Born in Frankfurt, Germany, on August 28, 1749, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (this is how you pronounce Goethe) was a revered poet, playwright, novelist, and statesman.
Despite having achieved success in the literary world, Goethe believed that his work as a philosopher and scientist- in particular with regard to his theories about color and philosophy- would be his true legacy instead. However, his writings inspired generations of western literature and thought.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was tutored extensively in languages as a child. His father, Johann Kaspar Goethe was a lawyer who always prioritized his son’s education, which enabled him to engage in many literary and cultural pursuits. It was when Goethe went to Leipzig University to study law that he fell in love with Anne Katharine Schönkopf, who is known to have been the inspiration behind his first volume of poems called Annette.
At the end of his studies, he had composed many writings like The Partners in Crime and Leipzig Songbook; he also found his love for folk poetry. During that time he developed proclaimed respect for Shakespeare who is also the figure responsible for his ‘personal awakening’.
Throughout the 1770s, along with practicing progressive law across Germany, he also maintained his career as a poet and a playwright. At the age of 24, Goethe wrote his first novel called The Sorrows Of Young Werther. The book was written in a journal form and tells the tale of unrequited love between Werther and Charlotte. In the story, the man falls hopelessly in love with the wife of his friend. The book was an instant hit and it revolutionized European literature. This writing influenced the later Romantic Movement.
All through his career, Goethe is known to have found inspiration from his surroundings. His collaborative works with fellow poet and playwright Friedrich Schiller formed the heart of German literature. It was during this period that his journey to Italy rekindled his love for poetry and that is when he composed a collection of seductive poetry called the Roman Elegies. His most famous work, Faust, was produced after the demise of Schiller in 1805. Faust was an epic play of love and loss which talks about a duel with the devil in the search for supernatural knowledge.
Despite his age, Goethe continued composing more literary works. He published his autobiography – Dichtung und Wahrheit and even composed more poetry. After hearing the news of his son’s death, he fell seriously ill and a few months later, he died on his armchair. He was laid to rest next to Schiller, his other half whom he considered to be his other half, in the ‘tomb of the princes’ in Weimar.
Although his works were mainly famous in Europe and Germany, his most famous poem -cum- play, Faust, has been adapted into an opera and is still performed throughout the world. Goethe’s mergence of science and art has awarded him the title, ‘surpassing intellect of modern times’. George Eliot called him ‘Germany’s greatest man of letters and the last true polymath to walk the earth’. Goethe’s works have made an impact on literary movements like Romanticism and expressionism. His philosophical contributions have left a legacy that is woven into the lives of others.