I was first introduced to Goethe, the German writer, when I was in Germany last year.
Every German I met seemed to mention him (and poet Schiller) in daily conversations so I thought it was high time I got with the program and learned more about him. I set off to see Goethe House as my first stop in Frankfurt and even made a short video about the experience which you can see below. If you’re ever in Frankfurt, a trip to Goethe House is a MUST.
(I also visited the Museum of Modern Literature (brilliant) on the outskirts of a quaint medieval town of Marbuch to balance things out too to learn about Schiller too. His Geburtshaus is there and worth a visit. It’s also the site of the ultra new Tobias Mayer Museum (mathematician and if you love seeing a collection of antique navigational equipment then go there but just be aware that there was NO english anywhere at these sites). If you ever get a chance to go to this neck of the woods when you’re in Germany, do so). Here’s a quick tour of these places if you want to see what I saw.
Anyway, we’re talking about Goethe today, not Schiller…
I bought Geothe’s Maxims and Reflections some time ago and recently I finished reading it. Like Marcus Aurelias’ Meditations, it’s not a book that you can read in one or two sittings. You have to pick it up over a long period of time, read some of it, stop and ponder about what you’re reading, then decide if you agree – or don’t agree with it.
What struck me about Goethe House when I was there was that, there’s no doubt about it, he grew up in a home that was filled with art, literature, musical, game pursuits. Obviously he came from a wealthy background as seen by the amount of books in the library – but also these huge ornately designed ceramic (what looked to me as fireplaces) but what were central heating of the time in every room.
Rather than write here how I found the book, I may as well link to my book review of Goethe instead. I found most of his maxims and reflections pretty spot on but others well, meh. Maybe over the years, they had dated somewhat.
I went through the book and circled some of my favourite maxims and reflections and here they are:
- To communicate is natural; to accept what is communicated is an acquired art (lesson: don’t believe the bullshitter influencers)
- No one would talk much in company if he realised how often he himself misunderstands others (Lesson: when people get angry with you, you haven’t understood them).
- The reason, maybe, for our altered account of what others have said is our own failure to understand them (See above – this was a “oops” moment for me as I recollect all those embarrassing situations where I totally misunderstood the intent of others).
- Every spoken work evokes its contrary meaning. (This was one I was a bit meh about but if I delve deeply, I do think that people don’t want to offend so in most cases they “pretty up” the statement so that you’re not offended but there’s a deeper significance as to why they’re saying this to you – and as usually, I’m totally clueless to these hidden intentions, usually what happens is (1) followed by (2)
- The man who understands finds almost everything laughable, the man of reason, practically nothing (Lesson: be the person who understands as I need to laugh more)
- Our new passions are a genuine phoenix. As the old one burns down, the new one immediately arises out the ashes. (Lesson: These passions are going to kill me. Or my husband. He’s lost track how often I’ve started new things and taken him for a ride with them all).
- Association with women is the basic element of good manners (Lesson: I wish more men followed this advice. Nothing is more attractive or sexy in a man than him being comfortable around women as his peers because he genuinely likes them).
- Behaviour is a mirror in which everyone shows his image (is this one of Goethe’s, really?)
- No one is more slave than the one who thinks he is free without being free (I think of America in this case).
- In the face of another’s great excellence, the only possible salvation is love (Lesson: Or else you’ll be eaten up by jealousy)
- One usually considers people more dangerous than they actually are (My thoughts? Nah. I don’t).
- Fools and intelligent people are equally undamaging. Half fools and half sages are the most dangerous of all (Truth).
- Even at the most highest bliss and of the highest distress we need the artist. (Lesson: We need artists NOW).
- I make a mistake and everyone can spot it; I tell a lie and no one knows (Lesson: the whole of the corporate world is running on lies)
- It is sad to watch an outstandingly talented man battling frantically with himself; his circumstances, his time, without ever managing to go anywhere.” (Lesson: I’m that man aren’t I?)
- Anyone who doesn’t know foreign languages, knows nothing of his own (Truth)
- Everyone has some trait in his nature which, openly admitted, might well cause displeasure (Lesson: Keep your mouth shut).
- Certain minds have to be left to their private illusions (Lesson: Use this line somewhere).
- He who is afraid of ideas in the end also lacks concepts.
- Dirt glitters when the sun begins to shine (Lesson: You need to use this line somewhere).
- It is much easier to recognise error than to find truth; the former lies on the surface, that is quite manageable; the latter resides in depth and this quest is not everyone’s business (Thought: Because we’re so bloody lazy to think).
- Ingratitude is always a kind of weakness, I have never known competent people to be ungrateful.
- Among all peoples, the Greeks have dreamt life’s dream most beautifully (that’s why they’re called Hellenes).
- It is really a person’s mistakes that make him most endearing (Thought: I must be the most endearing person ever!)
- Mastery is often seen as egoism. (Beware those “thought leaders”)
- There is nothing more dreadful that active ignorance.
- The first and last thing demanded of genius is love of truth
- Experience is something that we can all value, especially the man who is old and has time to think, to reflect; he has the most confident, comfortable feeling that no one can rob him of this.
- A great failing to see yourself as more than you are and to value yourself at less than your true worth (I need to tattoo this on my forehead or something).
- If you can read, you should understand; if you can write, you have to know something; if you can believe, you ought to comprehend; if you desire, you will feel an obligation; if you demand, you will not get what you want; and if you are experienced, you ought to make yourself useful.
- Knowledge is not enough, we have to apply it; wanting it is not enough, there has to be action.