Bryn Mawr Classical Review 03.03.18

Michael P. Steinberg (ed.), The Presence of the Historian: Essays in Memory of Arnaldo Momigliano. History and Theory: Studies in the Philosophy of History, Beiheft 30. Wesleyan University, 1991. Pp. 64. LC 63-47837.

Reviewed by William M. Calder III, The University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign.

At least 25 years are needed before a scholar can be viewed historically and his work considered in context. Arnaldo Momigliano died 1 September 1987. Widow, daughter, former students and enemies survive. People who did not know him are not yet competent to evaluate the achievement. On the other hand people who write soon after often possess facts that would be later lost. They may interpret them naively or tendentiously; but they preserve them and, because they are fundamentally memoirists, become themselves sources. The introduction and five papers here amount to five panegyrics. Only one is new and not a panegyric, Professor Bowersock's. The editor, Michael P. Steinberg, ought to have revealed the sources of the reprints in a table of contents which the volume lacks. Nor is there an index. He ought also somewhere to have given the titles of the contributors. Three however appear first in English.1 The great casualty is Karl Christ. His magisterial essay on Momigliano2 is stripped of most of its annotation, amputated from 46 to eight pages, incompetently translated3 and even doctored for the American market. At p. 10 the sentence "The problems in the history of German scholarship were addressed as well, despite the degree of personal suffering that Momigliano himself had endured at the hands of its perverted descendants" "expands" Christ's (Profile, 289) "die klassische deutsche Tradition im Bereich der Altertumswissenschaften." Nor do I understand how the brutal Nazi guards who slew Momigliano's parents were "descendants of German scholarship." Los Angeles policemen who beat blacks have never read Gildersleeve. Either room should have been found for the whole of Christ's essay in a faithful version or his shorter one already available in English4 ought to have been reprinted without omissions.

Steinberg (p. 1) calls Momigliano "a universal historian," a title I should reserve for men like Spengler and Toynbee. He was an ancient historian, interested as well in the history of his subject. He taught in Italy 1932-38, not 1929-38 (p. 1). It is untrue (p. 1) that he "declined to return to Italy after the war." He soon returned annually. We are told (p. 3) that Droysen wrote "A History of Hellenism." Then come the leitmotives that will resound through the volume. We learn of M.'s love of facts, aversion to theory, analytical clarity of vision, and depth of personal commitment. We are assured that he was liberal.

Christ's paper (pp. 5-12) in its abbreviated form has become too many names without context and ideas stripped of their rich documentation. It is unfair to judge Christ by it. I shall not. I urge the intelligent to read the original. It is easily available.

Weinberg's paper (pp. 13-26) seeks in a rather muddled way to evaluate M.'s contribution to Jewish studies. The article was written some seven months after his death and is here published for the third time. She argues from unsatisfactory sources that (p. 14) M. "preserved with integrity to the end of his life" "a total and unswerving commitment to Judaism and Jewishness." Then there are summaries of random articles by M. dealing with Judaism and easily available in the Contributi. The whole is carelessly written. "Christianity emerged in the Hellenistic period" (p. 15). M. wrote "four major works" on Greece, Rome and Judaea between 1930 and 1934 (p. 15). We are only told one of them. George Foot Moore, professor of the History of Religions at Harvard is called a clergyman (p. 17). She calls the Gallic carrum (26) a "Latin word." Yes, if she calls spaghetti English. Only in the vaguest terms does she document M.'s contributions to Jewish studies. What she says amounts to the fact that specialists, ignorant of the Greek and Roman background of Hellenistic Judaism, learn from reading M. that Jewish texts were sometimes colored by their Greco-Roman context. She never cites evidence proving his mastery of Hebrew. Did he know Aramaic and Syriac as Eduard Schwartz and Ed. Meyer? It is implied not stated that he never made a permanent contribution, redating a source or providing an exegesis that permanently changed subsequent interpretation. There is nothing of the reaction of senior or contemporary semiticists to his work, whether reviewers or subsequent informed investigators.

She ignores what is really important. M.'s concern with Judaism and its greatest heresy Christianity is further proof of his conviction that the history of religion exceeds in importance military or political history. What is Gaugamela to us? The rise of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (all treated by Meyer) still can determine history. This is the tradition of Eduard Meyer and Wilamowitz but quite different from Th. Mommsen, Rostovtzeff and even Syme. Mommsen abandoned his country pastor father and Marxism discouraged Rostovtzeff. Syme only reluctantly admitted that religion was able to influence reasonable men of power and intelligence.

G.W. Bowersock (pp. 27-36) writes on "Momigliano's Quest for the Person," where "person" means individual. He stresses Momigliano's interest in biography and autobiography and ability to show how modern scholars' views of antiquity are determined by their private lives.5 Droysen's interest in Hellenistic Judaism derives from the fact that his wife was a Jewess (p. 31). Care is needed. Bowersock argues that because Momigliano was a Jew he "was able to provide an exceptionally perceptive treatment of the career of Bernays" (p. 31). This is misdirected praise. Momigliano wilfully conceals the most important fact of Bernays' personal life, that he was a homosexual. He attributes the love affair with Paul Heyse (Quinto Contributo, 135) to a "common interest in modern literatures." Freud knew the truth in 1932.6 M. knows Freud's letter but conceals its content (ibid., p. 153, n.2). Homosexuality was surely an attraction of Scaliger for Bernays. Not a word on that.

Much to his credit Bowersock dares to suggest that M. overemphasizes Judaism in matters which he discusses. M. sees the Sibylline oracles as "essentially a repository of Jewish revelations." Bowersock remarks (33) "yet we know well (and he knew too) that apocalyptic literature in the world of the Greeks and the Romans had a long and well-documented history that was entirely independent of the Jews." That is, according to Bowersock, M. suppressed evidence known to him for racist reasons. This became an obsession. M. alleged that Judaism determined Eduard Fraenkel's character, a thesis denied by those who knew him.7 He has also argued that Eduard Meyer was "quasi certamente di distante origine ebraica" (Settimo Contributo, 215). His only "evidence" is the maiden name of Meyer's mother. But Dessau unlike Dessauer need not be Jewish. The silence of Meyer on his Jewish mother is deafening.8 On no adduced evidence M. alleges that either Ernst Kapp or Kurt von Fritz was Jewish. 9 And he has denied the self-flagellating antisemitism of Felix Jacoby, although it is attested by those who knew him.10 One recalls Beloch. M.'s Jews are proud to be Jews and (Bernays!) they are not homosexuals, a vice condemned in Leviticus. He condemns Droysen's son for concealing the Jewish origin of his mother but Gustav Droysen discusses it at length.11 When Germans call M. a Berufsjude, they have grounds. The fact is that anything M. says on this subject must be controlled for what A.D. Nock called "the coefficient of mendacity." Bowersock leads the way.

Bowersock, however, accepts at face value M.'s account of his politics -- "non-Fascist" (p. 35) -- in the thirties. Much work must be done here. It should start with the publications later omitted by M. from his bibliography (cf. Jaeger). Canfora has begun this.12 Precisely what did he write on Roman Africa in 1934? Reprints of articles from the early thirties must be carefully compared with the originals to see if changes or omissions have been introduced. Jaeger altered postwar reprints of Paideia I. And just who was Prof. Arno Wolf (Contributo, 326)? Correspondence from the period must be examined and survivors interviewed and taped. Only this way can we obey M.'s exhortation (p. 2): "We must face the facts."

Carlo Ginzburg provides an unnecessary chapter (pp. 37-48) on "Momigliano and de Martino," a book of whose M. briefly reviewed in 1961 (= Quarto Contributo, 577-580). De Martino was a person who said magism instead of magic, wrote sentences like (p. 39) "numinous energy ... is the pedagogy of the identifying function of the intellect" and when he had questions about ancient religion would write not to M.P. Nilsson but (p. 41) to Karl Kerenyi. Most of Ginzburg's paper is concerned with some unpublished letters between de Martino and someone called Pettazoni. M. is rarely mentioned until the last page or two and classicists will be relieved to learn that any influence of de Martino on M. remains unproven. Presumably M. never corresponded with him. If he did, Ginzburg does not know the letters. I have no idea why the article has the title it does nor why it was published a second time in this volume.

A valuable contribution, because it records facts that would otherwise be lost, is Oswyn Murray's "Arnaldo Momigliano in England" (pp. 49-64).13 It could have been a good deal better. Murray, a professional historian, omits crucial information. He never indicates that M. never became a British subject. This explains why he was never knighted, while Moses Finley was. He never mentions the name of M.'s wife (Gemma Segre), the date of their marriage, the occupation of her father or whether she was Jewish. He never tells why Hugh Last helped M. "Ultimus," as he was called by those who despised him, did all he could to thwart the career of the young Syme. He was an unprincipled intrigant jealous of those better than he. Did he use the young M., who was not a threat, as a weapon against Syme? Brown reports (p. 435) the excitement with which M. in old age first discovered that Last was a Jew. Was this a reason why Last aided a brilliant young victim of antisemitism?

Murray alludes to six women whom M. befriended: Gertrud Bing, Isobel Henderson, Sally Humphries, Anne Marie Meyer (his literary executrix), Iris Murdock, and Beryl Smalley. Did M. in fact learn from them? If so something should be made of the fact. He would be the unique example in the modern history of classical scholarship of a great male scholar taught by women. Or did he simply fear male rivals and sought comfort in a series of adoring women disciples? Because the English never really had doctoral programs, M. never had in the German or American sense students. Indeed we are never told whether he directed dissertations but only that he much influenced (p. 57) Peter Brown and the Camerons. His influence was general rather than specific. He expanded the interests of English ancient historians for subjects like the origin of Rome, late antiquity and of course what Murray calls historiography, sc. Wissenschaftsgeschichte. He introduced the seminar to London where his influence was comparable to Fraenkel's in Oxford. He emphasized the man and facts.

M. was a conscientious, witty, productive polymath and a voracious reader with a fine memory and an eye for accurate detail. I continue to learn a great deal from his essays on subjects I do not know about. On subjects I control I find errors in detail and intelligent hypotheses that do not fit the evidence.14 This is often because, as an ancient historian accustomed to work from published sources, he never learned that for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries anything of importance is unpublished. He preferred facts to theory and held to do otherwise is to trivialize history. How often did he successfully emend a text, restore an inscription, or make new facts out of facts? In this respect one can only contrast Syme's Roman Papers with the Contributi. As an European who learned English well enough to create a winning style of his own, he did only good in spreading among the English the gospel of Croce that historians not kings and generals make history. To the shame of the English it took an Italian refugee to show them the abiding importance of Gibbon and Grote (58-59)! His papers and reviews prove that in classics where so little evidence survives all history is contemporary history or better "Alles heißt Rezeption." Much could be said of this complex influential man. He deserved better than this volume where only the essays by Bowersock and Murray reward perusal.


  • [1] Steinberg informs us (7 n. 9) that Oswyn Murray's "essay appears in translation on pages 49-64 of this volume." In fact, as Murray tells us (49 n.1), the revised English original first appears there. The earlier publication was an Italian translation. Murray did not write the article in Italian, as Steinberg believes.
  • [2] See Karl Christ, "Arnaldo Momigliano (1908-1987)," Neue Profile der alten Geschichte (Darmstadt 1990) 248-294.
  • [3] E.g. Christ's (Profile, 269) "[Droysen] ein für einmal sah, daß der entscheidende Charakter des Hellenismus die Konstituierung einer kosmopolitischen Zivilisation ist" becomes in Steinberg's English "Droysen in fact recognized for once and for all that the essential characteristic of Hellenism is the constitution of a cosmopolitan civilization." What Christ means is: "Droysen saw once and for all that the decisive characteristic of the Hellenistic Age was the founding of a cosmopolitan civilization." There is a big difference.
  • [4] Karl Christ, "Arnaldo Momigliano." Classical Scholarship: A Biographical Encyclopedia, edited by Ward W. Briggs and William M. Calder III (New York 1990) 277-284.
  • [5] For a similar endeavor in a neighboring field see Norman F. Cantor, Inventing the Middle Ages: The Lives, Works, and Ideas of the Great Medievalists of the Twentieth Century (New York 1991).
  • [6] Sigmund Freud-Arnold Zweig, Briefwechsel (Frankfurt 1968) 59 ("Das zärtliche Verhältnis zu Paul Heyse"). Freud's insight defeated massive censorship by Max Fraenkel of the Bernays-Heyse letters. An edition of the correspondence has been considered.
  • [7] Quinto Contributo 2.1026-29: see contra Lloyd-Jones, Gnomon 43 (1971) 634 n. 1 and Gnomon 44 (1972) 224 (certainly not a retraction) and Nicholas Horsfall, Classical Scholarship 63: "Momigliano's interpretation of Fraenkel as an essentially Jewish teacher is deeply perverse and unconvincing."
  • [8] There is further error. M. makes Meyer like himself a guest professor at Chicago (217). He only gave a lecture there. This is further evidence for Bowersock's thesis that M. sought himself in the past.
  • [9] Settimo Contributo, 238: "Due suoi allievi, uno, credo, di origine ebraica, l'altro non ebreo, Ernst Kapp e Kurt von Fritz lasciavano la Germania." It would seem that he meant Kapp but the text is ambiguous. This is simply a confessio fidei.
  • [10] See Settimo Contributo, 518, where he libels Georg Picht simply because he does not want to believe that Jacoby compared Augustus with Hitler. A scholar like Joachim Stenzel, who knew Jacoby since his childhood, tells me that he has no difficulty at all with this.
  • [11] See Gustav Droysen, Johann Gustav Droysen I Bis zum Beginn der Frankfürter Tätigkeit (Leipzig/Berlin 1910) 111 ff. (discussion of his father's engagement and his Jewish mother's family). Because this contradicts his thesis that Germans were ashamed of being Jews, M. either ignores or denies what G. Droysen says or else he has never read the book he condemns. See Quinto Contributo 1.124 "Gustav never mentions the circumstance that his mother was Jewish." Bowersock (31 n. 24) does not warn the reader of this misrepresentation.
  • [12] Luciano Canfora, Ideologie del Classicismo (Torino 1980) 72 with n. 12; contrast Quarto Contributo, 685-686.
  • [13] Attention should be drawn to Peter Brown, "Arnaldo Dante Momigliano 1908-1987," PBA 74 (1988) 405-442. More than a necrology, this is the best biography of M. available and ought to have been included in this volume in place of Ginzburg or the mutilated remains of Christ. A number of details in Murray are shared with Brown. Whether Murray has taken them from Brown, whom he does not cite, or whether they derive from a common source, I do not know.
  • [14] A typical example is M.'s speculation based on misunderstood published sources as to why Wilamowitz left Bonn: see RhM 130 (1987) 366-383.