Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: 'Prometheus': Von Revolte und Konkurrenzschöpfertum zur Sprach-Macht

Translated title of the contribution: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: 'Prometheus': From Revolt and Concurrential Creation to the Empowering of Language

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This article deals with the "explosiveness" of young Goethe's famous poem Prometheus, arguing that it results not only from - as most interpreters have underlined - the poet's scandalizing blasphemic and agnostic purposes or his typical Sturm-und-Drang-celebration of rebelliousness and human genius. By a close reading of the poem, this article argues that, in fact, its explosive character lies, firstly, in a double action: it radically divests the gods of their power and, conversely, radically empowers the poem's human speaker. The poem overcomes simple rebelliousness against the Gods, because this double movement functions in and through language. The very centre of the self-empowering program of the poem's speaker lies in the assertion that speaking, voice and language are exclusively his. Secondly, as an enormously powerful speech-act the poem itself is what it means: human language is more powerful than - anything. But at its end - in its total degrading but also naming of Zeus ("dich") - the poem also shows the paradox inherent in human language: it can not eliminate, only generate. In language, Zeus is not only destroyed but also remains. So the poem designates the limits of human language as a medium - and it refuses to free the reader of this aporia.
Original languageGerman
Pages (from-to)38-54
Number of pages17
JournalDuitse Kroniek: Schlüsselgedichte. Deutsche Lyrik durch die Jahrhunderte: Von Walther von der Vogelweide bis Paul Celan
Publication statusPublished - 2009



  • revolte
  • Prometheus
  • rhetorical power
  • Goethe
  • power in language
  • poet's power
  • power by language
  • power
  • poetical power
  • creation
  • concurrence to God
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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