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I found this peculiar expression in a song, but I really do not understand what it means. I write here for you the entire sentence : "Die schwarze Wissenschaft ist wie ein reifes stolzes Mädchen: hast du sie, dann zähme sie; wenn nicht, wird sie zum Gretchen". Searching on the Internet I've found some websites, concerning musical lyrics, in which the word "Gretchen" is sobtituted with "Gräbchen", but I've got the original CD, where there isn't this change. For this reason I think that the word "Gretchen" is the correct one. The song is "Die Zärtlichkeit der Verdammten" by Samsas Traum.

Can anyone help me? :)

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    Gretchen is the lover of Faust. – Janka Mar 25 '18 at 14:56
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I think the term "Gretchen" in the song is based on Goethe's Faust. Gretchen, which until the beginning of the 18th century meant "easy girl" or strumpet.

  • Thank you very much, probably the meaning you are telling me now is the right one. – Skycaller Mar 25 '18 at 16:04
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Let's say you are right and the line says "Gretchen" and not "Gräbchen". As @help-info.de already said the name is most probably based on Goethe's Faust. In this play Gretchen is a religious and virtous 14-15 year old girl who is later seduced by Faust and sentenced to death.

Nowadays Gretchen is known for the "Gretchenfrage". She asks Faust "What is your take on religion?". The term Gretchenfrage is well known and a phrase in german language even for non-religious contexts.

Consider that the term Schwarze Wissenschaft (black science) include (black) magic, demonology and everything considered evil. From this on the line might say, that if you are not able to tame this hard to handle science it is going to "ask" you uncomfortable (maybe religious) questions. Questions that lead to answers you do not want to realize/know.

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My opinion: there is no deeper meaning in that sentence (or verse) at all. The songwriter just phrased it that way for the rhyme, and because it has an air of a meaning (because of Goethe's Gretchen), but that's just pretending.

Evidence to support this hypothesis is in the other answer here: everybody seems to be struggling to identify a meaning that would go beyond the rather superficial (and obvious) "It seems to refer to Faust's sweatheart". But no concrete further characterisation of Faust's Gretchen seems to fit in here.

Now, as the human mind is predisposed to search for (and construct) meaning in what accidential pattern ever it faces, here is an interpretation of the verse that at least would allow for a meaning:

The verse could be read as:

Die schwarze Wissenschaft ist wie ein reifes stolzes Mädchen:
hast du sie, dann zähme sie; wenn nicht, wird sie zum Grätchen

where Grätchen is a small Gräte (fishbone), i.e. something that seems innocuous but can kill you if not handled with care.

This at least would fit into the idea of the verse that "proud girls" need to be "tamed", i.e. held under control. (I do not subcribe under this message, I am just reporting it.)

Note that I do not claim that my Grätchen interpretation is what the author had in mind. I just suggest it as a way to make sense of an otherweise potentially meaningless (or poor-in-meaning) verse.

  • To add a third interpretation, "Grätchen" could also be read as a diminuitive of "Grat" (ridge) meaning that science can become a "Gratwanderung" (tightrope walk). – RHa Mar 27 '18 at 7:12
  • @RHa :-) Das gibt der altbekannten Grätchenfrage eine ganz neue Dimension: Eine Frage, bei der es um eine diffizile Entscheidung geht, die in zwei deutlich unterschiedliche Richtung führen würde, ohne dass dies jedoch von allzu einschneidender Bedeutung für die Gesamtsituation wäre. – Christian Geiselmann Mar 27 '18 at 8:44
  • _ But no concrete further characterisation of Faust's Gretchen seems to fit in here._ I have to disagree here: not taming the proud girl sets her at risk to become a sinner and child murderer. Isn't that much worse than a Gräte? – Arsak Mar 27 '18 at 11:57

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