Friedrich Holderlin: Cultural Memory as Fiction


  • Anthony Stephens


The major German poet I am concerned with has never become a ·household name in the English-speaking world. Friedrich Holderlin was hom in 1770, the same year as Beethoven, but he was to have a much shorter creative life. Mental illness -most likely schizophrenia -set in his early 30s, and his last complete poem is usually dated to 1803. For the few years after 1803, he continued writing, occasionally producing short passages in which his genius briefly is present. In 1804 he published surprising translations of Sophocles' Oedipus and Antigone -surprising because, in the language of the text, German is often bent to fit Ancient Greek linguistic forms. In a translation, the qualities of the object language are usually sacrificed for the sake of the new expression. But here the opposite occurs. This is a process which began with Holderlin's translation of seventeen of Pindar's Odes in 1800, and which ended with the occasional subordination of German to Greek.1 From 1806 until his death almost 40 years later in 1843, he was confined as mentally ill and the only verse he produced in these years showed nothing of the powers that had made his mature work so extraordinary.

Author Biography

Anthony Stephens