In a letter to Pauline Gotter in Gotha in August 1805 (letter 395), Caroline quips that she “recently saw a certain princely booklet with which no one with even a modicum of discretion would consider entertaining a loyal lady subject.”
The “prince,” Duke Emil Leopold August of Saxony-Gotha, had been inspired by the engraver, painter, and writer Salomon Gessner to publish a rather flat novel composed of twelve loose idylls following the course of the Athenian year, Kyllenion oder ein Jahr in Arkadien (Gotha 1805), a bucolic utopia set in ancient Greece, at the time an acceptable literary format for erotic vignettes featuring both traditional and homoerotic flirtation and love, albeit in this case virtually smothered by unusual Greek words, expressions, names, locales, and allusions (see below). Two love stories are related, one between two male youths and one between a male youth and a girl, though the author’s interest generally inclines toward the former.
See Friedrich Jacobs, “August Emil als Schriftsteller,” Vermischte Schriften, vol 6, Zerstreute Blätter (Leipzig 1837), 464–92, here 464–65:
The only work by the duke that appeared in print is Kyllenion oder ein Jahr in Arkadien (Gotha 1805), 8vo, a piece dedicated to the publisher’s daughter, whose name the acrostic prefacing the work betrays [ed. note: the acrostic first letters of successive lines in the dedicatory poem spell out “Karoline”).
Might you, dear lady, venture to take this my hand On gossamer flight to poetry's sweet meadowland? Swiftly the purple swans shall you bear, Sweet fragrance of orange blossoms waft through your hair. Lightly gold chariot passes Aurora's seam, Horae host behold it in admiring beam. Nothing shall cloud your journey's pleasure divine, Do but hasten, hasten, behold the magic that is mine!
This work consists of twelve idylls, designated by the names of the Athenian months, through which runs a thin historical thread tying together what were originally only vaguely indicated personal relationships. This work owes its genesis to the praise a young Frenchwoman accorded Gessner’s idylls, praise that prompted the duke’s objections; because the woman had emphasized the Greek spirit of those idylls, the duke undertook to compose some that were to be thoroughly Greek as well, but in a completely different way, a promise that explains much of what has been justifiably reproached in this work.
The time during which it appeared did not at all favor it becoming more widely known. The author was known to only a very few people. The critical journals remained silent, and even the lighter dailies did not mention the piece often; the frigidity with which this unusual phenomenon was received may well have be the reason the duke never finished a similar work he undertook at the time, whose beginnings are found in his estate.
It merits mention here that the duke himself set to music the smaller poems woven into Kyllenion, an undertaking in which, because he himself lacked any real understanding of the theory behind this art form, he engaged the assistance of someone experienced in counterpoint, albeit someone who himself possessed no artistic ingenuity or brilliance, though connoisseurs claim they can discern traces of his unique originality in the duke’s compositions. Several of these lieder have also become known to the broader public through compositions by Friedrich Heinrich Himmel and Maria von Weber [1786–1826].
See further Henriette von Knebel to her brother, Karl Ludwig von Knebel, on 21 June 1805, Aus Karl Ludwig von Knebels Briefwechsel mit seiner Schwester Henriette (1774-1813), Ein Beitrag zur deutschen Hof- und Litteraturgeschichte, ed. Heinrich Düntzer (Jena 1858), 226–27:
We really did read the Arcadian idylls with interest, the princess and I [Henriette and Saxon princess Karoline Luise von Saxony-Weimar-Eisenach], and I must say they greatly entertained us. We are enormously glad to hear that you, too, give them your approval.
The Duke of Gotha is himself an Arcadian shepherd, and is genuinely a rare phenomenon. The princess is always extremely delighted in his conversation, which is both intelligent and original. What a peculiar composition of man and woman he is, and with such a fantastically active imagination. He gave her the book as a gift when we were recently in Gotha.
You have no doubt noticed in the Leipzig trade catalog a title printed in Greek: Κυλληνιον. Ein Jahr in Arkadien. This book is also by the Duke of Gotha, but is infinitely worse than the letters in Jean Paul’s little freedom booklet [Jean Paul’s Freiheits-Büchlein, oder, Dessen verbotene Zueignung: an den regierenden Herzog August von Sachsen-Gotha: dessen Briefwechsel mit ihm: und die Abhandlung ueber die Pressfreiheit (Tübingen 1805)]. Now I am absolutely convinced he did not write Das goldene Kalb [see Caroline’s letter to Pauline Gotter mentioned above], since he is obviously incapable even of that much. [Literary historian Ludwig] Wachler [1767–1838] loaned me the book and went on and on as if something were behind it.
There are twelve idylls, each with the name of a Greek months as preface (whence also “a year in Arcadia”), after which follow the extraordinarily boring idyll, composed after the style and taste of neither Gessner nor anyone else, indeed with no taste at all, moreover excessively laden with the most abominable verbal bombast.
There is an equally abominable amount of Graecizing, e.g., references to “maiaporic” heads, “ebour”-physiques, etc., which is also why there is a glossary at the back explaining the many, often unknown Greek words. What is remarkable is that the duke knows no Greek in any case; but he has someone read it aloud to him — since he is presbyopic, he is physically incapable of either reading or writing, and must thus dictate everything — memorizes the most obscure, rare forms, has someone tell him the names of flowers that perhaps might occur but a single time in Greek, learns all of it by heart, and then regurgitates it all afterward. The external elements are quite elegant.
He bestowed the results on a certain Mademoiselle Ettinger in Gotha, to whom it is also dedicated. — I cannot comprehend how Wachler considers something like this even worth mentioning, since there is not the smallest shred of imagination in it, everything being instead laden with verbal jingling and jangling, and I can explain it for myself only as deriving from his excessive admiration for Jean Paul, who admittedly does compliment the duke, calling him clever, witty etc.
The following translation of the opening chapter of Kyllenion illustrates to a certain extant most of the features to which Wilhelm Grimm refers with such irritation, including the glosses, the but also sets up the ensuing stories:
Winter ruled with cold, silent power over slumbering nature, town and country, valley and hills, covering everything with its white mourning garment. Nothing stirred except the cutting gales, the dull-howling, shoreless streams, cracking forests, and the whimpering, starving animals of prey. And even the people would have perished of cold and boredom had not the joy-starved among them gathered close around the cordial fire.
Even the otherwise happy Arcadians, leaving their most faithful servants to care for the flocks, streamed into the towns, where they could find friendship and entertainment. Alcine had never seen such a radiant celebration as this one; and more than thirty guests had assembled in her beautiful country home not far from Mantinea. All had come to surrender to joy and then, after four wonderful days, to present a splendid thanksgiving offering to all-giving Pan. Alcine, the charming hostess, assisted by her bosom-friend Myris, had just begun to awaken her guests, already spent from three noisy days, to new joys with cheerful games. The fathers were quaffing a few in an anteroom; most of the men were playing dice and carousing alongside, or chatted about war and the hunt, love and commerce.
Barys, Menalkas, Mikon, and Myrtillos were sitting intoxicated in a corner, sated with lies and wine. The mothers spun, chatting by the fire, about the old days, berating the new, and fomenting quarrels and marriages. Oenone carefully and anxiously guarded her daughter Minoe, who with demure love only secretly glanced sadly at her Cypariss. Cypariss stood with crossed feet in the doorway of the brightly lit hall, and the cheerful tones of dance music glided unheard past his distracted soul.
Philis, Lesbia, Leucinoe, Melithis, Psyche, and Chrysotrichia — and all the other young beauties from Arcadia — glowing with joy and demure love, floated quickly and lightly — like delicate dragonflies, slender and with garments hitched up, charmingly enveloped by fluttering transparent byssus silk — above the singing waves of the dance, their curved fingertips hardly touching the hands of the lightly hopping youths, and sure-footedly, silently flying over the mirror-smooth, colorful floor tiles; so light and zephyr-like that even the quick dancers Aktaeas, Barys, the Corinthian Glaucidas, Strepsichoros, Myrtesion, the blond-haired Euphias and his brother, beautiful-eyed, Philanthias, and the diminutive Eranthos could not catch up to them. Never had anyone seen such artful dancers at a festive celebration.
The Coryphant [leader of the dance] Alexis, his divine ebour-physique fusing together in an incomprehensible fashion masculine symmetry and gentle virginal charm, on the one hand, with sublime simplicity and quiet, proud coldness, on the other, surpassed everyone else in artistic suppleness and zephyr-like ease and lightness, even the beautiful, brown-haired, fiery-eyed, amiable Julanthiskos. These two rulers of hearts had long unanimously been selected as leaders of every joy, every game, every dance in Arcadia. And yet they did not envy each other. Phoibos-Alexis was the favorite of both the men and the women; by contrast, Hermes-Julanthiskos was the apple of envy of all young girls.
Lamps burned, spreading pleasant vapors. Flutes and stringed instruments, tambourines and clappers sounded out brisk, gamboling songs. The busy female slaves carried around dainty baskets crowned with wintergreen and rue filled with fruit and nectar melikrama [a wine-honey drink], and cool, pink galaktraphron [milk froth], light saffron cakes, and sweet, multicolored pemmata [confection]. Julanthiskos sat fighting back tears, his limp, pouting head supported by his glowing red hand; next to him his dainty lady friend and cousin Nikrion, the fingertips of her left hand lackadaisically fiddling in her lap. “My dear brother, get hold of yourself! Is a declined kiss, an interrupted bit of play, a hasty silence at your arrival and a continued conversation among the Eleusinian virgins — is all that, my good Julanthiskos, to be taken as such terrible insults? Ah, but is there no girl among us who can distract you?” —
“My dear cousin, gracious Nikrion, did our hospitable host not choose me to organize the games, and should at the sound of my voice, at the gaze of my eyes the fragile entertainment and volatile joy not erect her throne of roses among us? Is that not so? And the proud one there . . . ” Here Julanthiskos pointed to Alexis, who, insouciantly poured out onto the chaise between Mitylenis and Eunome, was cordially chatting across from him with the gracious hostess and her lady friends. Julanthiskos’s voice became childlike and pouty, and he defiantly stuck out his delicate, puckered rose lips, shaking his curly Maia head [Hermes, son of Maia] sullenly. “No; that evil one there, with whom I admittedly cannot compete with respect to charm and royal sublimity and urban cultivation and mystical wisdom: could at least sense, feel when a person loves him.” —
“And could you,” his female friend interrupted him impatiently, slapping his cheek in a light gesture of threat and with her mischievous eyes spreading the double-red of shame across his cheeks; “Ah, could you but get to know those men who, like the Parthians, much prefer to wound another while fleeing themselves,” — and with that she stood up to mix among the host of other girls, who had watched her intimate conversation with envious glances. Julanthiskos, too, slowly got up, straightened his light garment into dainty folds, and extended his friend his hand for the dance, for the chorus was just playing a light, dizzying tune, and he thought he might dispel his sad mood in the quick flow of hasty joy.
Minoe’s mother, the experienced Oenone, the otherwise excessively strict guardian, had just wandered, hastily and whispering, with five of her lady friends into the deeper mysteries of marriage, and Cypariss, the faithfully loving shepherd, used that propitious moment to entwine, keen for love, his arms with the arms of the beloved virgin. Their hearts beat with the tempo; their gazes intertwined, and they skippingly followed the churning stream of which they themselves were two fused waves.
Alexis, however, was still chatting with the four charming young girls. “Yes, that — that is indeed something we want”; and his long-lashed onyx eyes flashed with double beauty in the radiance of a sacred, divine joy, and his usual prideful demeanor softened into an expression of the most cheerful, effusive enthusiasm. “Eunome and her daughter Agathyllis, too, have suffered much through the devastations of Orasis;” — and he placed three small gold coins into the veiled kalathiskos [basket] which Alcine, the compassionate one, had carried around while collecting from among the guests. “The leftover food, too,” she said, “goes to my poor Arcadian countrymen.” Alexis whispered into Myris’s ear, covering his yawn with the hem of his chlamys [short cloak], “By Anteros! Julanthiskos is beautiful.” “You are certainly swearing the correct oath,” the girl sitting next to him mischievously whispered back, “for you yourself are now his priest.” “And — his victim?” the most seductive of men countered, pretending not to know. “Speak softly,” the clever, blushing Enome whispered in a murmur in her neighbor’s ear; “whom you praise and yet so terribly abuse!”
With a cold, disapproving smile, Alexis hopped up from the plush bolster, taking leave of the four young ladies with a light bow. The music had just stopped, and the fatigued couples, heavily panting, threw themselves down on the colorful carpet of the lower periklima [sofa along the wall enclosing a room]. He seized Julanthiskos’s hesitant hand and, dancing, quickly floated up and down with him through the broad space of the hall.
“One cannot constantly dance, constantly chat, constantly play. The lamp needs oil, and joy need diversion,” he said after a long silence; whereupon Julanthiskos, after a long sigh, remarked — “love — requited love.” “What? You pursue love thus? Poor boy,” the ungrateful Alexis interrupted him, shrugging his shoulders, measuring him with doubting gaze. “So, it will probably be a dove, little one?” — “No, a peacock!” — and the youths separated quickly with resentment in their hearts.
But Julanthiskos spoke the truth. Love dies if unrequited. But Alexis also spoke the truth: One cannot constantly dance and chat and play; for boredom had already begun to yawn out its poisonous fog over the exhausted guests, especially since the now disunited kings of the feast, each peeved and vexed in his own way, were sulking in their corners. Everyone sighed, rubbing their eyes. “Ah! where do you linger, sweet diversion?”
But it remained absent not long. Suddenly the cedar doors of the room opened. The Katapetasma [curtain covering the doorway], adorned with fimbria [fringes] and scarlet hems, whooshed open, whereupon one of Alcine’s maidservants rushed in, out of breath, joyously crying out, “Today our house has been blessed, and even so late at night! The divine Alethophone asks for a festive garment and a beaker of wine. After warming herself, tuning her lyre, anointing her hair and crowning it with rue, she sends her greeting through me to her noble hostess, and would like to disclose the future to her and her guests in the requested fashion.” —
“And so you are welcome!” called out Alcine, rushing toward the mysterious one. Everyone applauded impatiently, everyone pushed exulting and curious toward the door; and Alexis, Mitylenis, and Eunome murmured to one another: “Eleusis!” — Suddenly the crowd parted. Confident and noble, the sublime Demeterissa [priestess of Demeter or Ceres] entered the brightly illuminated hall and greeting with the words:
ΑΓΑΠΑΝ ΚΑΙ ΦΙΛΩΠΑΝ ΦΙΛΟΙΣ
[A cordial formula of greeting that promises luck and happiness.]
She greeted everyone like an old friend, young and old, woman and man, young lady and young man, girl and boy, amiably approaching each, and yet filling and touching each heart with reverence. No one dared ask, dared not request, and everyone fell silent, hesitant, hopeful; only those to whom Eleusis had whispered concealed their vehement joy beneath the telling smile of an anticipation of gentle mystery. Alethophone, however, guessed the wish of each person, and sat down on the amiable hostess’s gilded hippogriph stool, tuning her lyre.
“I have come,” the eminently knowledgeable one said, “to comfort, to warn”; whereby she amiably pressed her cheek to Alcine’s fingertips, which Alcine, standing behind her, had placed on her rounded ebour-shoulder, and her beautiful mouth puckered as if to kiss. Next she requested of each person in turn to hear his favorite song, and in the familiar rhythm related a teaching to each person, or a prophecy. Each sensed the truth; each cheek blushed for hope or shame; but all wrote deep into their hearts what she had sung, for even the reproach of the sublime woman was considerate and flattering.
To Barys, who stumbled up to her, half sober, she sang:
Who finally knows himself, let him drink.
Barys left to have a drink; but he did not know himself.
To aloof and prim Onikleia, she sang:
Love bans you To punishment for brazen deeds, Because nectar you have, nibbling, stolen, Cunningly taken away her weapons.
But Onikleia merely coldly shook her aloof, prim head, not understanding,
She sang further:
Amiabe is the reward of nymphs, A blessing their gentle rule; Faithful girl, approach the somber place, Swear a sacred oath to murmering,
and Cypariss and Minoe looked hopefully and secretly at each other, though the others did not know to whom the song was directed.
And raising her melodic voice anew, she spoke:
Do you know the shore, magical mirror of former time, Where lilies of innocence bloom eternally? It is the holy land of riddles. —
and while then embracing Nikrion, she placed her crown of rue on her virginal forehead; and many envied Julanthiskos’s cousin. — She, the omniscient, then turned to Julanthiskos, pressing a kiss on his modest eyelashes:
Dear one, whither, whither? — Over blazes, over yearnings, Over kisses, over attractions Does your bold sense drive you, Toward forbidden heaven.
[Ed. note: i.e., forbidden in Gotha, not in ancient Greece.]
Julanthiskos, blushing, hid, and a ray of hope cheered his sad soul; for as she kissed him, she said to him quite softly: “Faithfulness will conquer.” But as he withdrew back into the crowd of young Arcadian girls, proud Alexis cast a mocking look at him, which, however, prompted a severe look toward him in his own turn from the all-seeing songstress.
Faithfulness will conquer; Faithfulness wins the most beauteous prize. Be not frightened By the proud one's coldness.
And the hearts of those sad, unloved ones filled with hope, and their pale cheeks became radiant in the pink light of anticipation; Julanthiskos, however, had to move off to one side in order to conceal his tears, and Alexis his gloating smile; but Cypariss and Minoe joyfully squeezed each other’s hands, safe from parental control by virtue of Alethophone’s sheltering presence.
Demeterissa yet sang other songs as well, which only a few guests understood; then she wrapped herself in her thousand-folded veil and, after greeting each and every guest, in departing also extended her beautiful, caressing arm to her hostess, and as young and old alike, praising and thanking and extolling her, accompanied her to the cedar entrance to the hall, she turned one final time and unveiled once more her sublime countenance. Threefold kindness spread across Alethophone’s divine features, and while extending her beneficent left hand to Julanthiskos and her chastising right hand to Alexis, she spoke thus in prophecy:
When the bull's and eagle's lineage do moisten you, king of the mountains, And dainty gold gleams around the god's cheeks, Which does delight the meadows, the cradle of spirits finding themselves; Then, O Eros, will Anteros embrace you, eternally reconciled.
And after the power of this sacred pronouncement had softened their grumbling hearts, she veiled herself again, taking the arm of her hostess anew. Suddenly the chorus fell silent, the lamps went out, and each person crept, exhausted and stunned, to the places of rest; but not to sleep, no, but solely to dream, awake, of Alethophone. — What Julanthiskos dreamed could be intimated from his coral-colored lips and pale cheeks; Minoe and Cypariss’s hopeful approach to Pan’s bomos [altar], too, seemed to follow from their dreams. But only Alethophone and the all-fathoming gods know what appeared to the others; for not all had remained for the offering.
The following idylls build on this opening chapter, and both couples eventually come together, Minoe and Cypariss over family objections, and Julanthiskos and Alexis in a wild and desolate landscape after Alexis is injured hunting buffalo:
Suddenly he [Julanthiskos] heard a distant, anxious cry, and cried out in response. He plunged from rock to rock, following solely the voice of anticipation, for impenetrable fog and cold autumnal shadows covered the slippery slate, and the slick, bent shrubs and heather of the desolate Kyllenian landscape. And then he herd it once more, sounding like “Help! Help!”
And Julanthiskos had to turn, for this voice of lament came from the opposite side; but closer and more distinct, more familiar and precious did the pleading “Here! Here!” resound. His impatient heart beat more anxiously still; now he pushed through the thicket of branches of tall pines, then again through tangled thorns and capers and hippophae [sea buckthorns], and the wild rock undergrowth; his weary foot finally reached the steep precipice of a black abyss, and through the greyish blue veil on the opposite edge he recognized the beloved figure of his Alexis.
The joy of finally finding him quickly dispelled the frightening dizziness. “Is it you, Julanthiskos?” cried the voice from beyond the crevice; “Is it you, Alexis?” was the delighted response, but now breathless from this side. “Come, ah, but come!” — and a powerful leap across the terrible precipice united those who might otherwise never have found each other. The wealthy inhabitant of the Kyllene, owner of the most beautiful palaces an gardens in Arcadia, indeed, in all of Hellas, the proud youth whom the most faithful of shepherds had so long served, lay wounded and exhausted, soaked to the skin and weaponless on the bloody rock.
He had chased the bellowing inhabitants of these foggy heights. Not familiar with the landscape, abandoned by his servants, he had strayed into the blind paths of the tumble of basalt cliffs. He had plunged his final spear into the stout belly of his grim opponent, and rolling and falling the horned monster had plunged upon its conqueror to crush him; and thus did Julanthiskos find him, wounded and covered with blood alongside the buffalo in its death rattle.
Alexis’s slaves finally found the two youths, slumbering mouth on mouth on the soft moss in one of the Kyllenean caves. Alexis, he who was rescued, was no longer ungrateful, and Julanthiskos, he who had found him, no longer unhappy; Julanthiskos adorned with his Alexis Strephon [male lover in pastoral poetry], and Alexis wrapped in Julanthiskos’s cloak.
[Here the back-illustration at the conclusion to the volume:]