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Wilhelm Heinse

Aus der Vorrede zur Übersetzung der Begebenheiten des Enkolp

Rome [Schwabach] 1773.

[published in: Sturm und Drang: Kritische Schriften. Heidelberg: Lambert Schneider, 1972, pp. 777-787.]

Dear [female and male] Readers!

Here I give to you the novel of Petronius, translated into the German language. There can be no doubt that you are familiar with the name of this Aristippian libertine; whether you all will have read his so-called Satyricon, however, I cannot know so definitively, since it has been so distorted by monks, who presumably were conceived from the most sinful seed, and by explicators and improvers, that it is scarcely readable.

I wish and hope that through this translation you will be able to get to know the man better. There are, to be sure, six French translations of this novel, but I do not know what malevolent demon prevented the writers so that they, as I and other people believe, have very rarely captured the thought of Petronius and the tone in which he expressed it; - and accordingly each one believes that he is the best translator of Petronius, just as - I too believe it!

We are all human beings. Let us excuse the inevitable defects of humanity! One cannot, without committing a sin, demand of the lowest mortal that he should deem himself to be ignorant and not a genius.

You must not blush if you are caught reading this translation. I know for certain that the most chaste of all goddesses, the Graces themselves, have read this novel. In a certain poem that has been misappropriated from them, they mischievously make fun of Encolpius that, with the charming Circe, he did not - conduct himself better. The stories of Boccaccio, la Fontaine, and Crébillon are much worse; and what lady and what gentleman among you will be ashamed to have read them, to read them, and to intend to read them many more times.

- "Let that be our business, Mr. Translator! If only the translation is well done! -"

It is quite excellent! That you will see! - .....

Now, indeed, I must defend myself among the strict, virtuous wise men, for my having translated this document. I harbor in my breast for these men every respect and veneration that could be demanded of a noble-minded child of man. - Of course, I do not include among the wise those whining, sniffling doodle-dumians; they deserve wanton laughter at best! - No! I intend to defend myself among those men who think like the writer of The Year Two Thousand Four Hundred Forty, who banishes Petronius, as well as Sappho and our much-loved Anacreon, together with Catullus and their like, from a Republic governed by the wise.


If in my lifetime the human race shall have attained the degree of perfection that Confucius and Socrates and all their successors desired for it - that Xenophon and the dreamer Plato and Morus and the writer of The Year 2440 and better than all Helvétius and more charmingly than all Wieland - showed the watching citizens of the world in their golden mirrors, - and Pindar, Virgil, and Horace and Gessner, Wieland, Gleim, and Jakobi and the eighteenth-centurian Voltaire sang forth to those who listen -
Then more cruelly than Gregory the Greek Burner, more unmercifully than the pastor in Don Quixote, I shall help to cast into the fire - all editions of Petronius, Lucian, Boccaccio, Molza, Casa the Archbishop, Lazarelli, Berni, Bembo the Cardinal, Aretin, Docle, the six-sensed Grécourt, and the beloved la Fontaine and Crébillon - all comedies - except two by Lessing - all tragedies - except those of Shakespeare - and * and *** and **** - and all novels - except my Don Quixote, Tom Jones, and Agathon! (I could not possible achieve it, even if I were compelled with torture, that I should destroy even one of them, like certain censors along the D**, what thistle-heads!) - and in short order!

All libraries altogether, except for about a hundred books. For almost everything good and beautiful that has been written removes us from the enjoyment of the innocent joys of nature, like the siren songs did Ulysses, to cliffs on which our happiness suffers the most pitiable shipwreck; and then the Greeks were the wisest nation, the chosen people of the Graces and Muses, and had few books with which pedants could have stolen away the youthful life from youth.

But since we see and hear that all the singing and recounting of the wise bears no fruit, that everything goes its old accustomed path - that the straight orderly republics of the divine Plato and of the citizen of the year 2440 have never been and never shall be, so long as no Pygmalion does us the mercy of transforming us into steel or wooden machines, and so long as not every region of the earth is granted the forty-fifth degree of latitude, then we shall not consider ourselves to have committed a crime if we publish a very well done translation of the Petronian novel for the benefit and enjoyment of honest Germans. - Otherwise, we would not have the heart to throw some of our favorite authors into the fire, whom we mentioned above as a favor to the strict gentlemen, even in an elysium where they themselves were. -

One would be allowed to read very few books if one dared not read any in which a fool or a dandy might obtain some poison to harm the blessedness of his little mind. The best of books can be harmful. How many a person has deranged the nerves in his brain with the visions in the Revelation of John, one of the holiest books according to the fundamental opinion of the greatest theologians! Should one not read it and edify oneself by it for that reason? Did not the brave Swiss Lavater find in this book the best reasons for the thousand-year reign of the Christian Church and the most splendid prospects in his Splendid Prospects Towards Eternity?

How many good lessons can one learn from the tales of Boccaccio and Margarethe of Navarre and Hans la Fontaine and Rost and Wieland? How greatly edify oneself and take joy by them? What a blessed delight can one feel from the "Sopha" of Crébillon and his beloved "Skimmer"? Of course, few of us children of woman understand the art of searching for honey like the bees! But are we innocent translators, story-tellers and poets to blame?

Poets, painters and novelists have their own morality. It would be a very unfair demand to expect them to bring only "grandisons", madonnas and crucifixes and "messiades" into the world. The morality of the beautiful arts and sciences shows people as they are and always were, in salient acts, for the pleasure, instruction, and admonition of all people.

Thus a genius is allowed to describe and depict everything that has happened and can have happened. He is allowed to relate and to portray the most beautiful and the most ugly acts and thoughts of human beings in the most expressive words. He is punishable only if he praises the most disgusting vices as good acts.

Now the main question is: what is a good act, and what is an evil act? What is virtue?

Today it is nothing but a little word by which the scoundrels and hypocrites of the earth try to make unhappy the innocent children created by nature for joy. For they do not know what it is, have never felt the sweet delight with which it thrills everything in us that feels. A virtuous being is a creature that on every occasion feels a sweet surging in its pure breast, that inspires it to give joy to all creatures and to rejoice itself and to remove all misery. And in this way one can be a virtuous man and make comical stories, such as Chaulieu and Voltaire compose, and in short! translate Petronius. On the other hand, this virtue does not inspire us to make idolatrous sacrifice to simple-minded prejudices, that have already made unhappy many Galileos and Cervanteses to the disgrace of mankind. The virtuous one honors prejudices only when they lead to greater happiness than the truth whose place they would occupy.

A poet orients himself according to the morality of the nation whose countrymen he causes to speak and act - that is, according to their morals and customs. Boy-love, for example, was allowed among the Greeks and the majority of ancient peoples, and the divine Plato, in his Republic, intends to reward his heroes with the enjoyment of the most beautiful boys. -

- "What disgusting monsters the pagans were! What beasts the rest of them must have been, since one of their wise men, who is proclaimed the most virtuous, was able to ordain such crimes and vicious deeds in the best Republic! and as the supreme reward and attestation of honor, no less! And should not those monsters be driven out of our country who always exclaim and exalt the blessedness of the Greeks so very much? -"

I will answer you right away, Mr. Lactantianian! The Greeks and all the cheerful nations - I have to say it for once, since none of our geniuses has said it or intends to say it - considered those parts of the body of which we poor sons and daughters of the earth are accustomed to being so ashamed - not even ourselves having any idea why? - not as the most holy things in heaven and earth, by which on pain of death nothing should be touched other than, by a man, a single little part on a single particular woman, or, by a woman, a single little part on a single particular man, whom one could choose according to his discretion except for people that God had forbidden - so that the blood should not be mixed together. - O holy Socrates, plead for us! one would like to exclaim, along with Erasmus.

The Greeks, sir, knew nothing of that. How could they know of it, since they could read it neither in the stars of the heavens, nor in the womb of their Mother Earth? From the laws of nature they could know only that one could not expect any more from a man in his prime than that he should generate one child for the state each year, because a woman needs nine months for its birth, and ought to rest at least three months out of the year. So they did not expect any more than that from a man. The time that men had left over, after the completion of this important work, was spent on their pleasures, and the laws of the state allowed them this. Who would want to prove to them that their pleasures with beautiful Ganymedes should not have thrilled them as much as those with their women? Every person has the yardstick of his pleasure in his own breast; and every one of these yardsticks is different. - .........
How overhastily one can run when heated! - Forgive me this harsh passage! I beg you for the sake of our weak human nature! No! matrons and gentlemen! no! no! I do not at all approve of boy-love! The reason for which I am still indebted to the hypocrite Augustus is mainly this, that he renewed the Lex Scantina and issued the Lex Julia and the Lex de adulteriis et pudicitia and the Lex de maritandis ordinibus - in which laws all of the most severe punishments were imposed against boy-loving. Boy-love is virtually opposed to the propagation of the human species and gives no cause to anticipate a blooming posterity. No! I do not approve of boy-love at all! I love the more beautiful sex too much to so calmly witness its loss therein; and who has such a corrupted breast that he does not think to be able to feel a much greater joy of life with a charming Glycerion than with a beautiful Ligurinus or Bathyllus? A mere shadow of the feeling of giving a child of love to the state is more than everything that Anacreon and Horace and Virgil and, for the women's part, Sappho have sung of their lusts.

Petronius himself thought the same way as I do in this. His tale of the incidents in the life of Giton is nothing more than a satire. Among many satirical jibes against boy-lovers, I will cite only the incidents with the charming Circe - here Petronius shows - if only at least one of the gray-haired explicators, the Burmanns, Selasses, Erhardts and Heinses could call out, so that I would not have to - what bitter consequences immoderation in boy-love has! Encolpius had to forgo the greatest, highest pleasure of his life because he had always slept with Giton and was unable to make happy a goddess of love who enveloped him with the fiery arms of panting desires!

This is how Petronius made his satires! They seize the heart and mind! he does not bluster and preach sermons of contrition like Juvenal! he knew, as we all know, that they unfortunately! do not help.

I still have to make an advance report to the art critics.


I must honestly confess to you that I possess few of the qualities that one usually demands of a translator. One of the best and most beautiful minds of the German nation, when I gave him news of this translation, wrote to me in reply: "I would have thought it easier for your genius to write a satyricon of some emperor on the moon", but the translation was already almost finished.

We still have few tolerable translations of Greek and Roman literature. The French have enriched and perfected their language through them, and conveyed the wisdom, morals and knowledge of the most cheerful Greeks and Romans to their nation, as also the Italians and the English have - why shouldn't we Germans also begin to translate the masterpieces of these ancients, since their wisdom, transplanted in foreign soil, brings such beautiful, wholesome fruits.

I chose Petronius because - the French have six translations of it, and we none yet; and because ** and because ** and because I like many passages in this work so much that I wanted to express them to our nation in its language.

Nothing was more important to me in this translation than to render every beautiful thought and beautiful expression and every strong thought and strong expression in its entire beauty and strength in our language. If you find some thoughts and expressions, sirs, where this has not occurred, I beg you, please point them out to me; I promise you that, if you are right in your comments about them, if I see them, I will improve them in the second edition of this translation. I am probably one of the most good-natured creatures - I have to praise myself a little à la Montaigne - that wanders on this earth, and I know very well that I am of flesh and blood and have defects and faults like all human beings. My own experience has taught me that, and not Lucian and Sextus alone. If I am insulted with maliciousness, I defend myself like a Greek, a Spartan; if someone says something all too simple-minded to me, I pretend I did not hear it, as I have done many times already, or I indulge my mood, with which Nature, I know not whether for good or ill, has endowed me; but if I am taught something good, that I did not know before, then I would like to convey my heart from out of my body to the man who does it.

In the translation itself, I used Burmann's edition of Petronius, not because of the blessed man's own annotations; for he felt nothing or at most very little of the beauty of the Satyricon and understood it only rarely, as can be observed with almost all collectors of variants, - I wouldn't say that if he were still alive, but he died thirty years ago and won't hear it - but rather because he gathered together the majority of the commentary on it and published the original in a rather purified edition.

Now I commend myself to all those who read this, and this first novel with interspersed verses, and I beg the forgiveness of every beautiful soul if it is irritated by Petronius's descriptions of the shameless acts of the Roman men and women, who at the time of the first Caesars were pulled down from the dignity of humanity into the most impure whirlpool of lusts. May they only remember that the Mercies, the goddesses of the innocent pleasures, are only rarely honored on this filthy wandering star, the earth. A few periods shine through in the history of mankind when they have been worshipped by a small cluster of minds descended from heaven. Even in the golden age of this earth, when every sensitive breast in Greece felt their blessed influences, when they appeared to Socrates, Xenophon, Pindar, Damon, Phidias, and Apelles and Aspasia, and also to Ladion, sometimes in bodily form, there was still always an Aristophanes or a whining, malicious sophist, or an audacious courtesan who tried to shoo them away and who succeeded in murdering their favorites or banishing them from the womb of their fatherland; as it happened, to the shame of the Athenians, to Socrates and Phidias and almost to Aspasia as well.

Even in our Germany today, the Romans are imitated, and in various large cities one could fill a satyricon with even more peculiar bastards of animalistic love. But few people would read it as a satyricon, as, perhaps, few will read this translation as a satyricon.

Don't be angry at me, the poor translator! I dared not make this Satyricon better than it is; you know our art critics! -

I hope by these thoughts to have made friends of the (female and male) worshippers of the Socratic Graces. I have no doubt of it. They have the best hearts, and cannot be angry for long. -

Fare thee well, my dear fatherland! May no one again say of thee what I said in perhaps too youthful a fever shortly before the murder of Winckelmann, since I have just spoken of the adoration of the Graces in Germany.

Into the land of the beautiful fantasies,
Germany sent its Mengs and Winckelmann -
It truly may not exalt itself for that!
Does not Metastasio sing for us too in Vienna?
Did not the land of beautiful fantasies
Send us Jomelli into Swabia?
The Germans first matured into geniuses in Romance lands,
While they were given us just as they were.
The question is only what is more to be blamed?
Socrates said here: Italy you are
An executioner of your Mercies!
And thou, o Germany, of your Graces.

Written in Augsburg in May 1772 during my trip to Italy to view Winckelmann's Apollo.