Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.03.18

von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Ulrich , Geschichte der Philologie. Reprint of 1921 ed. with Nachwort and index by Albert Henrichs.   Stuttgart and Leipzig:  B.G. Teubner, 1998.  Pp. 128.  ISBN 3-519-07253-X.  DM 48,00.  

Reviewed by E. Christian Kopff, University of Colorado, Boulder (
Word count: 2476 words

This new edition of Wilamowitz's 80-page History of Philology has been enriched by Albert Henrichs with nearly fifty pages of postscript, bibliographies and indices. The first three indices concern scholars from (I) the ancient world, (II) the middle ages, (III) the renaissance and modern world, including figures alluded to but not named. Index IV is on "Places, Countries and Peoples." Index V lists "Concepts, Fields, Periods of Classical Scholarship and Wilamowitziana."

Why reprint a book a busy scholar wrote in haste 77 years ago? For Ernst Vogt, Einleitung in die griechische Philologie (Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1997) 87 the history of Greek and Latin philology is indispensable for the classicist because the study of important scholars and books reveals the possibilities and limitations of different ways of practicing philology and so encourages reflection on one's vocation and self-understanding. When the greatest Greek scholar of the past century, perhaps of the modern era, put aside his Pindaros for three weeks in March, 1921, he wrote the history not of "die verschiedenen methodischen Verfahrensweisen", but, as Henrichs notes (p. 91), of "die Philologie, die Wissenschaft" (pp. 1, 71, 80), "eine wirkliche Altertumswissenschaft" (p.41). For Wilamowitz (p. 1) Greco-Roman culture is a unity and so is "unsere Wissenschaft." Philology, history, archaeology, epigraphy, numismatics, papyrology, etc., are not separate fields, but tools used by an architectonic science of antiquity to understand great achievements of the human spirit which are enduring possessions of European civilization. His essay has attracted readers outside of Germany. Fausto Codino translated it with an introduction as Storia della filologia classica (Torino, 1967). Alan Harris's version, History of Classical Scholarship (London and Baltimore, 1982) is accompanied by an introduction and notes by Hugh Lloyd-Jones. (In this review translations from the History of Philology are Harris's; those from other works are mine.)

The reprint's indices record the fruits of Lloyd-Jones's extensive notes (with some corrections, p. 89, note 42). Codino's introduction has a good discussion of Wilamowitz's vision of scholarship. Lloyd-Jones's lively essay gives important historical and intellectual context. Both try to fill in the gap after 1870, when Wilamowitz began a general overview, which omits individuals except for Mommsen. Henrichs' Nachwort is clear, thoughtful and intelligent, but, after Codino and Lloyd-Jones, he felt no need to provide a thorough re-interpretation comparable to the brilliant essay on Der Glaube der Hellenen he contributed to Wilamowitz Nach 50 Jahren (Darmstadt, 1982).

For Henrichs, "The History of Philology can be understood not only as an historical summary of national philologies, but much more as a succession of individual portraits of great classical scholars." (p. 84) Rudolf Pfeiffer, History of Classical Scholarship (Oxford, 1968) ix, warned against these portraits. Wilamowitz's "quite individual and brilliant survey ... is a very subjective review of classical scholars made by a great master who calls up the dead heroes of the past from the other world and praises or blames them... So still more weight should be given to the sections devoted to ancient and modern scholars in his many books on Greek authors than to this brief general account of eighty pages."

Pfeiffer's hint has gone unheeded. There is no index listing passages in Wilamowitz's other works on figures mentioned or, more intriguingly, omitted in the History. Henrichs summarizes pp. 278-290 of his essay in Wilamowitz Nach 50 Jahren to explain the elision of Hermann Usener. (p. 87) Both Lloyd-Jones (p. xi-xiii) and Henrichs (p. 86) discuss Nietzsche, mentioning Wilamowitz's youthful attack on the Birth of Tragedy and a few dismissive sentences in Erinnerungen (Leipzig, 1928) 130.

Neither discusses the omission of the editor of the first critical edition of Homer, Zenodotus of Ephesus. His name is absent from the index to Homerische Untersuchungen (Berlin, 1884). Die Ilias und Homer (Berlin, 1916) 515, Index I. 2 "Allgemeines," lists some but not all references to "Zenodotus's Text." Yet Wilamowitz's assessments of Zenodotus supplement his History of Philology significantly.

Zenodotus's edition was the decisive step in the history of our text of Homer. Much of what we know is limited to his successors' attacks on it, but it would be foolish and unjust to limit our view of his accomplishments to their criticisms. "His activity as an editor was not so different from that of Immanuel Bekker." (IuH, p.6) "Before Zenodotus there lay a chaos, a mass of manuscripts which differed dramatically but included some very reliable ones. We have no reason to doubt that Zenodotus, and even more Aristophanes, chose the best manuscripts. At any rate, they created our text, for Homer as for all ancient poets." (IuH, p.7) "It would be a gross injustice to withhold our thanks from our Alexandrian colleagues. They were the first to accomplish a great work of textual criticism. We cannot ask of them a philology that is an historical science. Today, admittedly, that science exists and when people practice Homeric scholarship as though its goal was Aristarchus's text of Homer and use as its only means atheteses he made on the basis of his belief in one Homer -- non ragionam di lor, ma guarda e passa. Zenodotus's chief interest concerned the existence of verses, the identification of interpolations. That there are all too many interpolations he saw and we see from the variation of the manuscripts. Athetesis was and is therefore a justified tool of scholarship." (IuH, p. 13) Zenodotus privileged the shortest text in his recension (IuH, p.6), but included Odyssey XXIV. Aristophanes and Aristarchus followed him, although they knew a shorter text (IuH, p. 12).

The History of Philology does not reflect Wilamowitz's appreciation for scholars whose names are lost. In 1884 he discussed the anonymous critic who anticipated Lachmann's theory of pre-Homeric lays. "Whoever he was who bracketed the Doloneia because it is a self-contained poem made the decisive step beyond the interpolation hypotheses of Aristarchus and Zenodotus and all ancient critics. In fact, he went farther than Lachmann, because he insisted that his separate song possess an inner unity, which is in truth the condicio sine qua non for any work of art." (HU, p.262)

A more famous example is the unnamed schoolmaster who made the selection of the plays of the three Attic tragedians, the basis for the survival of seven plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles and nine or ten of Euripides (Einleitung in die griechische Tragödie [Berlin 1895] 175-180, 196-198). Even if Theodor Barthold, De scholiorum in Euripidem veterum fontibus (Bonn, 1864) 29-32, 63 anticipated its main features, Wilamowitz's suggestion, apart from its fame or notoriety, shows us his method at work. Faced with what looked like a random historical fact, he found (or invented) an individual with a concrete historical context and outlook who was responsible. Wilamowitz begins his interpretation of Greek tragedy with fifth century Athens and the poet/directors who composed the plays, but he then goes on to look for individuals whose decisions and judgments made fundamental contributions to the preservation of the plays we have. "Knowledge of the history of philology is as indispensable as the study of Textgeschichte." (Codino, p.16) Zenodotus, Aristophanes, Aristarchus and the second century schoolmaster are for Wilamowitz as integral to an historical understanding of Greek literature as inscriptions or excavations. He calls the first three "our Alexandrian colleagues," without ever losing sight of how their scholarship differs from his own.

This commitment to the concrete historical context and individual character of author and scholar marked his work from the start and lies behind such masterpieces as Platon (Berlin, 1919), which Paul Shorey, What Plato Said (Chicago, 1930) p. 2 derided as "a historical novel" because Wilamowitz tells us how Plato financed his travels and who ran the Academy when Plato was away in Sicily. This same commitment enlivens the thumb-nail sketches which make the History of Philology so readable, e.g., the page devoted to Immanuel Bekker (p. 52). The chalcenteric scholar's strengths and weaknesses are catalogued and his influence is discussed and then illustrated by a story from the oral tradition. Bekker founded no school: "Dozent war er nur pro forma." Gildersleeve's account of Bekker's lectures in the winter semester of 1850-1851 confirms this laconic parenthesis, but contradicts Wilamowitz's assertion that Bekker lectured only on Homer.

"Bekker, Immanuel Bekker, was a great name even to an untaught American youth, and I hastened to buy a copy of the Berlin edition of the Oratores Attici, and to inscribe myself for his lectures on Isocrates. To my amazement I found myself in the smallest auditorium of the university, which, small as it was, offered ample accommodation for the handful of students that shared my venture. At the appointed hour the great man came in scowling, plunged his face into his notes, and began to read with scant comment a lot of variae lectiones. I was quite unprepared for that sort of lecture, and after a few times fell out, as I believe the rest did also, to the joy of the old scholar, who was thus liberated from his task." (AJPh 28 [1907] 113-114 = Selections from the Brief Mention of Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve [Baltimore, 1930] 141-142; cf. Ward W. Briggs Jr., ed., Soldier and Scholar: Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve and the Civil War [Charlottesville, 1998] 87-88)

Bekker "hat schliesslich, Bentleys Spuren folgend, das Vau hergestellt, mehr normalisierend als der Zustand unseres Textes verträgt. Damit wird gewaltsameren Experimenten die Bahn eröffnet, die auch von Holländern und Engländern betreten wird." Neither English note nor German index elucidates the allusion. Bekker's edition of 1843 continued Wolf's effort to restore Aristarchus's text. His Carmina Homerica (Bonn, 1858) attempted to go beyond Aristarchus, especially by printing the digamma. After this edition bestowed a renewed cachet on the letter, Wilhelm Christ introduced it into his Iliad (Leipzig, 1884), while August Fick used its putative presence or absence to demonstrate the growth of the poems in his Odyssey (Göttingen, 1883) and Iliad (Göttingen, 1886). In Holland J. van Leeuwen and M. B. Mendes da Costa dedicated to their teacher Cobet an Iliad with restored digamma (Leiden, 1887-1889; second edition, 1895-1897). Arthur Platt introduced the digamma systematically in The Cambridge Homer: Odyssey (Cambridge, 1892); Iliad (Cambridge, 1894). These names belong in Appendix III.

Wilamowitz discusses Bentley's discovery of the digamma in Homer (pp. 36-37). Bentley's annotated copy of Stephanus's Homer of 1566 was lent to Christian Gottlob Heyne for his Iliad (Leipzig, 1802). Although Heyne did not print the digamma in his schooltext (Leipzig, 1804 and often reprinted), he discussed it in his notes, as Bekker says in his 1858 Praefatio, p. iv. Wilamowitz gives a generous assessment of Heyne's Homeric texts (pp. 45-46), but ignores his work on the digamma (and that of Richard Dawes), because he felt that the state of Homer's text did not allow a complete restoration. As Platt objected to Leaf's similar comments, "This is equivalent to saying that no bread is better than half the loaf." (Odyssey, p. viii) Richard Payne Knight's Wilwias and Hodysseia (London, 1820) might fairly be called "violent experiments." He prints the digamma 22 times in the first 10 lines of his Wilwias. Payne Knight was no scientific scholar, but an eighteenth century polymath. His work on the numismatic evidence for ancient art led him to testify before Parliament in opposition to wasting public funds on the Elgin Marbles. His Discourse on the Worship of Priapus is still in print. Thomas Shaw Brandreth's Wilias (London, 1841) continued his countrymen's work. Platt felt that there was something still to be learned from his ignored predecessors. "Knight has been scarcely acknowledged, Brandreth absolutely ignored, and the Bentley MS. might perhaps as well never been lent to Heyne at all. For, as it is, things have been so managed that Heyne gets the credit of a multitude of emendations which are to be found in Bentley." (Iliad, p. vi)

Henrichs barely mentions Wilamowitz's "historical summaries of national philologies," but Wilamowitz consistently took into account a scholar's ethnic background. His early Homerische Untersuchungen (1884) 257 explained the Ionicisms in Zenodotus's text of Homer by the editor's Ionian origins. Wilamowitz savours the national bouquet of a scholar's research like a connoisseur because great scholarship is part of a nation's culture. When a real science of antiquity reached fruition, "the decisive factor was the the awakening of a new spirit in Germany, which had an equally powerful effect on poetry and philosophy." (p.41; see p.47.) "We must must never forget that Reiske's place is with Wincklemann and Lessing." (p.42) The great palaeographers Jean Mabillon and Bernard de Montfaucon lie buried next to René Descartes in the church of Saint Denis in Paris. Wilamowitz's contemporaries Gilbert Murray, A. E. Housman and Sir James George Frazer were important figures in classical scholarship and English literature. American classicists do not enjoy a similar cultural centrality, but in Europe Jacqueline de Romilly and Christian Meier can contribute to technical scholarship and also write best sellers.

Henrichs (p. 91) thinks that Wilamowitz's vision of the unity of the life of Greco-Roman culture and the consequent unity of the science that studies that life was illusory already in 1921 and is less true than ever today. He approves of Wilamowitz's repudiation of the epithet "classical" (ignored by both translators), "which rings hollower than ever today. Little remains of the primacy of 'Classical' philology in serious thinking about education. So we are all the more open to Wilamowitz's farsighted project of an unclassical antiquity, in which philology and history, language and literature, art and religion, god and man, center and periphery counterbalance one another and direct us to the ever renewed task of understanding ancient culture." (p. 93) Henrichs does not tell us why the task is worth doing again after all these millennia. Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux.

The History of Philology tells the story of a great international movement, rooted in national culture and individual insight and accomplishment. Does this philology have a future in a world increasingly devoted to economic and political globalism and mass markets for clothing, entertainment and education? If Wilamowitz's vision of a unified science of antiquity is obsolete, what binds contemporary Classicists to their predecessors and to one another, as growing specialization opens up ever widening abysses? Writing for colleagues who lack Wilamowitz's confidence in "unsere Wissenschaft" (pp. 1, 47, 57), Lloyd-Jones and Vogt are driven to insist on a command of the languages. "Die sprachen sind die scheyden, darynn dis messer des geysts stickt," Martin Luther wrote to the Councillors of the German cities (Weimar Ausgabe 15,38,8-9). He was talking about the Holy Spirit, but his dictum is also true of the Geist whose discovery Bruno Snell wrote about. The languages are fundamental, but not enough. It is good to hear Wilamowitz tell the story of his scholarship, but, if there is to be a future as well as a past for philology, classicists need to regain a vision like his to inform the story of their scholarship.

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