George Eliot called Goethe (1749-1832) ‘Germany’s greatest man of letters . . . and the last true polymath to walk the earth’. His Venetian Epigrams, largely composed between 31 March and 21 May 1790, provide — as Seán Lysaght notes in his introduction to these new translations — ‘insights into the erotic and intellectual world of the commanding figure of Germany’s classical age’.
Many of these witty observations — few of the hundred-and-fifty-eight exceed six lines — were suppressed for their ‘controversial’ content; some were destroyed. Pronouncements on the recent French Revolution, on politics, art, religion, sex and the street life of Venice, appear beside tender feelings for the poet’s lover and infant at home in Weimar. The present translation is the first appearance of the complete series as a separate publication in English. Seán Lysaght’s injection of rhyme to the originals and his reprise of their idiomatic manner fuse an apparently insouciant touch with appropriate drive and panache.