'The City of Lucca' by Heinrich Heine (1831)

The City of Lucca

A selection from The City of Lucca by Heinrich Heine, 1831.

Then he poured wine to all the other gods from right to left, ladling out the sweet nectar from the bowl. And laughter unquenchable arose amid the blessed gods to see Hephaistos bustling about the palace. So feasted they all day till the setting of the sun; nor was their soul aught stinted of the fair banquet, nor of the beauteous lyre that Apollo held, and the Muses singing alternately with sweet voice.

Then suddenly there came panting in a pale Jew, dripping with blood, a crown of thorns upon his head and a great wooden cross upon his shoulders; and he threw down the cross on to the high table of the gods, so that the golden bowls trembled, and the gods fell silent and grew pale, and became ever paler, until they finally dissolved away altogether into mist. And now a sad time followed. The happy gods were gone, and Olympus was turned into a lazar-house, where gods who had been flayed, roasted and turned on the spit slunk boringly about, dressed their wounds and sang dreary songs. Religion no longer gave happiness but only consolation. It was a sorrowful, blood-stained religion for transgressors.

But perhaps it was necessary for ailing and down-trodden humanity? He bears his own pains more easily who sees his god suffer too. The former festival gods who felt no pains themselves had no notion how wretched a poor, tormented human being could feel. [...] They were holiday-gods... . And that is why they were never really whole-heartedly loved. In order to be loved whole-heartedly one must be suffering. Pity is the final consecration of love, perhaps it is love itself. Of all the gods who have ever lived Christ is therefore far the most beloved. Especially by women.

Fleeing the swarm of humanity, I took refuge in a lonesome church, and what, dear Reader, you just read are not so much my thoughts, but, rather, a few involuntary words to which I gave voice while I lay prostrate in one of those old pews, letting the droned tones of an organ pass through my breast.