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Karl August Georg Maximilian Graf von Platen-Hallermünde (24 October 1796 – 5 December 1835) was a German poet and dramatist. In German he mostly is called Graf (Count) Platen.
August von Platen was born on 24 October 1796 at Ansbach, the son of the Oberforstmeister (a senior public servant) of that state, Count Philipp August von Platen-Hallermünde, by second wife Baroness Christiane Eichler von Auriz. Shortly after his birth Ansbach and other Franconian principalities became incorporated with Bavaria. Platen entered the school of cadets (Kadettenhaus) in Munich, Bavaria, where he showed early poetic talent. In 1810 as an adolescent he passed into the royal school of pages (Königliche Pagerie).
In his twenties, Platen had become quite physically intimate with a young student called Schmidtlein. They sat on a park bench, amorously entwined and discussing art. Schmidtlein had read about romantic friendship and felt guilty that he could ‘never feel the holy flame of friendship in my breast’. Finally, after one kiss too many, it dawned on him that Platen was a monster: ‘From now on, I will avoid you like the plague.’
In 1814 Platen was appointed lieutenant in the regiment of Bavarian life-guards. With them he took part in the short campaign in France of 1815, being in bivouac for several months near Mannheim and in the department of the Yonne. He saw no fighting, however, and returned home with his regiment towards the close of the same year. Desiring to study, and finding garrison life distasteful, he obtained a long leave of absence, and after a tour in Switzerland and the Bavarian Alps, entered the University of Würzburg in 1818 as a student of philosophy and philology. In the following year Platen migrated to the university of Erlangen, where he sat at the feet of Schelling, and became one of his most enthusiastic admirers.
As a result of his Oriental studies Platen published a little volume of poems—Ghaselen (1821), each consisting of ten to twenty verses, in which he imitates the style of Rückert; Lyrische Blätter (1821); Spiegel des Hafis (1822); Vermischte Schriften (1822); and Neue Ghaselen (1823). These attracted the attention of eminent men of letters among them Goethe, both by reason of their contents, which breathe the spirit of the East, and also of the purity and elegance of their form and diction.
Though Platen was at first influenced by the school of Romanticism, and particularly by Spanish models, the plays written during his university life at Erlangen, Der gläserne Pantoffel, Der Schatz des Rhampsinit, Berengar, Treue um Treue, Der Turm mit sieben Pforten, show a clearness of plot and expression foreign to the Romantic style. His antagonism to the literature of his day became more and more pronounced, and he vented his indignation at the lack of art shown by the later Romanticists, the inanity of the lyricists, and the bad taste of the so-called fate tragedies (Schicksalstragödien), in the witty Aristophanic comedies Die verhängnißvolle Gabel (1826) and Der romantische Oedipus (1828).
The want of interest, amounting even to hostility, with which Platen's enthusiasm for the purity and dignity of poetry was received in many literary circles in Germany increased the poet's indignation and disgust. In 1826 he visited Italy, which he henceforth made his home, living at Florence, Rome and Naples. His means were slender, but, though frequently necessitous, he felt happy in the life he had chosen, that of a "wandering rhapsodist".
Offended by Heinrich Heine’s mockery of "die Orientsucht"—the obsession with the Orient in poetry—in his work Reisebilder, zweiter Teil (1827), Platen expressed anti-Semitic sentiment directed at Heine in his work Der romantische Oedipus (1828). Heine reacted in turn by publicizing Platen’s homosexuality in Reisebilder dritter Teil (1830). This back and forth of mockery and ad hominem attacks are also referred to as "die von Platen Affaire".
In Naples, in the summer of 1827, he met the young poet August Kopisch, good-looking and gay, who made an unexpected impression; for Platen found that in Italy young men were much handsomer than in Germany, and more willing. In the privacy of his diary he noted: "Here in Naples love between men is so frequent that one needs to expect no curb upon the boldest demands." He adds, somewhat naively: "Perhpas it is on account of this that love has never a melancholy appearance."
In 1829, the distinguished poet Count von Platen made a snide reference to Heinrich Heine’s Jewishness in his drama, Der romantische Ödipus. Despite believing Platen to be ‘a true poet’, Heine now decided to destroy his reputation. Like other critics, he had been startled by ‘yearnings for pederasty’ in Platen’s latest poems. In his Reisebilder (vol. 3), he called him a sexual ostrich who thought that by simply omitting the word ‘Freund’ (male friend) from time to time, he could hide his enormous sin. ‘He would have done better to stick his bottom in the sand.’
No one could possibly have doubted Heine’s meaning. He called Platen ‘a woman’, ‘a pathic’, ‘a male tribade’, ‘a bottom man’ whose love ‘has a passive, Pythagorean quality’. He used the common euphemism for homosexuals: ‘warme Brüder’ or ‘warme Freunde’. He also suggested that Platen’s ‘Romantic Oedipus’ should have killed his mother and married his father.
Platen pretended not to have seen the attack, but he was ill in bed for two months and spent most of his remaining years in Italy. However, there were also two unexpected results. Although Heine was not the only critic to deplore Platen’s ‘fervent praise of young boys’ bodies’ (as a reviewer put it in 1829), Heine was widely condemned for the attack. His reputation suffered more than Platen’s.
In Naples, where Platen formed the friendship of August Kopisch, the poet and painter, were written his last drama Die Liga von Cambrai (1833) and the delightful epic fairy-tale Die Abbassiden (1830; 1834), besides numerous lyrical poems, odes and ballads. He also essayed historical work in a fragment, Geschichte des Königreichs Neapel von 1414 bis 1443 (1838), without, however, achieving any marked success.
In 1832 his father died, and after an absence of eight years Platen returned to Germany for a while, and in the winter of 1832-1833 lived at Munich, where he revised the first complete edition of his poems, Gedichte (1833).
In the summer of 1834 Platen returned to Italy, and, after living in Florence and Naples, proceeded in 1835 to Sicily. Dread of the cholera, which was at that time very prevalent, induced him to move from place to place, and in November of that year he was taken ill at Syracuse, where he died on 5 December 1835. He is buried in the non-Catholic cemetery of Syracuse. His grave became one of the pilgrimage sites on the gay Grand Tour. Naturally, the shrine was decently discreet, the ironic epilogue to a life largely devoted to keeping up appearances. As if to underline the fact that he had been tolerated rather than accepted, the tomb was adorned with a bas-relief woman weeping over an urn.
When Platen died in Sicily in 1835 of typhoid, Heine was widely blamed for his death. The real crime – naming the unnameable – had been committed, not by Platen but by Heine. Private vice was less disgraceful than a public breach of etiquette. Even the reviewer who had criticized the ‘unwomanly’ Platen broke off relations with Heine.
According to the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, "Like Heine himself, Platen failed in the drama, but his odes and sonnets, to which must be added his Polenlieder (1831), in which he gives vent to his warm sympathy for the Poles in their rising against the rule of the Tsar, are in language and metre so artistically finished as to rank among the best classical poems of modern times". He gives his name to the Bavarian literary prize August-Graf-von-Platen-Preis.
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