Friday, 14 October 2016

Italian Journey by Goethe

There’s a Irish Tourist Board ad with the tag line: The Road you’re on will take you there which suggest inevitability or a doom which will leave on lonely road in Connemara in the pouring rain wondering if you collected all the wool of the barbed wire would you have enough to knit a jumper with. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe made his escape from Weimar slipping away early and giving the impression that he would not be long, just popping out for a moment, which turned into two years from 1786 to 1788. This was a road he had to take.

Everything that was important to me in early childhood is again, thank God, becoming dear to me, and, to my joy, I find that I can once again dare to approach the classics. Now, at last, I can confess a secret malady, or mania, of mine. For many years I did not dare look into a Latin author or at anything which evoked an image of Italy. If this happened by chance, I suffered agonies. Herder often used to say mockingly that I had learned all my Latin from Spinoza, for that was the only Latin book he had ever seen me reading. He did not realize how carefully I had to guard myself against the classics, and that it was sheer anxiety which drove me to take refuge in the abstractions of Spinoza. Even quite recently, Wieland's translation of Horace's Satires made me very unhappy; after reading only a couple, I felt beside myself.
My passionate desire to see these objects with my own eyes had grown to such a point that, if I had not taken the decision I am now acting upon, I should have gone completely to pieces. More historical knowledge was no help. The things were in arm's reach, yet I felt separated from them by an impenetrable barrier. Now I feel, not that I am seeing them for the first time, but that I am seeing them again.

I am only at the beginning of his journey on his way to Rome down the Po, noticing everything recording and making a point of collecting shells at the Lido to crush for sand to dry his ink.

Early this morning a gondola took me and my old factotum to the Lido. We went ashore and walked across the spit of land. I heard a loud noise: it was the sea, which presently came into view. The surf was breaking on the beach in high waves, although the water was receding, for it was noon, the hour of low tide. Now, at last, I have seen the sea with my own eyes and walked upon the beautiful threshing floor of the sand which it leaves behind when it ebbs. How I wished the children could have been with me! They would so have loved the shells. Like a child, I picked up a good many because I have a special use for them. There are plenty of cuttlefish about, and I need the shells to dry the inky fluid they eject.

This pixel projecting ‘cuttlefish’ will continue to post at intervals on this classic of travel literature. Here he is on Raphael’s painting:

First of all, the Cecilia by Raphael. My eyes confirmed what I have always known: this man accomplished what others could only dream of. What can one really say about this picture except that Raphael painted it! Five saints in a row— their names don't matter — so perfectly realized that one would be content to die so long as this picture could endure for ever. But, in order to understand and appreciate Raphael properly, one must not merely glorify him as a god who appeared suddenly on earth without a father or a mother, like Melchizedek; one must consider his ancestors, his masters. These were rooted in the firm ground of truth; it was their labour and scrupulous care which laid the broad foundation; it was they who vied with each other in raising, step by step, the pyramid, on the summit of which the divine genius of Raphael was to place the last stone and reach a height which no one else will surpass or equal.

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