Friday, December 9, 2011

Holderlin, "The Poet in the Tower," by J.M. Coetzee

The Poet in the Tower

October 19, 2006

J. M. Coetzee

Poems and Fragments
by Friedrich Hölderlin, translated from the German by Michael Hamburger
London: Anvil, 823 pp., $29.95 (paper)                                                  
In the depths of the Second World War, in a London battered by German bombs, a young Jew named Michael Hamburger penned a lament in the voice of the German poet Friedrich Hölderlin:
Diotima is dead, and silent
The island’s singing bird.
The temple I raised from ruin
Fallen again.

Where is the flame I stoked from ashes
Of the mind? Where are the heroes
And my pulsing song?
Nothing stirs on the lakes of time.

A volume of Hölderlin translations from Hamburger’s hand appeared in 1943. Meanwhile, in German classrooms, children were chanting verses from Hölderlin too:
O take me, take me up into the ranks,
so that I do not one day die a common death!
I do not want to die in vain, what
I want is to fall on the sacrificial mound

For the Fatherland, to pour out the heart’s blood
For the Fatherland.

Who was Hölderlin, who could be made to speak for both a lost past and a National Socialist future?
Friedrich Hölderlin was born in 1770 in the tiny independent duchy of Württemberg in southwestern Germany. His father—who died when the boy was two—was an ecclesiastical employee; his mother, the daughter of a clergyman, intended him for the church. He was sent to church schools and then to the prestigious theological seminary in Tübingen.

Württemberg was unusual among German statelets of the late eighteenth century: whereas most were ruled by absolute princes, in Württemberg the powers of the duke were constitutionally constrained by an assembly of non-noble families, the Ehrbarkeit, to which the Hölderlins belonged. This body, which included the clergy and upper bureaucracy, ran the cultural and intellectual life of the duchy.
Young men who passed the seminary’s stiff entrance examination were given a free education on condition they would thereafter serve in Württemberg parishes. Hölderlin was a reluctant seminarian: without success, he tried to persuade his mother to let him study law instead. She controlled his not inconsiderable inheritance: he remained dependent, until her death in 1828, on the meager allowances she doled out.
Though the seminary offered a first-class training in classical languages, theology, and divinity, there was also a stress on obedience to church and state that students found irksome. Hölderlin spent five restless years (1788–1793) there. Intellectual stimulus came not from his teachers—whom he looked down on for their obsequiousness in the face of authority—but from fellow students, who in his cohort included G.F.W. Hegel and Friedrich Schelling. He himself stood out: “It was as if Apollo was striding through the hall,” a classmate recalled.
In practice the seminary produced more graduates than there were clerical openings, and disaffection with the system was rife. Hölderlin was not alone in dreaming of an alternative career as a man of letters. But the Consistorium, the board in charge of the seminary, was hostile to such ambitions. For the rest of his life he had to request permission before he changed abode or employment, under penalty of having to repay the cost of his education.

 In the seminary Hölderlin wrote enthusiastic, rather strident poems of a pantheistic bent celebrating the universe as a living whole infused with divinity. Their immediate model was Friedrich Schiller,
but their philosophical underpinning was ultimately Neoplatonic. As his motto Hölderlin adopted the Greek phrase en kai pan, one and all: life is a harmonious unity, our goal must be to merge with the All.


Then burst the bomb of the French Revolution. At the
two centers of learning in the duchy, the university and the seminary,
revolutionary societies were founded, French newspapers pored over,
revolutionary songs sung. Students joyfully endorsed the Declaration of
the Rights of Man. When in 1792 the European autocracies launched
attacks on France, it was the French armies for which they cheered. The
Duke of Württemberg deplored their support for “French anarchy and
regicide,” and tightened his control. Rather than fomenting anarchy,
the young philosophical radicals in fact hoped for the creation of a
republic of Württemberg, or of a wider Swabia, under the protection of
French arms, and were disconcerted when the Terror began to gather
momentum in France.
There is no doubting Hölderlin's revolutionary sympathies—”Pray for
the French, the champions of human rights,” he instructed his younger
sister—but his poems say nothing direct about politics. To a degree
this was because he had no models for political poetry; but it was also
because of a strong tradition among Germany's intellectual class of not
involving itself in political affairs.
The writer with the strongest following among young idealists was
Schiller, and Schiller's political line after 1793 was that the
consciousness of the people needed to be changed before true political
change could occur. In his Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Mankind
of 1794–1795 Schiller proposed that the human spirit could best be
enlightened, liberated, and refined by participating in aesthetic play.
For proof, one need look no further than ancient Athens, a democratic
society that prized the life of the mind.
Hölderlin approved the leading role that Schiller gave the artist,
but was disappointed by Schiller's antirevolutionary stance, as he was
dissatisfied with the skeptical divide between politics and ethics
maintained by Immanuel Kant: political reform might be desirable, said
Kant, but only as an aid to the more important goal of individual moral
growth. For a while Hölderlin found in Johann Fichte a guide more to
his liking; but in the end even Fichte was not strongly enough
committed to a utopian future.
The issue was human freedom and what freedom consisted in. The
idealism of Hölderlin, Hegel, and Schelling in their revolutionary
phase rested on a conviction that ideas could change the world, that
the inner freedom envisaged by Kant, Schiller, and Fichte could be
extended, that there could again emerge such a thing as a free society
along Athenian lines. If Schiller, following on Johann Winckelmann,
represented a second generation of German philhellenism, Hölderlin,
Hegel, and Schelling formed a third wave: young men who saw in Greece a
model to be emulated and even surpassed, not just in art and philosophy
but in democratic practice too.
Similarly with the French Revolution in its glory days. The
Revolution, said Hölderlin, gave an intimation of how the gap could be
bridged between ideas and reality, between the realm of the divine and
the world. En kai pan: what had once been whole and good, and
had then fallen apart, could be put together again. To search out
traces of lost unity in the chaos of appearance we have only the
aesthetic sense to rely on; to philosophy and poetry falls the task of
healing what was broken.
Nevertheless, the self-betrayal and defeat of the Revolution left
its mark on Hölderlin as on many other disappointed young Europeans of
his generation. “It would make terrible reading,” wrote his younger
contemporary Achim von Arnim in 1815, the year when the autocracies of
Europe reasserted their sway, “to count off all the beautiful German
souls who surrendered to madness or suicide or to careers they


Graduating from the seminary with the degree of Magister, and
resisting pressure from his mother to look for a parish, Hölderlin
established a toehold in literary Jena. An extract from his novel in
progress, Hyperion, was published in a magazine Schiller
edited; with Schiller himself Hölderlin established a quasi-filial
relationship. At first Schiller accepted the role genially enough,
giving Hölderlin advice about his verse-writing—notably to avoid large
philosophical subjects— which Hölderlin ignored. What Hölderlin was
really after was a more complicated and indeed Oedipal relationship
than the older man cared for—”I am at times in a secret struggle with
your genius, to protect my freedom against it,” he confided—and in the
end Schiller stopped answering his letters.
Needing an income, Hölderlin took on the first of a series of
appointments as resident tutor in the homes of well-to-do families.
None of these lasted long—Hölderlin had no particular rapport with
children—but the second, with a prominent Frankfurt family, affected
his life decisively. He fell in love with his employer's wife, Susette
Gontard, and she with him. Forced to resign, he for a while continued
to meet her clandestinely. But in 1802, at the age of thirty-four, she
contracted tuberculosis and died.
Love affairs between ambitious but penniless young intellectuals and
the neglected wives of businessmen are a staple of nineteenth-century
romantic fiction. Hölderlin's first biographer, Wilhelm Waiblinger, did
his best to assimilate Hölderlin and Susette to the genre: Susette, “a
young woman… of enthusiastic soul and fiery, vivacious disposition,”
was “inflamed to the highest degree” by Hölderlin's “gallant,
distinguished person, his fine eyes, his youth, his uncommon
understanding and eminent talent,” as well as his skill in music-making
and conversation. The reality transcended the clichés of fiction.
Susette's letters to Hölderlin have survived, along with a few of his
to her. As one reads them, writes David Constantine, “one's sympathy is
continually moved towards that peculiar sadness and outrage which comes
when one witnesses an irremediable harm being done.” “The thwarted
relation of Hölderlin and Susette Gontard can properly be called a
In a sense Susette made Hölderlin as a poet. She gave him back the
confidence that Schiller had undermined. She persuaded him to look to
earlier German poets, Klopstock in particular, as models. But most
importantly she incarnated in his eyes the union of earthly beauty with
pure mind to which his more mystical, pantheistic intuitions had
pointed him—en kai pan—but in which he had lost confidence reading Kant and Fichte. Susette appears in the two-volume Hyperion(1797,
1799) as Diotima, a sage and beautiful woman who guides the steps of
Hyperion, a philhellene who has voyaged from his soulless German
homeland—where, as he bitterly remarks, poets live like strangers in
their own house—to help the Greeks in their struggle against the
Fichte had taught that consciousness is not part of nature but
stands outside nature observing it. To Hölderlin the evolution of
consciousness had seemed to foster only a dispiriting sense of
alienation. Diotima-Susette brings Hyperion-Hölderlin to realize that
consciousness can be an agency of spiritual growth, that it is possible
to share at a fully conscious level in the divinity of the All.
Specifically, the experience of beauty leads to the divine. Thus in his
late twenties Hölderlin began to develop a philosophy with Platonic
undertones and a strongly aesthetic orientation, coupled with a
perspective on history in which the modern world is continually
measured against the standard of the ancient.
Hölderlin worked up the Greece of Hyperion out of travel
books, thereby joining a line of distinguished German philhellenes who
never visited Greece, a line that included Goethe and Winckelmann,
author of the little book, Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture (1755), that had sparked off the philhellenic craze. In Hyperion
and in poems from the same period Hölderlin adopted Winckelmann's
Greece of “noble simplicity and quiet greatness” as the theater in
which he would thenceforth play out his ideas. If in bygone times men
had been free to pursue personal excellence and the life of the mind,
then they might be able to do so again in some liberated Germany of the

After leaving the Gontards, Hölderlin took on two
further tutoring jobs, and was dismissed from each for erratic
behavior. He tried to win a lectureship in Greek at the University of
Jena, but without success. A friend created for him at the court of
Hessen-Homburg a position as librarian with the lightest of duties, a
position that the friend secretly funded. But this happy solution to
the problem of how the philosopher-poet might devote himself to what,
in a letter to his mother, he called “the higher and purer activities
for which God in his excellence has intended me” came to an abrupt end
when the friend was arrested on charges of treason. For a while it
seemed that Hölderlin himself might be charged as a co-conspirator; but
after a medical examination he was declared of unsound mind (his speech
was “half German, half Greek, half Latin,” said the doctor) and allowed
to go home to his mother.
To these last years of precarious sanity belongs much of Hölderlin's
greatest work: the late hymns, the Sophocles and Pindar translations,
the play The Death of Empedocles in its final version. He had
hoped to use his time in Homburg to write an exposition of his
philosophy of poetry, which had hitherto found only fragmentary
expression in essays and letters; but perhaps because he was losing the
capacity for extended thought the job was never done.
One of Hölderlin's biographers has argued that Hölderlin only
pretended to be mad to escape the law. But the weight of evidence
suggests otherwise. Hölderlin had been dismissed from his last
tutorships because fits of rage made him unfit to teach young children.
His attention wandered; he alternated between bursts of activity and
withdrawal; he was morbidly suspicious.
In 1806, after his condition had deteriorated further, Hölderlin was
conveyed, kicking and struggling, to a clinic in Tübingen from which he
was in due course discharged as incurable but harmless. A cabinetmaker
with literary interests took him in and housed him in a tower attached
to his home. His mother paid for his upkeep out of his inheritance,
assisted by a state annuity. He spent much of his time in his host's
garden, walking about alone, gesticulating and talking to himself.
There was a trickle of visitors, who would usually be welcomed with
courtly formality. A caller left a record of such a visit. From the
elderly poet he requested a few lines “as a souvenir.” “Shall they be
verses on Greece, Spring, or the Spirit of the Age?” he was asked. The
Spirit of the Age, replied the visitor. Hölderlin took out a folio
sheet and penned six lines of doggerel, signing them “Obediently,
Sardanelli. 24 May 1748.” Under the name Sardanelli and other aliases,
Hölderlin continued to write occasional verse until his death in 1843
at the age of seventy-three.
The poet in the tower was not forgotten by the reading public.
Editions of his poems appeared in 1826 and 1846. During his lifetime
Hölderlin was sentimentalized by romantics as a fragile soul driven to
madness by his daimon. Later he fell into neglect, remembered only as
an eccentric nostalgist for ancient Greece. Nietzsche had a deeper
appreciation of him; but it was not until the first decade of the
twentieth century, when he was taken up and promoted by the poet Stefan
George, that Hölderlin's star began to rise. With George commences the
reading of Hölderlin as a specifically German prophet-poet that would
later bedevil his image. “The great visionary for his people,” George
called him in 1919: “The cornerstone of the approaching German future
and the herald of the New God.”

On the centenary of Hölderlin's death a project was
launched to publish all of his writings, a task that would take forty
years to complete. For this so-called Stuttgart Edition the principles
of classical philology were applied to divide the surviving manuscript
material into a core of texts and a secondary corpus of variants. This
distinction between text and variant came to prove so contentious among
Hölderlin scholars that in 1975 a rival and yet to be completed
edition, the so-called Frankfurt Edition, was inaugurated on the
principle that there can be no core Hölderlinian text, that we must
learn to read the manuscripts as palimpsests of versions overlaying and
underlying other versions. For the foreseeable future the notion of a
definitive text of Hölderlin is thus in suspension.
One reason for this contest of editions is that in the
ninety-two-page notebook at the heart of the problem Hölderlin went
back and forth between new and old manuscript poems, using different
pens and inks in an unsystematic way, dating nothing, allowing what one
might naively call different versions of the same poem to stand side by
side. A deeper reason is that in his last productive years Hölderlin
seems to have abandoned the notion of the definitive and to have
regarded each seemingly completed poem as merely a stopping place, a
base from which to conduct further raids into the unsaid. Hence his
habit of breaking open a perfectly good poem, not in order to improve
it but to rebuild it from the ground up. In such a case, which is the
definitive text, which the variant, particularly when the rebuilding is
broken off and not resumed? Are apparently unfinished reworkings to be
regarded as abandoned projects, or might Hölderlin have been feeling
his way toward a new aesthetics of the fragmentary, and an accompanying
poetic epistemology of the flashing insight or vision?
In Germany the Hölderlin centenary of 1943 was celebrated on a grand
scale. Ceremonies took place across the country; hundreds of thousands
of Hölderlin readers were printed and distributed to German soldiers.
Why this philosopher-poet, elegist of the Greek past and foe of
autocracy, should have been adopted as a mascot of the Third Reich is
not obvious. Initially the line followed by the Nazi cultural office
was that Hölderlin was a prophet of the newly arisen German giant.
After the tide of the war turned at Stalingrad, that line was amended:
Hölderlin now spoke for European values being defended by Germany
against the advancing Asiatic, Bolshevist hordes.
All of this rested on a handful of patriotic poems interpreted in a
slanted way, plus some tinkering with the texts. Conveniently forgotten
was the fact that when Hölderlin wrote of a Vaterland he as
often as not meant Swabia rather than a wider Deutschland (which in
1800 was a cultural term, not a political one). The Nazis certainly did
not absorb his warning, in the poem “Voice of the People,” against the
“mysterious yearning toward the chasm” that can overtake whole nations.
The fortunes of Hölderlin under the Nazis are intricately
intertwined with his fortunes in the hands of his most influential
interpreter, Martin Heidegger. Heidegger's meditations on the place of
Germany in history are carried out largely in the form of commentaries
on Hölderlin. In the 1930s Heidegger saw Hölderlin as the prophet of a
new dawn; when the Reich collapsed he saw him as the consoling poet for
dark times when the gods withdraw. While in rough outline this account
squares with the Nazi version, it does an injustice to the seriousness
with which Heidegger reflects on each line of Hölderlin. To Heidegger
in “the completely destitute time” of the pres-ent (he was writing in
1946), when the relevance of poetry is everywhere in doubt, Hölderlin
is the one who articulates most clearly the essential calling of the
poet, namely to speak the words that bring a new world into being. We
read Hölderlin's dark poetry, says Heidegger, not so much to understand
him as to keep in contact with him until that future arrives when he
will at last be understandable. He quotes Hölderlin:
The bold spirit, like an eagle
Before the tempests, flies prophesying
In the path of his advancing gods.

Among the liberal intelligentsia of Germany in
Hölderlin's day there prevailed not just an admiration for Athens as a
model society where men devoted themselves to the quest for truth,
beauty, and justice, but also a somewhat starry-eyed vision of a past
when the divine was a living force in the world. “Where the gods were
more like human beings/Human beings were more godlike,” wrote Schiller
in “The Gods of Greece” (1788). This picture of Greece was based
largely on a reading of Greek poetry, to a lesser extent on secondhand
accounts of Greek sculpture. An elective affinity was claimed between
Germany and Greece, between the German language and the Greek language.
A new theory of literature was developed, based on Plato rather than
Aristotle, in which key elements of modernist aesthetics are
prefigured: the autonomy of the art object, organic form, the
imagination as a demiurgic power.
Out of an idealized vision of Greece grew a movement whose agenda,
as formulated by Kant, was to allow “the germs implanted by nature” in
humankind to develop fully, so that “man's destiny can be fulfilled
here on earth.” Beginning with the reforms to the Prussian education
system effected by Wilhelm von Humboldt, reforms that put the study of
Greek language and literature at the core of the curriculum,
philhellenic neohumanism rapidly came to dominate the education of the
German middle classes.
The project of remodeling Germany along Athenian lines was to an
extent the brainchild of young men with little social capital save a
schooling in the classics (Winckelmann was the son of a shoemaker,
Schiller the son of a soldier) but with ambitions to wrest control of
cultural life from the Frenchified German courts and to give a new,
nationalist meaning to German identity. Within a generation, however,
the tincture of revolutionary idealism had been purged from the
education system, as the career men and professionals took over. Though
it continued to be associated with a lofty if vague liberalism,
philhellenism in the academy had by the 1870s become part of a
conservative establishment. The new radicals were the archaeologists
and textual scholars, Nietzsche among them, to whom the neohumanist
version of Greece—Winckelmann's “noble simplicity and quiet greatness,”
Humboldt's “purity, totality, and harmony” —ignored too much of Greek
reality, the violence and irrationalism of Greek religion, for instance.
At first glance, Hölderlin may seem a typical neohumanist of his
generation: a déclassé intellectual alienated from church and state,
aspiring toward a utopia in which poets and philosophers would be
accorded their rightful due; more specifically, a poet constitutionally
trapped in a backward-looking posture, mourning the passing of an age
when gods mixed with men (“…My friend, we have come too late. Though
the gods are living,/Over our heads they live, up in a different
world./…Little they seem to care whether we live or do not”).
But such a reading underestimates the complexity of Hölderlin's
attitude toward Greece. To him the Greeks were not to be copied but
confronted: “If one is not to be crushed by the accepted,…there seems
little choice but with violent arrogance to pit oneself as a living
force against everything learned, given.”

Ramifications of this stance are explored in a
letter of 1801. To the Greeks, says Hölderlin, “holy pathos” and the
Apollonian “fire from heaven” came naturally. Intrinsic (eigen)
to Western thought, on the other hand, are “Junonian sobriety” and
“clarity of representation.” “Nothing is more difficult for us to learn
than free use of our national traits…. This sounds like paradox. But
I repeat…: in the advancement of culture [Bildung] the
intrinsically national will always prove to be of lesser benefit.” The
most striking achievement of Greek art was to master sobriety and
clarity. Out of admiration for the Greeks, the Western poet may try to
recreate Greek pathos and fire; but the profounder task is to master
what comes naturally to him. This is why the Greeks are “indispensable”
to us: we study them not in order to imitate them but to understand how
unlike them we are.
Not only does this letter belie the picture of Hölderlin as a
dreamer lost in the past, it also underlines the originality and rigor
of his thinking about art. What the modern poet most clearly lacks, he
writes, is technical training (in his own case, long apprenticeship to
Greek masters fitted him to domesticate Greek meters more fluently than
any of his European contemporaries). We arrive at poetic truth not by
giving utterance to our personal feelings but by carrying our
individual sensibility [Gemüth] and individual experience across into “analogical material of a different [fremd] kind.”
The most intensely inward feeling becomes vulnerable to
passing away to the extent that it is not prepared to disown its actual
[wahren] temporal and sensory connections…. Precisely for this
reason the tragic poet, because he expresses the deepest inward
intensity, wholly disowns his own person, his subjectivity, as well as
the object present to him, and carries them over [instead] into alien [fremde] personality, into alien objectivity.
The great subject of Hölderlin's poetry is the retreat of God or the
gods, and the role of the poet in the benighted or destitute times that
follow their retreat.
The most Blessed in themselves feel nothing
Another, if to say such a thing is
Permitted, must, I suppose,
Vicariously feel in the name of the gods,
And him they need,
he writes, with palpable diffidence, in the late hymn “The Rhine.”
But what can it be that the gods in their remoteness look to us to
feel? We do not know; all we can do is put in words our most intense
yearning for their return, and hope that, touched perchance by fire
from heaven, our words may to some extent incarnate the Word and thus
transform yearning into epiphany. (In his fitful faith in a Word that
will use human agency to express itself, Hölderlin comes closest to his
friend Hegel's historical idealism.)
The Greeks, observed Goethe, did not pine for the infinite but felt
at home in the world. A hankering for a lost “classic” wholeness is the
trademark of the Romantic. Hölderlin's Romantic longing to be reunited
with the divine comes to him not just from his early Neoplatonism—en kai pan—but
also from his Christian roots. In the overarching
mythological-historical scheme he constructed, Christ counts as simply
the last of the gods to tread the earth before night closes in; but the
late hymns suggest the beginnings of a rapprochement, a new intimacy
with Christ if not with the Christian religion:
…And yet, and yet,
You ancient gods and all
You valiant sons of the gods,
One other I look for whom
Within your ranks I love…
My Master and Lord!
O you, my teacher!
Why did you keep
Where Hölderlin's explorations would have taken him had the light
not gone out in his thirty-sixth year is anyone's guess. There is one
text from his afterlife in the tower that may suggest the direction of
his thought. In 1823 his friend and biographer Waiblinger published a
seven-hundred-word fragment of prose that he claimed to have extracted
from the poet's papers. If we accept its authenticity, it suggests
that, in times more destitute than he could ever have foreseen,
Hölderlin's fundamental hopefulness remained undimmed—his faith that
our creative, meaning-making faculty will see us through. I quote from
Richard Sieburth's translation:
…Is God unknown?
Is he manifest as the sky? This I tend
To believe. Such is man's measure.
Well deserving, yet poetically
Man dwells on this earth. But the shadow
Of the starry night is not more pure, if I may say so,
Than man, said to be in the image of God.


Michael Hamburger was born in Germany in 1924. In 1933 the Hamburger
family emigrated to Britain, where they integrated smoothly into the
upper-middle-class intelligentsia. Hamburger was a precocious student,
winning a scholarship to Oxford at the age of seventeen to study French
and German. His first book of translations, Hölderlin: Poems and Fragments, appeared from a small press in 1943.
These early versions were later more or less disowned. In 1952 a
new, expanded set of Hölderlin translations appeared, followed in 1966
by what was intended to be a “definitive selection and rendering.”
Though in 1990 some poems were added, most of the latest edition (2004)
dates from the 1960s.
Michael Hamburger is very much the doyen of translators of modern
German poetry. Yet in his memoirs he admits to some exasperation at
being best known as a translator. As a young man he clearly had
creative ambitions, and for a while his poems were to be found in
anthologies of modern British verse. Read as a whole, his Collected Poems
tells a story of a writer of some gifts who never quite found his true
subject and who, sometime in early middle age, gave up the quest and
settled for occasional verse.
There is a passage in one of Hölderlin's letters that Hamburger quotes with clear reference to himself:
For this is tragic among us, that we leave the realm of the
living quite calmly, packed into a container, not that devoured by
flames we atone for the flame which we could not master.
For Hamburger the sacred flame he could not master went out early;
the life of atonement as translator and scholar he regards as a sad
second best. (There is some irony here in the fact that Hölderlin
himself reached audacious poetic heights as a translator.)
In a succession of prefaces and essays Hamburger has spelled out his
aims as a translator. What he did wrong in 1943, he says, was to
privilege literal accuracy over Hölderlin's “beautifully singular” way
of writing:
No translation of Hölderlin's odes and elegies can be close
to the originals without rendering their metres or at least their
cadences, and conveying something of their peculiar dynamism, their
peculiar stillness, brought about by the tension between a strict form
and an impulse beating against it.
He has striven therefore for “the best possible translation of a
certain kind,” in which word-for-word accuracy is weighed against the
need to reproduce Hölderlin's music. He dismisses the kind of free
translation practiced by Ezra Pound and fashionable in the 1960s under
the name of “imitation”: “occupational therapy for poets partly or
temporarily disabled,” he calls it.

We get an idea of Hamburger's “best possible” in his
version of the ode “The Poet's Courage,” composed around 1800,
substantially rewritten a year or two later, and then even more
radically reworked under the title “Timidness.” Hamburger selects the
first version.
For, as quiet near shores, or in the silvery
Flood resounding afar, or over silent deep
Water travels the flimsy
Swimmer, likewise we love to be
Where around us there breathe, teem those alive, our kin,
We, their poets; and glad, friendly to every man,
Trusting all. And how else for
Each of them could we sing his god?
Though the wave will at times, flattering, drag below
One such brave man where, true, trusting he makes his way,
And the voice of that singer
Now falls mute as the hall turns blue;
Glad he died there, and still lonely his groves lament
Him whom most they had loved, lost, though with joy he drowned;
Often a virgin will bear his
Kindly song in the distant boughs.
The meter is asclepiadic, an intricate pattern of iambs and dactyls
broken by caesurae in the longer first two lines of each four-line
strophe. Hamburger renders Hölderlin's versification faithfully, and
although one might quibble with certain word choices (“flimsy” might be
replaced with “light-bodied,” for instance, and “grows dim” would be
better than “turns blue”), the musical effect he achieves in English is
ravishing, capturing exactly the tone of hope, tentative yet vibrant,
with which Hölderlin confronts defeat, a tone that characterizes both
his grasp of his vocation and his vision of history.
“If I had not…found it necessary to imitate Hölderlin's
meters…then many of my translations would have become smoother and
more acceptable to English ears,” writes Hamburger. He is scathing
about what he sees as the unadventurousness of English prosody —its
prejudice against classical meters and its unthinking preference for
the iamb. At the risk of seeming “pedestrian and pedantic” he takes it
upon himself “to reproduce even those peculiarities of [Hölderlin's]
diction, form and way of thinking which are alien both to myself and to
English conventions obtaining either in his time or in ours.” His
method works, he believes, as long as the English reader is prepared to
approach his renderings “as poems necessarily different from any
written in [the reader's] own language, in his own time.”
The peculiarities of diction and form that Hamburger alludes to are
not just Hölderlin's use of Greek meters but his practice of varying
poetic diction in accord with a system of “tonal modulation” that he
developed from hints in Schiller and outlined in a cryptic essay
entitled “Wechsel der Töne.” Hamburger is one of only two translators
of Hölderlin who, to my knowledge, have taken the system to heart
seriously enough to embody it in their own versions (Cyrus Hamlin is
the other). Its presence beneath the surface of his English texts,
together with the exigencies of the metrical scheme, may go some way
toward explaining, here and there, lapses into archaism (“Silence often
hehoves [sic] us” for “Schweigen müssen wir oft,” often we must be silent) and incongruous colloquialism (“Too greatly,/O Christ, I'm attached to you”).

The sternest test comes in Hölderlin's late poems,
where the music becomes more impetuous and the poetic logic —hinging on
conjunctions (denn, aber, nemlich) used as if they
were Greek rather than German—more enigmatic, and where lines of verse
are interspersed with what read like memos from the poet to himself
(“This river seems/ to travel backwards and/I think it must come from
the East,” he writes of the Danube. “Much could/Be said about this”).
Here Hamburger's determination to avoid building his own interpretation
into the poem issues sometimes in a lifeless literalism. Compare the
following two translations of a passage from Hölderlin's poem on the
Danube, “Der Ister.” The first is by Hamburger:
But here we wish to build.
For rivers make arable
The land. For when herbs are growing
And to the same in summer
The animals go to drink,
There too will human kind go.
This one, however, is called the Ister.
Beautifully he dwells. The pillars' foliage burns,
And stirs. Wildly they stand
Supporting one another; above,
A second measure, juts out
The roof of rocks.
The second is by Richard Sieburth:
For the rivers make the land
Arable. If there be vegetation
And animals come to water
At the banks in summer,
Here men will also go.
And they call this the Ister.
Beautiful his dwelling. Leaves on columns
Burn and quiver. They stand in the wild,
Rising among each other; above which
Surges a second mass,
The roofing of rock.
The words “build,” “herbs,” “dwells” in Hamburger's version
literally translate the wording of the original. “Beautifully he
dwells” sounds as odd in German as in English (it is in fact a
Graecism). Sieburth, on the other hand, sees no harm in nudg-ing words
until they sit more comfortably in English or clarify the logic of the
passage. Thus “herbs” becomes “foliage,” “build” becomes “settle.”
The divergence of approach between the two translators becomes more
pointed in the image with which the passage closes. The last three
lines clearly refer to rocky crags above the tree level of the valley
floor. Sieburth feels free to write “a second mass,/The roofing of
rock,” even though Hölderlin's word Maß (“Ein zweites Maß…/ Von Felsen das Dach“) means “measure” rather than “mass.” Hamburger, perhaps because Maß
is such a key term in Hölderlin (not only the measure of verse but the
Greeks as a measure of ourselves), cautiously retains the sense of
measure, plane, dimension, and thus comes up with a less vivid
It is an open question whether the project that Hamburger embarked
on half a century ago was wisely planned —the project of translating
into English a body of work whose textual foundation would grow less
and less steady over the years, reproducing as far as possible its
metrical patterning and play of levels of language. Hamburger seems not
to have doubted himself, though the prefaces to succeeding editions
betray an increasing defensiveness. There are signs that he does not
welcome criticism: errors identified by Paul de Man in his versions of
“Bread and Wine” and “The Rhine” have been left untouched. Perhaps with
the Nazi appropriation of Hölderlin at the back of his mind, he tends
to treat words like Vaterland and Volk more gingerly than is necessary, in places translating Volk as “kin” and Vaterland as “my country” or “our country.”
His achievement is nevertheless considerable. The 2004 edition of Hölderlin: Poems and Fragments contains about 170 poems, some in alternative versions, plus The Death of Empedocles
in its second and third drafts, plus the so-called Pindar fragments—in
other words, the bulk of Hölderlin's surviving verse, including all the
major poems of the years between 1800 and 1806. Empedocles is
particularly well rendered; as for the poems, though Hamburger's
versions prove only intermittently to be touched with divine fire, they
are a reliable guide to Hölderlin's German and give an echo of his
outlandish music.
[1] Michael Hamburger, Collected Poems 1941–1983 (Manchester: Carcanet, 1984), p. 21.
[2] David Constantine, Hölderlin (Clarendon Press / Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 110.
[3] Friedrich Hölderlin, Hymns and Fragments(Princeton University Press, 1984), p. 249.

Georg Lukács 1934 - Hölderlin’s Hyperion

Written: 1934;
Translator: Robert Anchor;
Source: Goethe and His Age Merlin Press 1968;
Transcribed: Harrison Fluss for, February 2008.
Oh! were there a banner ... a Thermopylae upon which I could spill my blood with honour, all that solitary love for which I can have no use.

[O gab’es eine Fahne . . . ein Thermopyla, wo ich mit Ehre sie verbluten konnte, all die einsame Liebe, die mir nimmer brauchbar ist].

Hölderlin’s glory is that he is the poet of Hellenism. Everyone who reads his work senses that his Hellenism is different, more sombre, more tortured by suffering than the radiant Utopia of antiquity envisaged during the Renaissance and Enlightenment. But his vision of Hellas has nothing in common either with the tedious, trivial, academic classicism of the nineteenth century or with the hysterical bestiality with which Nietzsche and the imperialist period envisaged Greece. The key to Hölderlin’s view lies then in the understanding of the specifics of this conception of Hellenism.

With inimitable clarity Marx uncovered the social basis of the veneration for antiquity during the great French Revolution.

“As unheroic as bourgeois society is, it nonetheless had need of heroism, the spirit of self-sacrifice, terror, civil war, and wars between nations in order to engender it. And it is in the rigorous classical traditions of the Roman Republic that its gladiators found the ideals and the art forms, the illusions which they needed to conceal from themselves the limited civic content of their struggle and to keep their passion at the pitch of the great historical tragedy.”

The peculiar situation of Germany during the transition of the bourgeoisie from its heroic to its unheroic period consists in the fact that the country itself was still far from being mature enough for a real bourgeois revolution, but that in the minds of its best ideologists the heroic flame of these “illusions” was bound to flare up; in the fact that the tragic transition from the heroic age of the polls republic dreamed by Robespierre and Saint-Just into capitalist prose had to be effected in a purely Utopian and ideological manner without a preliminary revolution.

In the Tubingen seminary three young students witnessed with enraptured rejoicing the great days of the revolutionary liberation of France. With youthful enthusiasm they planted a tree in honour of liberty, danced around it, and swore eternal loyalty to the ideal of the great struggle for liberation. Each of these three youths- Hegel, Hölderlin, Schelling-represented in his later development a typical possibility of the German reaction to the course of events in France. Toward the end of his life, Schelling lost himself in the narrow-minded obscurantism of an abject reaction, of a revived Romanticism during the preparatory period of the ‘48 revolution. Hegel and Hölderlin did not betray their revolutionary oath. But when it was a question of realizing it, the difference in their interpretation reveals clearly the ideological courses which the preparation of the bourgeois revolution could and had to follow in Germany.

The intellectual absorption of the ideas of the French Revolution by Hegel and Hölderlin was still far from being accomplished when in Paris Robespierre’s head fell, and Thermidor and afterwards the Napoleonic period came into being. The consolidation of their Weltanschauung had to be achieved then on the basis of this turning-point in the revolutionary development of France. With Thermidor, the -prosaic content of the heroic form of antiquity in bourgeois society, with its progressiveness and also-inseparable from this- its frightfulness, appeared more and more clearly in the foreground. And the altered heroic character of the Napoleonic period placed the German ideologists before an insoluble dilemma: on the one hand, Napoleonic France was a radiant ideal for the national greatness which could flower only on the soil of a victorious revolution, but on the other hand, this same French imperium brought on Germany a condition of the deepest national disunion and degradation. Since the objective conditions were lacking in Germany for a bourgeois revolution, which would have been capable of opposing to the Napoleonic conquest a revolutionary defence of the fatherland similar to that of 1793, the embryonic bourgeois-revolutionary longing for national liberation and unification faced an insoluble dilemma that was destined to lead to reactionary Romanticism. “All the wars of independence waged against France bear the common stamp of a regeneration which is coupled with reaction” (Marx).

Neither Hegel nor Hölderlin lapsed into this Romantic reaction. But their intellectual coming-to-grips with the post-Thermidorian situation develop in diametrically opposed directions. To be brief, Hegel comes to terms with the post-Thermidorian epoch and the close of the revolutionary period of bourgeois development, and he builds up his philosophy precisely on an understanding of this new turning-point in world history. Hölderlin makes no compromise with the post-Thermidorian reality; he remains faithful to the old revolutionary ideal of renovating polis democracy and is broken by a reality which had no place for his ideals, not even on the level of poetry and thought.

In a contradictory manner, both approaches reflect the unbalanced development of bourgeois-revolutionary thinking in Germany. And this unbalanced development-which Hegel himself designates in an idealist and ideological manner as the “ruse of reason"-manifests itself especially in Hegel’s intellectual accommodation to the post-Thermidorian reality which led him into the main current of the ideological development of his class, from which point further intellectual development was possible until the transformation of bourgeois-revolutionary methods of thinking into proletarian-revolutionary methods was achieved (i.e. the materialist inversion by Marx of Hegel’s idealist dialectic). Hölderlin’s intransigence ended in a tragic impasse. Unknown and unmoumed, he fell like a solitary poetic Leonidas for the ideals of the Jacobin period at the Thermopylae of invading Thermidorianism.

On the one hand, of course, Hegel’s accommodation leads to a defection from the revolutionary republicanism of his Bern period. It leads him from his enthusiasm for Napoleon to an intellectual reconciliation with the wretchedness of a Prussian constitutional monarchy. But on the other hand, it leads-although in an ideal-istically distorted and inverted manner-to the intellectual discovery and elaboration of the dialectic of bourgeois society. In Hegel, classical English political economy appears for the first time as an element of the dialectical conception of world history which is only an ideological form, an idealistic reflection of the fact that for Hegel the dialectic of capitalism itself became the foundation for the dialectic of the present. The Jacobin ideal of the struggle against the inequality of wealth and the Jacobin illusion of the economic levelling of a society based on capitalist private property disappears in order to give place to a cynical realization of the contradictions of capitalism inspired by Ricardo. “Factories and manufacturing are founded precisely on the misery of a class,” Hegel writes a few years after his turning to an evaluation of contemporary events. The polis republic disappears as an ideal to be realized. Greece becomes a thing of the past, irrevocably gone, never to return.

The world historical significance of Hegel’s accommodation consists precisely in the fact that he grasped-as only Balzac beside him -the revolutionary development of the bourgeoisie as a unitary process, one in which the revolutionary Terror as well as Thermidor and Napoleon were only necessary phases. The heroic period of the revolutionary bourgeoisie becomes in Hegel-just as antiquity does -something irretrievably past, but a past which was absolutely necessary for the emergence of the unheroic prose of the present considered to be progressive; for the emergence of advanced bourgeois society with its economic and social contradictions. The fact that this conception is marred both by all the faults of an accommodation to the wretchedness of the Prussian and German situation and by all the mystifications of the idealist dialectic cannot diminish its world-historical significance. But with all its defects it is one of the great paths which leads to the future and to the elaboration of the materialist dialectic.

Hölderlin always refused to recognize this as the correct way. But even his thinking could not remain unaffected by the reality which emerged after Thermidor. Hegel’s Frankfurt period, the period in which he turns to historical methodology, is precisely the period of their second, more mature association and collaboration. But for Hölderlin, the post-Thermidorian development suggests only a sloughing off of the ascetic elements of the ideal conception of Hellenism, only a greater accentuation of Athens as a model as opposed to the unbending Spartan and Roman virtue of the French Jacobins. He continues to remain a republican. Even in his later work, Empedocles, the hero answers the Acragantines who offer him the crown: “This is the age of kings no longer,” and he preaches-in mystic forms it is true-the ideal of a radically revolutionary renovation of mankind:

What is told and taught you from the lips of the fathers, Laws and customs, the names of the ancient gods, Boldly forget them and, like new born men, Lift your eyes to divine Nature!

[Was euch der Vater Mund erzahlt, gelehrt, Gesetz’ und Brauch’, der alten Gotter Namen, Vergesst es kiihn und hebt, wie Neugebome, Die Augen auf zur gottlichen Natur! ]

This Nature is that of Rousseau and Robespierre, the dream of a transformation of society which-without Hölderlin’s raising the question of private property in a clear manner-restores the perfect harmony of man with a society which is adequate to him, with Nature itself through a society which has become natural again. “The ideal is what Nature was,” says Hölderlin’s Hyperion some- what in the manner of Schiller, but going far beyond him in revolutionary fervour. And for Hölderlin, Hellenism is precisely the ideal which was living reality, Nature. “Formerly the peoples started from a childlike harmony,” Hyperion continues. “The harmony of the spirits will be the beginning of a new universal history.”

“All for each and each for all!” This is Hyperion’s social ideal when he enters the revolutionary struggle for the liberation of Greece from the Turkish yoke. It is the dream of a revolutionary war for national liberation which is supposed to become also the war of liberation for all mankind: almost what the radical dreamers of the great revolution itself-Anacharsis Cloots, for example-hoped from the wars of the French Republic. Hyperion says: “No one must recognize by its flag alone our people to come; it is necessary that all be rejuvenated, that all be radically different, that joy be filled with seriousness and all work be gay! Nothing, not even the least significant, the most commonplace without spirit and the gods! Love, hate, and every sound we utter must astonish the vulgar world, and not once are we to be reminded, even for a moment, of the insipid past!”

Hölderlin thus takes no notice of the limitations and contradictions of the bourgeois revolution. This is why his social theory must lose itself in mysticism, a mysticism it is true, filled with confused forebodings of a real upheaval of society and a real renovation of mankind. These forebodings are even more Utopian and mystic than those of the isolated visionaries of pre-revolutionary and revolutionary France. For in a Germany undeveloped from the point of view of capitalism, Hölderlin is unable to perceive in a concrete manner the seeds and beginnings of social tendencies which point beyond the limited and contradictory capitalist horizon. His Utopia is purely ideological. It is a dream of the return of the golden age, a dream in which the presentiment of the development of bourgeois society is joined in an illusory manner with the Utopia of something beyond this society, of a real liberation of mankind. It is very interesting to note that everywhere, and especially in Hyperion, Hölderlin struggles ceaselessly against the overestimation of the State, and that his Utopian conception of the future State, reduced to its essentials, verges very closely on the thinking of the first liberal ideologists of Germany, e.g. Wilhelm von Humboldt.

The mainstay of a social renovation for Hölderlin therefore can only be a new religion, a new church. In the social development of Germany the bases for his Utopias could not be found: objectively because in fact they did not exist in the bourgeois reality; subjectively because the seeds of a development tending to surmount capitalism could not possibly He within Hölderlin’s purview. So it was inevitable that he should seek the source of a social renovation in a new religion. This turning to religion, despite a complete break with the old religions, is inevitable for all revolutionaries in this period who wish to pursue the bourgeois revolution to its conclusion, but who shrink back at the same time from its necessary result: the unleashing of capitalism with all its social and cultural consequences. Robespierre’s cult of the “Supreme Being” is the greatest practical historical example of this inevitable return to religion.

It is clear that Hölderlin also could not escape this dilemma. If his Hyperion wishes to limit the effect of the State, he nonetheless dreams of the rise of a new church which is supposed to become the bearer of his social ideals. The inevitability, and at the same time, the bourgeois-revolutionary character of this conception manifest themselves in the fact that Hegel also, still during the period of his transition to a complete acknowledgment of the capitalist development of the revolution, is seized by the idea of a new religion. It is a religion “in which the infinite anguish and the whole weight of its opposite are admitted but resolved without trouble and in a genuine manner when there is a free people and Reason will have regenerated its reality as a moral spirit which is able to have the audacity to assume its pure form on the basis of itself and its .peculiar majesty.”

This is the ideological framework within which the action of Hyperion unfolds. The point of departure of the action is the attempt of the Greeks to revolt against the Turks in 1770, an attempt which occurred with the support of a Russian fleet. The contradictory character of this theme, which is both revolutionary and reactionary, is highly characteristic of Hölderlin’s historical situation. But it is also highly characteristic that he has a certain insight into the reactionary tendencies of the situation he depicts; an insight which is incomparably more penetrating and progressive than the illusions of the national revolutionaries of the war of liberation with regard to Russia. Hölderlin’s martial heroes view the Russian aid without illusions and with a Machiavellian and realistic political attitude. “One poison thus destroys the other,” says Hyperion when the Turkish fleet is demolished by the Russians. On this point also then Hölderlin was not a Romantic reactionary.

The internal plot of the novel is formed by the ideological struggle of two tendencies competing to realize Hölderlin’s revolutionary Utopia. The warrior hero, Alabanda, who is endowed with certain Fichtean characteristics, represents the tendency of armed insurrection. The heroine of the novel, Diotima, incarnates the tendency of the religious and ideological, peaceful Aufklärung. She wants to make of Hyperion the educator of his people. At first the conflict ends with the victory of the martial principle. Hyperion joins with Alabanda to prepare and carry out the armed uprising. The fame of Alabanda awakens him to self-reproach as regards his hitherto contemplative inactivity. “I have become too idle . . . too ethereal, too indolent. Yes, to be soft at the right time is fine, but to be soft at the wrong time is odious because it is cowardly! And to the warning of Diotima: “You will conquer and forget what for,” Hyperion replies: “Servitude kills, but a just war enlivens every soul.” Diotima too sees the tragic conflict which at this point confronts Hölderlin-Hyperion. “Your whole soul bids you to it; not to obey it often leads to ruin, but to obey no doubt also does.”

The catastrophe begins. After a few victorious skirmishes the insurgents take Misistra, formerly Sparta. But the conquest is followed by pillage and massacre, and Hyperion, deceived, turns his back on the insurgents. “In truth, it was an extraordinary project to entrust the planting of my Elysium to a gang of thieves.” Soon afterwards, the insurgents suffer a crushing defeat and are dispersed. In the battles of the Russian fleet Hyperion seeks death, but in vain.

Hölderlin’s attitude to armed revolution is not new in Germany. The repentance of Hyperion after the victory repeats on a higher level the despair of Schiller’s Karl Moor at the end of the Robbers: “that two men like me should destroy the whole structure of the moral world.” It is no coincidence that the phil-Hellenic classicist Hölderlin esteemed so highly until the end of his conscious life the youthful dramas of Schiller. He justifies this esteem by means of analyses of their composition; but the true reason lies in the similarity of their formulation of problems, in their longing for a German revolution, and at the same time-inseparable from this-in their shrinking back from the facts and consequences of such a revolution. Along with the similarities, however, it is also necessary to stress the differences in their approach to problems. Young Schiller does not merely recoil from the severity of revolutionary methods, but also from the radical content of the revolution itself. He fears that the moral foundations of the world-of bourgeois society-might collapse in a revolution. This Hölderlin does not fear: he does not feel inwardly related to any of the visible manifestations of bourgeois society. As we have seen, what he hopes foils precisely a radical revolution of his world whereby nothing of the present would survive. He shrinks from the revolutionary methods about which he fears, very much like the idealistic ideologists of the revolution, a perpetuation of the evils of the present in another form.

This tragic discord of Hölderlin was insurmountable for him since it resulted from the relations of the classes in Germany. For all the historically necessary illusions concerning the renovation of the democracy of the polis, the revolutionary Jacobins of France derived their verve and energy from their association with the democratic-plebeian elements of the revolution, with the petty bourgeois and semi-proletarian masses of the towns and with the peasantry. Relying on these elements, they could combat-only temporarily, of course, and in a very contradictory manner-the egoistic baseness, the cowardice and avarice of the French bourgeoisie and drive the bourgeois revolution forward along plebeian lines. The anti-bourgeois characteristic of this plebeian method of revolution is very salient in Hölderlin. His Alabanda says of the bourgeois: “One does not ask if you want! Slaves and barbarians, you never want! It is not you we wish to improve, for this would be in vain! “We wish to take care only that you get out of the way of the victorious advance of mankind.” A revolutionary Jacobin in Paris in 1793 could have spoken such words amid the rejoicing of the plebeian masses. In Germany in 1797, such a view signified a despairing and disconsolate solitude, for there was no social class to which these words could be addressed, none in which they could have found so much as an ideological echo. After the failure of the Mainz uprising, Georg Forster could at least take refuge in revolutionary Paris. For Hölderlin there was no homeland either inside or outside Germany. It is no wonder that, after the failure of the revolution, the way of Hyperion gets lost in a despairing mysticism, and that Alabanda and Diotima perish with the downfall of Hyperion. It is no wonder that the next and last great work of Hölderlin, the tragedy Empedocles, which remained a fragment, has for its theme mystic self-sacrifice.

The reaction always fastens on to this mystic dissolution of Hölderlin’s Weltanschauung. After official German literary history had long treated Hölderlin episodically as a representative of a secondary current of Romanticism (e.g. Haym), he was rediscovered in an openly reactionary manner in the imperialist period and utilized for the ideological aims of the reaction. Dilthey makes him a precursor of Schopenhauer and of Nietzsche by the simple trick of completely detaching the Hellenism and the effects of classical German philosophy from the influence of the French Revolution and by reducing these latter in significance to the level of an episode. Gundolf already separates in Hölderlin the “original experience” [Urerlebnis] and the “acquired experience” [Bildungserlebnis]. “Acquired experience” is everything revolutionary, everything “merely temporal”; and as such all this is irrelevant to the understanding of the “essential” Hölderlin. The “essential” Hölderlin is an “Orphic mystic.” In Gundolf also the lines lead from Hölderlin to Nietzsche, and beyond him to the “deification of the body” by Stefan George. The Hölderlin, who fell tragic victim to a belated Jacobinism, becomes in Gundolf a precursor of rentier parasitism. Hölderlin’s tragic elegy on man’s loss of political, social, and cultural liberty ends up in Stefan George’s decadent Parklyrik. Hölderlin’s Hellenic and republican cult of friendship, for which his models were the [would be] tyrannicides, Harmodius and Aristogiton,[1] is transformed into a prefigurement of the aestheticist, decadent, homosexual George circle.

Both Dilthey and Gundolf imagine they are able to get at the essential core of Hölderlin by leaving out the “temporal” aspects of his life and work. Hölderlin himself knew very well that the mournful elegiac aspect of his poetry, his longing for vanished Greece, in a word, the essential quality of his poetry was altogether temporal. Hyperion says:

“But this, this anguish, which is like no other, is a ceaseless feeling of total annihilation when our lives lose their significance, when the heart tells itself: you must descend and nothing more remain of you: no flowers have you planted, no cottages have you built only that you might say: I leave a trace behind on earth. ... But enough! enough! Had I grown up with Themistocles or lived among the Scipios, my soul surely would never have come to know this side of life.”

And for a liberated fatherland – in his sense of the term – Hölderlin celebrates a heroic death:

Oh, take me, admit me into the ranks,

So that one day I may never die a common death! To die in vain is not my wish, but To be killed on the altar of sacrifice

For the fatherland ...

And heralds of victory descend: the battle Is ours! Live on above, oh fatherland, And reckon not the dead! For you Beloved, not one too many has fallen.

[O nimmt mich, nimmt mich mit in die Reihen auf, Damit ich einst nicht sterbe gemeinen Tods! Umsonst zu sterben, lieb ich nicht, doch Lieb ich, zu fallen am Opferhiigel

Furs Vaterland ...

Und Siegesboten kommen herab: Die Schlacht 1st unser! Lebe droben, o Vaterland, Und zahle nicht die Toten! Dir ist, Liebes! nicht einer zu viel gefallen].

He also celebrates his own destiny as a poet, his longing for at least one fulfilment of that which is of central concern to his soul:

Grant me but one summer, you mighty ones! And one autumn to ripen my song,

So that my heart, sated with sweet play, Might die then more willingly.

The soul, denied in life its divine right, Rests not even in Orcus below;

Yet should I ever achieve that sacred thing, The poem which is my heart’s desire,

Then welcome, repose of the world of shadows!

I am content, even if the music of my strings

Does not escort me down; once

I shall have lived like the gods, and there is no need of more.

[Nur einen Sommer gonnt, ihr Gewaltigen !

Und einen Herbst zu reifem Gesange mir,

Dass williger mein Herz, vom siissen

Spiele gesattigt, dann mir sterbe.

Die Seele, der im Leben ihr gottlich Recht

Nicht ward, sie ruht auch drunten im Orkus nicht; Doch ist mir einst das Heil’ge, das am Herzen mir liegt, das Gedicht gelungen.

Willkommen dann, 0 Stille der Schattenwelt!

Zufrieden bin ich, wenn auch mein Saitenspiel Mich nicht hinabgeleitet; einmal

Lebt’ ich wie Gotter, und mehr bedarfs nicht].

Nothing can be considered in isolation here. Hölderlin is too genuine a poet, he always echoes the momentary and concrete occasion of his experience, he has no need therefore to rehearse constantly in abstract terms the ultimate bases of the individual experience he expresses. And especially with Hölderlin, the yearning after poetic fulfilment cannot be understood in a formal-artistic sense. Form and content here too are inseparable. Poetic success presupposes that the central content of the poetry will somehow be realized in life, in his life. And Jacobin principles constitute the whole atmosphere of his poems. Only he whose perspective is dulled or blinded by class conformity will not perceive this all-determining atmosphere.

But what about the mysticism of nature; the fusion of nature and culture, man and the godhead in the experience of Hellas ? This is what a modern admirer of Hölderlin, influenced by Dilthey and Gundolf, might perhaps retort. “We have already alluded to the Rousseauesque and Robespierrian character of Hölderlin’s cults of nature and Greece. In his great poem, The Archipelagus (which Gundolf made the point of departure for his interpretation of Hölderlin), Greek nature and the grandeur of the Athenian culture which grew out of it is expressed with overwhelming elegiac pathos. But toward the end of the poem, Hölderlin speaks with equally moving pathos and equally accusatory elegy about the cause of his sorrow over vanished Greece:

Alas! It wanders in the night, it dwells as in Orcus,

With nothing godlike, our race. To their own bustle

Alone they are fastened, and in the raging workshop

Each hears only himself, and the wild ones with mighty arms

Work much without respite; yet ever more

Sterile, like the Furies, remains the toil of the poor.

[Aber weh ! Es wandelt in Nacht, es wohnt, wie im Orkus,

Ohne Gottliches unser Geschlecht. Ans eigene Treiben

Sind sie geschmiedet allein, und sich in der tosenden Werkstatt

Horet jeglicher nur, und viel arbeiten die Wilden

Mit gewaltigem Arm, rastlos, doch immer und immer

Unfruchtbar, wie die Furien, bleibt die Miihe der Armen].

This conception is neither incidental nor unique in Hölderlin.

After the Greeks are defeated in their struggle for liberty and Hyperion experiences his disillusionment, we find at the end of the novel the terribly accusing chapter on Germany, the enraged ode in prose on the degeneration of man into misery, into the narrow philistinism of early German capitalism. The invocation of Greece as a unity of culture and nature is in Hölderlin always an indictment of his age, a vain appeal to action, an appeal for the destruction of this miserable reality.

The “refinement” of the analysis of Dilthey and Gundolf, their eradication of all traces of the great social tragedy in the life and works of Hölderlin, forms the foundation of the grossly demagogic and flagrantly false disfigurement of his memory by the Brown-shirts of literary history. Just as fascist ideologists berated the unconscious, or not yet conscious, petty bourgeois with the hopelessness of their path, the. literary S.A. men befouled the memory of many sincerely despairing German revolutionaries by juggling away the true social cause of their despair and by explaining it as despair over the fact that they could not witness the “deliverance” by the Third Reich and the “saviour” Hitler.

This is also how Hölderlin fared at the hands of German fascism. Among German fascist writers it is good breeding today to idolize Hölderlin as an important precursor of the Third Reich. Naturally, the attempt to carry through this claim in a concrete manner, the attempt to show concretely the evidence of fascist ideology in Hölderlin involves serious difficulties. They are much more serious than they were for Gundolf whose formalistic, art-for-art’s-sake viewpoint, emptied of all content, allowed for the adoration of the formal aspects in Hölderlin, the idealization of his supposedly mystical conception of Hellas, without any immediately apparent inner contradiction. (The contradiction existed “merely” between Gundolf’s image of Hölderlin and the true Hölderlin).

On this basis Rosenberg makes Hölderlin a representative of “authentic” Germanic yearning. He tries to harness Hölderlin to the social demagogy of National Socialism by turning his critique of the times into a fascist critique of “the bourgeois.” “Did not Hölderlin suffer from these people even at a time when they did not yet hold sway as omnipotent bourgeois, even when Hyperion, in search of great souls, was obliged to state that they had only become barbarous by their diligence, their science, and their very religion? Hyperion found artisans, thinkers, priests, and title-holders, but no human beings, only fragmented beings without inner unity, without inner drive, without wholeness of life.” But Rosenberg also takes care to concretize as little as possible this social critique of Hölderlin. This whole great sally ends with a leap into the void. Hölderlin is simply stamped as a representative of Rosenberg’s nonsensical “aesthetic will.”

The same mixture of bombastic grandiloquence and anxious evasion of all facts characterizes the later evolution of the fascist image of Hölderlin. In a series of essays a “major turning-point” in the life of Hölderlin is discovered: his renunciation of the “eighteenth century,” his conversion to Christianity and with it to the fascist and Romantic “German reality.” In a Romanticism constructed to be the prelude to fascism, Hölderlin is inserted into a series extending from Novalis to Gorres. The worth of this falsification of history is shown by the fact that even the official side of National Socialism had to reject it as being “deviant” and “erroneous.” This occurs in an article by Matthcs Ziegler in the Nationalsozialistische-Monatsheft. in which Meister Eckart, Hölderlin, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche are presented as the great precursors of the National Socialist Weltanschauung. But whereas Baumler could succeed in delineating the romantic, anti-capitalist, irrationalist-mystic features of Kierkegaard without overt historical lies, only with some light brown retouching, Ziegler’s article remains a pitiful stammer encased, of course, in crude apodictic bombast. Scrupulously avoiding anything concrete in the quotations, he too only centres on Hölderlin’s opposition to contemporary culture (to the “bourgeoisie”) and his longing for a form of community. And he twists this longing, of which we already know the true social basis and the true social content, into a longing for Hitler, into anticipation of the Third Reich. Summarizing, he writes: “It was the tragedy of Hölderlin that he had to separate himself from the community of men without it being allotted him to contribute to the formation of the community of the future. He remained a solitary man who was misunderstood in his time but who bore within him the future as a certainty. He wished no revival, no new Greece, but he rediscovered in Hellas the Nordic heroic attitude to life which was atrophied in the Germany of his time, the only attitude, however, from which the community of the future could grow. He was obliged to express himself in the language and in the conceptions of his time, which is why it is often difficult for us, men of today, formed by the experience of our age, to understand him properly. But our struggle for the formation of the Reich is the struggle for the same achievement that Hölderlin was unable to accomplish because the time was not yet ripe.”

The objective result, even measured by a standard applicable to a National Socialist literary history, is extremely pitiful; Ziegler himself lets slip the admission that he scarcely understands Hölderlin, if at all. National Socialist writers are obliged to make the image of Hölderlin even more abstract than it is in Dilthey and Gundolf, even more devoid of all individual as well as social and historical features. The Hölderlin of the German fascists is some sort of Romantic poet who is scarcely distinguishable any longer from Georg Biicnner-also repeatedly slandered of late-who has been twisted in turn into a protagonist of “heroic pessimism,” and thereby into a precursor of the “heroic realism” represented by Nietzsche and Baumler. In the spiritual night of the fascist falsification of history, every figure becomes brown.

But the “methodology” of these falsifications nonetheless shows, if unintentionally, a result: namely the intrinsic relation between the inability of liberalism to understand German history and the increasingly conscious falsification of it by fascist imperialism. Dilthey challenges the interpretation of Hölderlin by Haym as being a “lateral shoot of Romanticism,” but only to enrol Hölderlin among the decadent belated Romantics of the end of the century and to make him a precursor of Nietzsche. Gundolf goes further and makes Hölderlin a precursor of Stefan George. And the National Socialists misuse the romantic and anti-capitalist features of Hölderlin, which at that time were still by no means unequivocally reactionary, in order to mount this deformed image of the tragic revolutionary as an ornament on the facade of the fascist prison for working Germany.

In his essence, however, Hölderlin is no Romantic, although his criticism of emerging capitalism is not without some Romantic traits. But whereas the Romantics, from the economist Sismondi to the mystic poet Novalis, see a refuge from capitalism in a simple merchandise economy, and oppose to anarchic capitalism the “ordered” Middle Ages, oppose to the mechanistic division of labour the “totality” of artisan labour, Hölderlin criticizes bourgeois society from another side. In a Romantic manner, he too hates the capitalist division of labour. But in his eyes the most essential aspect of the degradation to be combated is the loss of liberty. And in him this conception of liberty strives to transcend-in mystic forms, as we have seen, and with a vague Utopian content-the narrow notion of political freedom in bourgeois society. The difference in choice of themes between Hölderlin and the Romantics-Greece versus the Middle Ages-is not merely a difference in themes then but a difference in ideology and politics.

When Hölderlin celebrates the festivals of ancient Greece, he celebrates the vanished democratic public character of life. In this respect he not only follows the same course as the friend of his youth, Hegel, before his transformation, but ideologically he moves also in the direction of Robespierre and the Jacobins. In his great speech to the Convention on the introduction of the cult of the “Supreme Being,” Robespierre declares: “The true priest of the Supreme Being is Nature; his temple the universe; his cult virtue; his festivals the joy of a great people united under his eyes in order to draw tighter the bond of universal brotherhood and to offer him the veneration of pure and sensitive hearts.” And in the same speech he refers to the Greek festivals as an example of this strengthening of a democratic republican education aimed at realizing the virtue and happiness of a liberated people.

It is true that Hölderlin’s mysticism far surpasses the inevitable and heroic illusions of Robespierre. Moreover, it is a flight into mysticism and a mysticism of flight: a mysticism of yearning for death, the death of self-sacrifice, death as a means to become united with nature. But this nature mysticism in Hölderlin is by no means uniformly reactionary.

In the first place, its Rousseauian revolutionary source is always perceptible. The immediate point of departure of Hölderlin’s flight into mysticism lies precisely in the fact that he was obliged to raise the socially necessary hopeless tragedy of his idealistic aspirations to the level of a cosmic tragedy. Secondly, his mysticism of self-sacrifice has a distinctly pantheistic and anti-religious character. Before going to his death, Alabanda speaks of his life “that no god created.” “If the hand of a potter has fashioned me, then let him smash his vessel as he pleases. But what lives must be uncreated; must be of divine nature in its origin, superior to any power and all art, and thus invulnerable, eternally.” And in a similar manner, in her farewell letter to Hyperion, Diotima writes of the “divine freedom which death gives us.” “And if I should become a plant, would the loss be so great? I shall still exist. How could I vanish from the sphere of life wherein the eternal love, which is common to all, joins all natures? How could I sever myself from the union which links all beings?”

If the modern reader wishes to gain a historically correct perspective on German nature mysticism at the beginning of the nineteenth century, he must never forget that at that time the dialectic of nature and society was discovered and elaborated of course in idealistic and mystical forms. It is the period of the nature philosophy of Goethe, young Hegel, and young Schelling. (Marx speaks of the “honest thoughts of Schelling’s youth”). It is a period in which mysticism is not merely a dead weight carried over from the theological past, but frequently, and very often in a manner difficult to distinguish, an idealistic haze which veils the still unknown future methods of dialectical thinking. Just as at the beginning of the development of the bourgeoisie, in the Renaissance and in the emerging materialism of Bacon, the intoxication of new knowledge assumes exuberant and fanciful forms, so too now, in the intoxication of the dawn of the dialectical method, a philosophy emerges “on which no member is not drunk” (Hegel). What Marx says about the philosophy of Bacon is valid-mutatis mutandis-also for this period: “Matter smiles on the total man with a poetically sensuous radiance; the aphoristic doctrine itself, on the other hand, still abounds in theological inconsequentialities.”

Hölderlin himself takes a very active part in the formation of the dialectical method; he is not only the friend of youth of Schelling and Hegel, but also their philosophical fellow-traveller. In his important discourse on Athens, Hyperion speaks also of Heraclitus. And the “One differentiated in itself” of Heraclitus is for him the point of departure of thought: “It is the essence of beauty, and before this was found, there was no philosophy.” For Hölderlin also then philosophy is identical with dialectic.

Identical, it is true, with an idealistic dialectic which loses itself in mysticism. And the mysticism is particularly obvious in Hölderlin because in increasing measure it has the task for him of glorifying on a cosmic plane the social tragedy of his existence and of pointing an apparent way out of the historical impasse of his situation in a meaningful death. But this horizon, which gets lost in mystical haziness, is also a common characteristic of the whole epoch. The end of Hyperion and Empedocles is no more mystical than the fate of Makarie in Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre or that of Louis Lambert or Seraphitus Seraphita in Balzac. Just as this mystic horizon, which cannot be disjoined from the work of the great realists, Goethe and Balzac, also cannot invalidate the fundamental realism of their work, so too Hölderlin’s mysticism of death cannot impair the fundamentally revolutionary character of his heroic elegy.

Hölderlin is one of the purest and most profound elegiac poets of all time. In his important definition of elegy, Schiller writes that “in elegy, the sorrow must result only from an enthusiasm aroused by the ideal.” And with perhaps too much severity, Schiller condemns all elegists who lament a purely private fate (e.g. Ovid).

In Hölderlin’s poetry individual and social destinies fuse into a tragic harmony rarely achieved. Throughout his life Hölderlin was a failure. He never got beyond the general transitional stage in which the destitute German intelligentsia existed at that time: tutorship; moreover, he did not even succeed in creating an existence as a tutor. Despite the benevolent protection of Schiller and notwithstanding the commendation of the most significant critic of the period, A. W. Schlegel, he remained completely unknown as a poet and without the prospect of a livelihood. His great love for Suzette Gontard ended in a tragically despairing resignation. Both his outer and his inner life were so desperately hopeless that many contemporaries and biographers have perceived something fatefully necessary even in the insanity which put an end to his youth.

But the elegiac sorrow of Hölderlin’s poetry never has the character of a petty private recrimination for his ruined personal life. Even if Hölderlin cosmically mystified the social necessity for the failure of his decisive aspirations, this mystification also expresses the feeling that the failure of his private aspirations was only the inevitable consequence of this great general failure. This is always the point of departure of the elegiac lament running through his poetic works.

The contrast between vanished Hellas, which must be renewed in a revolutionary manner, and the miserable condition of contemporary Germany constitutes the constant, though always variously recurring, content of his lament. His elegy is therefore a pathetic and heroic accusation against the age and not a subjective and lyrical lamentation of a private fate, however pitiable.

It is the complaint of the best bourgeois intellectuals over the loss of the revolutionary “illusions” of the heroic period of their own class. It is the grievance over a solitude, a cry of distress issuing from a solitude which is insurmountable because, although manifesting itself in all moments of private life, it was created by the iron hand of economic and social development itself.

The revolutionary fire of the bourgeoisie is extinguished. But the heroic ardour of the great Revolution gives rise everywhere in the middle class to fiery souls in whom this brand continues to smoulder. Their ardour, however, no longer inflames the class as a whole. The revolutionary flame of Jacobinism still burns in Stendhal’s Julien Sorel just as it does in Hölderlin. And if the hopelessness of the situation of that belated Jacobin differs deeply in an external sense from Hölderlin’s destiny, if Julien’s fate is not an elegiac lament, but rather a power struggle carried on with hypocritical and Machiavellian means against the ignoble society of the Restoration, the hopelessness is nonetheless the same and has similar social origins. Julien Sorel also gets no farther than to take flight, at the end of an unsuccessful life, into a pseudo-heroic and tragic death; than to fling his plebeian and Jacobin contempt in the face of society after a life of shameful hypocrisy.

The creative form in which this last late-born Jacobin of France appeared was ironical and realistic. In England, such late-comers also manifest classicist, elegiac, and hymnic qualities: Keats and Shelley. But whereas the fate of Keats presents, even externally, a great many features relating him to Hölderlin, a new sun pierces the horizon of Shelley; a new rejoicing intrudes into his elegiac lament. In his greatest poetic fragment, Keats mourns the fate of the Titans overthrown by the ignoble new gods. Shelley too poetizes the destiny of an ancient god, the struggle of the miserable new gods against the ancient gods of the golden age (the golden age, the “reign of Saturn” being in most mythologies the myth of the period prior to private property and the state), and the struggle of Prometheus bound against the new god, Zeus. But in Shelley the new usurper gods are vanquished and his hymns celebrate the liberation of mankind. Shelley has already glimpsed the rising new sun, the sun of the proletarian revolution. He was able to celebrate the liberation of Prometheus because already he could summon the men of England to revolt against capitalist exploitation:

Sow seed-but let no tyrant reap;

Find wealth-let no imposter heap;

Weave robes-let not the idle wear;

Forge arms-in your defence to bear.

In Shelley the prospect of a transition to the real struggle for the liberation of humanity presents itself to Jacobins born too late for their own class.

What was possible socially in England around 1819 for a revolutionary genius, at least as a poetic visionary prospect, was not possible for anyone in Germany at the end of the eighteenth century. Because of the contradictions of the internal and world situation of Germany at the time, the course generally followed by the German bourgeois intelligentsia led to the spiritual morass of Romantic obscurantism. The accommodation of Goethe and Hegel saved and continued the best of the heritage of bourgeois thought, although in a form which in many ways is distorted and trivial. The heroic intransigence of Hölderlin was bound to lead him into a desperate impasse. He is truly a unique poet who did not have and could not have any successors. He is unique, however, not in the sense of those who defile his memory today by singing the praises of his shortcomings and obscurities, but because his tragic situation could no longer recur for the bourgeois class.

A later Hölderlin who did not follow Shelley’s course would not have been a Hölderlin, but rather a narrow classicist liberal. When Arnold Ruge begins his letter in the Correspondence of 1843 with Hölderlin’s famous lament on Germany, Marx replies: “My dear friend, your letter is a good elegy, a breathtaking dirge; but politically it is nothing at all. No people despairs; and even if for a long time its hope is based only on stupidity, after many years all its pious wishes are fulfilled by a sudden intelligence.”

Marx’s praise applies to Hölderlin, for Ruge does nothing more than to vary his quotation in a trivial manner. His rebuke applies to all who have revived the lament of Hölderlin after the basis upon which it was founded, the objective hopelessness of his situation, was negated by history itself.

Hölderlin could have no poetic successors. The later elegists of the nineteenth century bewail, on the one hand, much more private destinies, and on the other hand, in their lament on the misery of their age, are incapable of preserving their faith in humanity with the same purity it had in Hölderlin. This contrast raises Hölderlin far above the generally false dilemma of the nineteenth century. He is neither an insipid optimist nor a despairing irrationalist pessimist. His style neither sinks into an academic classicistic objectivism nor into an amorphous, impressionist subjectivism; his poetry is neither dryly and didactically intellectual not atmospheric and void of thought.

Hölderlin’s lyricism is a lyricism of ideas. Its point of departure is formed by the inner contradiction of the bourgeois revolution raised to the level of a Weltanschauung (and mystified, of course, in an idealistic manner). Both aspects of the contradiction exist in this poetry of ideas: the Jacobin Hellenic ideal and the ignoble bourgeois reality. The imperishable greatness of Hölderlin lies in his superb stylistic mastery of the insoluble contradiction which was basic to his social existence. He not only fell bravely as a belated martyr on an abandoned barricade of Jacobinism, but he also expressed this martyrdom-the martyrdom of the best sons of a once revolutionary class-in immortal song.

His novel Hyperion also has this lyric and elegiac character. It is less epic than plaintive and accusatory. Nevertheless, the bourgeois critics are wrong who see in Hy-perion a lyric dissolution of the epic form such as in Novalis’s Hcinrich von Ofterdingen. Even stylistically Hölderlin is no Romantic. On the theoretical level he goes beyond Schiller’s conception of the ancient epos as “naive” (in opposition to modern “sentimental” poetry). But he does so in the direction of a revolutionary objectivism. He writes: “The epic poem, naive in appearance, is heroic in its significance. It is the metaphor of great aspirations.”

The historical tragedy of Hölderlin affects his artistry in that its epic heroism never advances beyond a mere beginning; in that he was only able to express the elegiac metaphor of the great aspirations. The epic fulness must be transferred from the action into the souls of the actors. But to this inner action Hölderlin imparts a very palpable plastic and objective character, having an intensity such as was possible only on account of the tragically contradictory foundations of his conception. In this respect also, his failure is not only heroic, but is transformed into a heroic song. To Goethe’s “educational novel,” which teaches adaptation to the capitalist reality, he opposes an “educational novel” which teaches heroic resistance to this reality. He does not wish, like Tieck or Novalis, to “poetize” in a Romantic manner the “prose” of the world of Wilhclm Meister; rather he opposes to the German paradigm of the great bourgeois novel the project of a novel of the citizen.

Hyperion also bears stylistically the marks of the hopelessly problematical character of this genre. The attempt to depict the citizen in epic was bound to fail. But from this failure emerged a unique style which is both lyrical and epic: the objective style of a profound indictment of the abjectness of the bourgeois world after the light of its heroic “illusions” is extinguished. The lyric novel of Hölderlin, of which the action is almost solely “metaphorical,” remains then, even in terms of style, isolated in the evolution of the bourgeoisie. Nowhere else has purely internal action been shaped in a manner so palpable and objective; nowhere else has the lyrical attitude of the poet been so thoroughly integrated into an epic work.

Unlike Novalis, Hölderlin never criticized the great bourgeois novel of his age. Nonetheless, his opposition to Wilhelm Meister is more profound, for he opposes to it a completely different type of novel. “Whereas Goethe’s novel grows organically out of the social and stylistic problems of the French and English bourgeois novel of the eighteenth century, Hölderlin takes up the threads of the problem at the point where the revolutionary ideals for the transformation of life by the bourgeoisie gave rise to the attempt to create an epos of the citizen; where Milton had made the great unsuccessful attempt to depict, with classical plasticity, the necessarily idealistic existence and destiny of the citizen. The epic plasticity for which Milton strove, however, breaks up into magnificent lyrical descriptions and purely lyrical-pathetic explosions.

From the very start Hölderlin renounces the impossible aspiration to create an epos in a bourgeois world. In accordance with the requirements of the novel, he situates his characters and their destinies in a setting-however stylized-of everyday bourgeois life. This compels him to depict the citizen without separating him entirely from the world of the bourgeois. And even if he is understandably unable to endow the idealized citizen with a full-blooded material life, he nonetheless approaches much more closely than any of his predecessors a really plastic creation in his depiction of the citizen.

His historical and personal tragedy, the fact that the heroic “illusions” of the bourgeoisie could no longer be the banner for real revolutionary heroism, but only that of the yearning for such heroism, constitutes precisely the stylistic presupposition of this (relative) success. Never have the emotional conflicts expressed by a bourgeois poet been less exclusively emotional, less exclusively private and personal, so directly public than in his works. Hölderlin’s lyric and elegiac novel-despite its inevitable failure, precisely because of its failure-is the most objective epic poem of the citizen to be written in the course of the development of the bourgeoisie.


1. Harmodius and Aristogiton, said to be lovers, conspired to assassinate Hyppias and the tyrants of Athens (514 B.C.). The plot failed and the two conspirators were killed, but the tyrants were eventually overthrown. Both men then were celebrated in song and the sculptor Antenor built a monument in their honour.
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