- The Classical Aesthetics of Schlegel’s Lucinde
Despite his reputation as a classical scholar, Friedrich Schlegel’s novel, Lucinde (1799), has been interpreted from the time of its publication as advocating and displaying an anticlassical aesthetic. While some of its detractors focused on the scandal of the novel’s autobiographical connections and its flouting of bourgeois sexual morality,1 Friedrich Schiller’s reaction, expressed in a letter to Goethe, is typical in basing its condemnation of Lucinde on the novel’s failure to adhere to certain aesthetic principles that were frequently associated with classical antiquity during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries:2
Nach den Rodomontaden von Griechheit, und nach der Zeit, die Schlegel auf das Studium derselben gewendet, hätte ich gehofft, doch ein klein wenig an die Simplicität und Naivetät der Alten erinnert zu werden; aber diese Schrift ist der Gipfel moderner Unform und Unnatur, man glaubt ein Gemengsel aus Woldemar, aus Sternbald, und aus einem frechen französischen Roman zu lesen.(letter of July 19, 1799)
[After all of Schlegel’s boasting about his study of Greek and after all the time he spent on it, I would have hoped to find some trace of the simplicity and naïvety of the ancients; but this writing is the pinnacle of modern formlessness and unnaturalness; it seems to be a mixture of Woldemar, Sternbald, and a provocative French novel.3]
Schiller associates a classically influenced aesthetic with “Simplicität und Naivität” (simplicity and naïvety), in accord with the view of antiquity expressed in his essay “Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung” (On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry).4 His letter also echoes Winckelmann’s attribution of “eine edle Einfalt, und eine stille Größe” (noble simplicity and quiet grandeur) to Greek art.5 For Schiller, a work such as Lucinde that embraces chaos, fragmentation, and change cannot be classical; rather, he associates the mixing of genres advocated and practiced by Schlegel with a modernity that he considers to be grotesque.
Later critics have tended to adhere to Schiller’s descriptive categorization of antiquity and modernity, even if they do not accept his aesthetic judgment of Lucinde, and they tend to emphasize the novel’s modern aesthetic orientation—for example, its affinity with experimental novels of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as Cervantes’s Don Quixote and Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, which play with temporal structure and defy readers’ expectations [End Page 123] of coherent plot and character.6 Certainly, Lucinde situates itself in this modern, experimental tradition. I will argue, however, that Schlegel perceives aesthetic innovation and experimentation not as a rupture with the past but as extending back to classical antiquity; indeed, Lucinde derives many of its structuring aesthetic principles from classical sources. Some of these sources, such as Plato7 and the classical idyll,8 have been examined by previous critics. One of Schlegel’s most important influences, however, remains unexplored by past and present criticism. Rather than Greek art, philosophy, and literature, Schlegel’s aesthetic foundation for Lucinde is to be found in Latin literature, in particular Ovid’s Amores and Metamorphoses.
In his Gespräch über die Poesie (Dialogue on Poetry, 1800), in the section “Epochen der Dichtkunst” (Eras of Poetic Art), Schlegel appears to share the assessment of Winckelmann and his followers that Latin literature (Virgil) is inferior to ancient Greek literature (Homer).9 Any literature following that of ancient Greece is a pale imitation of “jenem höchsten Olymp der Poesie” (Winckelmann 143; that highest Olympus of poetry) according to Schlegel’s fictional speaker Andrea (Schlegel KA 2:5). Intriguingly, though, this section offers an assessment of Latin poetry that connects it to Schlegel’s own work. In Latin literature, “das Erotische und Gelehrte” (144; the erotic and the erudite) dominate. This sounds very much like Schlegel’s Lucinde, which attempts to combine eroticism with intellect to create a new philosophy of love and a new aesthetic. Further support for this viewpoint is found in Schlegel’s essay “Über die Diotima” (On Diotima, 1795). Here, Schlegel reverses the accepted view of his time that ancient Greek culture was superior to Roman:
Dagegen ist die Attische...