Departmental Papers (Classical Studies)

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Classical Literary Careers and Their Reception

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Any effort to interpret Goethe's career according to a single, pre-existing pattern would obviously be misconceived. Not only was his literary career a vast, sprawling thing in itself, but it was thoroughly intertwined with several others, including those of courrier, politician, diplomat, scientist and artist, Moreover, several of these callings interacted quite directly with his work as a writer. Even if we focus on Goethe's literary career in the narrowest possible sense, we cannot really speak in any simple way either of continuous Virgilian ascent through ever more elevated genres, or of Horatian retirement to an aesthetic angulus, or of any other model derived from the careers of Classical poets as the dominant lens through which to view Goethe's experience. And let us admit this at once: the evidence that Goethe himself modelled his own career upon any of these patterns is non-existent. In this respect he differs from Petrarch, Spenser, Marlowe, Milton and other poets who explicitly represent themselves as fashioning their careers after Virgilian, Horatian and Lucanian proto-types. All of this might seem to make Goethe an unpromising subject in the context of career studies.

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Reprinted with permission from the Cambridge University Press.

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Date Posted: 10 January 2017