Prometheus (Goethe)

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Prometheus Brings Fire to Mankind (c. 1817) by Heinrich Füger

"Prometheus" is a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in which the character of the mythic Prometheus addresses God (as Zeus) in misotheist accusation and defiance. The poem was written between 1772 and 1774 and first published in 1789 after an anonymous and unauthorised publication in 1785 by Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi. It is an important work of the Sturm und Drang movement.

In early editions of the Collected Works it appeared in Volume II of Goethe's poems in a section of Vermischte Gedichte (assorted poems), shortly following the Gesang der Geister über den Wassern, and the Harzreise im Winter. It is immediately followed by "Ganymed", and the two poems together should be understood as a pair. Both belong to the period 1770–1775. Prometheus (1774) was planned as a drama but not completed, but this poem draws upon it. Prometheus is the creative and rebellious spirit which, rejected by God, angrily defies him and asserts itself; Ganymede is the boyish self which is adored and seduced by God. One is the lone defiant, the other the yielding acolyte. As the humanist poet, Goethe presents both identities as aspects or forms of the human condition.

Although the setting is classical, the address to the Judaeo-Christian god is suggested by the section beginning "Da ich ein Kind war..." ("When I was a child"): the use of Da is distinctive, and by it Goethe evokes the Lutheran translation of Saint Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians, 13:11: "Da ich ein Kind war, da redete ich wie ein Kind..." ("When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things"). Unlike St Paul, Goethe's Prometheus grew up to disbelieve in the divine heart moved to pity for the afflicted.

The poem was set to music by J. F. Reichardt, Schubert (see "Prometheus", 1819), Hugo Wolf (1889) and F.M. Einheit (1993).

Text[edit]

Bedecke deinen Himmel, Zeus,
Mit Wolkendunst
Und übe, dem Knaben gleich,
Der Disteln köpft,
An Eichen dich und Bergeshöhn;
Mußt mir meine Erde
Doch lassen stehn
Und meine Hütte, die du nicht gebaut,
Und meinen Herd,
Um dessen Glut
Du mich beneidest.

Ich kenne nichts Ärmeres
Unter der Sonn als euch, Götter!
Ihr nähret kümmerlich
Von Opfersteuern
Und Gebetshauch
Eure Majestät
Und darbtet, wären
Nicht Kinder und Bettler
Hoffnungsvolle Toren.

Da ich ein Kind war,
Nicht wußte, wo aus noch ein,
Kehrt ich mein verirrtes Auge
Zur Sonne, als wenn drüber wär
Ein Ohr, zu hören meine Klage,
Ein Herz wie meins,
Sich des Bedrängten zu erbarmen.

Wer half mir
Wider der Titanen Übermut?
Wer rettete vom Tode mich,
Von Sklaverei?
Hast du nicht alles selbst vollendet,
Heilig glühend Herz?
Und glühtest jung und gut,
Betrogen, Rettungsdank
Dem Schlafenden da droben?

Ich dich ehren? Wofür?
Hast du die Schmerzen gelindert
Je des Beladenen?
Hast du die Tränen gestillet
Je des Geängsteten?
Hat nicht mich zum Manne geschmiedet
Die allmächtige Zeit
Und das ewige Schicksal,
Meine Herrn und deine?

Wähntest du etwa,
Ich sollte das Leben hassen,
In Wüsten fliehen,
Weil nicht alle
Blütenträume reiften?

Hier sitz ich, forme Menschen
Nach meinem Bilde,
Ein Geschlecht, das mir gleich sei,
Zu leiden, zu weinen,
Zu genießen und zu freuen sich,
Und dein nicht zu achten,
Wie ich!

Cover thy spacious heavens, Zeus,
With clouds of mist,
And like the boy who lops
The thistles' heads,
Disport with oaks and mountain-peaks;
Yet thou must leave
My earth still standing;
My cottage, too, which was not raised by thee;
Leave me my hearth,
Whose kindly glow
By thee is envied.

I know nought poorer
Under the sun, than ye gods!
Ye nourish painfully,
With sacrifices
And votive prayers,
Your majesty;
Ye would e'en starve,
If children and beggars
Were not trusting fools.

While yet a child,
And ignorant of life,
I turned my wandering gaze
Up toward the sun, as if with him
There were an ear to hear my wailings,
A heart, like mine,
To feel compassion for distress.

Who helped me
Against the Titans' insolence?
Who rescued me from certain death,
From slavery?
Didst thou not do all this thyself,
My sacred glowing heart?
And glowedst, young and good,
Deceived with grateful thanks
To yonder slumbering one?

I honour thee, and why?
Hast thou e'er lightened the sorrows
Of the heavy laden?
Hast thou e'er dried up the tears
Of the anguish-stricken?
Was I not fashioned to be a man
By omnipotent Time,
And by eternal Fate,
Masters of me and thee?

Didst thou e'er fancy
That life I should learn to hate,
And fly to deserts,
Because not all
My blossoming dreams grew ripe?

Here sit I, forming mortals
After my image;
A race resembling me,
To suffer, to weep,
To enjoy, to be glad,
And thee to scorn,
As I![1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Nathan Haskell Dole, ed. (1839). The Works of J. W. von Goethe. 9. translations by Sir Walter Scott, Sir Theodore Martin, John Oxenford, Thomas Carlyle and others. London and Boston: Francis A. Niccolls & Co. pp. 210–212. 

Sources[edit]

  • J. W. Goethe, Goethes Werke: Vollständige Ausgabe letzter Hand (Vol. II, pp. 76–78). (J. G. Cotta'sche Buchhandlung, Stuttgart and Tübingen 1827).
  • J. W. Goethe, Gedichte (Aufbau-Verlag, Berlin and Tübingen 1988)
  • J. W. Goethe, Werke Hamburger Ausgabe in 14 Bänden (Vol. 1 Gedichte und Epen I, pp. 44–46). München, 1998.
  • Martin Luther, Die Bibel, oder die ganze Heilige Schrift des Alten und Neuen Testaments.