Category Archives: C.M. Wieland

Christoph Martin Wieland: “The Pain of Separation”

Excerpt, “The Poetry of Germany, Consisting from Upwards of Seventy of the Most Celebrated Poets.”  Translated into English Verse by Alfred Baskerville.  1853.






Christoph Martin Wieland: “Serafina”

Excerpt, “The Poetry of Germany, Consisting from Upwards of Seventy of the Most Celebrated Poets.”  Translated into English Verse by Alfred Baskerville.  1853.


It was at midnight’s hour.

Gentle slumbers,

Raining down from Heaven,

Veiled the eyes of the Lord’s betrothed;

And a deep, deep silence,

Like the grave’s repose

Brooded o’er the lone deserted cloisters.


All slept

But Serafina – she alone

A gentle maiden,

Formed by thee, O Nature,

For love’s soft raptures,

And for every virtue

Of a mother, but, alas!


By force, by oaths, by walls impassable

From Hymen’s joys for ever sundered;

Condemned in barren solitude to sigh,

Uncomforted, the spring of life away! –


Alone did Serafina, as if tossed

By tempest’s surges, roll upon her couch.

Roses were become

Burning fire-coals beneath her;

For, alas! Love’s pointed shaft had pierced her breast.


She panted for relief,

In vain!  No more,

No more shall we find sweet repose.

She calls, to soothe her sorrow’s pain,

Upon the God of sleep in vain,

And sleeplessly her eyelids close.


She loves, the wretched maiden, yes, she loves.

She saw, she saw the man,

Who, of all men, was but for her created;

One transient glance!  Their breasts with trembling thrilled,

Soul yearned to soul, and in each other beamed.


But what availed it?

Him, too, a holy prison

Encompassioneth, bound indissolubly

By adamantine oaths! –


Unhappy ones, for you there is no hope!

Every comfort of the grief-o’erladen,

Every sweet deception

Of the sick phantasy are ye denied.


Night follows evening, and the long, long night

Is by the morn succeeded, but, nor night,

Nor morning brings you peace;

And Time, physician to the sickly soul,

Hath for your pain

No soothing balm.


“Oh thou,” (cried she aloud, her tear-o’erflowing eyes

Fixed on the moon, who pale and sadly wandered

Amid the sombre clouds),

“Oh thou, whom my whole soul adores,

To whom my looks alone have dared confess

What ne’er my lips, to thine compressed,

O never, never will to thee avow.


Alas! Belov’d one, in this moment, perhaps,

Like me, art thou, too, sleepless, and consumed

By hopeless longings, and, perchance, too, fixest

As I, thy languishing and tearful eyes

Upon this disk of silver.”


“Oh wander not so fleetly past, thou gentle moon,

O linger, grant unto us wretched ones

This only comfort!

If e’er an ear thou lendest,

When love doth thee implore,

O show thee in thy mirror

The image I adore!


And when his eyes, o’erflowing,

Where tenderness enshrined,

Turn to thy orb so fair,

Let him (O to the prayer

Of gentle love be kind!)

Behold my image there!”


Thus spake the fond enthusiast.

But the chaste goddess granted not her prayer.

A veil of cloudy shadows

Withdrew her orb from Serafina’s gaze.


The maiden sighed.  Her wand’ring eyes

To Heaven timidly with anguish turning,

Seeks she comfort,

And finds it not.


“And is there in the boundless sphere

Of all creation none, not one, to listen to my voice?

No being, by my soul’s deep anguish moved,

To look down on me?  Must I, must I perish?

Then die, unhappy one, seek in thy grave

The goal, where ends thy pain!”


“O welcome, death, I’m weary of my life,

An angel thou of peace, who endest strife,

I tremble not at thee.

O welcome, hope, so soon to sink

In the cold grave, the bed of peace,

Where soon the sufferer will cease

The bitter cup of grief to drink.


Do I not see the Seraphim that hold

From out the clouds the palm branch unto me?

Behold I not the crown of victory?

O fall, O fall, thou crumbling earthen mould!


O welcome, hope, so soon to sink

In the cold grave, the bed of peace,

Where soon the sufferer will cease

The bitter cup of grief to drink.”


“Yet how?  O where, deluded one,

Would thy wild phrensy stray?  Dar’st thou of Paradise,

Of angel quires, and victory to dream?

Thou look’st down in the grave, and tremblest not?


Wilt thou, a bride of Heaven, audacious, dare

To show to him a heart enflamed by earthly love,

To him, the God to whom thou art betrothed?

O tremble, sinful one!


For thee is Heaven’s portal closed,

In anger will thy angel turn from thee aside,

O God! A trembling awe doth seize me;

How quake these walls around me!


The earth doth yield, the mighty chasm yawns –

Where shall I flee? – O save, O save,

O all ye angels save me!”


“O wretched maid, in what profound abyss

Of misery thy passion hurls thee!

Consider well!

The fearful images that make thee quail

Are phantoms of thy phrensied brain.”


“O can it be a sin to love, as I now love

To love and know not hope! – Alas!

I ask for nought,

Nor aught expect I from this life,

O first in yonder better truer life –

Where angels love, where angels’ harps

Know only strains of love, O thou my chosen one,

There in love’s paradise,

‘Mong Heaven’s never fading roses,

Alone with thee, with nought but rapture,

With nought but Heaven round about us, –

Shall I first find repose within thy arms.”


“O would that thou couldst close for me mine eye!

O could one burning tear but fall

From out thine eye and my cold cheek bedew,

How gladly would I buy it with each drop of blood

That creepeth still along these veins!”


“If this, the last fond wish of love,

If this be sacrilegious,

O let me, angry Heaven, let me suffer!

Yea! Suffer every pain a loving heart

Beyond the grave to suffer may be able!


I will submit, will bear it patiently,

But that I may prove faithless to my love,

O ask not this!”

“Forgive, forgive the too all-powerful springs

Which move triumphant Nature!

My heart must love him, yes,

Must love him e’er!


Alas!  Without thy love for me

Were Heaven’s self no Heaven more!

No purgatory should I fear with thee,

Through all its flames with double force

Rush on me in resistless course,

“Thy cooling breath would wave them off.”



Madame de Staël: Weiland

Excerpt from DE L’ALLEMAGNE – “Germany” by Madame Germaine de Staél-Holstein (published 1810, the 1813 John Murray translation), Vol. I, 235-240
Of all the Germans who have written after the French manner, Wieland is the only one whose works have genius; and although he has almost always imitated the literature of foreign countries, we cannot avoid acknowledging the great services he has rendered to that of his own nation, by improving its language and giving it a versification more flowing and harmonious.
There was already in Germany a crowd of writers, who endeavored to follow the traces of French literature, such as it was in the age of Louis XIV.
Wieland is the first who introduced with success that of the 18th Century. In his prose writings he bears some resemblance to Voltaire, and in his poetry to Ariosto; but these resemblances, which are voluntary on his part, do not prevent him from being by nature completely German.
Weiland is infinitely better informed than Voltaire; he has studied the ancients with more erudition than has been done by any poet in France. Neither the defects, nor the powers of Weiland allow him to give to his writings any portion of the French lightness and grace.
In his philosophical novels, Agathon and Peregrinus Proteus, he begins very soon with analysis, discussion and metaphysics. He considers it as a duty to mix with them passages which we commonly call flowery; but we are sensible that his natural disposition would lead him to fathom all the depths of the subject which he endeavors to treat. In the novels of Weiland seriousness and gaiety are both too decidedly expressed ever to blend with each other; for in all things, though contrasts are striking, contrast extremes are wearisome.
In order to imitate Voltaire, it is necessary to possess a sarcastic and philosophical irony, which renders us careless of everything, except a poignant manner of expressing that irony. A German can never attain that brilliant freedom of pleasantry; he is too attached to truth, he wishes to know and to explain what things are, and even when he adopts reprehensible opinions, a secret repentance slackens his pace in spite of himself.
The Epicurean philosophy does not suit the German mind; they give to that philosophy a dogmatical character, while in reality it is seductive only when it presents itself under light and airy forms: As soon as you invest it with principles, it is equally displeasing to all.
The poetical works of Weiland have much more grace and originality than his prose writings. Oberon and the other poems of which I shall speak separately are charming and full of imagination. Weiland has, however, been reproached for treating the subject of love with too little severity, and he is naturally thus condemned by his own countrymen, who still respect women a little after the manner of their ancestors.
But whatever may have been the wanderings of imagination which Weiland allowed himself, we cannot avoid acknowledging in him a large portion of true sensibility; he has often had a good or bad intention of jesting on the subject of love; but his disposition, naturally serious, prevents him from giving himself boldly up to it. He resembles that prophet who found himself obliged to bless where he wished to curse; and he ends in tenderness what was begun in irony.
In our intercourse with Weiland we am charmed, precisely because his natural qualities are in opposition to his philosophy. This disagreement might be prejudicial to him as a writer, but it renders him more attractive in society; he is animated, enthusiastic, and, like all men of genius, still young even in his old age; yet he wishes to be skeptical, and is angry with those who would employ his fine imagination in the establishment of his faith.
Naturally benevolent, he is nevertheless susceptible of ill-humour; sometimes, because he is not pleased with himself, and sometimes, because he is not pleased with others. He is not pleased with himself, because he would willingly arrive at a degree of perfection in the manner of expressing his thoughts, of which neither words nor things are susceptible.
He does not choose to satisfy himself with those indefinite terms, which perhaps agree better with the art of conversation than perfection itself; he is sometimes displeased with others, because his doctrine, which is a little relaxed, and his sentiments, which are highly exalted, are not always easily reconciled.
He contains within himself the French poet and a German philosopher, who are alternately angry with each other; but this anger is still very easy to bear; and his discourse, filled with ideas and knowledge, might supply many men of talent with a foundation for conversation of many sorts.
The new writers, who have excluded all foreign influence from German literature, have been often unjust to Weiland. It is he whose works, even in translation, have excited the interest of all of Europe. It is he who has rendered the science of antiquity subservient to the charms of literature. It is he also who, in verse, has given a musical and graceful flexibility to his fertile but rough language.
It is, nevertheless, true, that his country would not be benefited by possessing many imitators of his writings; national originality is a much better thing; and we ought to wish, even when we acknowledge Weiland to be a good master, that he may have no disciples.
Tomorrow: Madame de Staël On Klopstock

C.M. Wieland: “The Republic of Fools” Pt. 3

Excerpt, “Die Abderiten, eine sehr wahrscheinliche Geschichte,”(1774). “The Republic of Fools: Being the History of the State and People of Abdera, in Thrace.” Translated from the German of Christoph Martin Wieland by Henry Christmas; in two volumes, Vol. I; London, 1861.

What kind of man Democritus was and his Travels.
Democritus was about twenty years of age when he inherited the possessions of his father, one of the richest citizens of Abdera. Instead of reflecting on the manner in which he was to increase or retain his fortune, the young man resolved to make it the means of self-improvement, by enriching and cultivating his mind to the highest degree possible.
And what did the Abderites say to this resolution of Democritus?
The good people had never dreamed that the mind could have any other interests than the mouth, the stomach and those other portions of the animal economy which go to make up the whole visible man; consequently, they were not a little astonished at the wonderful freak conceived by their countryman. For this, however, he cared nothing, but went on his way, for his instruction employed many years in traveling through all such countries and islands as were then accessible.
At that period persons anxious to obtain knowledge could only acquire it by personal observation; there were no printing presses, no newspapers, libraries, magazines, encyclopedias, lexicons, royal dictionaries, or any other of the approved means whereby a man may now, without knowing how, become a philosopher, a critic, an author, in short a universal genius. At that time wisdom could only be attained at the expense of the most costly sacrifice. It was not every man who could go to Corinth and, consequently, the number of learned men was small; but then, the knowledge they possessed was of an order all the higher.
Democritus did not merely travel as did Ulysses, to ascertain the customs and constitutions of mankind — nor as Plato, to seek after priests and visionaries — nor like Pausanias, to gaze on temples, statues, pictures and objects of archeology; neither like Dr. Solanger, to identify and classify plants and animals. But he journeyed to explore the beauties of nature and art in all their effects and causes and, especially, to study man in every state — rude or polished, ingenuous or deceitful, perfect or imperfect — and whatsoever besides might aid in thoroughly understanding human nature.
“Caterpillars,” said Democritus, “in Ethiopia, are surely but caterpillars. But what is a caterpillar? Is it so important as to become a primary study for man? Well, now we are here, we will among other objects study the caterpillars of Ethiopia. There is a worm in the land of Seres which produces clothes and maintains a million of human beings. Who knows whether the same useful caterpillar might not be found on the banks of the Niger?”
Through this mode of thinking and reflecting, Democritus collected in his travels a fund of knowledge which to him was more valuable than all the gold in the treasury of an Eastern monarch, or the pearls which adorn the arms and necks of his consorts.
His knowledge extended from the cedar of Lebanon to the mite in an Arabian cheese – running through an infinite variety of trees, shrubs, vegetables, grasses, and mosses – and was conversant not merely with their formation, names and genus; but also with their properties, powers and virtues. But what he appreciated a thousand times more than all his knowledge was, that at different places where he thought it worth his while to stop, he had become acquainted, during his sojourn, with the wisest and best men. It soon became evident that he was one after their own heart; they became his friends and in the course of conversation they spared him many years of what might have been fruitless toil, by imparting to him the results of their own experience, their own diligence or their own good fortune.
When, after an absence of twenty years, Democritus, enriched in mind and heart, returned to Abdera, his countrymen had almost forgotten him. He was become a stately and dignified man, courteous and polite, demeaning himself as a man of the world, who had gained much wisdom from mixing with his fellow-creatures; his complexion, slightly bronzed, told that he had come from the ends of the world, and he had brought with him a stuffed crocodile, a live monkey, with many other wonderful things. For some days the Abderites talked of nothing but their fellow-citizen, Democritus, who had returned home with his curiosities; but after a short time they began to think that they had perhaps overrated the great traveler.
The worthy person to whose care Democritus had entrusted his estate had, evidently, robbed him of at least half his revenues; yet the naturalist, without hesitation, passed on all his accounts. It should give a great shock to that notion of his wisdom which his countrymen had already begun to entertain. The barristers and attorneys, who had reasonably looked forward to some pretty pickings by way of lawsuits, now shrugged their shoulders and uniformly expressed their opinion that a man who had so little sense of his own private interests was obviously unfit to be entrusted with those of the republic. In the meantime, the Abderites did not doubt that he would speedily become a candidate for some honorable public employment.
Accordingly, they began to calculate at what price they might sell their votes; one offered him a daughter, another a grandchild, a sister-in-law, or aunt, in marriage, estimating the advantages they might derive from his influence when he should become their chief magistrate, priest of Latona, etc.
Democritus, however, declared that he had no wish to become a common councilman in Abdera, or to marry an Abderite lady. Although this resolution frustrated all such plans, they yet hoped to profit, in some way or other, by his acquaintance and conversation. A man who had brought with him from his travels an ape, a crocodile and a tame dragon must have many wonderful adventures to relate. They expected he would tell them of giants twelve yards, and of dwarfs twelve inches high, and men with dogs’ and asses’ heads, of mermaids with green hair, and blue Centaurs.
But Democritus lied little, and indeed less than as if he never crossed the Thracian Bosphorus.
They asked him whether in the country of the Garamantes he had not met with people without heads, or having their eyes, noses and mouths upon their breasts; and an extremely wise scholar, who, though he had never been beyond the walls of his native city, gave himself such airs as though there was not a hole in the earth that he had not crept through, intimated his opinion to a large company, that Democritus had either never been to Ethiopia, or must, when there, have necessarily made acquaintance with the Agriophagae, whose king had only one eye, placed exactly over his nose; with the Ptaeambatoe, who always chose a dog for their king; or with the Artabatites, who go on all fours. [Author’s Note: Pliny’s Natural History.]
And if you have penetrated into the extreme part of western Ethiopia,” continued the learned man, “I am certain that you must have encountered a people without noses, and another part where the inhabitants have such small mouths that they are compelled to take their soup through a tube of straw.” [Author’s Note: Solinus, B., also Pliny, Mela Pomponius, and other ancient and modern writers who unhesitatingly speak of such wonderful creatures as if they really existed.]
Democritus protested by Castor and Pollux that he could not remember ever having had the honor of meeting with such. “At least,” said the questioner, “you met in India with people born with only one leg, but who, notwithstanding, in consequence of the extraordinary breadth of their feet, glide over the ground so quickly that a man on horseback can scarcely keep pace with them.” [Author’s Note: Solinus Polyhistor.]
“What can you say to that? Did you not also, at the source of the Ganges, meet with a people whose sole nutrition was the scent of apples?” [Author’s Note: Idem.]
“Oh, do tell us all about it,” cried out eagerly the Abderite ladies. “Do tell us, Mr. Democritus. What could you not tell us, if only you would?”
Democritus swore, but to no purpose, that neither in India nor Ethiopia had he seen or heard of such wonderful creatures. “Well, what have you seen, then?” asked a round, short personage, who was indeed neither one-eyed like the Agriophagae, nor dog-eared like the Cynomolgi; neither did he carry his eye on his shoulders like an Omophthalmian; neither, from the simple act of inhaling did he subsist like the Bird of Paradise. Notwithstanding all this, he had no more brains in his head than an American humming-bird, but was nonetheless qualified for being a town council-man of Abdera. “Well! What have you seen?” said the fat gentleman; “you who for twenty years has been traveling about the world, and have seen nothing of all these things. What else can you have seen that is wonderful in those distant countries?”
“Wonderful!” replied Democritus, smiling. “I really found my time so much occupied in examining that which was natural, that I had no time to spare for the merely wonderful.”
“I must confess,” said the stout gentleman, “that it does not repay one for the fatigue of passing over so many seas, and ascending so many high mountains, not to see more than one of us can see just as well at home.”
Democritus did not like to quarrel with people about their opinions, and least of all with the Abderites, yet he was unwilling that they should suppose that after all his travels he had absolutely nothing to say; he, therefore, endeavored to choose from among the fair Abderites who were of the party, one to whom he could unreservedly explain all he had to tell. He fixed on one with the eyes of a Juno, which, in spite of his great experience, led him erroneously to suppose that their owner possessed a little more intellect and perception than the rest.
“What could I do ?” said he to her, “with a lady whose eye was placed on her forehead or on her elbow? or how would my knowledge of art help me to awaken a cannibal beauty? Besides, I have always been too well satisfied with the soft influence of two fine eyes placed in their natural position, to be tempted to look tenderly on the great eye of a female Cyclops.”
The beauty with the large eyes was doubtful how to understand this speech, and gazed at the speaker with silent astonishment, smiled, displayed her fine teeth, and then looked from side to side, as though endeavoring to penetrate his meaning.
The other ladies had understood it as little as she did, but because Democritus had addressed himself to this one with the large eyes, they decided he had said something very agreeable to her, and this they signified to each other by a variety of grimaces. One wrinkled up her little nose; another pursed up her mouth; a third distended hers, which was already round enough; a fourth drew herself up to her full height; and Democritus saw all this, remembered he was in Abdera, and was … silent.

C.M. Wieland: “The Republic of Fools” Pt. 2

Excerpt, “Die Abderiten, eine sehr wahrscheinliche Geschichte,”(1774). “The Republic of Fools: Being the History of the State and People of Abdera, in Thrace.” Translated from the German of Christoph Martin Wieland by Henry Christmas; in two volumes, Vol. I; London, 1861.

Democritus of Abdera
The question whether the native city of that eminent man could
claim any share in his greatness and, if so, how much.


No air, says Juvenal, is so thick, no nation so stupid, no place so unknown to fame, but that sometimes a great man rises to reflect lustre upon it. Pindar and Epanomondas were born in Boeotia, Aristotle in Stagyra, Cicero at Arpinum, Virgil in the village of Andes near Mantua, Albertus Magnus at Lessingen, Martin Luther at Eisleben, Sextus V in the hamlet of Montalto in the marshes of Ancona, and one of the best kings that ever lived at Pau in Bearn: what wonder, then, that even Abdera should have the honor to give birth to the greatest naturalist of antiquity … Democritus?
For my part, I do not see how a place can in itself add to or detract from the reputation of any good man, as, for every one who comes into this world, a birthplace must be found. It may be doubted whether, save Lycurgus, there was ever a legislator who extended his care and precaution to the Homunculus, in order to provide the state with fine, spirited and well-organized children. We must confess that in this respect Sparta had some claim in this distinction which were shown to her citizens; but in Abdera (as in the whole world besides) chance and genius are permitted to decide.
Natale comes qui temperat astrum; and when a Prothagoras or Democritus arose amongst them, the good citizens of Abdera were as ignorant of the circumstance as were Lycurgus and his laws when a fool or a coward chanced to be born in Sparta.
But this indifference, though it might be said to concern a very important matter, must yet be allowed to pass, because nature, when left to herself, generally renders all extra care for success of her works superfluous. But although she rarely forgets to endow her favorites with all those qualities by which accomplished men are distinguished, still education — the drawing out and developing of those qualities — is exactly the task which she leaves to art, and therefore every state must seek for itself the opportunity of affording the instructions which its citizens require. In this, however, the Abderites manifested great want of wisdom, and it would be difficult to find a place where less care was bestowed upon the cultivation of the intellect, the understanding, and the hearts of the citizens.
The formation of the taste arises from a keen and true perception of the beautiful, and is the best groundwork of the celebrated “Kalokagathia” of Socrates, making internal beauty and goodness of soul to constitute the noble-minded, beneficent and happy man; and nothing is easier than to form in us this correct feeling of beauty, if all that we see and hear from our childhood be beautiful. It is no small advantage to be born in a place where the arts and the sciences are cultivated in the greatest perfection — in a well-built town filled with masterpieces of art, as in Athens; and if, as in the times of Plato and Menander, the Athenians had a thousand time more taste than other nations, they were doubtless in a great degree indebted to their native city for the advantage.
We have already stated that the Abderites were enthusiastic in their love for the fine arts, and, indeed, at the time of their greatest splendour, when they were compelled to make way for the frogs, their town was filled with splendid buildings, rich in pictures and statues, provided with a fine theatre and music hall — was, in short, a little Athens, in all save taste; but unfortunately the strong bias of which we have before spoken extended to their notions of the beautiful and becoming. Latona, the tutelary goddess of their town, had the worst temple; Jason, chief of the Argonauts (whose golden fleece they pretended to possess), the most splendid.
Their townhall looked like a warehouse, and immediately in front of the structure where the business of the state was transacted, cabbage-vendors, fruit and butter women, exposed their stores; on the contrary, the gymnasium, where their young men practiced fighting and wrestling, was built upon three rows of columns, and the fighting hall was adorned with representation of deliberate assemblies, and statues in attitudes of grief or of thoughtful repose; instead of these, within the senate house was presented a more attractive and exciting spectacle, for in its hall the eyes of the senators frequently wandered to the surrounding objects, dwelling with delight on the conspicuously placed paintings of athlete champions, of Diana bathing, of sleeping Bacchantes, or Venus entangled in Olympus with one of her lovers in Vulcan’s net.
This latter picture (immense in its proportions) was hung immediately over the benches of the most learned senators, and was always triumphantly pointed out to strangers as chef d’oeuvre. Even Phocion himself, grave as he was, would have been compelled, though it were the only time in his life, to indulge in a laugh. It is said King Lysimachus once offered six cities and a dominion of many leagues around them for this picture; but the Abderites could not make up their mind to part with so magnificent a piece, especially as it just filled the entire side of the court chamber, and, besides, one of the most celebrated critics had in a learned work suggested the connection of this allegorical painting with the place it adorned.
To relate all the absurdities of this wonderful people would indeed be endless. One, however, we must not pass over, forming as it did a prominent feature of their constitution, and exercising no small influence over the character of the Abderites.
In the earliest period of this city, there was probably an institution in honour of Orpheus, and the nomophylax , or protector of the laws (one of the chief magistrates), was also leader of their sacred choruses and precentor of their music in general. At this epoch, there was good reason for that regulation; but lengths of time alone will cause great revolutions, and the observance of ancient laws would become ridiculous if not modified according to changing circumstances. Such a reflection, however, never entered the minds of the poor Abderites.
It often happened that a nomophylax was chosen who tolerably well understood the laws, but sang badly, or knew nothing at all of music. In such circumstances, how managed the Abderites? After much and grave deliberation they resolved to adopt the regulation that the best singer of Abdera should in future be chosen for nomophylax, which rule was observed as long as Abdera existed. That their nomophylax and their precentor might be two distinct personages was never dreamt of — although they had twenty public meetings on the subject.
It is easy to imagine that at this period music was much esteemed in Abdera; everybody in the city was musical — all sang and played on the flute and the lyre. Their ethics and politics, their theology and cosmography, had each and all a musical foundation; nay, even their physicians cured their patients by harmonies and melodies.
As far as speculations, mere theory, was concerned, so far they seemed to attain to much the same position as that of the greatest sages of antiquity, of Orpheus, of Pythagoras, and of Plato. But it unfortunately happened that in practice they deviated all the more decidedly from the severity of the rules they professed.
Plato forbade all soft and effeminate strains in his Republic. Music was meant to awaken in the minds of his citizens neither joy nor grief, and together with the Ionian and Lydian measures he forbade all Bacchanalian ditties and love-songs. He prohibited the use of all sweet-toned instruments as the many-stringed lute and the Lydian flute, as calculated to induce pernicious and sensual feelings. The citizens, however, were allowed the use of the guitar and the lyre, and the country people had the shepherd’s reed and the pandean pipes.
Philosophical enactments similar to these would have produced great dissatisfaction among the Abderites, who never restricted themselves from enjoying all the harmony afforded by their country. They endeavored to do full justice to a very true, but unhappily by them much misunderstood maxim that “all serious matters should be treated in a mirthful spirit, and all mirthful matters in a serious one.” Extending this principle to music, they came to the most extraordinary conclusions — their sacred hymns sounded like drinking catches, but nobody ever heard strains more solemn than their dance music.
The chorus of their tragedies was irresistibly comic, while their war-songs seemed only an appropriate accompaniment for a procession to the gallows; a performance on the lyre was only esteemed as it succeeded in imitating the flute, and a songstress who wished to gain admiration was obliged to warble and quaver like a nightingale. The Abderites had no conception of music that excited the feelings of the heart, but were well satisfied if their ears were only pleased, and they would, without the slightest notice, interrupt the flow of the fullest and richest harmony.
In one word, with all their enthusiasm for the arts, the Abderites had no taste, and it was all the same to them whether that which they deemed beautiful was esteemed so on just grounds or not; nature, chance and good luck, even when they combined their forces, could scarcely ever attain to so great a power of wonder-working as to endow a born Abderite with common sense.
At least it must be allowed that if such a thing ever did happen, Abdera had done nothing towards it, for an Abderite was in general only so far a sensible man as he was destitute of all that marked him as an Abderite. This circumstance explains easily enough how it was, that the Abderites esteemed the least, those very citizens whom all foreigners regarded as doing their state the most honour. This was not one of their commonplace absurdities; they had a reason for it, and one so natural that it would be unfair to reproach them with it. This reason was not, as some suppose, because they had seen the naturalist Democritus, for instance, before he became a great man; or indeed a man at all, amuse himself by trundling a hoop, or by turning head over heels in the grass.
Neither was it because, either from spite or jealousy, they could not bear the idea of a greater man being among them than themselves. As to the infallible inscription over the Delphic Temple, not one of their number had wisdom to penetrate its meaning; or from the moment, he would have ceased to be an Abderite. The true reason, my friends, why the Abderites did not make much of their fellow citizen, Democritus, was — they did not esteem him to be a wise man.
“And why not?”
Because they could not.
“And why could they not?”
Because in such a case they must have confessed themselves fools; and that, at least, they were not absurd enough to do. In short, they could with about as much case have danced upon their heads, taken the moon between their teeth, or squared a circle, as they could have comprehended one who was in all respects their opposite; thus exemplifying a quality of human nature which must have been noticed even in the time of Adam. Helvetius gathered from this — never mind; what he deduced was thought quite new in his own day to many, but would now be deemed no novelty at all, and lost site of every moment in consequence.

To be continued…


C.M. Wieland: “The Republic of Fools”

Excerpt, “Die Abderiten, eine sehr wahrscheinliche Geschichte,”(1774). “The Republic of Fools: Being the History of the State and People of Abdera, in Thrace.” Translated from the German of Christoph Martin Wieland by Henry Christmas; in two volumes, Vol. I; London, 1861.

Democritus Among the Abderites

Preliminary observations on the Origin of Abdera,
and the characters of its inhabitants.

The origin of the City of Abdera, in Thrace, is lost in the remote antiquity of the heroic ages. It is a matter of very little consequence at the present time whether the name be derived from Abdera, a sister of the renowned Diomedes, whose love of horses was so great, and his stud so extensive, that they consumed both him and his country; or from Abderus, his Master of the Horse; or from another Abderus, who was the favorite of Hercules.
It was many ages after its first foundation, and when Abdera was a heap of ruins, that Timesius, of Clazomenae, undertook, about the 31st Olympiad, to rebuild it. The wild Thracians, who permitted no cities to spring up in their neighborhood, allowed him no time to enjoy the fruits of his labour. They soon drove him out, and the town remained unfinished and uninhabited till about the end of the 59th Olympiad.
At that period, the inhabitants of Teos, an Ionian city, unwilling to submit to the conquering arms of Cyrus, sailed to Thrace, and finding a city already built, in one of the most fruitful parts of that country, took possession of it as a forsaken and unappropriated territory. More successful than the builders, they made head against their Thracian neighbors; they and their successors assumed the name of Abderites and founded a little state, which, like most Greek cities, was a mean between aristocracy and democracy, and was governed as small republics ever have been.
And now, cry our readers, what is the object of this unmeaning deduction — the origin and fate of this little city, Abdera? What is Abdera to us, and of what moment is it to us whether we know, or whether we know not, when, how, where, why, by whom, and to what end, was built a town which for many centuries has had no existence?
Patience, good reader, patience! till we (before I go on further) are agreed in our requirements. Heaven forbid that anybody should give himself the trouble to read the History of the Abderites if he has anything more necessary to do, and anything better to read. “I must study my sermon,” — “I must visit my patient,”– “I have bought five yoke of oxen,” — “I have married a wife,” — then, in Heaven’s name, study, prescribe, plough, buy and marry.
Busy readers are seldom good readers: Sometimes one thing distracts them, sometimes another; sometimes they half understand us — sometimes not at all — and sometimes (which is still worse) they misunderstand us.
He who would read with pleasure, or with profit, must have nothing else to do — nothing else to think of. And if you are in this condition, why should you not spend two or three minutes to learn what has cost so many hours to a Salmasius, to a Barnes, or to a Bayle, and, to be candid, to me too, since I did not in good time meet with the article in Bayle? Would you not have patiently listened to me if I had begun to relate to you the history of the king in Bohemia who had seven castles, or the legends of the three Calendars? Besides, the Abderites should have been, according to what is said of them, as refined, witty, lively, and intellectual a people as ever the world beheld.
And why so?
This question will not probably be put by the learned reader; but who would write books if every reader knew as much as the author? The question “Why?” is always a very reasonable question; it deserves, in all conversations on human affairs, an answer, and woe to him who is embarrassed, or ashamed, or angry, when he is required to give his opinion. We, for our part, should have given ours unasked, had not the reader been so impatient. Here it is. Teos was an Athenian colony, one of the twelve, or thirteen, planted in Ionia by Neleus, the son of Codrus.
The Athenians were ever a lively and intellectual people. Travelers tell us they are so still, and these Athenians settled in Ionia advanced in mental powers, under the climate of the favoured land, as the vine does in perfection when transplanted into the south. The Ionian Greeks were, above all nations of the earth, the favorite of the Muses. Homer himself was, according to all probability, an Ionian. The songs of love, the Milesian fables (the forerunners of our novels and romances), acknowledged Ionia for their native land. Alcaeus, the Horace of the Greeks; the glowing Sappho; Anacreon, the songster; Aspasia, the preceptress; Apelles, the painter of the Greeks — all were Ionians.
Anacreon was a Teiean by birth. He was a youth of about eighteen years old when his countrymen removed to Abdera; he went with them, and as a proof that his lyre devoted to the Love God was not left behind, there sang he that song to a Thracian maiden (in Barnes’ edition the 61st) — a song in which the wild tones of the indomitable Thrace are mingled, and yet beautifully contrasted, with that Ionian grace so peculiar to his lyrics.
And now, who would not have supposed that the Teieans — in their first origin Athenian, as long established in Ionia, the fellow-citizens as an Anacreon — would have preserved, even in Thrace, the character of an intellectual people? The contrary, however, whatever may have been the reason of it, was without a doubt the case. Scarcely had the Teieans become Abderites when they began to degenerate; not that they altogether lost their former liveliness, and were changed into sheep, as Juvenal asserts of them — their liveliness merely took an extraordinary turn, and their imagination stole so decided a march upon their intellect, that they were never subsequently able to recall it.
The Abderites were not deficient in ideas, but their ideas seldom suited the present occasion — they spoke much, but ever without a moment’s thought what they should say, or how they should say it. The natural consequence of it was, that they rarely opened their mouths without giving utterance to some folly. Unluckily this bad habit extended itself to their deeds as well as their words, for they commonly shut the cage when the bird was flown. This drew upon them the reproach of thoughtlessness, but experience proved that they were none the better off when they did think.
Did any of their proceedings turn out exceedingly stupid (a circumstance anything but rare), the cause was sure to be that they wished to do it too well; and if any state business gave occasion to long and serious deliberation, it was almost a matter of certainty that of all possible decisions they would come to the very worst. They became at last a proverb among the Greeks; an Abderitish idea, an Abderitish trick, was among them pretty much the same thing as a Bull with us; or a Lalleburger among the Swiss; and the worthy Abderites failed not to furnish both jesters and laughers and a rich supply of subjects.
For the present, a few examples will do by way of proof. It once occurred to them that though a city like Abdera ought to have a fine fountain. They decided that it should be in the centre of the market-place , and in order to defray the cost they laid on a new tax; a celebrated sculptor was sent for from Athens in order to prepare a group of statues representing the god of the sea in a chariot drawn by sea-horses, and surrounded by Nymphs, Tritons and dolphins. It was intended that the sea-horses and dolphins should send forth jets d’eau from their nostrils.
But when the work was completed, and the statues placed in the spot, it unfortunately appeared that there was scarcely enough water to wet the noses of the dolphins; and when the fountain was playing, both they and the horses had the uncomfortable appearance of being afflicted with a severe cold. In order to put a stop to the laugh, the group was brought into the Temple of Neptune, and when exhibited to strangers the sacristan expressed his sorrow, in the name of the worshipful city of Abdera, that so rich and splendid a work of art was rendered useless by the poverty of Nature.
At another time they purchased a very lovely Venus, of ivory, which was reckoned upon the masterpiece of Praxiteles. It was about five feet high, and ought to have been placed upon an altar of the goddess. As soon as it arrived, all Abdera fell into ecstasies about the beauty of their Venus; for the Abderites considered themselves acute connoisseurs and enthusiastic lovers of the arts. “She is too beautiful,” exclaimed they with one voice, “to be placed on a low pedestal. A masterpiece that does our city so much honour, and which has cost us so much money, can scarcely be set too high; it should be the first thing that strikes the eye of the stranger on his entrance into Abdera.”
In consequence of this happy thought, they placed the small and exquisite statue upon an obelisk eighty feet in height; and as it was quite impossible at that distance to know whether it was a Venus or an oyster-wench, it became necessary to assure all strangers that nothing more could be seen.
These instances will be sufficient to prove that no injustice was done to the Abderites when they were characterized as blunderers; but it is doubtful whether any proceeding could display their character in a stronger light than the following. According to the testimony of Justin, they allowed the frogs to increase in and about their city to such an extent that they were at last obliged to give place to their croaking fellow-citizens, and the result was, that, under the protection of King Cassander, the Abderites removed the frogs to another place. The misfortune did not fall upon them without warning. A wise man who dwelt among them told them long previously that this would finally be the case.
Indeed, the fault lay wholly in the means the Abderites adopted to avoid the evil; only they could not be induced to see this. What ought, however, to have opened their eyes was the fact that they had not been many months removed from Abdera when a number of cranes came down from the region of Gerania, and so completely cleared away the frogs, that, for a mile round Abdera, not one remained to greet the returning spring with the chorus “croak! croak!”

To be continued…


Christoph Martin Wieland by Jagemann 1805

Christoph Martin Wieland by Jagemann 1805