Hermann and Dorothea

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Tischbein : Goethe 1787 in Rome

Hermann and Dorothea is an epic in nine songs by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe . Written between September 11, 1796 and June 8, 1797, it was first printed in October 1797. The chants are named after the ancient Greek muses . It is an idyll in hexameters .


Hermann meets Dorothea in the refugee trek.
Engraving by Daniel Chodowiecki

Abstract: The son of a wealthy married couple falls in love with a young woman who is walking past his hometown on a refugee trail without immediate relatives. He would like to marry her on the spot, but because of his father's initial resistance, who put the amount of dowry in the foreground, two friends of the house - a pastor and a pharmacist - first make inquiries about the adored girl in the refugee camp. The information is very positive, because the researched has u. a. young girls heroically protected from threatened rape and also have considerable physical advantages. So the suitor would like to lead the beloved home as his bride as agreed with his own. For fear of the shame that a rejection would mean, he only hires her as a maid. In an elaborate discussion in the parental home, the reciprocity of love comes to light, so that the engagement can be carried out happily.

I. Calliope . Fate and share

A trek of German refugees moves eastward, the enemy at their back, crosses the Rhine and approaches the scene of the action in the summer shortly before the grain harvest. This place is a small town on the right bank of the Rhine . From here, Strasbourg can be reached by horse and carriage. Lieschen, wife of the host of the Golden Lion, sends her son Hermann out with gifts for those in need.

II. Terpsichore . Hermann

In the refugee camp, Hermann meets Dorothea who is looking after a "woman who has just given birth". Dorothea accepts Hermann's gifts with mixed feelings. But it "urges the need". Hermann gives Dorothea all of his relief supplies - "ham, bread, bottles of wine and beer" - even though he actually wanted to distribute them among the people.

After returning home, Hermann talks about the encounter with the girl. Herrmann contradicts the neighbor, who thinks that the best way to get through in such a troubled time is as an individual: Such a girl in particular needs the protection of a man. The mother tells how she also found her husband, the landlord: "The saddest hour brought us together". After a fire in the city, both found themselves on smoking rubble close to Lieschen's father's house. But the landlord thinks "the times of love are passing". He insists on a "bride with a beautiful dowry" and names candidates from the town. But Hermann doesn't like them because they offended him and even laughed at him because of his clumsiness. Hermann wants to see Dorothea again, but doesn't dare to say that yet. “I experience little joy in you!” Growls his father . He is dissatisfied with Hermann because his only child “doesn't want to go higher”.

III. Thalia . The citizens

Hermann's parents.
Engraving by Daniel Chodowiecki

The father has big plans for Hermann. First, Hermann should get to know the world - Strasbourg, Frankfurt “and the friendly Mannheim” - and then take part in construction projects in the town. The mother thinks that Hermann must be loved by his parents for who he is. The mother knows that Hermann “is the value of the goods he will one day inherit”. The father then describes the women and children as "a wonderful people" and remains convinced: "Whoever does not go forward will come back."

IV. Euterpe . mother and son

The mother is looking for Hermann in the in-house vineyard. When she finds him on the bench under the pear tree, "she sees tears in his eye". The defiant son does not want to “return home”, but rather go to war. His mother talked him out of it: “The drum is not calling you, not the trumpet.” Hermann confesses that he wants to leave because of something else. The mother has "never seen" him "so violently". Hermann cries “loudly against his mother's breast” and confesses to her that “the father's word” has “hurt him. Everything lies in front of me so dreary: I miss my wife. "The mother is relieved because Hermann has poured out his heart to her, researches who the girl is, and immediately has a suspicion:" It is that girl, the expellee, the one you have chosen. "

Hermann does not want to return home if the father excludes "the girl" whom he desires to "lead home alone". The mother already has a plan and a helper - the pastor : “the worthy clergyman will help us especially”.

V. Polyhymnia . The world citizen

Hermann asks his father for permission to marry, but he is silent. The pastor steps in and praises:

“Hermann is pure, I've known him from my youth; and
even as a boy he did not reach out to this or that. "

- V, 63

The pastor wants to go out with the pharmacist across the field to the refugees and make inquiries about Dorothea. The father agrees to the proposal. Both are being driven by Hermann. Hermann describes the priest's distinguishing features of the beloved woman: “The red bib lifts up the arched bosom, nicely laced, and the black bodice lies close to her.” They reach the village, “where in gardens and barns and houses the crowd of people ' teeming, Karrn to Karrn. ”The pastor finds the judge , the head of the refugees, and turns to him.

VI. Klio . The era

The judge describes Dorothea as an “excellent maiden” who proved herself in the turmoil of the revolution when she flew a “troop of runaway rabble” who wanted to attack lovely “girls, more likely to be called children”, with the “saber” hit. Dorothea cared for the sick and lost her fiancé during the revolution. Hermann sends the pastor back to town in the carriage and wants to go to Dorothea, to “experience his fate for yourself”.

VII. Erato . Dorothea

Hermann goes "joyfully to meet Dorothea". He finds her “busy again”. Dorothea fetches fresh water for her people from the well. This is when the first encounter at the "source" takes place:

"And they saw their image reflected in the blue of the sky
swaying and nodded to each other and greeted each other friendly in the mirror."

- VII, 43

Hermann neither recognizes the budding love of the woman at his side, nor does he explain himself. Because he is afraid of being turned away by Dorothea. Dorothea must deduce from his speech that a maid is wanted at Hermann's home. Dorothea agrees. When saying goodbye to her compatriots, she says “and we all finally have to disperse in a foreign country if we have failed to return [...] So I like to follow him; he seems to be an understanding youth. ”Nobody objects. Someone whispers: “When the Lord becomes a bridegroom, she is safe.” Hermann pulls “her away.” The children scream, “They don't want to leave the second mother.”

Dorothea is about to fall. Hermann braces against it.
Engraving by Daniel Chodowiecki

VIII. Melpomene . Hermann and Dorothea

Hermann and Dorothea walk “against the sinking sun” and “are both happy about the tall, swaying grain”. Dorothea wants to know more about Hermann's parents. Hermann has never talked about his parents, but he praises his mother, but has to admit to his father that "he loves the appearance too". Under the pear tree, Hermann again does not seize the opportunity because he fears rejection. When they both descend steps “in the dark”, Dorothea sprains her foot and threatens to “fall”. Hermann “stretches out his arm” and she sinks “softly onto his shoulder”. They stand chest “to chest and cheek to cheek”. Hermann braces himself “against the heaviness. And so he feels the wonderful burden, the warmth of the heart and the balm of the breath, "breathed on his lips."

IX. Urania . view

Hermann and Dorothea enter a
copper engraving by Daniel Chodowiecki with their parents and friends

Goethe takes up the end of the eighth song directly, calls the muses, those nine title characters of his songs and asks for a happy ending to the story of Hermann and Dorothea :

"Muses, who you are so fond of heartfelt love,
have guided the excellent young man on the way up to now,
The girl pressed him to his breast before the engagement:
Help also further complete the covenant of the lovely couple, ..."

- IX, 1

When the “wonderful couple” enter, “the friends” and also “the loving parents” are amazed. Hermann turns to the pastor at once. Hermann fears “confusion” because he has not advertised for Dorothea and she thinks she is a future maid. Before the pastor can intervene to clarify, it happens. The father's first statement, addressed to Dorothea, must be interpreted as "mockery" of her refugee misery. Dorothea brings this up together “with hot tears shed” and wants to turn around. But the mother stops Dorothea: “No, I won't let you; you are my son's fiancée. ”Only the father is a little reluctant to join:“ I'm going to bed ”. Hermann holds him back and again asks the pastor for help. The pastor encourages Hermann: “So just talk yourself!” And Hermann says: “I came to advertise your love.” The lovers hug and kiss. Then Dorothea kisses the father's "withdrawn" hand. He hugs her "immediately, hiding the tears." The pastor pulls the wedding rings from the parents' fingers and wants to use them to engage the children. On the occasion he sees the ring on the bride's finger. Dorothea, of firm character, stands by her first fiancé, who “found prison and death” in Paris. She puts “the rings next to each other”. The bridegroom says it well: "He who firmly insists on the senses, forms the world for himself".


“Man wants a lot, and yet he needs little;
For the days are short and the fate of mortals is limited. "

- V, 13

"Only the moment decides
about a person's life and his whole destiny."

- V, 57

"Nobody knows how long he has what he quietly owns."

- VI, 203

About the French Revolution :

"Basic laws dissolve on the most solid states,
And ownership is released from the old owner ..."

- IX, 264

"Everything stirs, as if the world, the formed, wanted to
dissolve backwards in chaos and night and create itself anew."

- IX, 273


Goethe got his hands on a calendar story from 1731. It was about a young Protestant girl who was expelled from the Archdiocese of Salzburg to East Prussia with the Salzburg exiles and, who had settled there, married a wealthy young man. Goethe has denied that this is the core of the story. However, there is a connection with the French invasion of the troops in 1796. During his participation in the campaign in France , in 1792, Goethe witnessed the flight of Germans left of the Rhine to the east.

Painting, illustration and sculpture

From Goethe's Hermann and Dorothea , painting by Eugen Napoleon Neureuther , 1864

Daniel Chodowiecki , Joseph von Führich , Arthur von Ramberg , Benjamin Vautier , Ludwig Richter , Emil Klein , Ernst Bosch , Hans Looschen and others. a. created illustrations for the epic idyll Hermann and Dorothea . Postcards with motifs from the factory were also published. In a painting from 1864, the painter Eugen Napoleon Neureuther depicted the scene of Hermann being overheard by his mother.

Johann Werner Henschel created a group of sculptures Hermann and Dorothea for Potsdam and Carl Steinhäuser one for the Karlsruhe palace garden .


Hermann and Dorothea were very well received during Goethe's lifetime. August Wilhelm Schlegel closed a review in the “Allgemeine Literaturzeitung” in December 1797 with the words: “Hermann and Dorothea is a completed work of art on a grand scale, and at the same time comprehensible, cordial, patriotic, popular; a book full of golden teachings of wisdom and virtue. "

In his book Literary Conditions and Contemporaries, Karl August Böttiger closes a longer entry from December 25, 1796, "Goethe reads me his Hermann and Dorothea", with the words: "Good for me, today's Christmas joy was the most enjoyable of my life!" April 1797 he wrote: “This evening I heard the master singer read the last five chants by Hermann and Dorothea himself. What a world of action and feeling in what narrow space and with how few resources? "

Gottfried Keller writes in a detailed appraisal of Jeremias Gotthelf after his death in 1855: “In every story Gotthelf has the density and intimacy of a“ Hermann and Dorothea ”; but in no one does he even make the slightest attempt to give his poem the beauty and perfection that the artistic, conscientious and economic Goethe knew how to give his one, so gracefully and limited built epic. "

Around 1900, Hermann and Dorothea were at the center of Goethe's reception, it was required reading in schools and middle-class households and was considered by many to be the most important and most successful work of the poet. In 1902 Ferdinand von Saar published a work of the same title in which Hermann met his Dorothea while she was reading Goethe's work. Formally, von Saars work corresponds to Goethe's model and is also written in hexameters; however, the plot is updated and relocated to the Habsburg monarchy of the late 19th century.

Most recently, for example, in 2016 at the Vienna Burgtheater , Hermann and Dorothea were brought into a current context with the refugee crisis in the form of a staged reading.


"In Hermann and Dorothea , as far as the material is concerned, I have done the Germans their will and now they are extremely satisfied."

- Goethe : Letter to Friedrich Schiller from 1798

“'Hermann and Dorothea', he [Goethe] said among other things, 'is almost the only one of my greatest poems that still gives me pleasure; I can never read it without a heartfelt sympathy. I am particularly fond of the Latin translation; it seems more noble to me, as if, in terms of form, it has returned to its origin. '"

- Goethe : Conversation with Friedrich Wilhelm Riemer , Johann Peter Eckermann and Wilhelm Rehbein on January 18, 1825

“They want to know which city on the Rhine my Hermann and Dorothea mean. As if it wasn't better to think of any one. You want truth, you want reality and thereby spoil poetry. "

- Goethe : Conversation with Johann Peter Eckermann in December 1826

Individual evidence

  1. Keller on Jeremias Gotthelf
  2. ^ Ferdinand von Saar: Hermann and Dorothea



  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Hermann and Dorothea  : Diamant-Ausg. Grote, Berlin 1868 ( digitized edition of the University and State Library Düsseldorf )
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Hermann and Dorothea . German Verl. Haus, Berlin approx. 1900 ( digitized version )
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Poetic Works, Volume 2. Phaidon Verlag, Essen 1999, ISBN 3-89350-448-6 , pp. 397-447.
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Hermann and Dorothea (UB 55). Stuttgart 1986, ISBN 3-15-000055-6 .
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Hermann and Dorothea . Elzevier edition published by H.Seemann, Berlin ca.1900.

Secondary literature

  • Helmut de Boor (Hrsg.): The German literature: texts and testimonials. Vol. 1. Middle Ages. Munich 1988, ISBN 3-406-01948-X , pp. 738-752.
  • Heiko Christians: The dream of the epic. Romanticism and political poetics in Germany (1750–2000). Freiburg 2004.
  • Karl Otto Conrady : Goethe - life and work. Düsseldorf / Zurich 1999, ISBN 3-538-06638-8 , pp. 651–664.
  • Karl Eibl: Anamnesis of the "moment". Goethe's poetic society draft in Hermann and Dorothea. In: DVjs. 58: 111-138 (1984).
  • Victor Hehn: About Goethe's Hermann and Dorothea in Project Gutenberg ( currently not usually available for users from Germany ) , Stuttgart 1893.
  • Maria Lypp : Aesthetic reflection and its design in Goethe's “Herrmann and Dorothea”. Stuttgart 1969.
  • Frank Ryder, Benjamin Bennett: The Irony of Goethe's Hermann and Dorothea: Its Form and Function. In: PLMA. 90: 433-446 (1975).
  • Josef Schmidt: Explanations and documents on Johann Wolfgang Goethe: "Hermann and Dorothea". Stuttgart 1970.
  • Ernst Ferdinand Yxem : About Goethe's Hermann and Dorothea. Plahn 1837.

Web links