Does it mean 'foreign treasures that Goethe himself created(wrote)', that is, his literature, or 'foreign treasures that he mentioned'?

Many European citizens feel that their national culture is threatened by moves towards economic and political unification. Some cultural communities in Europe, however, welcome this trend since their particular identities have not always been respected by nation-states. We are exhorted to preserve the variety of cultures in Europe, whilst at the same time urged to recognize commonalities, collaborate, integrate and unify for the common good. Is this a paradox? Can we preserve our identification with local, regional or national cultures whilst still embracing European integration? The idea of any local, regional or national culture as an isolated, unassailable entity is simply untenable today in a continent with such excellent communications. Also, historically, no region can claim cultural or ethnic ‘purity’. All European cultures have been ready to take on Goethe’s ‘foreign treasures’, to adapt and refine them before passing them on again.

Aspects of European Cultural Diversity


2 Answers 2


Pay attention to the quotation marks around "foreign treasures." They are there to show us that the phrase "foreign treasures" is a quotation and that it belongs to Goethe.

Look at the Introduction to Book 2. It begins with the epigraph:

Nur durch Aneignung fremder Schätze entsteht ein Großes (Goethe)

It is only possible to become great by appropriating foreign treasures.

This does indeed seem to be an authentic quotation of Goethe's, but I'm having trouble tracking down the original source.

In this sort of phrase, "Goethe's 'foreign treasures'" means the concept that Goethe was referring to when he wrote "foreign treasures".

Other examples might be: "This truly is Nietzsche's Übermensch" (i.e. "this is an example of what Nietzsche was referring to when he described the Übermensch"), or "Perhaps we should think of this as Kant's Ding an sich" ("perhaps we should think of this as being an example of what Kant described as a Ding an sich), or, "When I say 'thou' I'm thinking of Buber's 'thou'" ("when I say 'thou' I intend to evoke the idea that Buber wrote about when he used the word 'thou'").

In context, the author is saying something like: Every culture in Europe has always been glad to borrow the good parts of other cultures - which are the things that Goethe was talking about when he wrote about "foreign treasures". They borrow the good parts of other cultures, change them, improve them and then pass them on to someone else.

  • In the last sentence, is to adapt ~ on again the result of to take on Geothe's 'foreign treasures'? Or, kind of rephrasing?
    – user129726
    Mar 13, 2021 at 0:51
  • @user129726, it's sort of an expansion on Goethe's idea. Goethe said that you have to "appropriate foreign treasures" and then this author says, "What Goethe said is correct - they borrow the good parts of other people's culture, and not only do they borrow them, they adapt them and refine them. I'll update my answer to be more explicit about the meaning in context.
    – Juhasz
    Mar 13, 2021 at 1:21
  • So, it is not kind of apposition, nor parallel structure?
    – user129726
    Mar 13, 2021 at 2:01

I understand it to refer to the works of Goethe himself. However I think the phrasing indicates some unconscious national bias on the part of the author. Goethe is foreign to some people and not foreign to others.

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