How many of us when watching University Challenge (non Brits - it's a quiz knock-out show for university students) and hearing a question about famous German* philosophers or writers know that the answer is going to be either Wittgenstein, Kant or Goethe? Do any of us know anything about these people? Do most of us even care? ...
I've been learning quite a lot about Goethe over the last week or so and what I have learnt is making Lord Byron wobble a bit upon the pedestal on which I have placed him. Okay, Lord B (or George Gordon, to use his proper name) was dashing and exciting but Goethe had so much going for him it is no wonder that his name has a real aura of intellectual superiority around it.
Here is my Goethe for Dummies
In Weimar he was:
- president of the war commission
- director of roads and services
- a theatre director (his stagings for Mozart's operas are still used today)
- the discoverer 0f the intermaxillary bone in the human jaw (os intermaxillare)
- a writer of published papers in the field of optics, geology, archaelogy, engineering and economics.
- a collector of 18,000 stones at the institute of mineralogy
- a collector of art, numbering 26,500 works in his possession
- a botanist
- involved with Montgolfier's attempts at balloon flight
- involved with construction of the Panama Canal
- fluent in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, English, French, Spanish and Italian
- the writer of one of the most marvellous pieces I have ever read - namely, Faust.
George Gordon, you've got Johann Wolfgang Goethe trying to displace you in my affections.
*Okay, I know Weimar was technically not part of Germany at the time - which was actually made up of around 400 separate states. It's nothing to do with present-day Germany.