Goethe’s Italian Journey

Italian Journey
I have been travelling through Italy in the company of Goethe this summer, by which I mean, of course, that I have been reading his “Italian Journey” and tracing his progress across Austria, through the Brenner, down to Lake Garda and then eastwards to Verona and Venice before turning south. I traced his route on a couple of maps down as far as Naples, after which I had to resort to an atlas to follow him around Sicily before he returns to Naples.

Today, we left Naples and are on our way back to Rome.

Goethe is a notoriously “difficult” writer to enjoy when translated into English. Italian Journey is by far the gentlest and I should think the most enjoyable way to familiarize yourself with Goethe and his world, especially if, like me, you are an Italophile.

It was not only two maps and an atlas that I have used to assist me in my travels with Goethe. Over the course of the journey I have had recourse to a modest library of supplementary volumes to follow up on his observations. Here is a list of the books I’ve referred to:

  1. R. F. Symes – Rocks & Minerals
  2. Patrick Nutgens – Architecture
  3. Christopher Hibbert – Venice
  4. Christopher Hibbert – Rome
  5. Giovanni Battista Cipriani – Architecture Of Rome
  6. Giancarlo Gasponi – Roma: La Pietra E L’Aqua
  7. Alta Macadam – Blue Guide Rome & Environs
  8. Roger Hudson (ed) – Nelson & Emma

Perhaps the last on the list seems the most surprising. When Goethe was in Naples in 1787 he visited Sir William Hamilton who,

after many years of devotion to the arts and the study of nature, found the acme of these delights in the person of an English girl of twenty with a beautiful face and a perfect figure.

The “perfect figure” was that of Miss Emma Hart, then aged 21, her patron 56. Four years later they married, and two years after that Horatio Nelson arrived in Naples…

If only Goethe and Nelson had met, in the company of course, of Sir William and Lady Hamilton, one wonders, would they have made of each other… It should be borne in mind that before he left Naples for Sicily, Goethe had never boarded a ship before and I can’t help thinking that if a meeting could have been arranged it would have had a better chance of success after rather than before the voyage to Sicily.