Rameau's nephew

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Le Neveu de Rameau (1841) by Denis Diderot (1713–1784)

Rameau's nephew (French original title Le Neveu de Rameau ) is a philosophical dialogue by Denis Diderot . Diderot worked on the work from 1761 to 1774, which was not printed during his lifetime.

After the death of the French enlightener, his library was transferred to the Tsar 's court, so that the manuscript of Le Neveu de Rameau (1761), previously unpublished in France, by the orderly officer with the rank of lieutenant in the naval battalion of the Russian heir to the throne, Grand Duke Paul I in Petersburg Friedrich Maximilian Klinger could be found in the Diderot library. He initially offered it as a copy to the publisher Johann Friedrich Hartknoch in Riga , who refused to publish it.

The work was first published in Germany in 1805 in a translation by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe .

The motto

Diderot prefixes his dialogue with the quote "Vertumnis," quotquot sunt, natus iniquis "from the satires of Horace . Loosely translated this means: "Born under a fickle star". Vertumnus was a Roman god who held the position of supreme deity among the Etruscans, who had undergone a change to a god of the seasons, change and chance since the ancient reception of the Renaissance.

Historical background

Rameau's nephew, the eponymous main character, was the nephew of Jean-Philippe Rameau . Jean-Philippe Rameau had four sisters and five brothers, including Claude Rameau (1690–1761), the father of Jean-François Rameau (1716–1777), "Rameau's nephew" in dialogue. Jean-François Rameau, or lui in Diderot's text, was a moderately successful musician who earned his living as a singing and piano teacher traveling through France. He is said to have been a restless, unsocial, even impetuous contemporary, but not without a certain talent. It is recorded in a Paris police file of November 7, 1748 with the following remark:

“Le sieur Rameau, neveu du sieur Rameau de l'Académie Royale de musique, d'un caractère peu sociable et difficile à dompter, a insulté sur le théâtre de l'Opéra les directeurs. »

"Mr. Rameau, nephew of Mr. Rameau of the Royal Academy of Music, of a character that is not very socially difficult to control, has insulted the directors at the Theater der Oper."

Despite the recorded and possibly other undocumented abnormalities, he found a satisfactory livelihood thanks to his paying music students. After his wife and child died, he lived as a bohemian and made his way through life with various activities and begging. He is said to have died in a hospital, the date of his death is not known.


The work consists of a dialogue between two people, in the dialogue called He (Lui) and I (Moi). The "literary" Diderot or moi goes on his evening promenade to the Palais Royal . Here he meets Jean-François Rameau or lui , who he has known for a long time, and after a short chat, invites him to the Café de la Régence . It is about Jean-François Rameau, the nephew of the famous composer Jean-Philippe Rameau . He will have an extended conversation with this acquaintance, the lui . The moi feels attracted and repelled by this person at the same time. Because the nephew is not just a cynic who eloquently, with gestures, charmingly and without feeling of shame reveals his parasitic existence and amorality and thus reveals that the staged mask play of wickedness pays off in real society. Thus the contradictions between civil virtues and real society are revealed. The “literary” Diderot or moi , which initially appears from a position of moral superiority, is increasingly involved in contradictions by Rameau's nephews.

The initially cheerful banter, spiced with jokes and anecdotes , turns into an increasingly serious conversation. It ultimately leads to basic moral, artistic and philosophical questions. Rameau criticizes the cultural scene, but at the same time shows himself to be dependent on it. Rameau's nephew is just a pulcinella of rich society, but considers himself a misunderstood genius. With “Rameau's Neffe”, Diderot reveals the soul of a failed artist: arrogant and excessive in his passion, he is at the same time dependent on the favor of his patrons. The desperate despiser of society is opposed to the subtle first-person narrator, a philosopher of the Enlightenment. The cynic's illusion-free view of the world meets the enlightening philosopher's love for people. Diderot's thoughts can be seen in both figures. Diderot chose dialogue as a form of design in order to play through philosophical lines of thought and cultural-critical considerations.


Dialogue is a who's who of pre-revolutionary Paris: enlighteners and counter-enlighteners, actors, musicians, financiers and clergy.

Adélaïde-Louise-Pauline Hus , actress at the Comédie-Française
Charles Palissot de Montenoy , French playwright, opponent of the encyclopedists , especially Diderots.
Jacques Rochette de La Morlière , Chevalier de la Morliére, (1719–1785) man of letters, regular at Café Procope and notorious intriguer
Claude Adrien Helvétius , tax farmer, philosopher of the Enlightenment
Claudine Alexandrine Guérin Marquise de Tencin , Salonnière
Egidio Duni , Italian opera composer, is considered to be the founder of the Opéra comique
Élie Catherine Fréron , publicist
Voltaire , celebrated philosopher of the French Enlightenment, whom Diderot admired but avoided
Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon , French naturalist, member of the Académie française
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi , Italian composer
Hippolyte leris de la Tude , called Claire Josephe Clairon, actress
Jean Calas , French Protestant, victim of a judicial murder, rehabilitated through Voltaire's work
Jean Racine , playwright
Jean-Baptiste le Rond d'Alembert , known as D'A. , French mathematician, co-editor of the encyclopedia
Jean-Jacques Rousseau , philosopher, long-time friend of Diderot
Jean-Philippe Rameau , composer
Montesquieu , philosopher and state theorist
Nicolas Corby and Pierre Moette (1721–1806), directors of the Opéra comique until 1762
Jeanne Antoinette Poisson Marquise de Pompadour favorite of Louis XV. , protected the encyclopedists
Philidor , musician and regular at the Café de la Régence , was considered the world's best chess player at the time

Edition history

Rameau's nephew has a checkered and loss-making history of editions. Written between 1762 and 1774, the manuscript remained unprinted during his lifetime and appeared to be lost after his death. One copy, however, had reached St. Petersburg with other scripts and was in the Hermitage together with Diderot's library, which he had already sold to Katharina in 1765 , but which she had taken care of as her employed librarian in Paris . Goethe's childhood friend Friedrich Maximilian Klinger , then a high official in the military and educational system in Russia, had probably discovered the manuscript there, had secretly arranged for a copy, but tried in vain to find a publisher. Through the mediation of Friedrich Schiller's college friend Wilhelm von Woliehen, the manuscript came to Weimar, where Schiller recognized the nephew, who had been believed to be lost, in the text, drew Goethe's attention to it and offered the Leipzig bookseller Göschen to print in 1804. In the same year, Goethe began translating. In 1805 the book came out in Leipzig, a parallel print originally planned by the publisher in French was not carried out. The manuscript from which Goethe translated has since disappeared.

In 1821 two French authors, de Saur and Saint-Geniès, translated the Goethe translation into "an extremely unscrupulous French" and sold it as the original. Around the same time, the publisher JLJ Brière received a copy of the Dialogue from Diderot's daughter M me de Vandeul, which was printed in 1823 with a few interventions and "corruptions". The manuscript on which this edition is based has also disappeared.

In 1890, Georges Monval, librarian at the Comédie-Française , found a bundle of writings by Diderot, including a handwritten manuscript of the "Neveu de Rameau" , from one of the bouquinists on the banks of the Seine in Paris. The bundle came from the estate of the Marquis Larochefoucauld-Liancourt (1747-1827), a French diplomat who was friends with Melchior Grimm , and was hidden in the Marquis' erotica collection. On the basis of this handwritten manuscript, Monval published Diderot's text in 1891. This version is considered the authentic one today. The manuscript is kept in the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York.


Shortly after the publication of Goethe's translation in Germany, Hegel commented on Rameau's nephew in his Phenomenology of Spirit and put it in context with the subject of domination and servitude .

In his essay " Madness and Society " ( Histoire de la folie à l'âge classique ) Michel Foucault also comments on Diderot's text, recognizes in the protagonist a link between sensuality and madness and reads it as evidence of the "night side of the Enlightenment".

In 1861 the magazine Revue européenne published a text by Jules Janin under the title La fin d'un monde et du neveu de Rameau , which parodied scenes and themes from Diderot's original and assessed Janin himself as a literary and stylistic finger exercise.

Thomas Bernhard's story Wittgenstein's nephew alludes in the title to Diderot's text. Bernhard and Diderot's protagonists are both historical figures in the shadow of their uncle, a personality of epoch-making importance. Louis Aragon's Le neveu de M. Duval (1953) also alludes to the title .

The Romanian director David Esrig created a legendary production of the text in the 1960s with the two actors Marin Moraru and Gheorghe Dinică .

In her essay "Rüpel und Rebell. The Success Story of the Intellectual" (2018), Hannelore Schlaffer sees Rameau's nephew as the first figure in the figure of the intellectual.


  • Le Neveu de Rameau . Dialogue. Ouvrage posthume et inédit par Diderot. Paris: Delaunay 1821.
French first edition as retransmission of Goethe's translation.
  • Le Neveu de Rameau . Présentation, notes, chronologie et dossier de Jean-Philippe Marty, Paris: Flammarion 2005. (Étonnants classiques). ISBN 2-08-072218-2 .
Critical edition.
German translations and edits
With e. Afterword by Günter Metken . Stuttgart: Reclam 1967. Through. u. exp. Edition 1984.
  • Mr. Rameau's nephew . Translated by Otto Heinrich von Gemmingen. 1891. New edition of Tredition Classics. 2012. ISBN 978-3-8472-4653-4 . Full text .
  • Rameau's Nephew and Moral Tales . Trans. U. with an afterword vers. by Hans Hinterhäuser. Frankfurt a. M .: Ullstein 1967. (Diderot. The narrative complete works. Vol. 4. Ullstein work edition.) ISBN 3-548-37145-0 .
  • Rameau's nephew . Trans. And edit for the stage. by Tankred Dorst . Cologne: Kiepenheuer & Witsch 1963.
  • Rameau's nephew . Version for the Volksbühne Berlin based on a translation by Gustav Rohn. Berlin: Henschel-Verl. 1996. [1] (PDF; 314 kB)


  • Rudolf Schlösser : Rameau's Neffe - Studies and Investigations for the Introduction to Goethe's Translation of Diderot's Dialogue . Reprint of the original edition. from 1900. Severus, Hamburg 2011. ISBN 978-3-86347-027-2 .
  • Hüseyin Kocintar: Me and him. About reason and unreason in Diderot's 'Rameau's nephew' . 2013. (Academic series of publications. 5.) ISBN 978-3-656-37721-4 .
  • Jean Firges : The work on the "Neveu de Rameau", in dsb .: Denis Diderot: The philosophical and literary genius of the French Enlightenment. Biography and work interpretations. Sonnenberg, Annweiler 2013, ISBN 9783933264756 , pp. 56-92.
  • Ernst Gamillscheg : Diderots Neveu de Rameau and the Goethesche Translation of Satire (= treatises of the Academy of Sciences and Literature. Humanities and social sciences class. Born 1953, Volume 1). Verlag der Wissenschaft und der Literatur in Mainz (commissioned by Franz Steiner Verlag, Wiesbaden).

Web links

References and comments

  1. practice Hinterhäuser: “Among ungracious fools, how many of them are born,” Horace. Satires. Book 2. 7.
  2. ^ Philip Francis: A Poetical Translation of the Works of Horace. Vol. 2.1749, p. 232.
  3. Allgemeine Literaturzeitung \ Volume 1805 \ Volume 4 \ Numero 326 \ Diderot, D .: Rameaus Neffe. (1805)
  4. Rudolf Schlösser: Rameaus Neffe - Studies and Investigations for the Introduction to Goethe's Translation of Diderot's Dialogue. Reprint of the original 1900 edition. Hamburg 2011. p. 107
  5. Hans Hinterhäuser: Diderot as a narrator. Epilogue in: Denis Diderot: The complete narrative work. Vol. 4. 1967. p. 224
  6. Hans Hinterhäuser p. 224.
  7. Otto Pöggeler, Dietmar Köhler (ed.): GWF Hegel: Phenomenology of Spirit. Akademie Verlag, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-05-004234-6 , p. 32
  8. ^ Hans Robert Jauss: The Dialogical and the Dialectical Neveu De Rameau: How Diderot Adopted Socrates and Hegel Adopted Diderot. Center for Hermeneutical Studies, 1984, ISBN 0-8924-2045-6
  9. Hedi Denzel de Tirado: Biographical fictions: The paradigm Denis Diderot in an intercultural comparison. (1765-2005). Würzburg 2008. p. 167.
  10. Christie's. Sale 5597, lot 15