Ben is a philosophical goat. His mental mentor is Goethe.
The first work by him that Ben read was the novel “The Sorrows of Young Werther.”
He enjoys this passage: “The human race is a monotonous affair. Most people spend the greatest part of their time working in order to live, and what little freedom remains so fills them with fear that they seek out any and every means to be rid of it.”
Ben has long wondered about the human condition. His servants bring him food, take him for walks, but they seem to be in a rut. Why, he wondered, on a sunny day would they do chores when they could stand and look at the blue sky and at leaves waving in the wind.
Ben also likes this statement: “Every day I observe more and more the folly of judging of others by ourselves; and I have so much trouble with myself, and my own heart is in such constant agitation, that I am well content to let others pursue their own course, if they only allow me the same privilege.”
Ben knows that his humans sometimes feel he lacks gravitas because of his passive and oblivious nature. He is content to let others lead while he ponders lifeʼs truths. He wanders along behind, taking the time to sniff a petal or rub his back on a branch. He sees no reason to judge other goats for rushing here and there seeking the best nibble, or for butting heads when a more relaxed attitude would be preferable. But he feels they, in turn, and his humans also, should refrain from judging him.
Sometimes when Ben is in a melancholy mood he rereads what he considers a profound observation: “Distance…is like futurity. A dim vastness is spread before our souls; the perceptions of our mind are as obscure as those of our vision…But alas, when we have attained our object, when the distant ʻthereʼ becomes the present ʻhere,ʼ all is changed; we are as poor and circumscribed as ever, and our souls still languish for unattainable happiness.”
Happily for Ben, a walk through the meadow and munching a clump of green grass usually brings him back to his normal sunny disposition.
When in a deeper mood, Ben reads his favorite work by Goethe, “Elective Affinities,” an examination of marriage and passion. Although goats donʼt actually get married, he does have a sweetheart, Dawn, who, unhappily, is separated from him by a barbed wire fence. Touching noses is the extent of their passion, but, for him, it is rich and powerful.
He tries to look at the situation with a light heart, and is able to joke with Dawn about it.
He reminds her that, as Goethe said in “Elective Affinities,” “There is nothing in which people more betray their character than in what they find to laugh at.”
And although he prefers to read Goethe in the original German and then translate it to Goatish when talking to his barn mates, he knows that his favorite phrase goes best in the authorʼs native tongue: “Schönheit ist überall ein gar willkommener Gast.”
Or, as he translates for Freddy, whose German skills are weak but who sometimes expresses interest in Benʼs thoughts: “Beauty is everywhere a welcome guest.”