I am having a difficult time understanding the meaning of the following passage. Specifically, I do not understand the 'als zu + Infinitiv' construction at the end.

Zum Schäkespears Tag [1771] von Goethe

Dieses Leben, meine Herren, ist für unsre Seele viel zu kurz, Zeuge, dass jeder Mensch, der geringste wie der höchste, der unfähigste wie der würdigste, eher alles müd wird, als zu leben.

The construction is bolded at the end.

My translation:

This life, gentlemen, is much too short for our soul. Witness that every human, the merest like the highest, the least capable like the most worthy, becomes rather weary of everything (too much to live).


  1. Do I have the correct sense or meaning in my translation? If not please advise on the meaning.

  2. I would appreciate an explanation of this construction and would like to know whether it is still used or if it is veraltet and/or literary.

  • I am receiving varying answers and I am not sure which is correct. Only one has tried to answer the second part of question about the register of the construction. I cannot pick an answer yet. I will wait for more and may have to start a bounty. May 9 '14 at 11:35
  • You receive varying answers, because that passage is ambiguos. The construction eher x als zu y can mean "first x then y" but it can also mean "rather x than y"/"x instead of y".
    – Toscho
    May 12 '14 at 16:51

als zu leben --> in this context, instead of living

  1. yes good translation
  2. is kind of still used but sounds a bit veraltet / literary to me

Die Jugend von heute ist zu beschäftigt sich mit ihren Telefonen zu beschäftigen, als/anstatt einfach zu leben.

Todays youth is to preoccupied with their phones, instead of just living.

  • I ended up asking some of my native German speaking peers that I study with at the University of Heidelberg and this is almost exactly what they told me. You have my upvote accepted answer. Thank you. May 12 '14 at 10:13

You could translate this as than to live or instead of being alive. As to your translation of Zeuge, I am not sure I understand you correctly: do you see this as a verb?. Although the German word can, in isolation, indeed be seen as an imperative, I would read the quoted phrase as Dieses Leben ist Zeuge, dass…

  • 2
    The "Zeuge" seems to mean here "the following is prove of the preceding".
    – Carsten S
    May 8 '14 at 9:22
  • Carsten Schultz is correct. Here, it used as a sort of interjection. The text is a philosophical discourse. May 9 '14 at 11:32
  • ... proof, I meant to write proof ...
    – Carsten S
    May 9 '14 at 16:57

It seems to me that the part in question boils down to

Er wird eher alles müd als zu leben.

He will be weary of everything else before he will be weary of living.

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