Heine's 'The Gods of Greece' | Harper's Magazine

Sign in to access Harper’s Magazine

Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?

  1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
  2. Select Email/Password Information.
  3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.

Locked out of your account? Get help here.

Subscribers can find additional help here.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!

Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.
Subscribe for Full Access
Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.
[No Comment]

Heine’s ‘The Gods of Greece’

Adjust

Moon in full bloom! In your light,
Like liquid gold, the sea gleams,
As clear as midday, though dimly enchanted,
It stretches beyond the wide beachfront;
And in the pale blue starless sky
Drift the white clouds,
Like great images of the gods
Of luminous marble.

No! Nevermore. Those are no clouds!
It’s them, the gods of Hellas,
Who once so joyfully held sway over the world,
Who now, suppressed and died off,
Drift as great ghosts
Through the midnight skies.

Gazing and curiously blinded I see
The airy pantheon,
The colossal figures move
With the silence of gravitas.
That one is Kronion, the king of the Heavens,
The locks on his bow are snow-white,
Those celebrated locks which make Olympus quake.
In his hand he holds a lightening bolt unleashed,
In his countenance lies misfortune and grief,
But still indeed the old pride.
Those were better days, o Zeus,
When you enjoyed the heavenly revels
With boys and nymphs and hecatombs;
But not even the gods reign forever,
The young suppress the old,
As you once drove away your aging father,
And your titan uncle,
Jupiter Parricida!
And you I also recognize, proud Juno!
But another has won the scepter,
And you are no longer the Queen of Heaven,
And your great eye has turned cold,
And your lily-like arms are powerless,
And nevermore will your rage
Strike the god-bearing virgin
And the miracle-performing son of god.
I recognize you as well, Pallas Athene!
Were you unable with your shield and wisdom
To forestall the decline of the gods?
And I recognize you, Aphrodite,
Once the golden, now the silver-like!
True, the girdle accents your corporeal attraction,
And yet I am repelled by your beauty,
And though your wondrous flesh would bring me fortune,
As other heroes, I would die of fear –
As the goddess of corpses you appear to me,
Venus Libitina!

No longer with love does she gaze upon you,
There, the terrible Ares.
You look so sad, Phœbus Apollo,
The youthful. Your lyre which sounded so joyfully
At the banquet of the gods, now is gone silent.
Sadder still looks Hephæstus,
And truly the god with a limp shall never again
Assume Hebe’s office,
Or dutifully serve up the wondrous nectar
In the assembly – for long is past
The inextinguishable laughter of the gods.

I never loved you, gods!
Because the Greeks are obnoxious to me,
Indeed, I hate even the Romans.
But holy compassion and terrifying sympathy
Course through my heart,
When I espy you on high,
Forgotten gods,
Dead, shadows wandering in the nighttime,
Drifts of mist dispersed by the wind –
And when I consider how cowardly and vapid
Are the gods who conquered you,
The new, sad gods who govern us,
Those cloaked with Schadenfreude in the sheepskin of humility –
O, I am seized by a grim resentment,
And I would break the new temples,
And would do battle for you, you old gods,
For you and your good, ambrosial right,
And before your high altars,
Resurrected, fuming of offerings,
I would myself kneel and pray,
And raise high my arms in supplication –

For in any event, you old gods,
When in times of old you did battle with humans,
You always took the side of the victor,
And now man is grown more magnanimous than you,
For in the battle among the gods, I cast my lot
With the party of the vanquished gods.

Thus I spoke, and visibly above me
The pale cloud figures blushed
And glanced upon me like mortals,
Transfigured by pain, and suddenly they vanished.
The moon hid itself suddenly
Under a cloud bank, which darkly approached;
The sea rushed up,
And victorious appeared in the heavens
The eternal stars.

Heinrich Heine, Die Götter Griechenlands from Das Buch der Lieder (1826-27) in: Heinrich Heine, Sämtliche Schriften, vol. 1, p. 205-207 (C. Hanser ed. 1968)(S.H. transl.)

More from

More