Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Goethe's birthday

Thanks to Greg Rappleye for the reminder!

Terni, October 27 [1786], evening
I climbed Spoleto, and was on the aqueduct, which is also a bridge from one mountain to another. Through all their centuries, the ten brick arches which reach across the valley have stood there so quietly, and the water still flows in every corner of Spoleto. I have now seen three works by the ancients; they all have the same great meaning, a second nature serving civic ends. That is how they built, and there they are: the amphitheater, the temple, and the aqueduct. Only now do I feel how justified my hatred of all willful things was, the winter barracks on the Weissenstein, for example, a nothing around nothing, a monstrous layer of icing. It is the same with a thousand other things. They are now all as if stillborn, for whatever does not have a true inner existence has no life, and cannot be great, and cannot become great.
(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Italian Journey, tr. Andrew Shields)

On the plaque by the aqueduct in Spoleto, there is an ellipsis in this quotation. The passage about "den Winterkasten auf dem Weissenstein" and the "thousand other things" has been omitted, presumably because nobody in Italy knows what the "Winterkasten" is. In my edition of Goethe's Italienische Reise, however, there is a note which identifies the "Winterkasten" as the Octogon in the Wilhelmshöhe Park in Kassel (my wife's hometown). The baroque buildings in Wilhelmshöhe, especially the grandiose Octogon topped by a towering statue of Hercules, would presumably seem "willful" to Goethe because they do not "serve civic ends."

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