You are here: Goethe as a "Herme"
Wednesday, 19-06-2019


On Goethe and his wives: So many books have been written, dissertations written, films produced. Generations of readers racked their brains over his relationship with Charlotte von Stein (Was this true or not?). Or was it perhaps the Duchess Anna Amalia? What stopped him Christiane Vulpius, which he professed never? Was it just her sex appeal? It will probably never be known.

Also this Hermes sculpture can add no conclusive answers, but at least leads to contemplation. In ancient Greece, important personalities, philosophers, politicians, artists were presented as "herm," that is a stele with a bust and an erect penis. The more massive the phallus, the more important the person. Originally this was a representation of the god Hermes - hence the name. In any case, we see the fact that the ancient Greeks, in contrast to our Christian culture today, had a much freer attitude towards sexuality. At crossroads or along a property lines, such sculptures were erected. Some were there simply as a fence post. The recesses on the sides were used to insert fence cross bars.
Whether Goethe himself, had a portrait made as Herme remains an open question. Certainly he was a great admirer of antiquity, although it is at the end of his life when his worldview turned Catholic/Christian, as it did also at the end of his Faust. The four levels of the female before the legendary "Chorus Mysticus" at the end of Faust II, speak a very clear language anyway! Goethe, the ladies’ man with his own wife even hidden from the public eye, turns suddenly to the so-called Virgin Mary. For modern people this is a platitude which is difficult to understand. The text: "Virgin, Mother, Queen, Goddess," was carved on the herm in Goethe's own handwriting.
On the right side of the sculpture is a sketch of the original plant, which stretches out her reproductive organs, flourishing towards the sun. The portrait is carved from a mask
of Goethe made in 1807 at the age of 58 years by the sculptor Karl Gottlieb Weißer. Goethe was a very tall man for its time, 1.76 meters. The observer can, if he stands on the small pedestal in front of the Herme, places the poet face to face at the same level.
Yet a final note for
the cockring of Goethe. To explain this, we use the poet's own words, who could even be humorous:


Gerne der Zeiten gedenk’ ich,

Da all meine Glieder gelenkig

Bis auf eins.

Die Zeiten kehren nie wieder,

Steif sind all meine Glieder

Bis auf eins.




With pleasure I think back to the times,

When all my limbs were agile
Except one.
The days never return again,
Stiff are all my limbs

Except one.