How are you a genius?

Genius, "Sturm und Drang" - Goethe's hymns "Prometheus" and "Ganymed"

Preliminary remark

This article contains numerous links to pages that explain the terms used here in more detail or the fonts mentioned make availablethat are in the public domain. In doing so, I try to use the hypertext structure of the Internet consistently: Terms that have to be explained and are already adequately explained elsewhere are not presented in detail here: On the one hand, the scope of the article is to be kept within tolerable levels and, on the other hand, it is the constant reference also of the knowledge, in the construction of which I participate, to already existing knowledge is reflected in the form of the contribution.

Imanuel Kant wrote in 1784, two years before Goethe's departure to Italy on September 3, 1786, believed by many researchers to be the end date of the Sturm und Drang epoch in literature, that people should have the courage to use their own reason.

Kant, who is often seen as the founder of the Enlightenment, in his work actually summarizes the phenomena that changed society as a whole and ushered in the end of feudalism in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The ratio, i.e. reason, is elevated to the highest principle of knowledge of the world and of acting in the world.

The process of discovery of the individual, initiated by the Renaissance and Humanism, is consistently further thought here, which also meant that empiricism and a mechanistic understanding of the world gained the upper hand.

Descartes had already summarized the basis of this world view, which was characterized by constant rational doubts about the assumed taken for granted of the traditional world view, in the famous sentence "Cogito, ergo sum".

A “reasonable” mental attitude developed, which was expressed in the theoretical preoccupation with literature, especially in Gottsched's “attempt at critical poetry” and, from today's point of view, led to poems and plays that seem strangely lifeless.

When Kant wrote his famous Enlightenment text in 1784, some then twenty to thirty-year-old intellectuals had long since begun to declare war on a rationality that does not perceive people as a whole individual, which, in addition to the mind, also carries feelings and passions as creative forces. - As much as the epoch of Sturm und Drangs is often seen as a counter-movement to the Enlightenment: Basically it is only here that the entire dimension of the creative power of the individual is enlightened beyond rationality.

The purely rational thinker is replaced by genius, that individual who creates possible worlds out of himself.

But at first the genius was only described; in retrospect, authors were given the attribute of genius, such as Shakespeare.

The first author who made the idea of ​​genius fruitful for his work was Johann Wolfgang Goethe. Erich Trunz writes in his still excellent commentary on the Hamburg edition of Goethe's works:

“For Goethe, the creative artist, the teaching of genius merged with the first-person experience. He, as the first, shows what the genius feels like. While those [theorists] grasped the essence of genius descriptively, he grasped it poetically. "1

This expression of genius found expression in Goethe's great hymns.

“They were overwhelmingly powerful themselves, they were new, unique, peculiar, internally necessary. The genius movement of the 18th century culminates in them. "2

One of these hymns is Goethe's “Prometheus”.

This poem can be seen as one in which the program of Sturm-und-Drangs is expressed - a poem that not only shows the genius' attitude to life, but also as a poem in such a form and with such a statement never been there before is.

Johann Wolfgang Goethe



p style = “text-align: center;“> Cover your sky, Zeus, with cloud haze! And practice, boys alike, Who decapitates thistles, On oaks and mountain heights! But I have to leave my earth standing, and my hut, which you did not build, and my hearth, whose glow you envy me.


p style = “text-align: center;“> I don't know anything poorer under the sun than you gods. You meagerly nourish yourself on sacrificial taxes and breaths of prayer, Your Majesty And are in poverty if children and beggars were not hopeful fools.


p style = “text-align: center;“> Since I was a child, I didn't know where from, where, my lost eye turned to the sun, as if over it An ear to hear my lament, A heart like mine, To have mercy on those who are afflicted.


p style = “text-align: center;“> Who helped me against The titans arrogance? Who saved me from death, From slavery? Didn't you accomplish everything yourself, holy glowing heart? And you glowed, young and good, betrayed, thanks to the sleeping one up there?


p style = “text-align: center;“> I honor you? For what? Have you eased the pain ever of the laden? Have you quenched the tears ever of the terrified?


p style = “text-align: center;“> Has not forged me into a man The almighty time And the eternal fate, gentlemen and yours?


p style = “text-align: center;“> Did you think, I should hate life, Flee in deserts, Because not all boy's morning blooming dreams came to fruition?


p style = “text-align: center;“> Here I sit, shaping people in my own image, A gender that is the same to me, To suffer, cry, enjoy and be happy, And disregard yours, Like me.

Fifty-six irregular verses, without rhymes: Even the external form of the poem written by Johann Wolfgang Goethe in 1773 expresses the independence of a passionate self. In the heading, this I is given a name: Prometheus. Already in the title there is a reference to the speaking person, as is often the case in “role poems”.

In this poem, as new as this type of poem was in his time, Goethe takes up the myth of a Greek demigod. This myth, which of course exists in different forms, tells how Prometheus forms people out of clay and brings them fire (= culture), although Zeus did not agree with it at all.

As a punishment, Prometheus is forged to the Caucasus. He was later released and made a career at the divine court as an advisor to the gods. But there is still no trace of punishment in the poem. In the poem, Prometheus is at the peak of his creative success and addresses Zeus directly (V 1), whom he mocks and emphasizes his independence (V 1–12). Prometheus sees himself as a creator, to whom the gods cannot dispute the earth (V 6f) and who has the embers of fire, which he will make available to people against the will of the gods as an important prerequisite for the development of culture. This glow (V 11) can already be understood in the context of the genius idea as part of the passionate glow of genius that is independent, creating from within (V 31f: "Didn't you complete everything yourself / Holy glowing heart?"), brings new things into the world, in the case of Prometheus' humans (V 50). That “glow” appears twice in the poem (V 32; V 33) and describes genius as a person whose heart glows with passion and creativity.

The slow and steady embers, which are nourished by the energy source available to them, are preferred to fire here. The genius is not a fiery one, he is an ardent person. And the source of energy in this hymn is the self (V 32), the I (also in forms of “mine” which formulate a claim to possession - V 6; 8; 10; 12; 13; 20; 21; 24; 25; 27 ; 29; 31; 36; 41; 46; 50; 51; 52; 56), the independent individual independent of divine guidelines. The accusation Prometheus ’against the gods is a prelude to the criticism of religion, which was formulated in the 19th century by Ludwig Feurbach and Karl Marx, but has its forerunners in the Enlightenment and the idea of ​​genius.

Prometheus says that he does not know anything poorer than the gods (V 13f), who lived from the worship of people (V 15-17), who are described as children, beggars and "hopeful ears" (V 18f). It also suggests that Goethe and the Sturm und Drang are not a counter-movement to the Enlightenment, but their adults. Children and beggars stand here for unenlightened people for "tohren" who, in their lack of independence and poverty, project their own salvation onto the gods (later elaborated by Feuerbach in the projection theory) and do not see that salvation from death and slavery is the The achievement of the independently thinking and active person who rises up against injustice in the name of the gods (V 27-49 later theoretically elaborated in Marx's criticism of religion with revolutionary goals). In terms of scope, the attack on the gods is at the center of the poem, so that in the end the creative ego of Prometheus himself can move into the center, as expressed in the last stanza (V 50-56), which only culminates in the last two-word verse “Like me” (V 56). The genius is a person who creates worlds and worldviews from himself, he shapes the thinking and worldview of people. - And so the last word of the poem is “I”.

But this “I” is not related to itself, just as little as it can be deterred from its creative activity by the given thoughts of its society, by “self-evident” things that hinder creativity and creativity and are not further questioned. Here in literature appears the person who turns away from his traditional God, who converts the theodicy question into a rejection of God: “Who saved me from death / From slavery?” (V 29) and Did you alleviate the pain / each of the burden ? / Have you stilled the tears / Ever of those who were afraid? ”(V 37–40).

The development of genius is placed in the thematically same context that people were at the mercy of after the great plague in the years 1347 to 1353 and also after the great earthquake in Lisbon and the tsunami that followed it in 1755. There are cultural historians who see a direct connection between the catastrophes mentioned here and the change in the self-image of people in Europe. It seems to me that an assumption of such connections is very plausible.

“Prometheus” is more than just a description of the feelings and self-image of a genius. Rather, the poem can be read as a highly condensed representation with the discovery of the self-awareness of people in Europe and the changes in the history of ideas and their consequences. And at the end there is the self-confident "I" and forms people in its image (V 50f).

Read today the poem appears almost like a prophetic text in which the idea of ​​genius has been thought through to the end. Whether Goethe meant it the way I read the poem today is unlikely, but as a reader I allow myself the association that the attempts to “improve man” in the 20th and 21st centuries were certainly linked to this last stanza of the “Prometheus” in the sense of a reception aesthetic approach can be associated.

And then, in the context of the historical developments since the poem was written, dark shadows emerge, which lay on an understanding of genius that focuses solely on the creative power of the individual, so that the final discussion is whether it is permissible to use people in the picture of living humans to create, design and make appropriate efforts in genetic research.

The self-confidence of man, increased to the point of genius, leads to "Homo Faber", the unstable, only making man, with again repressed feelings and passions, which Sturm und Drang wanted to awaken as forces that make man complete, since he is not just common sense.

And this is where the other side of the genius idea of ​​the strikers and pushers, not addressed in “Prometheus”, comes into play, which is shaped by Goethe in the hymn “Ganymede”.

Johann Wolfgang Goethe



p style = “text-align: center;“> How you glow around me in the morning glory, spring, beloved! Your eternal warmth, holy feeling, infinite beauty, pushes itself to my heart with a thousandfold joy of love!


p style = “text-align: center;“> That I want to take you in this arm!


p style = “text-align: center;“> Oh, on your bosom I lie, languishing, And your flowers, your grass press against my heart. You cool the burning thirst of my bosom, lovely morning wind! The nightingale calls lovingly to me from the mist valley.


p style = “text-align: center;“> I'm coming, I'm coming! Where? Oh where?


p style = “text-align: center;“> Up! It strives up. The clouds float downward, the clouds lean towards longing love. Me! Me! Up in your lap! Comprehensive! Up to your bosom, all-loving father!

What a different tone that Johann Wolfgang Goethe struck in the spring of 1784 in the poem "Ganymed". Maybe it was the time of year. While “Prometheus” was created in autumn - and reflects autumnal thoughts, thoughts of people who are confronted with the unfriendly forces of nature in winter? - here you can hear the fascination with the onset of spring.3

As in the letter of May 10 in the first book of the epistle novel “The Sorrows of Young Werther”, which Goethe also published in 1774, the Ganymede focuses on the experience of God in nature.

In the "Werther" it says:

“I couldn't draw now, not a line, and have never been a greater painter than at these moments. When the dear valley steams around me, and the high sun rests on the surface of the impenetrable darkness of my forest, and only individual rays steal into the inner sanctuary, then I lie in the high grass by the falling brook, and closer to the earth a thousand varied ones Gräschen get strange to me; when I feel the teeming of the little world between stalks, the innumerable, unfathomable shapes of the little worms, the mosquitos closer to my heart, and feel the presence of the Almighty, who created us in his image, the wafting of the al-loving, who gives us eternal bliss floating carries and receives ... "

As in “Ganymed” (V 1–19), here the fascination with nature is combined with the divine. But in “Ganymed” Goethe goes even further. In just 32 lines, again without rhymes and irregular, the shepherd boy Ganymede, who also comes from Greek mythology, has his say. As a shepherd he is connected to nature, but in the myth he was kidnapped by Zeus who wanted him to be the cupbearer on Mount Olympus.

In Goethe's Ganymede, these two sides, the bond with nature and the striving upwards: "It strives up, upwards" (V 22), can be found. Even if there is a deity in the last verse (V 32) with “All-loving Father!”, This poem reaches its climax in V 29, in that “Comprehensively embraced” written with the greatest feeling for language.

Erich Trunz describes this verse with inimitable precision:

"The Grasp and Come of the preceding verses leads to this Extensive, the Glowing, urging, calling God comes to rest in the second half of the verse, the Extensivewhich, of course, in its passive form no longer expresses the acting movement, but its goal, its output; the state of the ego, which now feels enclosed and carried by the approaching deity. The final state towards which the whole poem moves, the true closeness to the divine, is expressed by man in a combination of the active and the passive form. "4

If the person in "Prometheus" is in an accusatory position towards the deity, who, based on experienced suffering, contrasts the deity with his own creative power and thus emerges from the passivity of suffering and becomes an active creative genius, then in "Ganymede" it looks whole different.Here man is seized by the beauty of nature, which makes man languish (V 12), triggers an urge and burning in him (V 14f) and actively brings with it the striving for divinity, in which activity and passivity (" Extensive embrace! ”[V 29]) unite with each other in which - and here the idea of ​​genius becomes directly tangible again - the deity is so united with human beings that human beings are united in their striving with the divine.

And it is precisely this idea, even if it no longer belongs to the Sturm und Drang, later included in “Faust”, where in the fifth act, in which the angels carry the immortal body of Faust into heaven, it says: “Whoever strives make an effort / we can redeem him. "(V 11936f)

“Prometheus” and “Ganymede” reflect the two sides of the “I experience” of the genius and only when viewed together offer an insight into Goethe's entire understanding of genius, the thoughts that emerged in the context of my occupation with the hymn of the dangers of one such Promethean genius then clearly relativized, as long as the genius has both sides in it, i.e. also the creative, striving, who not only embraces, but also allows itself to be embraced - and so does not lose sight of the great beauty, nor does it lose sight of its own creative will, like the pain and the suffering.

Link: An independent interpretation of the Ganymede by teachers can be found in Norbert Tholen.

5 related posts:

  1. Gothes Works, Volume 1: Poems and Epics I - Critically reviewed and commented on by Erich Trunz, Munich 1998, 465. [↩]
  2. Ibid. [↩]
  3. Cf. on this and the following: Ibid., 485–487. [↩]
  4. Ibid., 486. [↩]