Skip to main content

The Longing for Myth in Germany

Religion and Aesthetic Culture from Romanticism to Nietzsche

Since the dawn of Romanticism, artists and intellectuals in Germany have maintained an abiding interest in the gods and myths of antiquity while calling for a new mythology suitable to the modern age. In this study, George S. Williamson examines the factors that gave rise to this distinct and profound longing for myth. In doing so, he demonstrates the entanglement of aesthetic and philosophical ambitions in Germany with some of the major religious conflicts of the nineteenth century.

Through readings of key intellectuals ranging from Herder and Schelling to Wagner and Nietzsche, Williamson highlights three crucial factors in the emergence of the German engagement with myth: the tradition of Philhellenist neohumanism, a critique of contemporary aesthetic and public life as dominated by private interests, and a rejection of the Bible by many Protestant scholars as the product of a foreign, "Oriental" culture. According to Williamson, the discourse on myth in Germany remained bound up with problems of Protestant theology and confessional conflict through the nineteenth century and beyond.

A compelling adventure in intellectual history, this study uncovers the foundations of Germany’s fascination with myth and its enduring cultural legacy.

376 pages | 25 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2004

Culture Studies

Folklore and Mythology

History: European History, History of Ideas

Language and Linguistics: Language History and Language Universals

Philosophy: Aesthetics, History and Classic Works

Religion: Religion and Society


"This comprehensive and sophisticated work could easily serve as a textbook for an ambitious . . . college course on nineteenth-century intellectual history. Comfortable discussing Edward Said, Theodor Adorno, Sanskrit, clssical music, fairy tales, revolutionary politics, Biblical studies, Greek and Nordic deities, Williamson weaves a rich tapestry that details the breadth of intellectual life in Germany."

David Imhoof | German History

"A finely researched, lucidly composed, and highly engaging work of intellectual history. Both students and seasoned scholars will learn something from every chapter, gaining new insights into material that seemed familiar. . . . Williamson succeeds admirably in his endeavour to resuscitate myth as a central concern for Germany in the nineteenth century, and he connects it convincingly with the religious and aesthetic culture of that era."

Robert C. Holub | MLR

"From Schelling andf Friedrich Schlegel to Wagner and Nietzsche, Williamson travels a long, difficult road. Along the way, he expertly puts his discussion into intellectual contexts. . . . There is no match for the clarity, competence, insight, and ultimately patience evinced in this important history of the discourse of myth in nineteenth-century Germany."

Peter Fritzsche | Journal of Modern History

"Williamson has presented the scholarly expert as well as the inquiring lay person with a thoughtful, comprehensive, and inspiring study. . . . The scholarship is thorough and impressive, and the reading is smooth. His book should soon become required reading for anyone interested in the subject of myth, in religious debates in Germany, and in nineteenth-century German culture in general."

Anke Finger | Southern Humanities Review

"The subtlety and range of Williamson’s study makes it essential reading for cultural historians of modern Germany."

Matthew Levinger | Central European History

Table of Contents

1. Theophany and Revolution: The Romantics Turn to Myth
2. The Construction of a National Mythology:
The Romantic and Vormärz Eras
3. Olympus under Siege: Creuzer’s Symbolik and The Politics of the Restoration
4. From Scriptual Revelation to Messianic Myth:
The Bible in Vormärz
5. Richard Wagner and Revolutionary Humanism
6. Myth and Monotheism in the Unification Era, 1850-1880
Nietzsche’s Kulturkampf
Selected Bibliography

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press