Goethe Month: Das Märchen [von der grünen Schlange und der schönen Lilie]


Rachel Weisz for Esquire.

“Remember the Snake in honour,” said the Man with the Lamp; “thou owest her thy life; thy people owe her the Bridge, by which these neighbouring banks are now animated and combined into one land. Those swimming and shining jewels, the remains of her sacrificed body, are the piers of this royal bridge; upon these she has built and will maintain herself.”

(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Das Märchen/The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily, 1795. Translated by Thomas Carlyle, 1832.)


[Das Märchen] portrays in imaginative form Goethe’s impressions of [Friedrich] Schiller’s On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a series of Letters. The story revolves around the crossing and bridging of a river, which represents the divide between the outer life of the senses and the ideal aspirations of the human being.

(the wiki)


“Goethe’s Ferryman, The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily.” William Sauts Netamuxwe Bock.

The heroes of Goethe’s very atypical fairy tale are an elderly couple and a female snake. There are also four kings in an underground temple: one king is gold, another silver, the third bronze, and the last a mix of the three. The kings are pushy and really argumentative. I don’t want to judge, but I need to say that they just seem to disagree and threaten much more than necessary.


Cast of the short-lived TV series Four Kings (2006).*

Also featured: a dog named Mops; cabbage; onions and onyxes; a pair of tricky will o’ the wisps; and a dashing prince who is captivated by a beautiful flower. Their love is mutual but the lily is poisonous to anyone who touches her so, to their poignant agony, the lovers can’t consummate their passion. I think that is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the complications a prince and a flower might encounter, sexwise, but again — I try not to judge.


“Goethe’s Beginning, The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily.” William Sauts Netamuxwe Bock.

It’s actually kind of murky in Goethe’s story whether she’s a flower or a woman, for the record. Everyone calls her the fair lily and she has flowerlike attributes but she’s also got hands and can talk, and she is traditionally portrayed in illustrations as an actual woman. There is a modern opera based on this fairy tale, but I’ve never heard it. However, I predict the part of the fair lily is played by a human and not a flower. Flowers simply do not have the range for the coloratura compositions that had become the neoclassic fashion in the 1960s.


Beautiful Maria, patronest saintest of all my patron saints.

Look — Callas lily. Get it? God, I’m so awful. All done.




*I will never pass up an opportunity to post up pictures of Seth Green and I am neither sad nor proud about that. Also, Scrubs supafly ukemaster Kate Micucci, she of the brain-asplodin’ cuteness, was on Four Kings. Such a woeful disappointment that the show was canned.

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