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Spiritual Scientific Notes on Goethe's Faust, Vol. II
GA 273

11. The Vision of Reality in the Greek Myths (After a Performance of the Classical Walpurgis-Night

18 January 1919, Dornach

Yesterday I spoke to you of the scene from Part II of Goethe's Faust that had just been performed, and I should like to run over again the main thoughts then under consideration. For in this scene we are dealing with one of the most significant of Goethe's creation, with a scene he added to his Faust after having wrestled with the problem of Faust for about sixty years. Moreover, we have to do here with a scene through which we can look deep into Goethe's soul, in so far as it was dominated by the urge for knowledge—dominated above all by the great seriousness of this urge. While grasping all the knowledge in this poem of Faust we must never forget, however, that everything revealed in it with such lofty wisdom in no way prejudices—as is frequently the case with lesser poets who attempt anything of the same kind—in no way prejudices the purely artistic force of its construction. I have drawn your attention before to what Goethe stressed to Eckermann, namely, that there is much concealed in his Faust, many riddles of man to be recognised by Initiates, but that he had taken trouble to put it all into a form that, regarded merely from the theatrical standpoint, can with its pictorial quality impress even the simplest natured minds. Now let us bring again before our souls just the main points of what was said yesterday about all that is thus concealed, and afterwards go on to what we could not then touch upon. I mean, the conclusion of the scene.

I said yesterday that this scene shows clearly how Goethe was following up the problem of man's self-knowledge, man's comprehension of himself. For Goethe, knowledge was never something merely abstract and theoretical; to grasp the truth was for him a scientific urge. Also, for him—as it will increasingly be for future human evolution—what he sought in his soul as knowledge was something that has to be an impulse to experience life in all its fullness, to experience all that life can bring to man in the way of fortune and misfortune, of joy and sorrow, of blows of fate and opportunities of development. But, in addition to this, the urge for knowledge must be related to all the claims life makes on a man, as regards his behaviour towards society as a whole, as regards what he does and creates. Faust is not meant to be represented merely as a man striving after the highest knowledge, but as one bound up in his innermost being with all that life demands and brings. To this end, Goethe seeks knowledge for his Faust, that is, knowledge of man, comprehension of the self, comprehension of the forces at present latent in mankind. But Goethe sees clearly that ordinary knowledge, dependent on the senses and conditioned by the understanding, cannot lead to this self-knowledge. For this reason he introduces into the Classical Walpurgis-Night Homunculus, the product that was supposed to be, for mediaeval research, the copy of a human being that, within external nature, the physical understanding was able to put together out of natural forces and natural laws. All this comes into the idea of Homunculus. Yesterday I went more deeply into what Goethe meant to convey in his Homunculus, apart from any superstition connected with him; but now let us consider his more obvious meaning. In his Homunculus-idea he wished to represent what a man, here in the physical world, can recognise in himself. Whoever makes use only of the knowledge offered him by science, or by the study of physical life, can never gain knowledge and comprehension of man in accordance with Goethe's conception. He will never know Homo, the human being; he will be able to picture in his soul only Homunculus, an elemental spirit who has come to a standstill on the path to becoming man. Goethe wrestles with this as with a problem of knowledge: How can the idea of Homo grow out of the idea of Homunculus?

The whole mood and tenor, the whole artistic structure of the Classical Walpurgis-Night shows how clearly Goethe saw that the problem of human nature con only be solved by a knowledge based on investigation pursued, outside the body, by man's soul and spirit.What he wishes to ray forth from his Faust is his conviction that information concerning man can be given only by those who admit the validity of knowledge acquired outside the instrument of the physical body. Hence, true Spiritual Science, true Anthroposophy, alone can lead to the knowledge of man, of Homo; while all the other knowledge dealing with the physical world, can only lead to the idea of Homunculus. As far as possible, during the whole of his life, Goethe was ceaselessly occupied in striving towards this supersensible knowledge. He sought it on various paths, and those paths that opened out to him he endeavoured to portray artistically in his Faust. Faust was to represent for him a man who at last arrives at a real knowledge and comprehension of mankind.

Now, in Goethe's time Anthroposophy was not yet, and could not have been, in existence. Hence Goethe tried to associate himself with his contemporary culture, in which thee were still echoes of atavistic spiritual vision. And after showing all that is in the Romantic Walpurgis-Night of the first part of Faust to be inadequate for knowledge of man, his great desire was then to take refute in the Imaginations of the Grecian myths. We have so often spoken of Goethe that we can easily see what lay beneath this idea of his.—Goethe felt and experienced that man is not to be grasped through the concepts of physical understanding. But he had no wish, as yet, to supersede these by his own Imaginations; therefore he sought to give a new form to those of ancient Greece. Thus, if we wish to give a more exact description of the scene just presented, we may say: Goethe wanted to show how a man, Faust, has been approached (from outside, but that is of no importance) by the idea of Homunculus, the only idea to be obtained in this respect in the physical world. He wanted to show how such a man, by his state of consciousness undergoing a change through his leaving the body, will then behave differently. He will behave like a man who, asleep at night outside his body, becomes able to perceive what is around him, all that surrounds him of a soul and spirit nature. Then, if he goes to sleep consciously, as it were, retaining his consciousness in sleep, if, sleeping on, he can take with him into his sleep-knowledge the idea of Homunculus acquired in his physical life, he can so transform it that it seizes hold of human reality. This is what Goethe wished to represent; and to help in the task, he took the pictures of the Grecian myths. He shows often in this scent how far in his feeling he was removed at least form the superstition of the pedant, who sees nothing more in such myths than poetic fiction and creations of fantasy. And I have often told you that, as a result of this superstition, it is claimed that legends, traditions, myths, persisting among simple peoples, are conceptions of nature transformed by fantasy. These superstitious pedants have really no idea how small a part fantasy plays in the creations of simple minds, not how prevalent among them is a certain atavistic power of beholding reality in dreams.

Now in the myths developed by the Greek spirit, there is not merely poetry, there is a true vision of reality. And the element Goethe first presented was the one in which all ancient peoples have seen the impulse in the soul that brings about its separation from the body. Connection with the outside world was much closer for the men of old than for the present-day abstract rationalistic man. In olden days when men climbed a mountain, for instance, they did not merely experience a physical, barely perceptible difference in the breathing, a densification of the atmosphere, or a change to the eye in perspective; for them it was a passing from one condition of the soul to another. For a man of those days the ascent of a mountain was a far more living experience than for modern man who has become so abstract. They felt with special vividness, what some sea-farers still experience today in a primitive, less delicate way, that, to a certain degree, soul and spirit actually free themselves from their instrument, the body. The more sensitive sea-faring folk still have this experience. But the men of old felt as a matter of course: “When I sail out on the open sea, and am no longer connected with the solid earth and its definite forms, then my soul frees itself from the body, and I see more of the supersensible than when I am surrounded by earth's rigid outlines.”—This is why, when Homunculus is to be changed into Homo, Goethe introduces a gay festival of the sea, and it is Thales, the man of natural philosophy, who conducts Homunculus thither.

And we see the Sirens. I spoke of this yesterday so today I shall not dwell upon the dramatic an pictorial way in which everything here is put into external form. I will, however, point out that the deeper mystery that Goethe would also have us see, the mystery of the Sirens' song, lies in these demonic beings belonging on the one side to the sea, but being able to become living, as demonic beings of the sea, only when the moon shines upon it. The moonlit sea lures forth the Sirens who, in their turn, lure forth man's soul from within him. The state of consciousness in which the supersensible world can be perceived in Imaginations, in pictures, is therefore brought about by the Sirens. Above all they practise their wiles on the Nereids and Tritons, who are on their way to Samothrace, to the sacred Mysteries of the Kabiri.

Precisely why does Goethe introduce the Kabiri? This is because his Homunculus is to become Homo, to become man, and because the Initiates of the holy Mysteries of the Kabiri in Samothrace were above all destined to learn the secret of man's becoming. It was this secret that was represented in the Kabiri. Here in the physical world is accomplished physical becoming, but this has its counterpart in the sphere of spirit and soul, a counterpart only to be seen outside the body in Imaginations. Unless the abstract idea of Homunculus is brought into connection with what can be seen here, Homunculus can never become Homo. Thus Goethe believes in all that the Greek felt when thinking of his Kabiri in Samothrace; he believed something was to be found there over and above the abstract idea of Homunculus, through which it might grow to the idea of Homo.

Let us without prejudice speak of what this really involves. In what man can experience of himself through ordinary knowledge, that amounts only to what he is as Homunculus, Goethe saw something to be compared with the unfertilised human germ-cell. Considering the unfertilised germ-cell in the human mother, we recognise it as something from which no physical human being can arise. It must first be fertilised; only then can there be a physical human being. And when we think with physical understanding alone, in these thoughts the inner being of man can never be lit up, for this is only what can be produced one-sidedly, and may be compared with what can be produced by the woman one-sidedly. All it is possible to grasp with out physical understanding, must be fertilised by knowledge gained outside the physical body. Half the riddle on man is hidden from the mere physical power of understanding. The atavistic clairvoyance adapted to ancient times wished to point, in the Mystery of the Kabiri, to what, in the spiritual connection of nature, is the other half of man's becoming which in its turn points to the immortal in man. That is why Goethe thought that possible through the impulse of the Kabiri the developing of Homunculus into Homo might be represented.

But Goethe, as one who sought knowledge, was not only to a high degree a serious seeker, but, at the same time, something which, my dear friends, is very much rarer in the sphere of knowledge than one might think—a deeply honest soul. He wished to test how far he would get by breathing new life into such a mystery as that of the Kabiri. Those who seek knowledge with less honesty make a few antiquarian studies, perhaps adding a few fantasies founded upon these, and then consider they know something of what is expressed in the Kabiri Mystery. Yes, my dear friends, the honest seeker after knowledge never knows as much as the seeker who is less honest, for he always considers himself more stupid than those who light-heartedly piece together information from here and there, which, easily acquired, is then said to be absolutely complete. Goethe was not one of those who took knowledge thus light-heartedly. He knew that, even if he had striven for it from the year 1749 to the year 1829, in which he wrote this scene just witnessed (a scene written in the most difficult circumstances about two years before his death) even if he has grown old in this striving and has never relaxed, nevertheless, for the honest searcher after knowledge there is always a remaining sting. Perhaps in some direction one ought to have done better.—This is what worked so intensively out of Goethe's very nature—this absolute honesty. This made him recognise, where the riddle of the Kabiri is concerned: As a modern man who can no longer call upon clairvoyance, I cannot know what the Greeks thought about the Kabiri—I cannot know this for certain!—But perhaps that is not of most importance, for Goethe had the feeling that there was a kind of knowledge of the Kabiri Mystery within him, which, however, he could not wholly grasp. It was like a dream that not only immediately fades, but of which one knows that, although it passes away so quickly, it contains something most profound; it hovers so lightly that the understanding, the intellect, does not suffice, the soul-forces do not suffice to give it clear and definite outline. It is precisely in this intimate inner development that there lies the significance of this scene. We do not understand it at all if we wish to explain every detail. For Goethe has called up pictures for the very purpose of showing—“Here I am close to my goal yet cannot reach it.”

Thus, he introduces the Kabiri to show how, perhaps not he but someone who fully grasps the Kabiri Mystery, may find the bridge for Homunculus, with the help of that Mystery, to come to Homo. He himself cannot yet succeed in this, and has therefore chosen other paths in the imaginative world. That is why he makes the philosopher Thales conduct Homunculus into the presence of Nereus. Now Goethe thought very highly of Thales, though not to the point of giving him credit for being able to show Homunculus how to become Homo. This Nereus has a great gift of human understanding and knows how to transform the divine into the demonic, thus foreseeing the future, so that it may be supposed he knows something about changing Homunculus into Homo. But here again Goethe wishes to show that this is not the path. For on this path we come to a one-sided development, raising the human critical understanding to a demonic height that not only runs to dull criticism but to actual prophetic criticism holding in mind the good side of human criticism. Nereus, however, a kind of priest among the demons, is not in a position, either, to approach the Homunculus-problem. He does not even want to do so. Goethe has the feeling that, should human understanding be developed to the demonic, should the critical faculty of investigation possessed by man be—shall we say—demonised, he would then lose all interest in this most profound human problem of raising Homunculus to man. Thus nothing is to be gained from Nereus. But he does at least draw attention to the imminent approach of his daughters, the Dorides, sisters of the Nereids, and among them, the most outstanding of them all, Galatea. Yesterday I tried to indicate what is represented in this picture of Galatea.

You see, my dear friends, the modern man of research sees everything telescoped into a single moment of life. In the Greek world-conception—by no means confined to what is generally known as classical Philology—what live in the human being was still closely connected with all that lives in the whole of external nature. All that contributes to the becoming of man exists in another form, weaving and pulsing through every process of nature. But we have to be able to discover it. Our present capacity for knowledge is not sensitive enough to penetrate into the regions through which we participate in external nature, in the experiences of the great universe. These experiences are, indeed, concealed in man, in his development from the human germ-cell, from conception, fertilisation, to birth and his appearing as a human being. The same processes that then take place, in concealment within the human being, are going on continuously all around us. It was precisely this which, in the Kabiri Mystery was disclosed to the candidate for initiation—how in nature conception and birth are living. We see the moon rise and set, we see the sun rise and set, feel the warmth the sun sheds around, receive the light it radiates; we see the clouds moving, look upon their changing forms. Within all this weaving and pulsing through the world lies the impulse of becoming. But modern man no longer perceives this; he will perceive it, however, if he develops himself further through Spiritual Science. And formerly he perceived it with an atavistic sense of cognition, with the atavistic perception and conception of olden times.

Here we must have recourse to that finer capacity for perception still existing in days of yore. It might be said that what happens when, instead of direct sunlight, moonlight is on the sea, moonlight is reflected on the waves, is experienced half consciously as dreamy presentiment, as the foreshadowing of a dream. Man today looks at the way moonlight is reflected on the waves; and all the physicist can say is that moonlight is polarised light. That is an abstraction that says very little; and the physicist experiences nothing of what is actually happening. We experience it today if someone burns us with red-hot tongs; our capacity for sensitive feeling takes us that far. But in the Greek world-conception it was recognised that something of soul and spirit lives in the rays of the sun, something similar, yet distinct, is living in the rays of the moon, and that something actually happens when the moonlight—that borrowed sunlight—is wedded to the waves of the sea. It knew what was surging there when the pulse of the moonlight throbbed in tune with the waves of the sea. When the moon was thus wedded to the waves, the Greeks perceived in this light-enchanted weaving the impulse surging, pulsing, through the external world which, from conception the birth, pulses and surges in man. Outside in nature the Greek perceived in another form what is present in man when, in the physical sense, the mystery of human becoming is being accomplished.

Goethe, by putting into new and artistic form what intimately and delicately the Greeks might have felt, shows clearly how it echoed in his own feeling. He expresses all this by making Thales point to the retinue of the moon approaching on little clouds, accompanying Galatea's shell-chariot. This shell-chariot is the generating force in external nature pulsing through the sea. Goethe associates it with Luna, the Moon-force, the Moon-impulse. Thus, once again he evokes a significant Imagination from the Greek world-conception, in order to draw nearer the process by which, in man's conception, the abstract Homunculus-idea can become that of the Homo. Only when we can with feeling experience the intimate details weaving and surging in Goethe's wonderful pictures, do we really enter into what in this scene was living in Goethe's soul. We shall never go deep into all this scene contains if we try to grasp it with our bald, abstract concepts, and without arousing in ourselves an intimate sympathy with what Goethe was able to experience.

Thus, if I may express myself in dull, theoretical fashion, we shall come nearer the solution of the Homunculus-Homo problem if this idea, seen from outside the physical body, is planted into the generative impulse weaving, throbbing, through nature. Even before he brought Homunculus into contact with this generative impulse, Goethe had called in Proteus, the demonic being whose inner bent of soul Goethe regarded as most closely allied to his theory of metamorphosis. He has endeavored in this theory of metamorphosis, to follow up the changes in the living form, from the lowest order of beings up to man, hoping in this way to come nearer the riddle of man's becoming, the riddle of Homunculus-Homo. We know that Goethe had far to go before being able to arrive at the solution. He thought to recognise that the foliage leaf changes into the petal of the flower that, in its turn, becomes the stamen and pistil of the flower. He also believed that the bones of the spinal column are transformed into the skull bones. There he stopped, for he could not press on to the crown of this metamorphosis-idea, that appears for us when we know that a metamorphosis takes place in the forces which, from one incarnation, from one earth-life to another, permeate the human body. What today is my head has its form through the metamorphosis of the rest of the body of the previous incarnation; and what is my present body will be, with the exception of the head, transformed till, in the next incarnation, it becomes my next head. This is the crown of Metamorphosis. But Goethe could only give us the elementary stages of the idea of metamorphosis which flows on into Spiritual Science. He came nearer its further stages when trying to grasp and put into poetic form the problem of Homunculus-Homo.

And he set forth with honest doubt all that could be reached through Proteus as the representative of the metamorphosis-idea. Proteus appears in his various forms that exist, however, side by side. Everything that can lead to the birth, the supersensible birth, of the Homunculus-idea is here brought in by Goethe. Now he again comes to a standstill. Then fresh light flashes in. In contrast to all that is demonic, the elemental beings of a spiritual nature, Nereids, Tritons, Dorides, Nereus, Proteus, and so forth, in contrast to all these, there appear the Telchines. These, the oldest artists, as it were, of the earthly world during the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, remind us that Goethe was trying to approach the riddle of man, not only by the path of physical science, but also by another path of the senses—the path of art. As man, Goethe was neither one-sidedly a scientist, nor one-sidedly an artist; in him scientist and artist were consciously combined. Hence, as he stood before works of art in Italy, he said that he saw something there suggesting that the Greeks, in creating their works of art, worked in accordance with the laws nature applied, the same laws that he himself was tracking down. And if you let Goethe's book on Winckelmann work upon you, you will see how Goethe sought to come nearer knowledge of the riddle of man by way of art, how he sought to follow the course of natural phenomena to the point where, as he so beautifully expresses it in this book, nature becomes conscious of herself in man. What can be done here by the artistic conception of nature—seen from the other side, from the standpoint of supersensible knowledge—is made evident to us with the appearance of the Telchines, those ancient artists who first depicted Gods in human form.

Goethe intimates that, whereas he generally leads the human consciousness away from the physical to the superphysical, here he is making one look back from the superphysical to the physical; the Telchines are in the superphysical, but what they mean, what they stand for, passes over into the physical. They are portrayed as being in contrast with all the other figures—those dedicated wholly to Luna, to the Moon, and referred to by the Sirens as follows:

“Helios' initiated
Ye to bright day consecrated
Greet us in this stirring hour,
When we worship Luna's power.”

Thus they actually belong to the Sun. On the island of Rhodes they erected statue after statue to Apollo. The attempt has been made to solve the Homunculus-Homo problem by looking across to the supersensible world; but that too has been unsuccessful. And Proteus himself energetically denies that anything is to be gained from the Telchines for the transformation of Homunculus into Homo.

And what happens next? There now appear the Psylli and the Marsi, kinds of snake-demons, who bring with them the previously described shell-chariots of Galatea. The Psylli and Marsi are demonic snakes, who draw into the spiritual the souls of human beings; at the same time they are servants in the world man inters on leaving his physical body. In that world there is no separation between the purely animal and the purely human, the animal from passes over, merges, into the human.

Now after being shown by means of the sailor boys, and the Dorides who represent that world, how difficult it is to put before man the relation of the spiritual world to the world of the senses, we then see the shattering of Homunculus against the shell-chariot of Galatea. There is deep meaning in the Dorides thus ushering in the sailor lads in this scene. The Dorides are demonic beings of the sea, the sailors, human beings. Goethe is wishing to show how man is abel to approach spiritual beings from the other side of existence, and how destiny (we are distinctly told the sailor lads have been saved by the Dorides) brings man into connection with the Gods. But here in physical life this relation is immediately broken down; there is no continuous connection when the superphysical and physical wish to unite—the Gods will not suffer it.

Then at the end of this scene we ar confronted by this wonderful picture. After everything ha been tried through majestic Imaginations to turn Homunculus into Homo, there follows, as the highest, nearest, most significant approach to the solution of the riddle of man, the actual plunging of Homunculus into the generative force of nature in so far as it shows itself through the moonlit, moon-enchanted ocean waves. Into these waves Homunculus now plunges. And what do we see at the end of the scene? A flashing-up, a flaming forth, a manifestation of all the elements—earth, water, fire, air, all these elements overpower what is here taking place. And it almost seems to us that sunk with our cognition into sleep, we ourselves learn to know the Imaginations which, in the other side of existence, can alone interpret the riddle of humanity—it seems then, that through the rolling on of the generative forces we are called back into the life we must live out in the body. I told you yesterday that the force underlying impregnation, conception, pregnancy, embryonic life and birth, is only a more extended, more intensive form of the same force as that which lures us back from our nightly sleep, or from the sleep of cognition, to physical waking existence. These forces are identical. Every morning when we wake, the force that wakes us is, though different in intensity, the same as that by which a human being is conceived, carried as embryo, and born. One only of these is seen here on earth, and that merely in its external, not in its deeply mysterious, inner aspect. The other passes over us unperceived. The holy mystery of waking is unperceived in its passing. We sink down into a spiritual world, we are submerged in a spiritual world; we wake up, take possession of our body, and are in the physical world of the senses.

There are, nevertheless, even among those who are not clairvoyant, some men who when they are asleep know quite well what is actually living above, and through their sleep dreamily experience the spiritual world in its reality. Then they wake through the same force as the one living in Galatea's shell-chariot—the generative force of nature with which Homo-Homunculus unites himself on his way to becoming man. Some men know this even when not clairvoyant. There is, however, in clairvoyance, a knowledge that is perfectly clear concerning this waking. It may be understood in imagination only as a diving out of the spiritual world, down into the physical world of the senses, the world that lives in the elements of fire, water, earth, air. And on returning to this reality, all we think to have gained above in the other world, towards making a Homo of Homunculus, is dashed to pieces.

Faust is to plunge into the reality of ancient Greece; he is to meet Helen in person. And when you turn the page from the mighty finale of this scene where it runs:

“Hail the ocean! Hail the surge!
Girt with holy fire its verge,
Hail the water! Hail the fire!
Hail the chance that all admire!
Hail the breeze that softly swelleth!
Hail the grot where mystery dwelleth!
All we festally adore
Hail ye elements, all four!”

When you turn the page, you come to the third act:

“Admired much and much reviled Helena,
Leaving the shore where we but now did land, I come
Still drunken with the unrestful hallows' tumultuous
Commotion, that from Phrygian lowlands ...” and so on,

Faust is to enter Greek reality, he is to be wakened out of spiritual perception, highest spiritual perception, of the Homunculus-Homo problem, wakened into the Greek world. He is to wake there consciously, as Goethe wished to do; the moment of waking has to be brought about so as to show that what has been perceived in the spiritual world, in the supersensible, concerning the riddle of man, is shattered when the descent is made again into the external, physical reality of the body. That is an external process in nature, when the moon disappears and dawn breaks. But man today experiences this relation at best as something allegorical, symbolic or poetic. The reality underlying it is little recognised. We meet it here in something that is at the same time an embodiment of the problem of knowledge and also of true poetry. Goethe has indeed succeeded in leading Faust into the supersensible world in a noble way, and in making him wake to life in Greek reality.

We might remind ourselves here that it was during the eighties of the eighteenth century that Goethe took flight to Italy—for it was indeed a flight. Having studied nature in the north, he then wished to discover, for the benefit of his conception of the riddle of the world, what he believed that art of the south alone could give him. He gained much for we know what Goethe had become by the nineties of the eighteenth century. By then he had grown older, and that means younger in soul, for as a man outwardly ages, in his soul he grows young—youngest of all when he comes to dying. The life of the soul runs backward.—And so we come to about the year 1829. We may trace and experience what Goethe may then have felt: If, when I had the opportunity of really penetrating the art of the south, of making the spirit of Greece alive before my soul, if at that time I had only been able to take the plunge into the spiritual world that I now merely divine, how much richer, more intensive, all my experience would have been.—The characteristic mood of this second part of Goethe's Faust depends on our recognising in it an artistic representation of what has been experienced in life by a soul grown young again, a soul who in thus growing young has been enriched to a very high degree. That is why no philistine will be able to make much of this second part of Faust. And I can perfectly understand it when Schwaben-Vischer, the so-called V-Vischer, in many ways so spiritually minded, and who has said so much that is good about Goethe's Faust, has found that this kind of thing is tedious—the cobbled together patchwork of an old man. But philistinism, my dear friends, however learned and intelligent, can never penetrate into all the poetry, the lofty poetry, of the second part of Faust. No one can enter into this who does not allow his poetic sense to be warmed through, fired, by what spiritual vision gives.

Tomorrow, after the performance, we will say more about this scene, in connection with Goethe shown there concerning his own impulses.