Hesse’s grandfather Hermann Gundert (1814-1893) had been a Protestant missionary in India, where he also became an accomplished linguist in Dravidian languages. With a sceptical, questing attitude to the faith he was promoting and a scholarly passion for foreign cultures, Gundert became a role model for his grandson. In his 1923 autobiographical essay “The Childhood of the Magician”, Hesse wrote: This man, my mother’s father, was hidden in a forest of mysteries, just as his face was hidden in the white forest of his beard; from his eyes there flowed sorrow for the world and blithe wisdom, depending on the circumstances, and likewise lonely wisdom and divine roguishness; people from many lands knew him, visited him and revered him. The difference between Gundert and Hesse is in the ruling ideas of their times. Whereas his grandfather retained a theistic trust in a divine power, Hesse belonged to a generation whose faith in any such power had been shattered by the catastrophe of the First World War. Any transcendent God was dead, and if a saving spirit existed it could only be found within human beings themselves. But for Hesse and much of his generation this was not the rational, world-improving spirit of secular humanism. The spirit that animated human beings was non-rational, at times dark and destructive, and yet possessed of salvific power. Hesse’s spirituality was that of the German Romantics, and like them he often sank into grandiloquent vacuity when he tried to express it.

If I need to translate this text to a different language which of these best fit to substitute “ruling ideas”? “ideologies” ? Or “Prevalent ideologies” or “prevalent opinions”?

My second concern has to do with “...their times” . Does it mean “prevalent opinions in the society of their times”? Or “prevalent opinions of Hesse and his grandfather who lived in different times”?

1 Answer 1


Yes, "prevalent ideas in society" could be a possible paraphrase, and "of their times" refers to the different times of the two men.

One man lived in the nineteenth century; the ruling idea of his time was the belief in God. The other lived in the twentieth century; the ruling idea of his time was secular Humanism. This explains the difference in the two men.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .