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German ambassador in Iran:

Goethe's works bridge over East and West

18 Jun 2011 - 12:15

During the session held at Book City Center on commemoration of Goethe, Bernd Erbel said: "About 200 years ago, Goethe wrote to his publisher that his main goal of writing 'West-Eastern Divan' is to approximate the past and present of Iranians and Germans. Goethe used to say that west and east are not separable. So, Goethe's works bridge between east and west of the world."

IBNA: Last week session of the Book City Center held on 14 June 2011 was devoted to Goethe's "West-Eastern Divan" with the presence of Bernd Erbel (German ambassador in Iran), Mir Jalaleddin Kazazi, Shahnameh researcher and professor of Persian Literature, and Mahmoud Haddadi, translator of Goethe's book. 

During this session, Bernd Erbel said: "Philosophers, writers and poets have shaped the cultural spirit of both Iranians and Germans, hence creating mutual understanding between the two societies. One of these characters was Goethe." 

He continued: "He is the most important German poet. New things never frightened Goethe and he had an enthusiasm for learning about other nations' cultures. His familiarity with Hafiz comes out of this enthusiasm and further lead into the creation of a unique work." 

Erbel remarked: "Goethe was born in 1749 in Frankfurt, and apart from literary activities, he was also a researcher and politician… Rebel against social norms is visible in his works. But it was after writing The Sorrows of Young Werther that Goethe gained fame throughout Europe. Together with Schiller, Goethe is regarded as one of the most important poets of the Weimar period." 

He added: "Goethe undergoes revolution in later stages of his life when he gets familiar with the Divan of Hafez in 1814. His love of Hafez made him learn Persian and Arabic." 

Erbel said: "About 200 years ago, Goethe wrote to his publisher that his main goal of writing 'West-Eastern Divan' is to approximate the past and present of Iranians and Germans. Goethe used to say that west and east are not separable. So, Goethe's works bridge between east and west of the world. If you travel to Weimar, you will find a monument there as the symbol of deep spiritual unity of Goethe and Hafez. This monument was inaugurated eleven years ago and is made up of two huge stools set against each other. One is Goethe and the other is Hafez." 

Goethe believed in World Literature 

Then Dr Haddadi, translator of the book, said: "In the last stages of his life – early 19th century – Goethe states that the time of National Literature is over and now we should move towards World Literature. The result of this ideology is his "West-Eastern Divan". Moreover the book is the result of German knowledge of the East. Goethe's 'West-Eastern Divan' was first published in 1819 in Germany." 

He continued: "At the same time, Mirza Abolhassan Khan Ilchi Shirazi, Fath-Ali Shah's ambassador in European courts finds a person called 'Hammer Purgstall' in Wien; this guy is the German translator of Hafez's Divan. While a German ambassador in Istanbul, Purgstall became familiar with the Divan and Hafez and translated it into German and sent one copy to Goethe, well-known poet of the time. This work totally inspired Goethe." 

Haddadi added: "When meeting Mirza Abolhassan Khan Ilchi in 1820, Purgstall asks him to also present one copy of his translation to the king of Iran. Therefore, in 1832 when Goethe passes away, Fath-Ali Shah sends a Lion-and-Sun symbol of Iran to Purgstall in appreciation of his endeavors." 

Haddadi asserted: "Nevertheless, there is no sign of Goethe's work in Iran of that year. Only in 1949 an abridged version of Goethe's 'West-Eastern Divan' appears in Persian, being translated from a French edition." 

He continued: "In his book, Goethe compares his familiarity with Hafez as the Ship's entering the Sea and states that he has actually entered the sea of Hafez. All in all, Goethe's Divan founded German orientalism and took a significant step towards appreciation of Persian Literature in the world." 

However, he continued, due to East-West wars of the time such as the Ottoman wars with the Venetians, the German Romantic movement did not pay that much attention to this work. After the war, the period of Eurocentrism began and Hitler's reign did not make room for Goethe's works. 

Mahmoud Haddadi has recently rendered Goethe's "West-Eastern Divan" into Persian that is published by Parseh Publications.