Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe is best known for his two-part drama Faust, which is widely regarded as one of the greatest works of literature the world has ever seen. George Eliot called him ‘the last great polymath’, and he certainly has authored works that have spanned the fields of poetry, drama, science, humanism, theology, and literature.
He was one of the key figures of German literature, and his influences are across the board. It is common knowledge that he influenced Darwin with his focus on plant morphology, and Hegel and Schelling’s philosophical works draw inspiration from him.
For over a century his influence was felt across Europe in the fields of music, drama, poetry, literature, and philosophy. He is considered the most important German writer, and one of the most prominent thinkers the world has ever seen. He is the originator of the Weltliteratur concept (world literature) because he was deeply interested in — and fascinated by — literary works from Greece, Persia, England, Russia, Italy, Arabian, and others.
In Erotica Romana, Goethe gathers together a collection of 24 elegies that are erotic in nature; these depict the sexual love that were a part of Italian classical culture at the time. It is recommended that you read this in the original German if you can because it loses something in its translation, although it is still powerful and compelling.
Goethe also adds to this collection something that is more intimate and personal in nature: his own erotic poems that were written to his lover Christiane Vulpius, whom he later married. The love and passion that Goethe had for his lover is evident, and he combines this passion with his passion for the classics; the result is a series of beautiful classical poems that are not superficial in their sentiment, but rather more in depth in their passion. This was written at a time that was a turning point in Goethe’s life; he was rediscovering his love for his art, for life, and for his lover.
By modern standards, these poems are certainly no longer scandalous; they are for lovers, for people who have ever been in love, and for people who long for love. They are for romantics and realists alike. The classical style may be off-putting to some, but don’t let that stop you from devouring this book the way it is meant to be consumed — all at once, and completely, the way we fall in love.
(The columnist loves to write about food, travel, and feminism in a little cottage by the sea in Chennai)