What is right? Who can say.

from Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe fiction ~2 min read

Thales (On the shore, to Homunculus.)

I’d gladly lead you to old Nereus:

His home’s not far away and cavernous,

But his head, it’s of the very stubbornest,

He’s a sour-top, and quite the nastiest.
The whole human race can’t satisfy

Him, the grumbler, and needn’t try.

Yet to him the future is revealed,

And so all show respect, and yield

Him honour in his high position:
He’s done quite well by many a one.


Nereus (The sea-god.)

Are those human voices, in my ear?
How quickly my deepest anger stirs!
Forms, reaching for the gods, in their endeavour,

Yet condemned to be themselves, forever.

In ancient times I had heavenly rest,

Yet drove myself to act well to the best:

And then, when I’d finished what I’d done,
It was quite clear that nothing had been won.


And yet, Old Man of the Sea, we trust you:

You’re the Wise: so don’t drive us from you!

See this flame, he’s almost human, really,

He yields himself to your advice, completely.


What advice! Has Mankind valued my advice?
A wise word’s frozen in a stubborn ear.

No matter how often some harsh action strikes,
People remain as self-willed as before.
I warned Paris himself, in a fatherly way,
Before the foreign girl tempted him to stray.

He stood bravely on the shore of Greece,

And I told him what my Spirit could see:
The smoke-filled air, the streaming blood,

Glowing timbers, slaughter’s flood,
Troy’s day of judgement, caught in verse,

Its horrors known for ten thousand years.

The old man’s words seemed idle to the young,
He followed his need, and Ilium was gone –

A bloody corpse, frozen with ancient pain,
For Pindus’ eagles, a literary gain.

Ulysses too! Didn’t I tell him about

Circe’s wiles, that Cyclopean lout?

The indecision in his own shallow mind,

And all of it! What benefit did he find?
Till, late indeed, the ocean favoured him more,

And brought him, wave-tossed, to a friendly shore.


Such behaviour brings the wise man pain,
Yet the good will chance it all again.
An ounce of thanks will still please them deeply,
Outweighing tons of ingratitude completely.
And it’s nothing slight we ask of you:
The boy here wants to exist, and wisely too.

—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, p. Part II