Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Gothic Goethe

Frederick Lee Bridell, The Coliseum at Rome by Moonlight (1858)
I have been making my way through Goethe's Italian Journey, which also gives me an opportunity to post on Goethe's Twitter account short comments on his stay in Rome. Today's entry in Italian Journey, February 2, 1787, however, should be quoted in full:

Unless a person has walked through Rome in the light of the full moon he cannot imagine the beauty of it. All individual details are swallowed up in the great masses of light and shadow, and only the largest, most general images present themselves to the eye. For three days we have been thoroughly enjoying the brightest and most splendid nights. The Coliseum offers a particularly beautiful sight. It is closed at night, a hermit lives there in his tiny little church [Kirchelchen], and beggars nest in the dilapidated archways. They have laid a fire on the ground, and a quiet breeze drove the smoke first toward the arena, so that the lower part of the ruins was covered and the huge walls above jutted out over it darkly. We stood at the grating and watched the phenomenon, while the moon stood high and clear in the sky. Gradually the smoke drifted through the walls, holes, and openings, looking like fog in the moonlight. It was an exquisite sight. This is how one must see the Pantheon, the Capitol, the forecourts of St. Peter’s, and other great streets and squares illuminated. And so the sun and the moon, just like the human spirit, are quite differently employed here than in other places, here, where their gaze meets huge and yet refined masses.

The translation is by Robert R. Heitner.

Picture credit: Southampton City Art Gallery

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