Naming the unknown. Idyll and tragedy in Hölderlin (with a Celanian coda)

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On June 4th, 1799, in a letter to Neuffer, Hölderlin cites for the first time the name of a play he claims to have «finished except for the last act». It is to be called «The Death of Empedocles». He intends to publish it in the first issues of a monthly poetic magazine «for ladies» which he plans to be the editor of if he succeeds in envolving the publisher Johann Friedrich Steinkopf in the project. It will be called Iduna. Of the works associated with the Iduna plan, only fragments and the finished text that Steinkopf commissioned him to write about Emilia will survive. The writing of Empedocles and Emilia coincide in time, one a poetically grounded tragedy, the other a sentimental idyll only apparently of circumstance. Through both texts, developed in a time of marked political instability, the poet answers (or at least tries to) his own question: Why poets in times of need? This is a question that Paul Celan will also face a century and a half later.

Key Words

Tragedy, idyll, Hölderlin, Celan.

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