Roman elegies

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Roman Elegies is the title of a cycle of 24 poems by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe . The collective manuscript originally had the title "Erotica Romana".

Goethe wrote them after his return from the Italian trip from 1788 to the end of 1790 and in 1795 initially published twenty of them in Schiller's monthly “ Die Horen ”. Due to the erotic permissiveness of the poems, Johann Gottfried Herder felt compelled to make the biting remark that the “Horen” should now be printed with a “u”. Four elegies (the II., The XVI. And the two "priapic" elegies) were held back by Goethe (which Schiller regretted in the - originally - second elegy) because they contained particularly "spruce" passages. The originally fourth elegy was moved to the second position. With the help of August Wilhelm Schlegel, Goethe revised the 20 remaining metrically for the 1800 edition . The elegies first appeared in full in 1914 in the Weimar edition of Goethe's works (volume 53).


The lyrical I describes the love for a stranger (" Faustina ") who robs him of his time to work and lets him turn nights into days. First of all, the daily work of the author in Rome is reported, which educates him and at the same time brings joy. In the first elegy - before the encounter with the future beloved - the stones remain silent because love is missing. Already in the second (conventional count) elegy, however, it says " ... the dearest ... delights in him, the free, sprightly stranger ... ". In the fifth elegy, erotic adventure and educational journey merge: “ … by… running my hand down my hips… Then I understand the marble even more: I… see with a feeling eye, feel with a seeing hand. “In other poems he praises the goddess of opportunity (VI. Elegy), he praises Rome, in which he feels so comfortable (VII.), Praises himself as happier than Alexander and Caesar (X.). The formulation of the fifth elegy is famous, in which he writes in the love nest and the lover counts " ... the hexameter's measure quietly with a finger on your back ". Other elegies are simply situation-related poems of opportunity, for example when he confuses a scarecrow with the suspicious uncle Faustina - which then drives away the “ loosest bird ” that “ steals from his garden and niece ” (XVI.).

The numbered "Roman Elegies" differ greatly in length. Like their ancient models, they are written in distiches . So he sends his “ beloved songs ” on a journey into the world: “ You, hexameter, you, pentameter, be it trustworthy, As she pleases me during the day, as she makes me happy at night. "


Four not published until 1914

Two priapic

The work is framed by two priapic elegies. Goethe is the turn of the year 1789/90 with Roman Priapea concerned and an essay on his Duke Karl August ... as the patron of erotic gourmet food ... written.

I. (20) Prologue: More like a Greek elegy about the unfulfilled male expectations and a desperately presented pederastic way out.

XXIV. (22) Epilogue: Request to the competent God to keep the masculine attitude for the girl even in old age ... if the loved one needs it ...

Two improper ones

III. (32) Social criticism : ... disgust remains with me and dressiness, and in the end / doesn't a brocaded skirt save itself like a woolen? ... ... We delight in the joys of the real, naked Cupid / And the rocked bed, lovely creaky sound. ... Picking up the skirt was felt to be particularly immoral at the time and would have sparked outrage. Naked Cupid is just as immoral. Complete nudity was a provocation and realistic representation, even in the fine arts, was not allowed. Only prostitutes showed themselves naked, which is what Herder's criticism of renaming Horen as whores refers to .

XVII. (46) Horrible warning about venereal diseases , which at that time were not curable. A prayer to the Graces should help as a means of avoidance . ... But what a hostile God has sent us in anger the new / monstrous birth of poisonous mud? / It creeps in everywhere, and in the loveliest garden / If the worm lurks treacherously, grabs those who enjoy it. ... ... ... The marriage bed is no longer certain, the adultery is no longer certain; / Husband, wife and friend, one is hurt in the other. …… I only implore one thing in my heart, I turn to you graces / This hot prayer from deep in my bosom: / Always protect my little, my nice little garden, remove / Any evil from me; Amor gives me his hand ...

20 published 1795

II. / 1. (14) Rome is the world, but without love. ... But it will soon be over: then there will only be one temple / Cupid's temple that receives the consecrated. ...

IV. / 2. (28) Outside of the social fuss and chatter, he finds happiness. ... Now you will not discover me as soon as I am in my asylum / That Amor the prince granted me, royal protection. …… Mother and daughter enjoy their Nordic guest, / And the barbarian dominates the Roman bosom and body.

V. / 3. (18) The beloved should not regret having given herself so quickly, that has always been the case. ... In the heroic time when gods and goddesses loved, / Desire followed the gaze, enjoyment followed the desire. ...

VI. / 4. (32) Opportunity makes thieves: The pious find secret secrecy outside of the proper society. ... She once appeared to me too, a brownish girl, her hair / fell dark and rich over her forehead. ... ... she soon gave me an docile hug and kiss. / O how happy I was!

VII. / 5. (20) During the day study of classical literature. At night Cupid teaches him ... while I peer into the lovely breasts / shapes, guide my hand down the hips. …… I have often written poetry in her arms / And counted the hexameter measure quietly with a fingering hand / you on your back. …… Cupid, meanwhile, stirs up the lamp and thinks of the times / When he has done the same service to his triumvirs .

VIII. / 6. (34) Poor, young widow with toddler tearfully tells an "I" about the stalkings of the Roman clergy. Cardinal (red stocking) and bishop (violet stocking) hated her. ... A clergyman has never enjoyed my embrace. ... The listener himself visited her by moonlight in dark prelate robes. Her new clothes testify to the envious neighbors that the widow is no longer alone. ... And how I sat ashamed that speeches by hostile people / this lovely picture could tarnish me! ...

IX. / 7. (26) Wellbeing :: Coming to Rome from the dark north ... the shine of the lighter ether shines around the forehead. ... Gods give bliss to mortals. ... ... Fortuna, you too! the most glorious gifts / hand them out as a girl as the whim may. ...

X. / 8. (6) Mobbing: If you tell me that as a child, beloved, people / disliked you and your mother spurned you, ... ... I believe it. ...

XI. / 9. (10) Satisfaction: ... The flame of the rural, sociable herd shines in autumn, ... ... This evening it delights me more, ... ... My lovely girl comes ... ... And the warmed up night will be a brilliant festival for us.

XII. / 10. (6) Carpe diem: ... Rejoice then, Lebendger, the dearly warmed place, / Before Lethe wets your fleeing foot horribly .

XIII. / 11. (12) Poetic, dreamy description of the pantheon with all gods and graces.

XIV. / 12. (34) Intertwined representation of the Roman harvest festival ... Come to the holy night! ... with hidden references to the girl. ... are two lovers after all a people gathered together. …… Locked boxes, / richly wreathed with ears of corn, carried girls past here…… Demeter, the great, / kindly once comforted a hero, / when she once hid Jason , the sprightly king of the Cretans, / her immortal body granted. ... ... That bushy myrtle shadows a sacred place! / Our satisfaction does not endanger the world.

XV. / 13. (52) Cupid is a deceiver, he cannot be trusted. But Aurora wakes him up on Cupid! ... altar again for the festive day. / I find the abundance of curls on my bosom! the head / rests and presses the arm that lends itself to the neck. / What a joyful awakening, you received, quiet hours, / The monument to the pleasure that lulled us to sleep! - / She moves in slumber and sinks to the breadth of the camp, / turned away; and yet she still leaves me hand in hand. / Heartfelt love always connects us and loyal desire ...

XVI. / 14. (6) Longingly letting his girl shine at home.

XVIII. / 15. (52) He praises the beautiful life in Rome. In an osteria he met his loved one, accompanied by a watchful uncle and her toddler. The waitress spilled wine on a table and with a delicate finger wrote her name and the time IV on the table. She quickly erased the treacherous lines when he read them. Now he had to wait a long time until the appointed hour and rolled over thoughts about Rome, its poets, buildings and history. He longs for the appointed hour, the clock went very slowly. ... happy! do I hear them already? No, but I can already hear three. … Slowly, wisely, the Parze spider down the thread for me…… Because you proud, you always give Amorn the rank.

XIX. / 16. (11) He confuses a scare with his suspicious uncle and sneaks away. ... Well, the old man's wish has been fulfilled: he is the loosest bird today who steals from his garden and niece. ,,,

XX. / 17. (8) He hated barking dogs, especially the neighboring dog. ... Because he once barked at my girl because she secretly stole to me, and almost betrayed our secret. ...

XXI. / 18. (20) In 10 elegies girl is mentioned, here personified by the faithful Faustine . ... The camp at night is very annoying to me. / But it is quite abominable on the way of love / to fear snakes and poison under the roses of lust / When in the most beautiful moment of surrendering joy / your sinking head lisping worry approaches. / That is why Faustine makes my fortune: she shares the camp / gladly with me, and precisely keeps faithful to faithful. ... Long, enthusiastic description of the night with Faustine.

XXII. / 19. (70) Fama and Amor are always fighting. The story of the lasting dispute is told in detail. Fama researches and spreads rumors about the actions of Cupid. ... And I feel the same way: I'm a little sorry; the goddess, / jealous, she searches for my secrets. / But it is an old law: I keep silent and adore: / For the Greeks, like me, atone for strife between kings.

XXIII. / 20. (32) The secret is only entrusted to the verses and thus remains hidden from the citizens: ... It is now more difficult for me to keep a beautiful secret, / Oh, the fullness of the heart flows so easily from my lips! …… You, hexameter, you, pentameter, be trusted / how she delights me during the day, how she delights me at night. …… And discovers the Quirite … / Finally, a happy couple's beautiful secret.


The Roman elegies mark a turning point in Goethe's own life: they are a very personal testimony to the poet's emancipation from the narrowness of domestic conditions. Inspired by the love strategies of the ancient poets Catullus , Ovid , Properz and Tibullus , he took up their design and subject matter. The closeness to antiquity is not only evident in the works of art in Rome, but also in imitating the ancient attitude towards love: “ You are one world, oh Rome; but without love the world would not be the world, for Rome would not be Rome either. "

Goethe describes his own situation and the experience he has made with love. What would have remained a simple erotic adventure for his contemporaries traveling to Rome turned into a sophisticated literary stimulus for him. So he processed both his own cultural and erotic experience in Rome as well as his young love for Christiane Vulpius after his return home. At the same time he fused his experience of the free Roman lifestyle with his view of Augustan antiquity. Strictly in form, but unbound in subject matter, the Roman elegies form the counterpart to the prime example of classicist poetry, the “ Iphigenia on Tauris ”, which he had completed in Italy.


Individual evidence

  2. ^ Eckart Kleßmann: Christiane - Goethe's beloved and companion, Artemis Verlags-AG, Zurich, 1992, pp. 40–42
  3. ^ Eckart Kleßmann: Christiane - Goethe's beloved and companion, Artemis Verlags-AG, Zurich, 1992, p. 40
  4. I. [1]
  5. Number of lines
  6. XXIV. [2]
  7. III. [3]
  8. Eckart Kleßmann: Christiane - Goethe's beloved and companion, Artemis Verlags-AG, Zurich, 1992, p. 165
  9. XVII. [4]
  10. II. [5] / 1. [6]
  11. IV. [7] / 2. [8]
  12. V. [9] / 3. [10]
  13. VI. [11] / 4. [12]
  14. VII. [13] / 5. [14]
  15. VIII. [15] / 6. [16]
  16. IX. [17] / 7. [18]
  17. X. [19] / 8. [20]
  18. XI. [21] / 9. [22]
  19. XII. [23] / 10. [24]
  20. XIII. [25] / 11. [26]
  21. XIV. [27] / 12. [28]
  22. XV. [29] / 13. [30]
  23. XVI. [31] / 14. [32]
  24. XVIII. [33] / 15. [34]
  25. XIX. [35] / 16. [36]
  26. XX. [37] / 17. [38]
  27. XXI. [39] / 18. [40]
  28. d. H. pure, free venereal diseases, see XVII.
  29. XXII. [41] / 19. [42]
  30. XXIII. [43] / 20. [44]

Web links

Wikisource: Roman Elegies  - Sources and Full Texts