From the Son of the Carpenter to the Son of God:
Nikos Kazantzakis’ „The Last Temptation“
“The Last Temptation” from 1951 is among the best-known novels by the famous Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957). His controversial transfiguration of Jesus Christ’s life according to Gospels has been subject to both praise and condemnation. The Vatican’s ban of the book in 1956 and Martin Scorsese’s equally controversial film adaptation in 1988 made the work irrevocably famous all over the world. Having furthermore been an inspiration for other fictional re-tellings of Jesus’ story (such as Uwe Saeger’s “Die Gehäutete Zeit”) ever since, Kazantzakis’ novel is of great significance for our seminar on religion and literature.
Kazantzakis draws Jesus Christ as tormented by doubts and fear, feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty, and being stricken by temptations. We get to know him as the Son of the Carpenter, a social misfit disappointing his mother Mary’s hopes for him to become a respected paterfamilias. Read more…
After two papers on religion and fairy tale last week, we had a fantastic session on The Grimm Brothers’ Children’s and Household Tales (Grimms’ Fairy Tales) this afternoon. Many thanks to our two speakers who prepared the session!
Almut Renger & The Seminar Team
The Grimm Brothers’ Children’s and Household Tales (aka Grimms’ Fairy Tales) are still famous all over the world. From 1806 on, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm started collecting fairy tales from pre-existing literature as well as from their circle of friends and acquaintances. The ‘fairy tale’ that the brothers travelled all throughout the countryside in order to collect these tales is not true though. Rather, they let people send different stories to them and they then subsequently worked over the given material. The first volume of the first edition was published in 1812 (86 stories); the second volume (70 stories) followed in 1815. The Siebte Auflage letzter Hand appeared in 1857.
In two sessions of our seminar with Professor Renger and Professor Brittnacher we tried to discover the religious aspects in Grimms’ Fairy Tales, particularly in tale number 3 Mary’s child (German Marienkind). This tale is full of Christian elements: Read more…
The figure Salome evokes orientalist images of a seductive, man-devouring temptress. In the biblical source material, however, she is not yet the femme fatale history made of her. Salome’s transformations and interpretations throughout the history of art and literature kept us engaged for three sessions of our seminar.
The biblical passage where she appears as the nameless daughter of Herodias – the name Salome was linked to her much later by Flavius Josephus – goes as follows: On the occasion of his birthday, her stepfather Herod Antipas desires her to dance for him. The girl’s dance enchants Herod so much that he decides to grant her one free wish. The child indecisively turns to her mother and asks her what to wish for. Herodias, bearing a grudge against John the Baptist ever since his condemnation of her marriage to Herod, tells her to demand the head of the prophet. Herod, bound to his oath, unwillingly commands John’s execution (Mark 6: 14-29). Read more…
We would like to introduce you to a new member of our study group. Jessica Kreutz was a PhD candidate of Medieval and Early Modern Latin Philology at the Georg-August-University in Göttingen. Her thesis, entitled “Die Buchbestände von Wöltingerode. Ein Zisterzienserinnenkloster im Kontext der spätmittelalterlichen Reformbewegungen”, is about religious women and their books in the later Middle Ages, represented by the example of Wöltingerode – one of the oldest female Cistercian cloisters of Northern Germany. The manuscripts contain instructions in monastic practice and were made for the nuns’ education. Her main areas of research are the concepts surrounding and content of these texts, which reflect different ways literature is used to transfer knowledge.
Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Das Marien-Leben” from 1912 served as prelude to our investigations on the interrelations of religion and literature. The cycle of 13 poems depicts the life and suffering of the biblical figure Mary. Rilke drew inspiration not only from the biblical sources but also from visual art, such as renaissance images of Mary by Tizian or Tintoretto, and the “Malerbuch” from Mount Athos. Rilke’s “Marien-Leben” has once again won popularity with the musical setting by Paul Hindemith in 1923/24.
The cycle starts with Mary’s birth, covers turning points in the life of Jesus Christ like the wedding of Cana, finds a climax in her unspeakable pain about the loss of her son, and ends with Mary’s own death. While the New Testament does not give much information about Mary’s emotional life, it is precisely these inner workings that Rilke intends to shed light upon. The poems’ constantly shifting tone mirrors Mary as being torn between heavenly spheres and earthly limitations. In this opposition one might recognise Rilke’s own reservation towards the humanization of the divine.