The transience of beauty

This poem by Schiller, “Nänie” (meaning a Roman funeral song) is famous in the German-speaking world. It is a fine example of how influential classical education, which most significant European writers between the Renaissance and the mid-twentieth century would have had, was on their work. Schiller actually uses an ancient Greek and Roman metre – elegiac couplets – and takes it as read that his audience will immediately recognise the figures from myth that he refers to, although only one of them is referred to by name in the German text.

The illustration shows the courtship on a red-figure cup of Thetis, the grieving mother of Schiller’s poem, and the hero Peleus. Thetis, a shape-shifter, attempts to elude him by using her gift, but he holds her too tightly. Achilles, also a figure in Schiller’s poem, will be among the results.

Hear Schiller’s German read by Tatjana Pisarski and follow in Westbrook’s English here.