Görres, Joseph von
GöRRES, JOSEPH VON
GÖRRES, JOSEPH VON (1776–1848), was a German publicist and Romantic mythologist. Born in the Rhineland and educated in Catholic schools, Johann Joseph von Görres remains best known for his fervent nationalist activities as editor and pamphleteer: successively a republican, monarchist, and, as Catholic polemicist, an ultramontanist—this last position also marked his tenure as professor of history at Munich in the final third of his life, during which he wrote Die christliche Mystik (4 vols., 1836–1842). His nationalism is reflected in his mythic interests. While lecturing at Heidelberg from 1806 to 1808, he was associated with Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano, who were then publishing their landmark German folklore collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn (1806–1808). Görres published his own collection Die teutschen Volksbücher (1807) and Altteutsche Volks und Meisterlieder (1817). In 1820, after having studied Persian from about 1808, he presented a translation entitled Das Heldenbuch von Iran (part of the Shahnameh ). His major work on myth is Mythengeschichte der asiatischen Welt (1810).
This "history of the myths of the Asiatic world" seeks to demonstrate that a primal monotheism originated in India and spread from there through the world, though in confused or debased form. Görres carries his thesis into discussions of Indic, Persian, Chaldean, Egyptian, Greek, Chinese, and Germanic myth. Seen from this perspective, his book is a prime example of German Romantic descriptions of pagan myth as "plagiarized" versions of the one true monotheistic revelation—a doctrine borrowed from earlier Christian writers. But his book is not a history in any rigorous sense so much as a grand Romantic visionary system, rapturously elaborated. He openly relies on "higher" intuitive insight where scholarly evidence is lacking or recalcitrant. His thought (always difficult) is perhaps best understood as suggesting that the godhead is perpetually present. In the far-off mythic age, original humankind lived in the godhead, openly, spontaneously, and wholly. When this golden age dissolved, humans entered "history" and came to believe in an external "nature." Still, the original truth survives in myth and can be at least partially recovered despite humanity's dispersal and self-division into many peoples and languages. There are echoes of Schelling in Görres's emphasis on nature and history as the self-revelation of the godhead. But he also seems at times to deny history or nature any real status whatever, and in this vein he may be close to certain views of William Blake.
Görres's work is collected in Gesammelte Schriften, 6 vols., edited by Marie Görres (Munich, 1854–1860), with two additional volumes edited by Franz Binder (Munich, 1874). The most illuminating discussion of the Indic mythic background for Görres is A. Leslie Willson's A Mythical Image: The Ideal of India in German Romanticism (Durham, N.C., 1964). Fritz Strich's Die Mythologie in der deutschen Literatur von Klopstock bis Wagner, 2 vols. (Halle, 1910), is the standard work. Görres is discussed as mythologist, with translated selections, in The Rise of Modern Mythology, 1680–1860, compiled by me and Robert Richardson (Bloomington, Ind., 1972), pp. 380–386.
Vanden Heuvel, Jon. A German Life in the Age of Revolution: Joseph Görres, 1776–1848. Washington, D.C., 2001.
Burton Feldman (1987)
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