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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Frankfurt am Main, 1749–Weimar, 1832)

Goethe, the German poet, novelist and playwright, was raised in a highly cultivated and wealthy Protestant family, and received a rigorous Humanist education. After studying law and working for a time as a lawyer, he published in 1773 his first drama, Goetz von Berlinchingen, then in 1774 his first novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther, which was an immense success throughout Europe and earned him the patronage and friendship of the duke of Weimar. The duke invited him to court, where he occupied various important positions within the government. After traveling for two years in Italy, from September 1786 to June 1788, a trip that fueled his creative fire, Goethe published Iphigenia in Tauris and Egmont, among other works. Back in Weimar, he gave up all his other occupations to work on his scientific studies, setting literature aside. His encounter with Friedrich von Schiller in 1794 rekindled his interest in literature, and Goethe continued to publish regularly in all genres until his death: Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (definitive version, 1796), which would become a cult book in German literature, and Roman Elegies, to mention only the most famous. Furthermore, Goethe transmitted his ideas throughout his massive correspondence (which has now been published almost in its entirety) and in his conversations, some of which were transcribed by his friends. An extremely prolific author, Goethe is considered one of the last universal geniuses in the Renaissance and Enlightenment tradition.

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