Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.09.05
Walther Ludwig, Hellas in Deutschland: Darstellungen der Gräzistik im deutschprachigen Raum aus dem 16. und 17. Jahrhundert. Berichte aus den Sitzungen der Joachim Jungius-Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften e. V., Hamburg; Jahrg. 16, Heft 1. Hamburg: Joachim Jungius-Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften, 1998. Pp. 104. ISBN 3-525-86295-4.
Reviewed by James I. Porter, University of Michigan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Word count: 2688 words
If the study of the history of classical scholarship has fallen on bad times, the picture is slowly changing. It was once a staple of classics that it should discuss itself -- its history, achievements, failings, directions, and so on -- in addition to going about its business. That is, the history of classical scholarship (with a strong bias towards philology in the narrow sense) was once a formal element of classical studies and recognized as such. Today, this has for the most part changed. Of course, the history of classics continues, as ever, to be an implicit and ineliminable part of the disciplines that variously make it up: just to analyze a text (for example) is to conjure up the history of that text; we rarely read a line of commentary without reading up on or about earlier commentaries; footnotes throw slivers of light upon predecessor generations; and in general arguments for novelty stand on the toes of giants, as well as on their shoulders. But the express history of classical studies no longer has an integral role to play in the classical disciplines or in the formation and disciplining of future classicists. The history of classical scholarship was once a magisterial and occasionally Olympian industry -- Boeckh 1877 is an example of the former, Wilamowitz 1921 of the latter -- before it became either handbookish (as with the still useful Gudeman 1909 and Pfeiffer 1976) or something to do with one's spare research time (witness the new crop of studies on 19th century scholarship that began appearing in the 1980s), although the motives of this later trend are anything but clear (antiquarian? hagiographic? informational? or just another specialization?).1 The reasons favoring the existence of the history of classics in the past were plain (if disguised): winners get to write histories and even to shape them. Nothing comparable exists today: there is no single vantage point from which the totality of classical studies can be viewed, let alone controlled; and so, it would seem, one of the lamentable facts of scholarship is that it continues to drift less into a fragmentation of disciplines than of discourses that rarely come into mutual contact, despite the fact that they frequently traverse the same terrain (most outstandingly, the ever elusive conjuncture of material and textual cultures -- a distinction that in itself can be hazardous and that deserves to be systematically queried). To put the issue in its baldest form, to write a history of classical scholarship today one would first have to explain the need to do so. The institutional support for this kind of synthetic vision is gone. (Try and imagine offering a course on the topic; now try and imagine anyone rushing to take it.) And so is the vision itself. Whether that too is something to be lamented is largely up for debate -- or not, as the case may be. Perhaps discussion of these difficulties and their embedded and genetic conditions is precisely what is most needed today.2
That said, there are good reasons not to write histories of classical studies and even better ones not to read them. To begin with, they invariably raise the specter of contingency. Nothing can be more disconcerting than to realize how time-bound one's studies are and (will) have been. Surely there is no better way to date the study of the classics than to pick up two older histories of them (let alone two specimens of classical scholarship) and lay them side by side. Not only do no final truths emerge (though a good deal of time-honored conventions do); it is also likely that no two histories will even remotely resemble one another. In place of offering the comforting illusion that even if times change antiquity no longer does, as the "encyclopedias of philology" (a protreptic genre of published lectures that flourished in Germany from F. A. Wolf to August Boeckh) tended to do, comparison of histories of scholarship reminds us of just the opposite illusion (or is it a fact?), namely that antiquity is changing all the time, from generation to generation and from scholar to scholar. Such vertigo is hard to bear for long. Much safer is to stare into the abyss of a text (if one can look past the reflective medium of its surfaces, which only return to us our own image). And yet we want to believe that the more reflexivity that gets built into one's discipline, the greater the chances there will be of arriving at ... what? A truer picture of antiquity? Or of the discipline itself? There is admittedly something of a double bind at work here. Knowledge is of course inevitably shaped by circumstances; but neither can we simply think away the shape that thought comes in and thus arrive at a clearer view of its objects: thought just is this shape, and the objects it permits us to view are not miraculously but designedly (and more often that we might care to admit, illogically) shaped to fit into the viewfinder we call our frameworks of knowledge. There is something uncontroversially valid-feeling about knowing how we know what we know. Knowledge might be forever imperfect without this self-knowledge. A unique act of courage needs to be summoned to take this leap into self-inquiry. But how can we get to the bottom of that? How do we know when we've arrived?
Probably one can't. But it is salubrious to admit at least this, and to own up to the circumstances under which knowledge of something becomes possible at all, in the broadest sense (institutionally, socially, and culturally possible). That is partly what the history of disciplines is all about. It is also the case that one cannot predict what such historical knowledge or its frankest quandaries are likely to produce in a mind that has undergone this rigorous form of self-inquiry. It may even be a duty for the scholarly mind that it not forego this opportunity and then, chastened, to get on with its business, however it may decide to define that in the light of newly gained experience. This is one way in which knowledge can be truly self-productive -- in the most unpredictable and beneficial of ways. And so it may happen that, in looking back upon scholarship from past centuries, one may see a bit of oneself in them. (Have we, for instance, ever overcome the classicism that for centuries stood at the foundation of classical studies? What would it mean to do so?) Or one may see through the myths of scholarship that currently frame its histories, the neat and tidy packages in which knowledge comes organized for us -- be it the larger trends that sweep like clichés through the 19th century (the -isms parade: historicism, romanticism, positivism), or the micro-histories that attach to single institutions, such as those surrounding the Ritualist school at Cambridge, which in the light of Mary Beard's challenging new study can no longer claim (or rather, be awarded) Jane Harrison as its unequivocal centerpiece, let alone a certain identity for itself. At any rate, the history of classical studies, when it is not a history of personalities, remains in a fledgling state today. The very idea of a history of the (so-called) classical disciplines needs to be rethought, especially if we are to make any headway in rethinking the disciplines themselves. At stake is nothing less than the very coherence of our own profession of classical studies, in this contemporary, very postclassical world.
If Walther Ludwig's study of Renaissance and Baroque German Hellenists falls short of this higher-order mandate, it does make a small step in the direction of filling little-noticed gaps.3 It may come as a surprise to many classicists that philology had a thriving existence in Europe, and notably in Germany, between the Renaissance revival of the classics and the invention of modern Altertumswissenschaften at the end of the eighteenth century. Ludwig's study helps to correct this illusion, which any moment's reflection ought to cast into doubt. The German preoccupation with aspects of antiquity was fundamental to the shaping of its national identity long before the 18th and 19th centuries, as a work like Poliakov 1987 has shown. The seeds of the soaring Graecomania of the Romantics were sown in medieval times and were nourished continuously for centuries. And while you shouldn't look to Ludwig for light to be thrown on the interesting and at times worrisome complex of German classicism and nationalism, you will find an informed and detailed portrait of the lives and works of three Hellenists whom you are not likely to read about anywhere else, each of whom happened to have written a treatise on Germanograecia, or Hellenized Germany: Franciscus Irenicus (1518), Martin Crusius (1585), and Johann Casper Löscher (1697). A short polemical introduction lays out the terrain and takes a number of standard histories of philology (Philologiegeschichten) to task for promoting the myth that German philology was conceived and born in the late 18th century. Ludwig is perfectly justified here. (He is also right to expose the fact, which is seemingly universally ignored, that Sandys's History of Classical Scholarship, a handbook that every English-speaking classicist reaches for whenever a finer point of the history of German philology is needed, is largely cribbed from Conrad Bursian's 1883 history [p. 8]). What Ludwig shows is how German humanists, for two and a half centuries prior to Wolf, were keen to defend the vitality of Hellenic learning against charges of uncouthness issuing from such refined Italians as Giovanantonio Campano and Ermolao Barbaro. ("Non possum amplius esse Germanus; nolo diutius vivens inter mortuous versari," Campano would write despairingly upon a visit to the barbaric northlands.) The enemy was not always the foreign scholar. Crusius's plaidoyer for the legitimacy of the study of Greek was presumably directed against domestic skeptics within the flanks of the theologians. The German humanists mounted their defense with learned tracts in Latin, adorned with (occasionally faulty) Greek epigrams. They would homerically catalogue acts of German erudition from previous generations and by recent Reformation scholars, citing endorsements from contemporary stars in the humanistic firmament (for example, Erasmus and Reuchlin), militating for the liberation of Greece from the Turks and assuming a custodial role for Germany vis-à-vis Greek culture (a dream that would not be realized, as an actuality and as a fantasy, until 1821), and so on. All this is of interest. Of equal interest is the light these tracts throw on the state of classical education in post-Reformation Germany in schools, gymnasia, and universities, and the networks of influence that radiated out from these. At the very least, the documents indicate a strong professional self-awareness on the part of a class (but what, exactly, is their class-standing?) known as the Gelehrtenstand that would eventually transform into the Prussian and later the civil-servant professoriate (see Turner 1983). Ludwig here touches on an immensely important and, as he acknowledges, still too neglected area: the history of the institutional bases of classical studies (the question "where and how Greek was taught" ), or to put this in more pointed and potentially more revealing terms, the history of the formation of the field as a set of disciplinary practices and their associated habitus. This is an area that has been exemplarily mapped out for another culture and another era in the recent work by Christopher Stray.
In documenting the details Ludwig appears to be a reliable guide and something of a pioneer. Where he does less well is in painting in the big picture. Contextualizing is relegated to the backburner, or else to suppositions that a bit of historical research should have easily unearthed, or even a bit of secondary research (see the relevant bibliography cited in Turner 1983, but not here). Ludwig's approach is decidedly textual, or Text-immanent, or if you like narrowly philological: he recreates the view that was given to readers of the original documents in question but rarely takes a peek behind them. Thus, we find two longish stretches that rehearse the catalogues of Greek scholars from across Germany (pp. 60-78 and 91-102) -- pages that would seem barren if they weren't so unfamiliar and, in part simply by virtue of being summations and in places paraphrases, eye-opening. Like many other similar studies, including recent ones, Ludwig is unprepared to answer the question how probing into the recesses of the history of classical scholarship can promote a better understanding of anything other than the history of classical scholarship. This is not to deny the value of knowledge for knowledge's sake, but it is to press the question of the self-evidence, and completeness, of that value. In a world in which classicists are facing huge challenges of a very practical kind -- challenges reflected in ever-dwindling enrollments, job prospects, funding, and symbolic resources (prestige and cultural capital) -- it is incumbent on classicists to reassess themselves, their relevance, their place in the world, and their future. Penetrating into the history of a discipline is the most natural point of entry to self-reflection and self-examination one could ask for. But perhaps the most fruitful way to start -- the place where the most immediate gains are to be had -- is by studying the history of the history of classical studies.
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1. The numerous interventions by Momigliano, combining historiography with nuanced critique, are an admirable exception that proves the rule.
2. In passing, we might note that the very designation of the field is itself symptomatic of the way in which the field has historically been defined and contested: Altertumswissenschaft (Wolf), Philologie (Bernhardy), philologische Wissenschaften (Boeckh), classische Philologie (Bursian), classical scholarship (Pfeiffer, in English, but not in German, where the convention calls for Philologie [see Gudeman 1909, 8], as in Philologia perennis  or in the 1970 German translation of his 1968 work, Geschichte der klassischen Philogogie), Classics (capitalized and italicized; Beard and Henderson 1995), etc. In a word, is the field singular or plural, philological or other, classical or not? How are we to organize it conceptually, and practically? Is it even a field? It must be, at least in one sense, which is to say historically -- by virtue of the historical fate that has rendered it the imperfect singular entity that it is. There is more to say about this rough and tumble history, the presumptiveness of the various claimants and terms (not least, philology and classical), and the resulting inequalities, than can be said here.
3. Following the usual German norm (see previous note), he situates his materials, which strictly form part of a history of Gräzistik (104), in relation to the Geschichte der Klassischen Philologie (7) or else in relation to Philologiegeschichte and Philologiegeschichtsschreibung (9).