Goethe's Faust and European Epic

Goethe's Faust and European Epic

Forgetting the Future

Arnd Bohm


Camden House



A reassessment of genre that fills a major gap in Goethe's oeuvre and initiates a radically new reading of Faust.
Goethe has long been enshrined as the greatest German poet, but his admirers have always been uneasy with the idea that he did not produce a great epic poem. A master in all the other genres and modes, it has been felt, should have done so. Arnd Bohm proposes that Goethe did compose an epic poem, which has been hidden in plain view: Faust. Goethe saw that the Faust legends provided the stuff for a national epic: a German hero, a villain (Mephistopheles), a quest (to know all things), a sublime conflict (good versus evil), a love story (via Helen of Troy), and elasticity (all human knowledge could be accommodated by the plot). Bohm reveals the care with which Goethe draws upon such sources as Tasso, Ariosto, Dante, and Vergil. In the microcosm of the "Auerbachs Keller" episode Faust has the opportunity to find "what holds the world together in its essence" and to end his quest happily, but he fails. He forgets the future because he cannot remember what epic teaches. His course ends tragically, bringing him back to the origin of epic, as he replicates the Trojans' mistake of presuming to cheat the gods.

Arnd Bohm is Associate Professor of English at Carleton University, Ottawa.

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February 2007
1 black and white illustrations
288 pages
9x6 in
Studies in German Literature Linguistics and Culture
ISBN: 9781571133441
Format: Hardback
Camden House
BISAC LIT004170, LIT013000
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Related Titles

Table of Contents

Goethe's Epic Ambitions
The System of European Epic
Faust and Epic History
The Roots of Evil
"Auerbachs Keller" and Epic History
Faust as a Christian Epic
The Epic Encyclopedia
Postscript: Lest We Forget
Works Cited


Winner of the 2007 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Award

A bold undertaking by a careful scholar, this book displays an impressive grasp of its supporting materials. Bohm challenges readers to view Faust in interesting new ways and supports his discussion with extraordinary footnotes. ... Imaginative comparisons with earlier epics furnish new insights. ... The final pages of the book offer an excellent summary. CHOICE

Bohm has brought considerable new light to the intertextual archaeology of Faust and thereby has lent new impulses to Faust criticism. His subtle philological study belongs therefore in the library of any serious Faust reader. MONATSHEFTE

Goethe's Faust and European Epic is an ambitious book, setting out to demonstrate "that Faust properly belongs in the sequence of works ... that together constitute the system of European epic."... Bohm's treatment of the European epic as a dynamic system does a good job of drawing out the aspects of that vast system that are most promising for a reading of Faust, and of allowing these to stand as representative features of the tradition. CHRISTIANITY AND LITERATURE

[A] work of extraordinary complexity and sophistication.. When it comes to intimate knowledge and understanding of Goethe's great work and its place amid European letters, [Bohm] ranks with the best. SEMINAR

The strength of the book lies ... in its deceptively broad learnedness. It deals not only with the history of the epic tradition, but also ... with the great corpus of recent English-language research on the epic of the Renaissance and of the Empire, with the hermeneutics of the epic, and with the interrelationship of natural sciences, magic, and mysticism in the early modern period. GOETHE JAHRBUCH

Author Bio

Arnd Bohm is Associate Professor in the Department of German at Carleton University.

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