Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.09.10

Calder III, William M., Renate Schlesier, Zwischen Rationalismus und Romantik: Karl Otfried Müller und die antike Kultur.   Hildesheim:  Weidmann, 1998.  Pp. x, 478; 34 halftones.  ISBN 3-615-00198-2 (pb).  

Reviewed by Phillips III, C. Robert, History, Lehigh University (
Word count: 2720 words

List of Papers

Robert Ackerman, K. O. Müller in Britain; Michael S. Armstrong, "Jene eigenthümlich Dorische Männerliebe": K. O. Müller's Die Dorier and Greek Homosexuality; Josine H. Blok, "Romantische Poesie, Naturphilosophie, Construktion der Geschichte": K. O. Müller's Understanding of History and Myth; Philippe Borgeaud and Nicole Durisch, La réception de K. O. Müller chez J. J. Bachofen; William M. Calder III, A Believer's History of the Literature of Ancient Greece. Karl Otfried Müller 150 Years Later; Luciano Canfora, La ricezione di K. O. Müller in Italia; Klaus Fittschen, Karl Otfried Müller und die Archeologie; Fritz Graf, Karl Otfried Müller: Eleusinien (1840); Cornelia Isler-Kerényi, K. O. Müllers Etrusker; Pierre Judet de la Combe, "La savant antiquaire de Göttingue". Karl Otfried Müller en France; Volker Losemann, Die Dorier im Deutschland der dreissiger und vierziger Jahre; Glenn W. Most, Karl Otfried Müller's Edition of Aeschylus' Eumenides; Joerg Rüpke, Karl Otfried Müller als Editor; Renate Schlesier, "Dieser mystische Gott". Dionysos im Spiegel von Karl Otfried Müllers Religionstheorie; Gerrit Walther, Radikale Rezeption: Neibuhrs Römische Geschichte als Vorbild und Herausfordering für K. O. Müllers historisches Denken.


Why not Müller? In a short life (1797-1840) he wrote an astonishingly diverse five foot shelf, from Numa Pompilius to the Dorians, from editions of Varro, Festus and Aeschylus' Eumenides to a handbook on the Etruscans, from the Eleusinian mysteries to myth. Then there are the seven volumes of his collected articles. Surely enough for tenure at even the most book-ridden modern institution.

Why Müller? True Die Etrusker remains standard, and studies of myth still invoke the Prolegomena. But few use his edition of Varro's De Lingua Latina anymore; Lindsay's 1913 edition of Festus swamped his of 1839. Then there is the edition of the Eumenides, of which Glen Most observes (350), "the reader of modern standard editions of Aeschylus will have to search the critical apparatus for a long time before finding his name."1 Consequently it would be easy for many to dismiss Müller as but one more figure who captivates those devoted to the arcana (on their view) of Wissenschaftsgeschichte. They would thus neglect this volume. That would be their loss.

A loss for several reasons. It would mean opposing Wilamowitz' judgment -- in the Latin Autobiography he ranked Müller with Boeckh and for certain matters preferred both to Lachmann and Hermann ("quamvis pluris eos aestimare didici quam Lachm. et Herm."; full citation and related quotes in Calder 144-6). Although Wilamowitz' judgments are not infallible (he may well have single handedly blighted German classicists' use of comparative religion) they are always informed and always merit careful consideration. On grounds of Wilamowitz' esteem alone, then, it would be a loss to dismiss Müller.

But there would be larger losses, arising from the nature of Wissenschaftsgeschichte. As the reviewer put it elsewhere, it is not "a purely factual focus on whether a scholar loved fresh oranges (one did) or needed several boxcars to hold his library (one also did)." Despite the still-present feelings among many (mercifully not all) in the profession that Classical Studies is a "scientific" and entirely empirical discipline, there is more. Classical studies means humans, not robots; facts do not speak for themselves but need human ventriloquists. That is, the dimension of human subjectivity influences what questions are asked, and which method is the most "scientific" of all. Without gratuitously invoking the Santayana wheeze on the lessons of the past, it remains true that we stand on the shoulders of giants. It behooves us to study the comparative anatomy of those shoulders.

The famous quarrel with Hermann shows this. Some time in the making, it became overt with Müller's 1833 publication of an edition/commentary/translation of Aeschylus' Eumenides. Hear from Wilamowitz in the third edition (1921) of Geschichte der Philologie (58): "Nun brach Müller mit seiner Ausgabe der Eumeniden in Hermanns eigenstes Feld ein. Kein Wunder, dass der Krieg hell aufloderte...." (58). Why did Hermann view Müller as a trespasser? "... was Müller Tiefes und Schönes über das Blutrecht und den Mythos und seine Behandlung durch den Dichter sagte, was seine Interpretation leisten wollte, verstand er [Hermann] nicht oder wies es ab, weil es ihm gleichgültig war." And the results were profound: "Die grossen Gelehrten ergänzten sich eben, Hermann verwaltete ein Erbe der Vergangenheit und sah die Gefahr, dass eine neue Altertumswissenschaft es preisgeben könnte. Sie ist mit Recht herrschend geworden, und die Gefahr, dass sie den Boden der sicheren Sprachkenntnis unter den Füssen verliere, droht immer."

Or, (Most, 371), "Hermann reads Aeschylus' Eumenides as a timelessly valid literary text and is interested in Realia only to the extent that they cast light upon its obscurities. Müller reads the play as the document of a unique performance and, despite his occasional protestations, is really interested in how the play can be used to help explain Realia." That is, what is the relation between Einzelerklärungen and "the vision thing"? One could image Müller answering Hermann "too much vision is never enough." One could imagine Hermann wondering how many stars were visible in the night sky while reading Catullus 7 (he did not, but Friedrich did).

Of course, Wilamowtiz was again right: it need not be either/or. We need Müller's emphasis on vision and Hermann's emphasis on precision; they are not mutually exclusive. In some quarters today that is recognized. Alas, in other quarters it is not; there remains a division between those who do commentaries and those who do not do commentaries. Put differently, although the quarrel was then, the terms continue now. Put differently again, studying Hermann v. Müller, or Müller, or Wissenschaftsgeschichte means pondering what kind of a classicist one is and what kind of work one does and should be doing. Revelatory but uncomfortable, and thus it is not surprising that many shun Wissenschaftsgeschichte. Borrowing from Martin West, "Let them. There is no arguing with them."

In General

This volume is beautifully produced; the typeface is legible even at the small point size for footnotes and the paper stock will bear continual thumbing. The reviewer's only regret is the paper covers, which, sturdy enough, show signs of failing under his continual thumbing. A generous Index Personarum makes it easy to trace other figures and invites frequent browsing. All of the essays are well documented, frequently proffering hitherto neglected materials along with new views on well-known materials. Although the essays do not "talk" to each other as much as they might, this is inevitable, given the mechanics of producing such a volume in timely fashion. All of the essays are well-written, even amid complexities of explication. Two merit extra praise: the powerful lapidary English of Calder, the eloquently complex yet ever clear German of Rüpke. Verbum sapienti: seven of the fifteen essays are in German; most all quote German generously. Those American classicists who publicly make a virtue of being German-challenged (there are far too many) will have problems.

In Specifics

History (Armstrong, Losemann)

These two essays study Die Dorier. Armstrong provides a model demonstration of how earlier notions of "Greek love" influenced Müller's views, and the subsequent influence of his views. Read him with Calder on Sappho, Welcker and Wilamowitz (Hermes Einzelschrft 49 [1986] 131 ff.). Would that Armstrong had expanded his tantalizing remarks on its most recent influence (19-20), especially in more general works. Thus P. Cartledge, Sparta and Laconia (1979) cites the English version Die Dorier in its bibliography, but does not seem to utilize it when discussing Spartan homosexuality. Losemann's is a useful general study of Die Dorier in German scholarship, but it could lead to a hermetic view. What about Die Dorier at, e.g., the University of Oxford, arguably a powerhouse this century in the study of Greek history, the more in light of Ackerman's fascinating points (11-14)? Read Losemann with Blok 56n5.

Religion (Blok, Graf, Schlesier)

Blok discusses Müller's conception of mythology amid the history of ideas. On the classical level the significance of the quarrel with Hermann receives telling discussion (65-6). On the philosophical level it is good to see Kant (67-70, 88-92); Blok tantalizes by noting Müller's use of Kant's tag "Die Stimmung des Gemüts" without giving precise references (89). The reviewer misses some indication of how normative the view of Müller, and his epigonoi became, producing a muddle for the study of Greek myth and blight on the study of Roman myth; see him in BICS Suppl. 58 (1991), 143ff. Graf provides a rich essay on Die Eleusinien; for the reviewer the most valuable of the many valuable insights was the explication of the difference between Lobeck and Müller, thus (225) "Bei Zeitgenossen wie bei der folgenden Generation werden Müller und Lobeck als Vertreter zweier polarer Methodologien wahrgenommen...." Then there is Müller's view of the chthonic and ecstatic sides of the worship (232) and what has happened to it since (233): "Aus der heutigen Diskussion um Eleusis ist seit Rohde das Mystische fast vollständig verschwunden." Generous references to recent scholarship facilitate tracing then/now connections. Schlesier examines Dionysos in the context of Müller's thought on religion; particularly striking is the relation drawn between Müller's views of Dionysos in tragedy and his Eumenides commentary (416-8). At the same time, Dionysos became a kind of lightning rod for theories of religion; read Schlesier with P. McGinty, Interpretation and Dionysos (1978), a work less well known among classicists (since it was written by a specialist in comparative religion) than it should be.

Archaeology (Fittschen, Isler-Kerényi)

Fittschen provides a welcome reminder of a side of Müller which is less honored nowadays. This because enthusiasm about "art history" has become something of a dirty word among many classical archaeologists; cf. M. Jameson in I. Morris, ed., Classical Greece: Ancient Histories and Modern Archaeologies(1994), 193-6. When one reads Müller on Delphi: "Gerne fände ich etwas von Tempel-Sculpturen; gelingt dies aber auch nicht, wie es bei dem besten Plane der Nachgrabung misslingen kann, so gewinne ich doch allerlei Aufklärungen über das Local dieses wunderbaren Heiligthums" (211) one wonders if the "new archaeology" must mean banishing Müller. Again, those who know about Delphi will know about the French excavations; it is good to be reminded that German work continuing right up until the French began (212). Read Fittschen with Isler-Kerényi 264-6. Isler-Kerényi's on Die Etruskeris especially valuable since that work continues to be a standard; cf. T. Cornell, The Beginnings of Rome(1995) 151-2. But Müller's emphasis on Etruscan cultural contributions to Rome has led to the dominant view of the Romans as "primitives" before the Etruscans, and this view has recently come under sustained attack (Cornell, passim). There is a general issue (261): "Deshalb kann auch die hermeneutische Methode, welche sich bei den Doriern scheinbar bewährt hatte, nicht zu einem vergleichbar kohärenten Bild führen." That is, recalling the Quarrel (supra), while Müller represented the future of classical studies, it was a differential future. Müller's broad interests enabled him to draw precise connections, e.g., between the favisae(storage rooms) known from Aulus Gellius 2.10 and Paulus-Festus 78.10-13 Lindsay to be Etruscan and archaeological reports (2.240n42a in the 1877 ed.), thus opposing H. Jordan, Topographie ...1.1.274 1.2.23-4, (1878, 1885) who limited favisaeto the Etruscans at Rome. Again the Quarrel with Hermann appears too acute.

Literature (Most, Rüpke, Calder)

Most is absolutely fundamental for understanding the Quarrel; if one reads nothing else (nefas!) one should read his summation (372-3), although the reference to Porson (373n80) might be modified in light of Housman; cf. C. Brink, English Classical Scholarship(1985), 192-4. Detailed analyses of the translation, and commentary contents invite reflection on why such an important play remains bereft of really substantial commentaries since.2 Rüpke examines Müller's editions of Varro's De Lingua Latina(1833) and Festus (1839). He notes Müller's Varro is one of the earliest uses of stemmatics (382), a welcome counterbalance to the mindless equation of Lachmann with stemmatics. Still (385), "Dennoch haben wir keinen Lachmann ante Lachmannvor uns." Lachmann's prestige, along with Paul Maas's, has led many to make stemmatics a methodological litmus test, ignoring its failings for, say, parallel recension in the manuscripts of Ovid's Metamorphoses.Particularly fascinating is Rüpke's comparison (386-7) between Müller's edition and Spengel's (1826) on selected passages. Then there is the notorious issue of Müller's supplements (394): "... Lücken in einem stark zerstörten Text lassen sich weder durch eine noch so verfeinerte Recensio noch durch andere Verfahren der Textkritik schliessen." This leads to the general conclusion, comparing Müller's edition of Festus with Lindsay's 1913 edition (394): "Für Festus etwa demonstriert die Teubneriana von W. M. Lindsay die Minimallösung: Sie markiert Probleme, bleibt aber für Nichtspezialisten sinnlos. Das Gegenteil illustriert Müller: Er verfehlt sicher ständig den ursprünglichen Wortlaut, ermöglicht aber ein Weiterarbeiten mit dem Text." In a spirit of admiring emulation, here are some comparisons between Müller and Lindsay on Festus. Florifertum(91.10=81.5): neither caught that the ms. lemma (sacrificial cake) contradicts the gloss and may be healed to Floriferiumfrom scribal confusion of I/T; cf. Latte, RRG, 37n3. Sine sacris hereditas(290, Qu.XIII.27.33 = 370.14): Lindsay merely notes the restored lemma from Agustín while Müller paraphrases Agustín's justification. Stata sacrificia(344, Qu.XV.20.7 = 466.26): Müller obelized capiteand proposed caste, rejected by Lindsay; cf. Nock, JBL60, 93n21 and compare 78.1=68.10.

Why read Müller's History of the Literature of Ancient Greece? Is there not Schmid-Staehlin, Lesky (too often read in the not-so-good English translation of the second German edition), and Easterling-Knox? Calder provides characteristically fascinating answers. Throughout one sees Müller's wide-ranging interests and generously broad philosophy produced a work which should strike readers nowadays as very modern. Put differently, it demonstrates how short-sighted is the cult of res novae (in Jerzy Linderski's evocative phrase), whose adherents, so proud of their latest theories and cross-disciplinary connections, categorically consign older generations to the oblivion of the benighted. For example, Calder reminds us (125, 131) of sees Müller's repeated emphasis on the close connection of literature and politics. But sees Müller's is a humane emphasis sensitive to literary values; contrast contemporary post-Modernists, with an emphasis both authoritarian and insensitive. Again, Müller was largely a unitarian on Homer (127-8) and it meant (128) "that [Milman] Parry was anticipated by almost a century." It is fascinating to ponder Müller's eclipse; just a few years later Kirchoff's edition (1859, x) proclaimed the Odyssey a 'Flickstück.' As for drama, Müller rightly emphasized performative aspects of ritual and religion (136-7); compare Lonsdale's (1993) study for classics, or the anthropologist Roy Rappaport. Of course, Müller was not always right. He took an ahistorical view of the Bacchae (142) and did not esteem comedy as much as tragedy (142-3). Too, (133) he made "repeated use of the Roman poets to reconstruct better lost Greek originals. This is the legacy of Winckelmann" and this legacy still haunts classical studies, a phantasm still in need of exorcism. Finally, Calder's contribution offers a bonus. He has long evangelized the value of Wissenschaftsgeschichte for all classicists. Here, his frequent use of just the right scholarship on the Greek authors and genres, along with his own knowledge of the ancient texts, should finally convince naysayers that those who do Wissenschaftsgeschichte do so not because they lack excellent philological skills, but because they possess them.

Reception (Ackermann, Borgeaud/Durisch, Canfora, Judet de la Combe, Walther)

These five essays all differ from the previous since they focus on Müller's reception either in particular countries or his relation to particular scholars. Thus they minimally require sympathy to Wissenschaftsgeschichte, and (better) good knowledge of it; hence the comments here will be more general. It is striking how many non-scholarly circumstances conditioned Müller's reception. Thus by the late nineteenth century Müller had more fans in the United Kingdom than earlier; it does not seem coincidental that Oxbridge had then ceased to be a donnish backwater and through the "Endowment of Research" had become research-oriented as a result of nationalistic alarm at developments in Germany. For somewhat different reasons, Müller's reception in Italy changed over time; thus Canfora (185) "È sintomatico il fatto che ormai Müller non divide ma unisce...." For still different reasons again, many of them philosophical, Müller's fortunes in France varied, and Judet de la Combe deftly traces them. The essays on Müller/Bachofen and Müller/Niebuhr have intrinsic value; those concerned with Bachofen or Niebuhr will not be disappointed.

In Conclusion

Perhaps, as Calder summarizes Wilamowitz on Müller (145) "Müller's worst defect was that he was not Welcker..." Perhaps add "but he was closer to being him than not being him."


1.   For online exigencies, note material appears in the text; reference to name and page only invokes authors in the current volume.
2.   Colin Macleod once remarked to the reviewer that a superlative commentary on the play would never be published: Eduard Fraenkel's notes for his Oxford seminars.

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