Goethe and the Poets of Arabia

Goethe and the Poets of Arabia

Katharina Mommsen

Translated by Michael M. Metzger


Camden House



A comprehensive account of Goethe's relationship to Arabian culture, mediated by his interest in certain poets and texts and by his highly nuanced attitude toward Islam.
Abundant evidence bears witness to Johann Wolfgang Goethe's lifelong predilection for the literature, religion, and culture of ancient Arabia. Scholars have hardly yet touched upon Goethe's relationship to Arabic literature. His remarkable West-östlicher Divan suggested that his interest in the "Orient" was limited to the Persian poet Hafez, his chief model for the collection, and to the culture of Persia. Yet significant aspects of this work and others stem from pre-Islamic and Islamic traditions of Arabian literature.
This study examines comprehensively Goethe's relationship to Arabian culture, mediated primarily by his interest in certain poets and texts and by his highly nuanced attitude toward Muhammad, the Qur'an, and Islam. Katharina Mommsen has explored exhaustively Goethe's opinions about Arab poets and their sources, the numerous traces of Arabic poetry that entered his works, and the grounds for his ambivalent affinity for Islam and its Prophet. Extensive textual evidence reveals how throughout his life Goethe's temperament determined his interest in particular Arabian poets and was in turn modulated by them. The study also opens new perspectives on Goethe's biography, especially in the early nineteenth century when he was writing the Divan.

Katharina Mommsen's studies of Goethe, including Goethe und die Moallakat, Goethe und 1001 Nacht, and numerous articles on Goethe and Islam, are recognized internationally. She is Professor Emerita of German at Stanford University. Michael M. Metzger is Professor Emeritus of German at the University at Buffalo.

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August 2014
508 pages
9x6 in
Studies in German Literature Linguistics and Culture
ISBN: 9781571139085
Format: Hardback
Camden House
BISAC LIT004170, LIT004220, POE013000
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Table of Contents

Translator's Preface
List of Abbreviations
Pre-Islamic Bedouin Poetry
Living Islam
Islam in the West-Eastern Divan
Dissent from Islam in the West-Eastern Divan
Poets of the Islamic Period
Arabian Proverbs
Appendix of Goethe's Poems in the Original German
Index of Persons
Index of Subjects


Goethe and the Poets of Arabia [is] Mommsen's magnum opus . . . . now rendered into fine, readable and accurate English by Michael M. Metzger. . . . [T]he study's greatest value lies . . . in its analytical contribution -- one that is still fresh and pertinent twenty-five years after the original publication in German. GERMAN QUARTERLY [James Hodkinson]

[T]his remains a book that -- despite (or because of) the specificity of its focus, and in the light of world politics post-2001 and of growing Islamophobia, not least in Germany itself -- has a significant contribution to make, over and beyond the narrow world of Germanistik, to intercultural awareness and understanding. JOURNAL OF EUROPEAN STUDIES [Paul Bishop]

This English translation of Mommsen's exhaustive study, published in German in 1988, brings her multifaceted treatment of the influence of Arabian literature on Goethe's works to a wide audience. In the hands of its excellent translator, the text offers a wealth of material . . . . This is an important contribution on a fascinating subject. CHOICE

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