Johann Wolfgang von Goethe



As a young aristocrat in the Imperial Free City of Frankfurt, Goethe was trained in fencing, equestrianism, and classical forms of dance. He was formally educated, and he pursued personal interests in illustration and literature. As a boy, he was particularly enthralled by puppet shows, which were annually arranged by his father.

Although he opened his own legal practice in 1771, Goethe was not interested in a life of litigation; subsequently, he did not pursue one. Instead, he lapsed in his studies of the rule of law, and opted to write poetry and fiction. In 1775, due to the success of his novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, he was invited to court in Weimar, where he would become the Duke of Weimar’s confidant.

Both he and the Duke joined the Bavarian Illuminati, a movement that drew its membership primarily from existing Masonic lodges. Its members dedicated themselves to the eradication of superstition. Secret societies were banned from Bavaria in 1785; the clubs had acquired two thousand members over a decade, records of which were seized and published, shattering the anonymity of the membership.

Gothe primarily devoted himself to fiction, although his writings included scientific studies, memoirs, and multitudes of letters, over ten thousand of which are extant. Additionally, Goethe’s efforts as a visual artist yielded a body of work, from which roughly three thousand of images survive. His last words were “More light!”

Roman Elegies, Verse V

Do not, beloved, regret that you yielded to me so quickly:
I entertain no base, insolent thoughts about you.
Arrows of Cupid work divers effects. Some do but scratch us:
Slow and insidious these poison our hearts over years.
Yet with a head freshly honed and cunningly fledged, certain others
Pierce to the marrow, inflame rapidly there our blood.
When gods and goddesses in days of heroes made love, then
Lust followed look and desire, with no delay, was indulged.
Surely you don’t think the goddess of love lost a moment reflecting
When, in Idean grove, Anchises caught her eye.
Nor did Luna delay about kissing that beautiful dreamer—
Jealous Aurora had else hastily wakened the lad.
At the loud banquet Hero regarded Leander—then promptly
Into dark waters he plunged, ardently swam toward his love.
When Rhea Silvia, princess and virgin, came down to the Tiber
Just to fetch water, a god seized her and that is the way
Mars begat himself sons, a pair of twins whom a she wolf
Suckled. Today a proud Rome claims to be queen of the world.