Bibliotherapy

Hermann Broch: From ‘The Death of Virgil’ – The Threefold Nature of Man

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Artwork from the 1983 Oxford University Press English edition

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Today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA, is an excerpt from Hermann Broch ‘s masterpiece, ‘The Death of Virgil’, Pantheon Books, N.Y., June 1945. The publisher issued the book simultaneously in its original German as well as its English translation by Jean Starr Untermeyer. Excepted piece is from chapter 2, ‘Fire, the descent’. Excerpted German original, from the 1958 Suhrkamp Verlag edition. This post inaugurates a little Hermann Broch Cycle. More to come soon!

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A little introduction

It is the reign of the Emperor Augustus, and Publius Vergilius Maro, the poet of the Aeneid and Caesar’s enchanter, has been summoned to the palace, where he will shortly die. Out of the last hours of Virgil’s life and the final stirrings of his consciousness, the Austrian writer Hermann Broch fashioned one of the great works of twentieth-century modernism, a book that embraces an entire world and renders it with an immediacy that is at once sensual and profound. Begun while Broch was imprisoned in a German concentration camp, The Death of Virgil is part historical novel and part prose poem — and always an intensely musical and immensely evocative meditation on the relation between life and death, the ancient and the modern. (From the Editor)

The Death of Virgil is a grand, complex accomplishment. A symphonic novel, its language closer to poetry than prose, it recounts Virgil’s dying day. The span covered of the novel is a very short one, but Broch brings in much of Virgil’s past (as well his work) as the poet reflects on and remembers the past in coming to terms with the inevitable end just ahead of him. It is one of the ultimate novels about art and artistry.

The English translation of The Death of Virgil is also a remarkable achievement, created almost concurrently with the German original and in close collaboration with Broch himself. The significance of the work was understood upon publication, as it was immediately hailed as a work of great significance. From the front-page review in The New York Times Book Review to the international acclaim it received, The Death of Virgil was recognized as one of the most significant novels of our time. (From Complete Review)

Some scholars have interpreted the book as an anti-Nazi novel. Virgil’s fear that his writing will only serve to encourage autocratic repression is seen as a direct result of the Nazi Party’s interest in and inspiration from classical sources. (From Wikipedia’s Hermann Broch’s page)

The novel is in 4 parts: Water-Fire-Earth-Ether…

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English translation

‘Man stands erect, he alone, yet he lays him down, stretched out quietly for sleep, for love, for death—, and it is also this threefold nature of his lying down that distinguishes him from all other creatures. Destined to grow upright as long as man stands erect, the human soul reaches out from the dark abyss where her roots are entwined in the humus of existence and strives upward even unto the sun-drenched dome of the stars, bearing upward her cloudy sources from the regions of Poseidon and Vulcan, bringing downward the clarity of her Apollonian goal, and the nearer she comes in this upward growth to being light-drenched form, the more shapely she becomes in her shadowing, branching out and unfolding like a tree, the more is she enabled to unify the darkness and the light in the shadowy leaves of her branches; but when she has stretched out, abandoned to sleep, to love, to death, when she herself has become an outstretched landscape, then her task is no longer the merging of opposites, for in sleeping, loving, dying, the soul is no longer either good or evil, she has become only an unbroken endless hearkening: spread out to infinity, infinitely held in the orbit of time, infinite in her repose, she is absolved from growth, and without growth, along with the landscape which is herself, she persists as the unchanged and unchangeable Saturnian realm throughout the whole of time, persisting from the golden age to the age of brass, aye, even beyond it to the return of the golden age, and by virtue of her nestling into the landscape, by virtue of her imprisonment in the realm of earth and earth’s meadows, on the surface of which the spheres of heavenly light and earthly darkness part one from the other, she is like them in being the border, separating and binding the regions above and below, belonging like Janus to both, to those of the wavering stars as well as to those of the weighty stones, to the etheric regions as well as to the fires of the underworld, Janus-like the double aspects of infinity, Janus-like the double aspects of the soul, as in her twilight she lies quietly outstretched to infinity so that her hearkening prescience may partake of the significance of both zones without uniting them; however, the circumstance as such has no meaning for her, is not worthy of pre-hearkening or prescience for she feels it neither as growth nor as fading nor as deterioration, neither as a blessing nor a burden, but more as a constant return of the all encompassing Saturnian era in which the landscape of the soul and the earth are stretched out infinitely, inseparable in their respirations, inseparable in their seasons of sowing and blossoming, in their harvest or growth, in their dying and resurrection, in their boundless seasons, interwoven with the eternal return, surrounded by the circle of eternal sameness and consequently stretched out quietly for sleep, for love, for death—, a hearkening of the landscape and the soul, the Saturnian hearkening to deathless dying, golden and brazen together.’

Cover of the first English edition, Pantheon Book-1945

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German Original

‘Aufgerichtet ist der Mensch, er al­lein, doch ruhend zum Schlaf, zur Liebe, zum Tode hinge­ streckt -, auch in solch dreifacher Eigenschaft seines Liegens unterscheidet er sich von sämtlichen ändern Wesen. Aufrecht, zum Wachsen bestimmt, reicht des Menschen Seele aus ihren dunklen Wurzelabgründen im Humus des Seins hinauf bis zum sonnendurchfluteten Sternenrund, aufwärtstragend ihren po- seidonisch-vulkanisch finsteren Ursprung, abwärtsbringend das Durchsichtige ihres apollinischen Zieles, und je mehr sie kraft ihres Aufwärts Wachsens zur lichtdurch tränkten Form wird, je mehr sie sich zur Form verschattet, baumgleich sich verzweigend und entfaltend, desto mehr wird sie befähigt, im Schatten­ laub ihrer Äste das Dunkle mit dem Lichten zu vereinen; aber wenn sie zum Schlaf, zur Liebe, zum Tode sich hingestreckt hat, wenn sie selber zur hingebreiteten Landschaft geworden ist, dann ist es nicht mehr ihre Aufgabe, das Entgegengesetzte zu verschmelzen, denn schlafend, liebend, sterbend schließt sie die Augen, und sie ist nicht mehr gut oder böse, sie ist nur noch ein einziges, unendliches Lauschen: unendlich hingebreitete Seele, unendlich vom Zeitenring umschlossen, unendlich in ih­ rem Ruhen und sohin jeglichem Wachstum enthoben, wachs­ tumlos wie die Landschaft, die sie ist, reicht sie mit dieser als unveränderter, als unveränderbarer saturnischer Bereich durch alle Zeiten hindurch, reicht vom goldenen bis zum erzenen Zeit­ alter, ja darüber hinaus bis zur Wiederkehr des goldenen, und kraft ihrer Eingeschmiegtheit ins Landschaftliche, kraft ihrer Verkerkerung ins Irdische und in die irdischen Gefilde, an deren Fläche die Sphären des Himmelslichtes und der Erddunkelheit sich scheiden, ist sie gleicherweis sphärentrennende, sphären­ verbindende Grenze zwischen den oberen und unteren Regio­ nen, janusartig stets beiden angehörig, denen des Sternschwe- bens wie denen der Steinschwere, denen des Äthers wie denen der Unterweltfeuer, janushaft die doppelgerichtete Unendlich­ keit, janushaft die unendlich hinerstreckte, dämmerhaft ruhen­ de Seele, so daß ihrem lauschenden Erwissen das Oben und das Unten, ohne vereinigt zu werden, bedeutungsgleiche Zonen sein dürfen; bedeutungslos hingegen, keines Erlauschens und Erwissens wert, wird ihr das Geschehen als solches, da sie es weder als Wachstum noch als Verwelken oder Verdorren, we­ der als Beglückung, noch als Beschwernis, wohl aber als stän­ dige Wiederkehr empfindet, als die ständige Wiederkehr inner­ halb ihres eigenen Seins, als die Wiederkehr des allumfassenden saturnischen Ablaufes, in dem die Landschaften der Seele und der Erde sich unendlich erstrecken, ununterscheidbar in ihrem Ein- und Ausatmen, in ihrem Keimen und Reifen, in ihren Ern­ten und Fehlernten, in ihrem Vergehen und Auferstehen, in den Jahreszeiten ihrer Grenzenlosigkeit, einverwoben der ewigen Wiederkehr, umfangen vom Ring des ewig Gleichen und daher ruhend hingestreckt zum Schlaf, zur Liebe, zum Tode ein Lauschen der Landschaft und der Seele, das saturnische Selbst­ belauschen sterbensenthobenen Sterbens, golden und erzen in einem.’

Cover of the first German edition, Pantheon Book-1945.

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Hermann Broch

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More about Hermann Broch: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermann_Broch 🌿The full Complete Review page: https://www.complete-review.com/reviews/brochh/toddesv.htm 🌿About the English publisher: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/18548/death-of-virgil-by-hermann-broch🌿About the German Publisher: https://www.suhrkamp.de/buch/hermann-broch-kommentierte-werkausgabe-romane-und-erzaehlungen-t-9783518388662
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