In Celebration of Beethoven's 250th Birthday

Ludwig von Beethoven

In honor of Ludwig von Beethoven's 250th birthday next month (December 17th), I am putting to rest the mystery around the meaning of the lyrics of the chorus in his famous Ninth Symphony, which Anglophiles have called the "Ode to Joy." "Freude," the subject of the poem by Friedrich Schiller - literally translated as "Joy" - is really a Goddess. Joy is her name, and Elysium in mythology is the dwelling place of the gods, or can be loosely translated as "Paradise." I am especially frustrated when I hear English translations of Schiller's poem making references to "God the Father," etc. This poem has nothing to do with God. In fact, it can be loosely translated as a hymn in praise of "Joy" within the context of a pagan orgy.

The poem reads as follows:

         "An die Freude"                                                     "Ode to Joy"

  Freude, schöner Götterfunken,                    Joy, beautiful spark of Divinity [or, of the gods],

  Tochter aus Elysium,                                   Daughter of Elysium,

  Wir betreten feuertrunken,                          We enter, drunk with fire,

  Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!                      Heavenly one, your sanctuary!

  Deiner Zauber bindet wieder                        Your magic binds again

  Was die Mode streng geteilt,                       What custom strictly divides,

  Alle Menschen werden Brüder                      All men become brothers

  Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.                      Where your gentle wings rest.

Throughout German poetry of that era (Schiller wrote the poem in 1785), one will find references to "entering your holy sanctuary." Usually this is a double entendre referring to a woman's vagina or uterus. However, the interesting word here is "We." The only context I know of in which several enter a woman's "Sanctuary" is an orgy. I suppose all men indeed become "brothers" when any one of them could be the father of the resulting child.

Greco-Roman orgy

I have heard that the word "Flügel" was also used as a slang word for the lips of a woman's labia. Well, one can say that these "wings" do give flight to the spirit.

The fact that Beethoven used this poem in his final symphony speaks volumes. It has been said that Schiller originally wrote the poem as an "Ode to Freedom," which was how Beethoven was first introduced to it. Beethoven never married or had children (that we know of), so perhaps it was indeed his "Freedom" that was so valuable to him. In his day, composers were dependent on their royal patrons. Beethoven was, in fact, the first composer to enjoy success independently of a patron. The people of Vienna were able to come to his concerts, to buy their own tickets, and show their appreciation.

So the next time you hear someone singing "Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love..." you can assuredly tell them that the original words of this poem have absolutely nothing to do with God! Christianity and misogyny go hand-in-hand when it comes to erasing the history of females in ancient mythology. Pick up a copy of Merlin Stone's When God Was A Woman to get the whole story.

Listen to the second movement ("Adagio cantabile") of Beethoven's "Pathétique" Sonata, performed by Matthew Kennedy - whose 100th Birthday Celebration is approaching - in this clip from the documentary film Matthew Kennedy: One Man's Journey.

Purchase Matthew Kennedy's Familiar Favorites CD at


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