The golden pot

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The golden pot is an art fairy tale by ETA Hoffmann , which appeared for the first time in 1814 and was revised by the author in 1819. It is considered Hoffmann's most successful work. The author has given the work the generic name Fairy Tales from the New Age . It is divided into twelve “ vigils ”.

Content description

The storyline of the fairy tale begins on an Ascension Day in Dresden .

A young student named Anselmus knocks over an old apple trader's basket at the Black Gate . To mitigate the damage to the old woman, he gives her all of his wallet, which he actually wanted to use for the festive activities, but then quickly runs away. The woman insults him with the words: "Yes, run, just run to, Satan child - in the crystal, your case soon - in the crystal." He stops under an elderberry bush until he is in Link's bathroom . From this he hears lovely voices and noises like crystal bells. He looks up and sees the blue eyes of a snake that he falls in love with on the spot. When she disappears shortly afterwards, he is beside himself and confused.

Apple woman

By chance Anselmus meets his friend, Vice- Principal Paulmann, who invites him to his home. There he meets the deputy principal's sixteen-year-old daughter, Veronika, who dreams of a future together with the " Hofrat " Anselmus. Anselmus also met the registrar Heerbrand, who found him a job as a copier of old writings at the Secret Archivarius Lindhorst, a cranky alchemist and magician. He is supposed to receive money for this copying activity, so that the apple woman compensates for the loss of his purse. However, when he wants to start his first day of work there, the old apple woman appears in the door handle and he faints from shock.

By chance, the student met the archivarius a few days later in the open field, who impressed him with his magic and reveals to him that the snake that Anselmus saw is his daughter Serpentina. Furthermore, Lindhorst tells a strange story from his family. It is about Phosphorus (means something like the shining one), a beautiful fire lily and a black dragon that Phosphorus has to fight with. Anselmus started work the next day. He should copy foreign-language texts that he cannot decipher without errors. Lindhorst also expressly warns him not to stain any of the originals with ink. Fortunately, he gets help from Serpentina, which is why he succeeds in the work with ease. The more he deals with these writings, the more familiar they become to him and one day he copies a script, the content of which he learns in several steps and finally understands: It is the story of the Archivarius, who is actually a salamander, the Elemental spirit of fire, and was banished from the fabulous world of Atlantis. In order to be able to return there, he has to marry off his three snake daughters.

Veronika, who fears that she will lose Anselmus and thus a secure future as "Frau Hofratsin", turns to the apple woman, who makes a metal mirror for her in a nightly ritual during the equinox . When the student looks into this a little later, he considers Serpentina and the story of the salamander to be an imagination and falls in love with Veronica. He promises to marry her as soon as he is councilor. When he then tries to copy another of Lindhorst's works, it seems strange to him and he accidentally spills ink on the original. By a spell he is banished to a crystal bottle on a shelf.

There he discovers other bottles next to him, in which there are other young men who also worked for the Archivarius, but who do not seem to notice that they are incarcerated. Shortly afterwards the witch appears who tries to steal the golden pot, a gift from the earth elemental spirit for the salamander. Then the Archivarius appears with his parrot, and both fight against the old woman and his black cat. Finally, Lindhorst defeats the witch, who turns into a beetroot, her true form. Since the student was influenced by “hostile principles”, the archivarius forgives him and frees him from the bottle.

Veronika receives a marriage proposal from Heerbrand, who has meanwhile become councilor instead of Anselmus, and accepts it despite inner turmoil and feelings for Anselmus. Anselmus marries Serpentina in order to live happily on a manor in the magical land of Atlantis.

At the end, Lindhorst consoles the fictional narrator, who envies the happy Anselmus, with the statement that every person has access to poetry, "in which the sacred harmony of all beings is revealed as the deepest secret of nature."


Characterization of the protagonist

Between everyday reality and the fantastic world on the one hand and between the "good guys" and the "bad guys" on the other hand there is the student Anselmus, who on the one hand, bewitched by the rough woman, turns to Veronica and a career as a councilor, on the other hand (in unhexed state) is drawn to Serpentina and the wonders of the fantastic world. In the course of the story, Anselmus falls more and more under the spell of "evil" and is forcibly drawn back into everyday reality by the "hostile principles"; however, the reversal is looming when he sees it as a prison after his "fall into the crystal".

In this “prison” Anselmus, who has found his way back to “ faith, love and hope ”, chooses Serpentina, frees himself from the spell of “evil” with the help of the salamander and finally disappears from everyday reality.

In the end, Anselmus finds his happiness in complete surrender to the fantastic, although this alienates him from everyday reality and is thus withdrawn from it. This can be seen symbolically for the romantic poetry that pulls people out of everyday events, but also makes them lonely and unworldly , as the Philistines see. “In fact” however (ie in the “reality” of the fairy tale) Anselmus does not isolate himself at all, since his dream of “eternal love” is realized with Serpentina on the manor of her father in Atlantis, where “the sacred harmony of all beings is to him deepest secret of nature revealed ”- this is how he comes to a deep, comprehensive knowledge of the world.

Veronika, too, seems to stand between the everyday world and the world of the fantastic, because she wants to use magic to create the love of Anselmus. However, she finally renounces any inclination to witchcraft. The speed with which she "forgets" Anselmus and agrees to marry Hofrat Heerbrand shows how deeply she is rooted in everyday reality and in bourgeois life. Veronika finds her fulfillment in life as a councilor. Like her future husband, she succeeds in removing the “dangerous” features of the world of the fantastic by evaluating the fantastic stories as poetic allegories .

Narrative technique

The golden pot is divided into twelve vigils (night watches). On the one hand, this term refers to the circumstances in which the work was created (it is a product of nocturnal work). On the other hand, there is also the meaning of "Liturgy of the Hours" in this choice of words: astonishingly often crucial things happen at full time: Anselmus crashes into the apple stand at exactly three o'clock, at exactly noon at twelve o'clock he becomes the victim of the "bell snake attack" at Archivarius Lindhorst, and exactly at midnight on the equinox, the witch and Veronica make the magic mirror. The fact that the story begins on Ascension Day also contains an allusion to “higher spheres” in which the story is integrated. Ultimately, the whole story could be interpreted as a “ magical ritual” (a series of twelve prayer- like texts).

Before Anselmus gets into the world of poetry, the narrator, who already addressed the reader in the “Fourth Vigil”, speaks up and becomes part of the storyline. He tells the "willing reader" of his difficulties in bringing the story to an end. He succeeds, as he then explains, albeit with the help of Archivarius Lindhorst, with whom he made contact. By making the narrator part of the fantastic world, Hoffmann openly advertises the fantastic interpretation of the event at the end : Ultimately, it is life in poetry, Anselmus, the narrator, the author and the “inclined reader” the experience of reality can be endured .

This twist is already clear in the “Eleventh Vigil”, which (similar to the classic drama ) contains a retarding moment : Once again it seems as if the narrator is returning to the rationalistic view of the beginning of the fairy tale. That this is not the case can be seen from the fact that Veronika and her future husband are turning away from the fundamentalist stance of Vice-Principal Paulmann, who cannot gain anything positive from the irrational aspects of what happened before.

Processing of myths and fairy tales

What Heerbrand rates as an “oriental bloom” (the fantastic stories of the “Salamander” Lindhorst) is in reality an adaptation of traditional myths . According to the ancient doctrine of the four elements , the salamander is an elemental spirit of fire. Contrary to literary tradition, the love of man (Anselmus) for a nature spirit (the serpent Serpentina) does not remain unfulfilled. The image of Atlantis as a (actually perished) ideal state also comes from antiquity .

The lily cup, on the one hand the sign of the French kings, on the other hand a beautiful flower, feminine, possibly shows the longing for the female sex; In mythology , the dragon also stands for aversion to God, for rainless, sterile times, and in Hoffmann's art fairy tales perhaps also for asceticism and the metal from the depths of the earth. Phosphorus has to fight the dragon so that he can find the fire lily again.

The father of the salamander, who died less than 385 years ago and then briefly awoke again before he drove out the brother of the salamander, could point to the Renaissance or the papal schism. The three serpents of the salamander could be a symbol of the divine trinity (father, son, holy spirit or also for faith, love, hope).

The golden pot could stand for happy, hopeful coexistence on the one hand, but also for demarcation through knowledge and skills from other people.

Hoffmann draws on motifs from the Bible. He takes the liberty of turning the "evil" snake - which mythologically stands for wisdom and also sexual love - the " Genesis " into a charming, lovable figure. The fact that Anselmus gains knowledge in Atlantis is assessed positively in Hoffmann's fairy tales, while in “Genesis” eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge results in Adam and Eve being expelled from paradise. The Christian virtues “ faith, love and hope ” play a role similar to that of the apostle Paul .

Motifs from traditional fairy tales are also used in Hoffmann's art fairy tales . According to the Aarne-Thompson Index are the elements

  • "Supernatural opponents" (the witch, AaTh 334)
  • "Supernatural tasks" (the journey in search of happiness, AaTh 460B; friends in life and death, AaTh 470)
  • "Supernatural helpers" (the punished magician, AaTh 325)
  • "Magic objects" (the magic mirror) and
  • "Supernatural power or knowledge" (the man who understands animal languages, AaTh 670)

to be found in Hoffmann's fairy tales.

Hoffmann's work as "keeper and creator of myths" is still noticeable today: In his contribution "Night Thoughts", which was written on the occasion of the 800th anniversary of the founding of Dresden , Ingo Schulze in particular points out that Hoffmann's fairy tale The golden pot is a decisive one Contributed to the creation of the "Dresden Myth".

"Classic" of German Romanticism

In Goldnen pot that exists for romance usual division of the world into the rational exploitable everyday reality and the realm of fantasy, which open up only poetic predisposed people. The everyday reality is mainly represented by the middle-class Paulmann family, especially the Vice-Rector Paulmann, who considers both the archivarius' stories and the experiences of Anselmus to be phantasms and symptoms of mental illness .

The fantastic world, in turn, is divided into the world of the "good guys", characterized by Lindhorst as an expelled elemental spirit and salamander, and the world of the "bad guys", personified in the "Rauerin", who "in reality" (ie in the fantastic world) a "wicked witch" and beetroot, therefore archenemy of the salamander.

Hoffmann is not entirely consistent in dividing the world into “good” and “bad”. Because on closer inspection, the narrator Lindhorst / the salamander not only gives "good" and the Rauerin / the apple woman / the beetroot not only "bad" traits: After all, the salamander has been expelled from Atlantis, and the Rauerin points out to Veronika that she depicts "the wise woman", who is supposed to be ruled by the "wise man" (Lindhorst), but which she defends against - a motif that is reminiscent of the Magic Flute by Mozart / Schikaneder.

Hoffmann as an author

There is also a dichotomy in Hoffmann's life, namely the one between the “serious” official who goes about his rather dry work during the day and the poet who writes his fantastic works at night . The narrator, too, is evidently a “night worker”, who consequently calls the results of one night's work “vigils”.

ETA Hoffmann was - unlike Goethe , who thought primarily of Hoffmann when he judged that romantics were “sick” - like many romantics, he was plagued by financial worries and characterized by contradicting thoughts and feelings: towards the authorities, the French Revolution and monogamy. The conflict of the protagonist reflects that of the author.

Political situation at the beginning of the 19th century

A further interpretation is possible at the political level. Many romantics design counter-worlds to the tangible reality in their works, longing for the “golden age”. So one can identify the bourgeois world with the order of the Ancien Régime prevailing at the time of the creation of the Golden Pot , which was characterized by calm, peace and security, but also by lack of freedom of the citizens, represented in the narrowness of the crystal bottle, the less sensitive Fellow men (like the “fellow sufferers” of Anselmus) do not perceive them as such.

At the same time, an equation of Archivarius Lindhorst with Napoleon is occasionally mentioned. However, since Napoleon suffered his devastating defeat in the Battle of Leipzig in 1813, when Hoffmann was already mentally preoccupied with the fairy tale The Golden Pot , it is unlikely that the positively portrayed Lindhorst would be equated with Napoleon.

The interpretation that Hoffmann wanted to create a possibility for himself and his audience to poetically compensate for cruel everyday experiences by creating an alternative world that can be experienced, seems more plausible. The reader is often asked by the narrator to recognize the characters of the fairy tale in his or her life. “Typically German” Philistines such as Vice-Principal Paulmann, who are already frightened by his own alcohol-related “attacks” (because of the associated loss of self-control), but especially Anselmus' excesses, are also drawn negatively . Here Hoffmann criticizes the German philistine .

During the creation of the fairy tale The Golden Pot , Hoffmann wrote in his diary: “Everything is one!” - the dialectical realization that contradictions are dependent on each other and ultimately cancel each other can also be interpreted politically. In the world of poetry, all beings live in harmony with themselves and with nature. Hoffmann wasn't Karl Marx's favorite author for nothing .


In 1941, the opera was in Darmstadt The Golden pot of William Petersen premiered.

In May 1989 the opera Der Goldene Topf by Eckehard Mayer premiered in Dresden , libretto by Ingo Zimmermann based on ETA Hoffmann.


  • Günter Oesterle: The golden pot (stories and novellas of the 19th century. No. 1). Philipp Reclam jun. Stuttgart, ISBN 978-3-15-008413-7 , pp. 181-220.
  • Albrecht Driesen: The mirror image in ETA Hoffmann's stories. Poetology of a Literary Cabinet of Mirrors. Driesen, Taunusstein 1999, ISBN 3-89811-104-0 (at the same time: Frankfurt (Main); Univ., Master's thesis, 1997), (also: ibid. 2004, ISBN 3-936328-16-1 ), also on: Princess Brambilla , The Adventures of New Years Eve .
  • Horst Grobe: Explanations of ETA Hoffmann, The golden pot. = Interpretation of ETA Hoffmann, The golden pot. C. Bange, Hollfeld 2008, ISBN 978-3-8044-1878-3 ( König's Explanations and Materials 474).
  • Hartmut Marhold: The problematic of poetic creation in ETA Hoffmann's story "The golden pot". In: Messages from the ETA Hoffmann Society. Based in Bamberg. Issue 32, 1986, ISSN  0073-2885 , pp. 50-73.
  • Jochen Schmidt : "The golden pot". A key text in romantic poetology. In: ETA Hoffmann: Novels and Stories. Edited by Günter Saße. Reclam, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-15-017526-7 , pp. 43-59 ( Reclam's Universal Library 17526 Interpretations ).

Web links

Wikisource: The golden pot  - sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. Ingo Schulze: I was an enthusiastic Dresdner - night thoughts of someone who had fallen out of town. (No longer available online.) In: Archived from the original on January 11, 2015 ; Retrieved February 9, 2015 . Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /