Mephistopheles is not your name.

16 Feb

With regard to the special purport of Euphorian, Lynceus and the rest, we have nothing more to say at present ; nay perhaps we may have already said too much.  For it must not be forgotten by the commentator, and will not, of a surety, be forgotten by Mephistopheles, whenever we may please to deliver his Epilogue, that Helena is not an Allegory, but a Phantasmagory ; not a type of one thing, but a vague fluctuating fitful adumbration of many.  This is no Picture painted on canvas, with mere material colours, and steadfastly abiding our scrutiny ; but rather it is like the Smoke of a Wizard’s Cauldron, in which we gaze on its flickering tints and wild splendours, thousands of strangest shapes unfold themselves, yet no one will abide with us ; and thus, as Goethe says elsewhere, ‘we are reminded of Nothing and of All.”

Properly speaking, Helena is what Germans call a Mährchen (Fabulous Tale), a species of fiction they have particularly excelled in, and of which Goethe has already produced more than one distinguished specimen

For the present, therefore we take leave of Helena and King Frost, and  of their author : but regard to the latter, our task is nowise ended ; indeed, as yet, hardly begun ; for it is not in the province of the Mährchen that Goethe will ever become more interesting to English readers.  But like his own Euphorian, though he rises aloft into the Æther, he derives, Antæus-like, his strength from the Earth.

Thomas Carlyle,  Goethe’s Helena, Critical and Miscellaneous Essays Collected and Republished (New York, John B Alden Publisher 1885) p. 52-54

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