Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: December 2013

2 - Friedrich Schlegel's Writings on India: Reimagining Germany as Europe's True Oriental Self


This chapter looks at how Friedrich Schlegel (1772–1829) developed and applied his particular kind of orientalist thinking and writing within the German geographical, linguistic, and cultural context of the early nineteenth century. Schlegel's orientalism developed in Paris (1802–4) in the context of the Pan-European clamor against French cultural (later political) hegemony and against modernity, capitalism, urban life, and individualism. his reflections on the orient, particularly the topos of “India,” became part of a process whereby Germany was reimagined as no longer being part of Western Europe but rather as the “true” oriental self of Europe.

Much has been written on the romantics generally and their influence on early German nationalism, and many scholars have come to similar conclusions. None, arguably, has been able to reveal through a close reading of “Reise nach Frankreich” and Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier Schlegel's use of Indian language and culture in contesting French cultural hegemony. This contribution seeks to compensate for this deficiency by bringing to bear the study of early nineteenth-century nationalism on the study of Schlegel's engagement with India.

Friedrich Schlegel in Paris

Schlegel's interest in Sanskrit studies spans a period of nearly forty years, during which an enthusiasm for India took hold of many German intellectuals. The period begins in 1791 with Georg Forster's (1754–94) translation of Kalidasa's Shakuntala and ends in 1827 with Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's (1770–1831) dismissive verdict on India.