Ignaz Denner

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ETA Hoffmann. Depicted in a self-portrait

Ignaz Denner is a story by ETA Hoffmann that was written in 1814 and first appeared in 1816 in the first part of the night pieces . Due to its eerie subject matter, the work can be counted as a horror romanticism .


ETA Hoffmann wrote Ignaz Denner in May 1814, which makes the story the oldest in the night plays . Originally it was supposed to be part of the fantasy pieces in Callot's manner , which were published in 1814/15 under the title Der Revierjäger . However, the story was rejected as too weak by Hoffmann's publisher Carl Friedrich Kunz , which is why the text was only published in a revised version two years later.

Within the Nachtstücke provides Ignaz Denner , the second of eight stories are. Similar to the famous text of this collection of short stories, the Sandman , is the title of the second and final version of Ignaz Denner sinister and equipped with connections to the supernatural antagonists to the center. In general, many parallels can be made between the two texts, as Thomas Weitin states :

“In their eerie repetitive structure, Denner's attacks correspond to the attacks to which Nathanael in the Sandman is exposed. A revenant couple like Coppelius / Coppola also emerges from the father / son relationship Trabacchio / Denner. Only in the second narration of the night plays it is not the imagination of the protagonist , but the actual level of action on which the event takes place, whereby the moment of psychological profiling tends to take a back seat. "

For the author, the time of the creation of the Nachtstücks is marked by a steep career advancement within the criminal senate of the Berlin chamber court , with which he was appointed a member of the highest Prussian criminal court with a considerable annual income of 1000 Reichstalers . In view of the high workload caused by his employment at the court, Hoffmann only had the night hours in order to be able to work literarily, which is why he chose the genre term `` night piece '' , which originally came from painting, as the title for his latest cycle of narrations. Weitin sees the division of Hoffmann's life between civil civil service and the nocturnal artist life as a first representative of the "tension picture of a modern writer". His fantastic stories represent a counterpoint to the daily judicial work that threatened to overtake him. Nonetheless, his work gave him valuable insights into the abysses of the enlightened bourgeoisie , which he could then incorporate into his literary products.

As a representative of black romanticism , Ignaz Denner contains numerous elements of horror romanticism. According to Steinecke, this includes assaults, fights, torture, murders, human sacrifices, mysterious ceremonies, fire magic, ghostly apparitions as well as random and improbable events. The turf hunter's family is at the mercy of indefinite demonic powers that seem to guide their fate and to whom they are apparently helpless. The doppelganger theme that frequently occurs at Hoffmann is also taken up.


Andres, the personal hunter of Count Aloys von Vach, accompanied him on a trip through Italy . Because Andres saved himself and the count from a robbery, he was promoted to the district hunter. On this trip they stayed for a certain time in Naples , where Andres met his future wife Giorgina. She lived as an orphan with a host who treated her badly. Andres and the count take her on their journey, during which they marry the Revierjäger. Despite the respected position that Andres holds, and which should actually be a reward for his good service, Andres, his wife and his servant live in need and misery.

With the birth of her first child, Giorgina's health deteriorates so much that she struggles with death. They get a visit from a stranger who pretends to be a traveling merchant and declares that he is lost. Witness of the misery and hardship in which Andres has gotten into, he heals Giorgina from one day to the next by infusing her with a mysterious, dark red liquid. When the stranger wanted to set off again the next day, he even offered Andres ducats as a reward , but the latter refused; an inner voice forbids him to accept the money. So the stranger turns to Giorgina, who does not refuse the ducats. The stranger asks Andres for three more favors. He demands Andres to take him in for a few days a year because his job means that he has to travel through the Vach area twice a year. In addition, Andres is supposed to keep a box from the stranger, the contents of which are precious jewels, until the next meeting. Finally, Andres is asked to accompany the stranger out of the forest. On the way through the forest, the merchant reveals his name: Ignaz Denner. Because of Denner's generosity, it is possible for the hunter's family to lead a relatively prosperous life, which causes Andres, who is characterized by a pronounced Christian humility, to be very uncomfortable, as the connection with Denner, who is uncanny to him, triggers a conflict of conscience in him. Denner reappears when her son is nine months old. Since he has neither wife nor children himself, he asks Andres and Giorgina to give him their son. The couple refused, which initially made Denner visibly dissatisfied. This fact reinforces Andres' doubts about the person of Ignaz Denner. Otherwise nothing changes in the relationship between the two. The box, however, remains with Andres.

The next time Denner visits the Revierjäger, it is in the middle of the night and Andres is asked to accompany him into the forest. There Denner reveals his secret that he is the leader of a band of robbers. Andres is forced to take part in a robbery on the nearby tenant apartment, as otherwise he is threatened with the death of his family. In a fight between robbers and riders of the Count von Vach, Denner is injured and brought to safety by Andres. Out of gratitude, Denner decides to leave the Revierjäger and his family in peace from now on and to leave the area around the Jägershütte. The box with the jewelry remains in Andre's care.

Illustration by Theodor Hosemann (1844)

After Denner's gifts dried up, the family quickly lived again in great poverty. Giorgina gives birth to another boy. One night Denner sneaks around Andres' house again and demands protection. This time Andres remains tough and rejects him. Andres then learns from his master that the Neapolitan landlord, Giorgina's stepfather, has died and that she bequeathed 2,000 ducats in his will. Andres can pick up the money from a merchant in Frankfurt am Main . He sets out on an excuse to surprise Giorgina. When he returns, he finds his house devastated. Giorgina, in great fear, tells him everything: Ignaz Denner and his band of robbers raided the house in order to find shelter after an attack on Vach Castle. When all the robbers, except Denner, had left the house, the latter took the youngest son and locked himself in a room with him, slit his chest and caught the blood in a bowl. The servant was killed while trying to stop Denner.

Full of fear and desperation, Andres and Giorgina want to leave the forest, whereupon the Count von Vach's riders appear and arrest Andres. Because during the attack on the castle, the count was murdered. Most of the band of robbers were arrested, including their leader Denner. They all state that Andres was a member of their gang and that he murdered the count. Although Andres asserts his innocence several times, all the facts speak against him: The Frankfurt merchant, from whom Andres received the inheritance, cannot be found. In addition, several of the count's subordinates claim to have seen with their own eyes how Andres murdered their master. The process takes years to complete; Andres is finally tortured to make a confession and sentenced to death. In the dungeon cell, a ghostly figure appears to him in a twilight state, who offers him a vial with the lifeblood of his slain son. It will later turn out that it was Doctor Trabacchio. Andres then pleads with God. Shortly before the execution, he was saved at the last minute by the arrival of the same Frankfurt merchant who handed him Giorgina's inheritance. Denner's execution is also suspended and investigations are made that refer to Naples, the city of Denner's birth. A certain Doctor Trabacchio was once convicted of being a poisoner and sorcerer there. The trial against him revealed that he had killed his own children to use their blood to make his medicines . Since nobody knew anything about the existence of his children and he had also killed their mothers, his actions went undetected for a long time. He had only introduced his last son to the public. In the course of the trial, attempts had been made to gather evidence of Trabacchio's actions in his house and a mysterious laboratory had been discovered, but it was not possible to open it. The efforts of a summoned Dominican from Palermo ultimately led to the whole house going up in flames and threatening to collapse. The crowd that ran up watched with astonishment that Trabacchio's son appeared briefly on the burning rubble with a box under his arm and then disappeared again. When Trabacchio was informed of this shortly before his execution at the stake, he showed malicious joy. His death did not materialize, however: shortly before the flames reached him, he disappeared in front of the eyes of the assembled crowd, showed himself on a distant hill, laughing scornfully, in his usual clothes and with a box under his arm. He has since disappeared. The trial against Denner now revealed that he is the very son of Doctor Trabacchio. Andres learns all of this from Count Vach's nephew, with whom he lives with his wife and son after his acquittal and works as a hunter. Giorgina soon dies as a result of the hardships suffered.

After two years of the trial, Denner is to be executed. But he manages to escape: Andres finds him one evening in the forest, completely exhausted. When Denner reveals to him that he is Giorgina's father, Andres has mercy and nurses him back to health in the Count's castle. Here Denner tells him that, following in his father's footsteps, he once took a wife who gave him a daughter. He too had intended to make medicine from the blood of this child, but the mother, on the basis of a hunch, was able to withdraw the child from him. Denner subsequently presents himself as a purified Christian. Andres remains suspicious, but carelessly lets his grandfather play with his grandson. So one night in the forest he was horrified to witness how Denner and old Doctor Trabacchio have stretched his son Georg over a grate and Denner is about to cut open the child's breast. Andres shoots Denner. Old Trabacchio disappears.

Andres brings his son back to the castle unscathed, but returns to the forest with a hunter to bury Denner's body. Denner is still alive and only gives up his ghost under curses. They bury his body and Andres decides to return the next day to put a cross on his grave. However, he finds the earth churned and the corpse has disappeared. Andres only finds peace after throwing Denner's little box, which is in his possession again, into a deep mountain gorge.

Acting persons

Andres : protagonist of the story, first body hunter, then district hunter of Count Aloys von Vach, lives with his wife, children and a farmhand as well as two mastiffs in a lonely, wild forest near Fulda that has been made unsafe by robbers . He leads an extremely humble life. In dire straits, he lets a stranger knock on his door at night help him. His deep Christian conviction made him feel a certain skepticism towards the supposed businessman Denner from the start. He also tries at first to reject the material gifts that Denner forces on him, because his Christian humility forbids him to display wealth. After Denner reveals himself to be the leader of a band of robbers, he finally wants to break up with him, but threatens to murder Andres' wife and children, which is why he lets himself be persuaded to take part in the robbery of a nearby tenant apartment. When Denner is injured during the raid and almost caught by the men of Count von Vach, it is Andres who, out of gratitude for Denner's rescue of his son, brings him out of danger. The connection with Denner has dire consequences for the Revierjäger: As the alleged murderer of his master, Count von Vach, he is imprisoned, tortured and finally sentenced to death by hanging. Even after his rehabilitation, Denner's existence casts wide shadows on Andre's life, so he has to accept the loss of his wife Giorgina, who has so taken with the terrible events that she dies shortly after Andre's release. Andres believes to the end that even a villain like Denner will change, it seems that after his origin as the son of the sorcerer Trabacchio has been revealed, he has been purified and bitterly regrets his wrongdoings. Only when he tries to murder Andre’s second son does Andre kill him. In order to be completely relieved of the afflictions of Denner and Trabacchio, he throws the box with jewelry left by the robber captain into a deep mountain gorge.

Giorgina : She was taken in as an orphan by a landlord in Naples and treated badly by him. On their journey through Italy, the Count von Vach and his subject Andres stop by the inn. Andres and Giorgina fall in love and she accompanies him on the journey across the Alps to Germany. The two are married during the trip. The hard life in Andres Jägerhütte makes her very unhappy. So it is mainly due to her doing that Andres accepts the gifts through Ignaz Denner against his original will. She thinks “that the stranger is her guardian angel, who will raise her out of the deepest poverty to prosperity.” In view of her opinion, she cannot understand her husband's reluctance towards the supposed benefactor. She is sometimes depicted as a very superficial figure, as she accepts Denner's gifts without questioning them. She “cannot suppress her nation's own desire for a shining state and especially for precious stones”. Thus she acts as a counterbalance to the pious and humble Andres. However, this does not affect that Giorgina is a faithful wife and a devoted mother. She is so exhausted by the murder of one of her sons and the trial of Andres that she dies shortly after her husband is released. After her death, Denner reveals that Giorgina was his biological daughter, who was saved by her mother from being murdered by him and Trabacchio. This is also the reason why the robber captain is specifically targeting Andres and Giorgina's children: “The closer the children are to the laboratory technician, the more effectively life force, constant rejuvenation, and even the preparation of artificial gold emerge from their heart and blood . "

Ignaz Denner : leader of a band of robbers who pretends to be a traveling merchant with Andres and his family. He makes the hunter and his wife dependent on himself in order to make himself an accomplice to the pious Andres, since he seems to know Giorgina's weakness for material goods and jewelry. After he has saved him from the count's henchmen during the attack on the tenant apartment, he promises to leave the area around the hunter's hut. When Andres travels to Frankfurt am Main because of an inheritance matter, Denner and his cronies seek refuge in the hut after they attacked the castle of Count von Vach and murdered the lord of the castle. Denner murders Andre's older son and uses his blood to prepare a mysterious elixir. After the Count's murder, Denner is imprisoned with Andres, accusing the latter of murdering the Count. After Andre's fate has turned for the better and Denner is convicted as the sole culprit, his origins are revealed: Ignaz Denner is the son of a notorious Neapolitan sorcerer named Trabacchio, who worked as a poisoner. The authorities found him and sentenced him to death by fire . When a Dominican was about to open his laboratory, in which apparently a mysterious ghost was taking place, the whole house of Trabacchio went up in flames. Passers-by then saw Trabacchio's son for a brief moment walking over the beams of the house without the flames harming him. When Trabacchio wanted to carry out the sentence, he disappeared the moment the flames reached his body "and a screeching laugh could be heard from a distant hill. Everyone looked at it and the people were in horror when Doctor Trabacchio saw him in person" . Thanks to his father's help, Ignaz became the leader of a band of robbers at a young age. Together they brewed a "delicious, wondrous liquor [...], for which the main ingredient is the heart and soul of children who were nine weeks, nine months or nine years old". Due to the dark powers of his father it was possible for him to appear as Andres doppelganger and thus to murder the Count von Vach. He is also the father of the late Giorgina. Towards the end of the story, he presents himself to Andres as a purified Christian, but only to murder his second son Georg while he is away, but this fails due to the early arrival of the father who shoots Denner. His body is buried by Andres, but was dug up again the following day. The story leaves open "whether this was brought about by wild animals or how else".

Doctor Trabacchio: He was a notorious poisoner and convicted sorcerer who was up to mischief in Naples. He appears to have magical powers as he was able to disappear from the pyre in front of everyone and reappear on a nearby hill. This, and the fact that he appears several times as a ghostly apparition, suggests that he is in covenant with the devil. He uses the blood of murdered children to make a mysterious potion with tremendous powers. As the father of Ignaz Denner, he made it possible for him to become robber captain and tries to get hold of Giorgina's children through him.


The narrative consists of a main plot, which tells the story of the district hunter Andres, who meets the robber captain Ignaz Denner. A second story arc, which serves as an explanation for the depicted events around Andres and Denner, tells the prehistory that takes place in Naples and whose center is Doctor Trabacchio. It illuminates Denner's origins; It is also clarified why he is persecuting Andres and his family of all people.

One can speak of an authorial narrator , even if he does not have an answer for all inexplicable events. However, he appears to be “omniscient” insofar as he gives information about the emotional state of the characters and at the same time gives information about the background of the plot. The fact that he cannot provide any information about certain processes that clearly belong in the realm of what is deliberately left open should contribute to triggering an uncanny feeling in the recipient. A good example of this is the end of the story, where no satisfactory explanation for the disappearance of Denner's body is given.

Regarding the ending, Hoffmann made a change. Should the contents of the box initially favor Georg's further life, he decided in favor of Andres' symbolic act of liberating his soul before going to press.


Andres' submission bordering on self-surrender is an important theme of the story. His actions are oriented towards the Count through gratitude and loyalty; later in the story he transfers this motif to Denner, to whom he owes the life of his first son and his wife. He does not succeed in doing anything about the poverty that goes hand in hand with his employment as a district hunter, which has come over him and his family through the alleged reward from the count. He also behaved humbly towards Denner for a long time. As Weitin states, "the rebellion against the brutal robber remains a purely verbal act for a long time, which only turns into physical revenge at the end in response to the murder attempt on his second son, the execution of which he immediately reports 'faithfully' to his employer". Even when Andres is sentenced to death and Denner presents him with an opportunity to escape, he refuses to leave the path of virtue and lets the whole thing explode. After all, it is also his inner sense of justice that warned him from the beginning about Denner, which made him return to his hut and prevented the murder of his son. On the other hand stands the authorities, represented by the judges and the young Count von Vach: "They only have the external, the subjective in the physical breaking confession technique of torture , with which the truth is enforced formally instead of fact."

Unlike in the Sandman , the plot is less permeated by specific motifs, but lives mainly from its plot elements. The only central motif is the jewelery box that Denner left with the Revierjäger and which he in turn received from his father, the sorcerer Trabacchio. The box is the symbol of Denner's power of seduction, which comes along on the one hand in the form of riches and on the other hand in a magic potion. Steinecke consequently states: “For Andres, without his noticing it, the gold Denners repeatedly becomes a seducer and spoiler: his wife's inheritance, which comes from the magician's grandfather, lures him to Frankfurt. During his absence, both his son and his countess von Denner and his gang are murdered; Andres is, because nobody believes his alibi, tortured and imprisoned for years. ”In connection with Ignaz Denner, Franz Loquai points out a recurring stereotype of the Italian villain in Hoffmann's work, as given by Coppelius / Coppola and Ignaz Denner. In his stories, there are often negative characters from Italy with the following external characteristics: “The male villain, whether seducer, criminal or devil-man, is long and gaunt, wears a gray or brightly colored coat, including the long sword, with a hat and feather . Usually he has a long hooked nose, often a thick beard, bushy eyebrows and deep-set eyes that sparkle and sparkle; his gaze is downright deadly. ”According to Loquai, this reflects the ambivalent image of Italy at the beginning of the 19th century in German-speaking countries: on the one hand, Italy was the home of art, on the other hand it was also a symbol of a“ criminal-satanic, sensual-sinful, carnival-like - chaotic and mannerist south ”.


  • Birgit Feldges, Ulrich Stadler: ETA Hoffmann. Epoch-work-effect . Munich 1986.
  • Franz Fühmann : Miss Veronika Paulmann from the Pirna suburb or something about the horrible at ETA Hoffmann . VEB Hinstorff, Rostock 1979, appendix. "Ignaz Denner", p. 108-131 .
  • Gerhard R. Kaiser: Epilogue to ETA Hoffmann's night pieces. Stuttgart 2010, pp. 404-442 (= RUB 154).
  • Franz Loquai: ETA Hoffmann. Night pieces . With an afterword, a time table on ETA Hoffmann, notes and bibliographical references by Franz Loquai (=  Goldmann Klassiker . No. 7678 ). 1st edition. Goldmann Verlag, Munich 1996, ISBN 3-442-07678-1 , Ignaz Denner, p. 336-340 (plus notes pp. 382-384).
  • Franz Loquai: The bad guys from the south. Imagological considerations on ETA Hoffmann's image of Italy . In Ignaz Denner and other stories . In: The Land of Longing. ETA Hoffmann and Italy . Edited by Sandro M. Moraldo. Heidelberg 2002, pp. 35–53 (Contributions to the recent history of literature, Volume 186).
  • Carl Georg von Maassen : The thoroughly shy antiquarian. The joys and sorrows of a book collector . Bartmann Verlag, Frechen 1966, ETA Hoffmann's night piece "Ignaz Denner" and his role model, p. 168-179 .
  • Hans-Walter Schmidt: The child eater. A motif and its context . In: ETA-Hoffmann-Gesellschaft (Ed.): Communications of the ETA-Hoffmann-Gesellschaft . tape 29 . Bamberg 1983, p. 17-30 .
  • ETA Hoffmann: Night Pieces. Little Zaches. Princess Brambilla . Works 1816–1820. In: Hartmut Steinecke with the collaboration of Gerhard Allroggen (Ed.): Complete works in six volumes (=  Library of German Classics ). 1st edition. tape 3 . Deutscher Klassiker Verlag , Frankfurt am Main 1985, ISBN 3-618-60870-5 , Ignaz Denner, p. 978-983 .
  • Hartmut Steinecke: The Art of Fantasy. ETA Hoffmann's life and work . Frankfurt am Main, Leipzig 2004, pp. 293-295.
  • Thomas Weitin: Ignaz Denner . In: Detlef Kremer (Ed.): ETA Hoffmann. Life - work - effect (=  De Gruyter Lexicon ). 2nd, expanded edition. Verlag Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2012, ISBN 978-3-11-026831-7 , p. 186-189 .

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d Thomas Weitin: Ignaz Denner . In: Detlef Kremer (Ed.): ETA Hoffmann. Life - work - effect (=  De Gruyter Lexicon ). 2nd, expanded edition. Verlag Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2012, ISBN 978-3-11-026831-7 , p. 186-189 .
  2. a b c Hartmut Steinecke: The Art of Fantasy. ETA Hoffmann's life and work . Insel Verlag, Frankfurt am Main / Leipzig 2004, ISBN 3-458-17202-5 , Ignaz Denner, p. 293-295 .
  3. a b c d e f E.TA Hoffmann: Ignaz Denner . In: Gerhard R. Kaiser (Ed.): Night pieces . Stuttgart 2010, p. 104 .
  4. ^ ETA Hoffmann: Night pieces. Little Zaches. Princess Brambilla . Works 1816–1820. In: Hartmut Steinecke with the collaboration of Gerhard Allroggen (Ed.): Complete works in six volumes (=  Library of German Classics ). 1st edition. tape 3 . Deutscher Klassiker Verlag , Frankfurt am Main 1985, ISBN 3-618-60870-5 , Ignaz Denner. Structure and topic, p. 980–983 (Hoffmann's discarded handwritten concluding sentences on p. 985).
  5. a b Francis Loquai: The villain from the south. Imagological considerations on ETA Hoffmann's image of Italy in Ignaz Denner and other stories . In: Sandro M. Moraldo (ed.): The land of longing. ETA Hoffmann and Italy . Heidelberg 2002, p. 42 .

Web links

Wikisource: Ignaz Denner  - Sources and full texts