27 Mar The Wisdom of Goethe – 3 (JOHANN PETER ECKERMANN)
But if after the three celebrated tragic poets (Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides), there appeared no equally great fourth, fifth, or sixth—this is, indeed, a matter difficult to explain; nevertheless, we may have our own conjectures, and approach the truth in some degree.
Man is a simple being. And however rich, varied, and unfathomable he may be, the cycle of his situations is soon run through. If the same circumstances had occurred, as with us poor Germans, for whom Lessing has written two or three, I myself three or four, and Schiller five or six passable plays, there might easily have been room for a fourth, fifth, and sixth tragic poet.
But with the Greeks and the abundance of their productions—for each of the three great poets has written a hundred, or nearly a hundred pieces, and the tragical subjects of Homer, and the heroic traditions, were some of them treated three or four times—with such abundance of existing works, I say, one can well imagine that by degrees, subjects were exhausted, and that any poet who followed the three great ones would be puzzled how to proceed.
And, indeed, for what purpose should he write? Was there not, after all, enough for a time? And were not the productions of Æschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides of that kind and of that depth, that they might be heard again and again without being esteemed trite, or put on one side? Even the few noble fragments which have come down to us are so comprehensive and of such deep significance, that we poor Europeans have already busied ourselves with them for centuries, and shall find nutriment and work in them for centuries still.
Sunday, May 1, 1825
Conversations Of Goethe
Johann Peter Eckermann