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The 2024 Prawer Lecture
Speaker: Rachel Wong (Chicago)

Inspired by recent scholarship in the ‘blue humanities’, this lecture explores the role of oceanic imagery in Friedrich Schiller’s ‘Ring des Polykrates’ (1797). The ballad, which reworks a story from Herodotus’ Histories, recounts how a Greek king attempts to forestall divine envy by throwing his most prized possession – a signet ring – into the sea. By reconstructing Schiller’s encounter with Johann Friedrich Degen’s translation Herodots Geschichte (1783–91) and Christian Garve’s philosophical commentary ‘Über zwei Stellen des Herodots’ (1796), Rachel Wong shows how the ocean exerts a latent power over the human actions depicted in the poem. As a field of circulation in which Polykrates’ signet ring comes to signify both present fortune and future demise, the ocean’s uncanny ability to make diachronic events appear co-present raises the stakes of Polykrates’ actions and offers us a view of his life contained within a single, lyrical Augenblick. The lecture concludes by considering Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s one-act opera buffa of the same name, in which Schiller’s main characters are reimagined as jealous friends and the ocean’s fateful distortions of time are replaced by the humdrum rhythms of modern city life. 


This English Goethe Society lecture will take place in Room G37 at the University of London Senate House and will be streamed via Zoom. All welcome; attendance free. Advance online booking is essential whether attending in person or online (please select appropriate ticket when registering).