Goethe’s Song of Songs Reorientation, World Literature

Galili Shahar*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The engagement of the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) with biblical Hebrew poetry already during the early stages of his career in the 1770s and later during the Divan period (1814–27) was associated with his study of Oriental literatures. Under the influence of his mentor and friend, Johann Gottfried Herder, Goethe devoted himself to studying and translating Hebrew and Arabic sources (mostly from the Latin), among them the Song of Songs, alongside chapters from the Qurʾan. In his late work his reflections on the Hebrew biblical poem were associated with his interpretation of Persian classical poetry, first and foremost the ghazals, the love poems by Hâfiz, while composing his work Der westöstlicher Divan. This article offers a comparative study of Goethe’s translation and interpretation of Song of Songs, discussing its major motives, the dialectic of profane love and the sacred, confusion and disorientation, drunkenness, erotic desire, and gender ambiguities. It refers to Goethe’s translation of the Hebrew poem also in conjunction with a critical, decolonial review of Weltliteratur (world literature). Goethe’s Song of Songs serves us as a map of literary interactions, in which the German, the Hebrew and the Persian are brought into conversation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-139
Number of pages30
JournalProoftexts - Journal of Jewish Literature History
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2023


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