When looking at Schiller's skull

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Looking at Schiller's skull is a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe from 1826.


The poem begins with the following verses :

It was in the grave ossuary where I saw
how skulls and skulls fit together;
I thought of the old days that turned gray.
They stand wedged in a row, who otherwise hated each other,
And rough bones that fatally beat each other,
They lie crosswise, tame to rest here.

The beginning of the poem, based on Baroque literature , with reflections close to vanitas on the transience of the earthly, brightens towards the end of the text: the skull of the genius becomes “speaking” and from empty to filled vessel. Religious devotion may also apply to the great artist. ("Secret vessel! Dispensing oracles, / How am I worth holding you in my hand?"). The last two lines, dedicated to “God-Nature”, read like a hymn of praise to Scripture : “How she lets the solid flow away to the spirit , / How she firmly preserves the spirit- begotten”.

When Goethe wrote this poem, he had a skull in front of him, which he took to be Friedrich Schiller's . This did not happen in the ossuary , however , but in Goethe's house , where the skull lay on a blue velvet cushion under a glass cover .


Friedrich Schiller died in 1805. His body was buried in the vault of the Jakobskirchhof in Weimar . At the end of 1825, the administration reported that the vaulted cash register urgently needed to be "cleared up" because "almost no coffins could be put inside". On March 13, 1826, the Mayor of Weimar Carl Leberecht Schwabe , the chief building director Clemens Wenzeslaus Coudray , the loan doctor Dr. Schwabe and the town clerk and court attorney Aulhorn into the crypt . But there was “a chaos of mold and rot” and when the examination of the name tags did not lead to “obtaining certainty and truth about what the earthly remains of Schiller were”, the company was discontinued.

In a secret night action, Carl Leberecht Schwabe ordered a gravedigger and three day laborers to the cemetery at midnight, obliged them to maintain absolute silence and had them search for Schiller's bones. This operation lasted three nights, then Schwabe had collected twenty-three skulls, which he had brought to his home in a sack. Schwabe, who had known Schiller personally, also called in Rudolf, the coffin carpenter and Schiller's servant, who was still alive, in order to find out the correct skull by comparing the skulls with Schiller's death mask by taking measurements . In the end, Schwabe chose the largest skull, which stood out from the others due to its size and elegant, regular design.

When the mayor's actions became known in Weimar, families in particular whose relatives were buried in the cash register were outraged. But the Grand Duke and Goethe paid "most thankful appreciation" to Mayor Schwabe.

Schwabe now proposed a prominent place in the cemetery as the new burial site for Schiller:

"What an adornment for the sacred sacred area, which we have so well cared for, if Schiller's skull were handed over to the earth in a simple sarcophagus with just a simple column, on the highest point of the sacred sacred area, that every stranger [...] from a distance see the grave of the beloved poet and could approach the grave freely and unhindered in any accessible place! "

- Schmitz : What happened to Schiller's skull?

However, Grand Duke Karl August reserved this place for the royal crypt. But he expressed his view "as a private person",

"... whether it would not be most worthy if" Schiller's skull ", instead of being sunk into the enveloping and destructive earth, were kept forever in the library in a special, decently furnished container."

- Schmitz : What happened to Schiller's skull?

After all, in this way Weimar also has the skull of the philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz .

With reference to the reliquary cult of the church, Schiller's sister-in-law Caroline von Wolhaben and the other members of the family were persuaded to release "Schiller's skull" for safekeeping in the library.

On September 17, 1826, “Schiller's skull” was deposited in a ceremony in the Princely Library in the pedestal of the life-size marble bust by the sculptor Johann Heinrich Dannecker . On the occasion of this ceremony, Goethe composed the terzines “When viewing Schiller's skull”. However, Goethe himself did not take part in the celebration. At this ceremony August von Goethe held out the prospect of a tomb for Schiller's not yet recovered remains.

The key to “Schiller's skull” was in the hands of Goethe himself. On the night of September 25th to 26th, 1826, the night in which he wrote this poem, Goethe housed the skull in the garden house of his property on Frauenplan . Towards the end of the year, Goethe kept the skull on blue velvet under a glass cover in his house. On December 29, 1826, Wilhelm von Humboldt reported in a letter to his wife:

“This afternoon I saw Schiller's skull at Goethe's. Goethe and I - Riemer was still there - sat in front of it for a long time, and the sight moves you strangely. What one has seen in front of one living so big, so participating, so moved in thoughts and feelings, now lies there as rigid and dead as a stone picture. Goethe has the head in his custody, he shows it to nobody. I'm the only one who's seen him so far and he asked me not to tell. "

- Schmitz : What happened to Schiller's skull?

On December 16, 1827, the alleged remains of Schiller were transferred to the royal crypt. During the Second World War, the coffins of Goethe and “Schiller” were moved to a medical bunker in Jena. As early as May 12, 1945, they could be brought back to the royal crypt.

After a DNA analysis of the skull with the genetic material of a closest relative of the poet, it was clearly proven in 2008 that the skull in the Weimar Princely Crypt was not Schiller's skull. The facts were confirmed by Hellmut Seemann , President of the Klassik Stiftung Weimar. The skeleton is not from Schiller either.


  • Rainer Schmitz: What happened to Schiller's skull? Everything you don't know about literature . Eichborn, Frankfurt am Main 2006, ISBN 3-8218-5775-7 .
  • Albrecht Schöne: Schiller's skull . CH Beck, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-406-48689-4 .
  • Peter Braun: Schiller, Death and the Devil. Speech of Mr. von G. in front of a skull . Artemis & Winkler, Düsseldorf / Zurich 2005, ISBN 3-538-07198-5 .
  • Julius Schwabe: Schiller's funeral and the search for and burial of his bones . Based on the files and authentic communications from the estate of the court councilor and former mayor of Weimar Carl Leberecht Schwabe. Emphasis. Georg Kummers Verlag, Leipzig 1932.
  • Herbert Ullrich: Friedrich Schiller. Two skulls, two skeletons and no end to the argument . Publishing house for science and research, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-89700-412-2 .
  • Thomas Persdorf: Caroline and the 53rd guest. Novel about the strange story of Schiller's multiple burials and the search for his skull. Engelsdorfer Verlag, 2009, ISBN 978-3-86901-624-5 .

Individual evidence

  1. DNA analysis: No skull by Friedrich Schiller in Fürstengruft - faz.net - May 3, 2008
  2. spiegel.de
  3. gerichtsmedizin.at ( Memento from February 22, 2014 in the Internet Archive )

Web links