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Literary Form and International World Order in Goethe: From Iphigenie to Pandora

from Special Section on What Goethe Heard, edited by Mary Helen Dupree

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 May 2018

Chenxi Tang
Affiliation:
University of California, Berkeley
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Summary

THE AGE OF GOETHE was an age of tumult in the international world. Armed conflicts were frequent and increased in scope and intensity: Seven Years’ War (1756–63), American Revolutionary Wars (1775–83), French Revolutionary Wars (1792–1802), Napoleonic Wars (1803–15), the Greek War of Independence (1821–32), to name just a few examples. A key instrument for regulating and ordering the tumultuous international world was international law. The scion of a distinguished lawyer family, Goethe studied, among other things, international law in his academic legal training, following in the footsteps of his maternal forefather Johann Wolfgang Textor who authored Synopsis Juris Gentium (1680), a significant work in the history of international law. The theses that he prepared in 1771 for his final exam, the so-called Positiones juris, include statements about ius naturae (Theses I, LVI) and ius gentium (Thesis XLVII), that is, those areas of jurisprudence that formed the basis of international law in early modern Europe. Later on, as a high official at the court of Weimar, Goethe acquired first-hand experiences in international politics and international law. Especially his stint on the battlefields alongside the Duke of Weimar during the First War of Coalition against Revolutionary France, documented later in Campagne in Frankreich and Belagerung von Mainz, must have confronted him with the whole range of international legal issues. Theoretical studies as well as practical experiences revealed to Goethe the purpose as well as the limitations of international law: as the law between states, international law was supposed to provide for a normative world order, but it patently failed to do so, as made painfully clear by the continual wars raging around him.

If it was as a jurist that Goethe became aware of the problems of international law and world order, it was as a poet that he tried out possibilities of resolving them. In this regard, he went through three phases. First, he used poetic writing as a medium for negotiating specific issues in the international world and finding imaginary solutions to them. Exemplary for this phase was Iphigenie auf Tauris, the prose version of which was completed in 1779, at a time when Goethe headed the War Commission at the court of Weimar and presumably had to face international issues on a daily basis.

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Goethe Yearbook 25
Publications of the Goethe Society of North America
, pp. 183 - 202
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2018

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