Fear and Trembling

The boy meets a ghost
Grimm’s fairy tales
Jacob Grimm 1785–1863
William Grimm 1786–1859
He meets a giant.

Soren Kierkegaard used Grimm’s story “The Story Of The Youth Who Went Forth To Learn What Fear Was” in his 1844 book The Concept of Anxiety. Nothing could make this young man fear and tremble. But Abraham trembled, I don’t know if Agamemnon trembled, but Tobias trembled, I’m not sure if Faust trembled; perhaps Isaac, Iphigenia, Sarah, and Marguerite trembled. Kierkegaard took a look at these characters in his 1843 book “Fear and Trembling”. What does it mean to be favored by God? Does it mean you’re going to have a happy life?

Abraham and Iphigenia

Agamemnon:
There is a sacrifice have first to offer here.
Iphigenia:
Yea, ’tis thy duty to heed religion with aid of holy rites.
Agamemnon:
Thou wilt witness it, for thou wilt be standing near the laver.

Soren Kierkegaard compared the story of Abraham and Isaac to that of Agamemnon and Iphigenia in his 1843 book Fear and Trembling. God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his only son, to prove his faithfulness. The Greek god Artemis told Agamemnon to sacrifice his daughter before she would let him sail for Troy and go to war. Abraham was silent, Agamemnon talked to everyone.

Fear and Trembling

No, not one shall be forgotten who was great in the world. But each was great in his own way, and each in proportion to the greatness of that which he loved.
Everyone shall be remembered, but each became great in proportion to his expectation.

Kierkegaard asked about what is lost temporally in his book. Abraham was to sacrifice his son Isaac to prove his faithfulness to God. He believed he would get him back from God even if he did sacrifice him.

Kierkegaard discussed this idea again in his 1848 book, Christian Discourses under chapter V The Joy of It: That What You Lose Temporally You Gain Eternally:

“Eternity does not give you back the lost temporality in the sense of temporality. No, precisely this is the gain of eternity: what was lost it gives back in the sense of eternity. Is it not joyful, that in temporality, wherever there is loss and the pain of loss, eternity is right there to offer the sufferer more than compensation for the damage? After all, the sufferer himself is a synthesis of the temporal and the eternal. If now temporality inflicts upon him the greatest loss it is able to inflict, then the issue is whether he, traitorous to himself and to eternity, will give temporality’s loss the power to become something totally different from what it is, whether he will lose the eternal, or whether he, true to himself and the eternal, does not allow temporality’s loss to become anything else for him than what it is, a temporal loss. If he does this, then the eternal within him has won the victory.

In the religious sense it makes absolutely no difference whether a person is struggling to get along in life or is at the head of hundreds of thousands under the cannon fire; the struggle is continually about saving his soul – whether he wills to lose the eternal temporally which is to be lost, or whether by losing the temporal temporally he gains the eternal. That this is what should be looked at escapes the worldly person entirely. The one who in truth wants to save his soul looks at what ought to be looked at, and just by looking at that he simultaneously discovers the joy, that what one loses temporally one gains eternally. ” (p. 140-142 Hong tr 1997)

Tobit has served God faithfully from his home in Nineveh making sure to bury any soldier thrown from the wall in revolt of the law forbidding it. Tobit is blind and has much affliction. His son, Tobias, is in a similar situation. He is guided by the angel Raphael to visit Tobit’s relatives and meets Sarah in Media who is plagued by the demon Asmodeus. Tobias wants to marry Sarah. Kierkegaard discussed the work.

The young Tobias wanted to marry Sarah the daughter of Raguel and Edna. But a sad fatality hung over this young girl. She had been given to seven husbands, all of whom had perished in the bride-chamber. Tobit was the only son of his parents
Fear and Trembling Problem II p. 157-158 Lowrie

It is Sarah that is the heroine. Put a man in Sarah’s place, let him know in case he were to love a girl the spirit of hell would come and murder his loved one ….
Fear and Trembling Problem II p. 161-162

Johann Goethe finished his play Faust in 1831. Kierkegaard decided to discuss his work in his 1843 book Fear and Trembling.

Faust is a doubter whose sharp sight has discovered fundamentally the ludicrousness of existence. Even in Goethe’s interpretation of Faust I sense the lack of a deeper psychological insight into the secret conversations of doubt with itself. In our age, when indeed all have experienced doubt, no poet has yet made a step in this direction.
Fear and Trembling  p. 168

Faust and Marguerite

Faust sees Marguerite — not after he had made the choice of pleasure, for my Faust does not choose pleasure — he sees Marguerite, not in the concave mirror of Mephistopheles but in all her lovable innocence, and inasmuch as his soul has preserved love for mankind he can perfectly well fall in love with her. But he is a doubter, his doubt has annihilated reality for him.
ibid p. 170

Kierkegaard says, “Put a man in Sarah’s place.” We have certainly heard that refrain in the past century or so. Kierkegaard quoted often from The Book of Tobit.

Faust keeps silent, ethics condemns him if he speaks, so he keeps silent, just like Abraham did about Isaac, he didn’t tell that other Sarah anything about what was about to happen on Mount Moriah. Kierkegaard also wrote about Faust in Either/or. “There is evidently something very profound here, which has perhaps escaped the attention of most people, in that Faust, who reproduces Don Juan, seduces only one girl, while Don Juan seduced hundreds; but this one girl is also, in an intensive sense, seduced and crushed quite differently from all those Don Juan has deceived, simply because Faust, as reproduction, falls under the category of the intellectual.” (p. 98-99 Swenson tr)

Iphigenia in Aulis
Tobit at his son’s return.
Jan Lievens  (1607–1674)
Wikimedia Commons

Lee M. Hollander translated selections of Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling in 1923 but he didn’t translate the parts about Tobit, Iphigenia, or Faust. You can borrow Walter Lowrie’s translation of the book from Archive dot org for an hour at a time. Fear and Trembling Lowrie Translation or from religion online Fear and Trembling

Abraham and Isaac, Bernhard Rode  (1725–1797)
WikiMedia Commons