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Compare and contrast Goethes attitude to the gods as made evident in the two poems Prometheus and Grenzen der Menschheit

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Introduction

Compare and contrast Goethe's attitude to the gods as made evident in the two poems Prometheus and Grenzen der Menschheit Johann Wolfgang Goethe's Prometheus, possibly one of his most famous poems, was written between 1772 and 1774, when the poet was in his early twenties. The essence of the poem is rebellion against convention and authority, especially against the gods of Greek mythology, and Zeus in particular. The 1781 poem Grenzen der Menschheit similarly revolves around the narrator's attitude to a deity, but in this case the poem is much more based around Christianity. Additionally, while the narratory voice in Prometheus is headstrong and at times arrogant, the now older Goethe employs a much calmer and humbler attitude towards God's authority. As the title suggests, Prometheus is the key figure and narrator of the poem, despite it being directly addressed to the gods. As a Titan, Prometheus is technically also of godlike status, and therefore during the poem attempts to break away from the rest of the gods and form his own identity as a protector of mankind, emphasised by the first person singular pronoun "ich" and the second person singular and plural pronouns "du" and "ihr", but never the first person plural pronoun "wir", which would imply rather misleadingly that the narrator feels some kind of sympathy or alliance with the gods. ...read more.

Middle

In this and the following stanza, the poet employs a semantic field of nature to illustrate mankind's distinct position in life as opposed to the gods'. By using the plural form of the nouns "Sterne", "Wolken" and "Winde" together with the verb "spielen", in juxtaposition with these huge natural elements, Goethe emphasises the magnitude of the gods' power over the natural world, making the solitary human seem rather small and powerless in comparison. The adjective "unsichern" implies that mankind, on challenging the gods, enters a world to which he does not belong, and that he is on precarious ground with no one to help or support him, emphasising the foolishness of his actions. Even the rhythm becomes irregular and erratic here, moving away from the regular dactylic metre employed in the first stanza and promptly returning to it during the third stanza, signifying that man competing with gods is unnatural and breaks the natural structure of life. The adjectives "festen" and "markigen" bring a more positive tone to the third stanza, in which Goethe recommends that mankind know his place on the earth. He adopts a more reassuring attitude towards mankind with the adjectives "wohlgegr�ndeten" and "Dauernden", again positioning himself as narrator outside the human race. ...read more.

Conclusion

narrator in Grenzen der Menschheit calmly accepts the inevitability of death and the continuation of mankind: the lack of a verb in the final four lines removes any suggestion of movement, painting a picture of endless generations slowly shuffling along, bringing Hamlet's "mortal coil" to mind and the connotations that human lives are worthless compared to the existence of the gods. Interestingly, even though Prometheus acts as a champion for the human race, the poem mainly centres on his battle with the gods, leaving the "Menschen" as an afterthought in the final stanza, a revenge tactic rather than a race of real importance. In terms of attitude towards the gods, it is clear that Prometheus and Grenzen der Menschheit have almost nothing in common, due in particular to the difference in time when they were written. The early Prometheus maintains a scornful, contemptuous tone towards the gods throughout, representative of a wilful, almost aggressive young man, while the later Grenzen der Menschheit is much more deferent, and even loving, in its presentation of God as benevolent and affectionate. The contrast between the poems is striking but effective, due to the varied literary techniques used to create the vivid emotions within. Chiara Giovanni 12Y 15.07.2011 2064 words including quotations ...read more.

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