Or what about the following: "'Show us the parts of the Lord!' shrieked, blind with hysterical frenzy, an unfortunate girl: `Show us the parts of our god!'. It was the evening of Holy Thursday, a priest was displaying (so the old charlatan claimed) relics of Christ in St. Mark's. Poor soul! Why do you cry out like this for the crucified god's parts? Cry for Priapus! That god's parts are the medicine you need."
In case you really don't know, Priapus was a Roman phallic god. What parts the old heathen is talking about, you might as well imagine.
I must say that reading Goethe's unholy alliance, was quite entertaining.
PS. The book also contains a serious, scholarly introduction. Enjoy!
on 21 May 2001
Containing parallel German and English versions of Goethe's 'Roman Elegies', 'The Diary' and 41 of his 'Venetian Epigrams, 'Erotic Poems' is a fine, spirited translation of Germany's master poet-novelist. Rich and vivid, sometimes subtle and sometimes lurid, with an intriguing mix of classical allusion and modern frankness, this is an excellent collection.