Do You Know the Land Where the Lemon Trees Bloom?

Many people believe that the reason why Germans are so impatient with Greeks is because they believe they should not be rewarded for their laziness and incompetence. You can hear an eloquent and convincing deconstruction of this view in On the Media.

There is grave omission in this talk. The speaker did not mention that Germans envy the Greeks and that, naturally, they want to punish those they envy. Why should the Greeks be allowed to be truly civilized and sit in cafés and drink ouzo all day, or lie on the beach and sun themselves when we have to work our fingers to the bone?

The most admirable German of them all, the poet and scientist Goethe, was nearly forty when at last he yielded to his longing for the south and abruptly left the northern mists of Weimar to seek and find true civilization in Italy. (It might have been Greece.) He did not even say goodbye to his platonic lady-friend, Frau von Stein, to whom he had written three letters a day for ten years. (I may be exaggerating a little.)

In Rome, he promptly lost his virginity with a professional beauty, a liberating procedure he described vividly in a Roman Elegy. And he sat on Roman ruins for his friend, the painter Johann Heinrich Tischbein, who painted the most famous portrait in the history of German art.

He also composed the poem about the blooming lemon trees, which (at least in my day) everybody had to learn by heart in school.

Guess on which side of the debate Goethe would stand today.



2 responses to “Do You Know the Land Where the Lemon Trees Bloom?

  1. An excellent piece on Goethe and Greece!

  2. Michael Gundy

    I am not surprised that Goethe’s work on colour only came to the fore after he visited the saturated landscape, teeming with southern colours.