The Humanitatsideal: A Comparison of Lessing's Nathan Der Weise and Goethe's Iphigenie Auf Tauris

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German, Lessing, Goethe, Humanitatsideal, literature, humanitarian ideal


Comparative Literature | German Language and Literature | Philosophy


The purpose of this paper is to present an analysis and discussion of the Humanitatsideal as expressed in Nathan der Weise, by Gottold Ephraim Lessing, and Iphigenie auf Tauris, by Johann Wolfgang Goethe. The Humanitatsideal, otherwise variously called in German Humanitatsbegriff, Humanitatsgedanke, or reine Menschlichkeit can best be rendered in English by the translation "ideal humanity" or by "humanitarian ideal," although the latter has limited and not entirely correct connotations. The two works involved have lent themselves to comparison on numerous previous occasions in German literary history, primarily because they have long been considered the chief representations of the concept of Humanitat by their respective authors, and as well because of the striking fact that they were written at approximately the same time: Nathan der Weise was composed between November, 1778, and May, 1779, whereas Iphigenie auf Tauris was first constructed by Goethe in prose form during a six-week period in February and March of 1779, although he subsequently altered and versified it in a final form which was produced in 1787. It is nevertheless hoped that some new insights can be gleaned from these well known works.

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