Zum Idyllischen in Rousseaus Zeitaltertheorie und Goethes ‚Werther‘
Seiten 153 - 166
When describing rural life, Goethe’s young Werther regularly returns to topoi of the idyll. In the contemporary context of historical anthropology, these regresses harmonise with Werther’s initial preferred reading material. ‘His Homer’, which he reads in the novel’s idyllic passages, was used in cultural theories of the time, including Rousseau’s, as a literary exponent of a ‘barbaric’ period of development – a middle, pre-civilisation epoch in which humans primarily lived as shepherds and assured their survival through occasional raids. The inner context of the subject of the idyll found within Werther’s ‘barbaric’ reading material is also evident in the fact that these subjects fade and disappear when Homer is dethroned in Werther’s ‘heart’ by another poet. He has to leave behind an author who at that time was regarded as a witness not of the barbaric, but of the preceding age of ‘savagery’: Ossian. Whilst the ‘barbaric’ Homer was still compatible with the idyllic elements of the novel, Werther’s move to read Ossian can now be interpreted as a sign of his regression, which thus attains a phylogenetic-universal meaning.