Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.10.05

Manuel Baumbach (ed.), Tradita et Inventa. Beiträge zur Rezeption der Antike (Bibliothek der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft).   Heidelberg:  Universitätsverlag C. Winter, 1999.  Pp. xi, 676.  ISBN 3-8253-0938-X.  DM 128.  

Reviewed by Held, Dirk T.D., Classics, Connecticut College (
Word count: 2007 words

Thirty-eight papers -- all but two in German -- comprise these proceedings of a Heidelberg conference on the reception of classical antiquity. While few apart from conscientious reviewers are apt to read this volume from cover to cover, those who persevere will gain a heightened awareness of the complex variety of ways in which European culture has been and remains a conversation with classical antiquity. The contents are arranged chronologically, ranging from late antiquity to the twentieth century. Prominent among the topics are philosophy, history, literature, military science, art history, and politics. The most frequently referenced ancient authors are Aristotle, Cicero, Homer, Horace, Ovid and Vergil. Extracting a unifying thread from such diversity is problematic. A topical index reveals some undeveloped relationships, and a brief agenda from the editor expresses the conference's interpretive ambitions. The reader must keep these in mind since only occasionally do they gain explicit acknowledgement from contributors. Perhaps an inevitable deficiency of a book such as this is its diffusion of focus, exacerbated here by lack of consistent theoretical underpinnings for the investigation of Rezeption. Specialists will of course benefit from items pertinent to their fields, and generalists too will serendipitously find many items of interest. It is not possible in a review to comment individually on such a large number of papers, and an appendix below provides a full list of titles and authors.

Baumbach argues in his preface for the Janus-faced nature of "reception." There are twin contexts: classical objects and topics on the one hand and the developers and inheritors of classical ideas and culture on the other. In regard to the first, a deeper understanding of antiquity can come about from uncovering themes or ideas that resonate more sharply in later periods than at the time of origination, thus enabling new questions to be asked of antiquity. There is a further consideration. As Ernst Gellner once put it, there is no Archimedean point that grants totally detached observation. Even the self-proclaimed objective scholar stands in a hermeneutical location bounded by a contingent set of claims and aspirations about what is worthwhile and what is not. A scholar's understanding of ancient subject matter must acknowledge this perspectival nature of historical understanding.1 A perusal of this volume has the salubrious effect of underlining this reality by making plain the tectonic shifts of interest, interpretation and importance regarding the classical past. The subject matter -- classical antiquity -- cannot be disengaged from these shifts.

Alexandrine Schniewind's paper on Plotinus and the σπουδαῖον, which the author describes as an example of more narrowly construed Begriffsrezeption, is directly centered on the ancient context. σπουδαῖον is a key word in ancient ethics, and Schniewind analyses the gradual interiorization of application principally through the works of Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus. In Plotinus' use the term comes to denote an intellectual disposition quite distinct from Aristotle's conception of the σπουδαῖον. She demonstrates how the word is the same even while its meaning is not (what philosophers of science once referred to as meaning variance) and we come to understand better the role this concept plays in the history of ancient philosophy.

A number of contributions demonstrate the potency of the recipient's perspective. Adelheid Müller's paper on aesthetic experience at the end of the 18th century shows how physical access to Greece transformed the European relation to antiquity after centuries of inaccessibility during the Ottoman empire. An important consequence was the premium put on direct aesthetic experience. Another exploration of perspective is Dorothea Ipsen's "Der verstellte Blick: Man sieht nur, was man weiss," an account of German travel literature written around 1900 about Greece. Most studies of travel literature have tended to stress the period of its emergence, which is prior to the development of Altertumswissenschaft.2 Ipsen examines this type of literature after German historical scholarship had had nearly a century of development. By stressing the disjunction between Greece as expounded in travel literature and the Greece that unfolded in the seminars and libraries of Germany she illustrates how differently antiquity was read, understood, and evaluated. Ernst Curtius' mid-century idealization (as it now seems to us) of Greek history, one which virtually identified Greek history with Athens of the 5th and 4th centuries, and which was centered on great men and great battles, had been rejected in the critical view which scholarship imposed on Greece. In contrast to the scholars, travel writers perpetuated the heroic idealization of Greece, and the large audience of consumers of that literature went there to see the material remains of this idealized Greece (and, I daresay, still come to see it). There were and are quite different versions of Greece. Now, one will immediately say that in 1900 the reality of Greece was not the idealization found in the travel writers. Ipsen quotes one author to the effect that you bring with you what you look for, and what you find you already have. In trying to understand our relationship to antiquity and what it might mean for our lives, this cuts both ways. A warning had come from as far back as Wilhelm von Humboldt about what the poetic absorption of antiquity was losing to academic scholarship and the demythologizing Realien of excavations. Realism can be perhaps be pushed too far as one matter-of-fact writer Ipsen cites makes clear. The traveler in question wrote in 1916 regarding Parnassus that it was a mountain like any other, with a snow-bedecked top, and nothing but a name; lacking legends, nobody would bother with a visit. No idealization here, nor does any capacity for frisson seem evident either, however numinous or breathtaking a site in Greece might be. All of which raises the question of whether we agree today about what imaginative capacity the student of classical antiquity ought to have or to avoid.

The other context of "reception" lies in the history of the later periods whose scholars, artists, and rulers use and reflect on the classical past for a wide range of purposes. Sometimes this context is too quickly engulfed by the term tradition, which disguises the equivocal and changing nature of the relationship to what has been received from the past. Discussions of tradition too rarely consider the matter of how time is conceived, and they consequently overlook significant differences between temporality as experienced by us and as experienced by earlier cultures.3 The modern experience of time is different from that encountered before, say, 1700 and this affects the meaning of history and tradition. A fundamental question is whether time unfolds linearly and dynamically or has an eschatological constant. For moderns, there is a temporal dimension of historical process which pre-moderns did not have; history to us is a developing narrative rather than a static image.4 This distinction affects the understanding of imitation and historical exempla. Authors in the volume demonstrate different sensitivities to this. Jürgen Strothmann writes on how Caesar and Augustus were used in depictions of rulers in the middle ages, and Johannes Ammann-Bubenik discusses Hapsburgean panegyric, which is modeled on Ausonius' panegyric of the Caesars. The former acknowledges that the need felt by medieval monarchs to express continuity with Roman prototypes is positioned within the context of the typological function of ancient exemplars, which he expresses here as Ähnlichkeiten. This continuity is an actualization of an ancient form. Thus Strothmann notes that when Petrus de Ebulo writes of Heinrich VI "Vivit in Augusto pietas et gratia crescens..." he is claiming that Heinrich is pious and is an Augustus. We misunderstand Petrus if we see in his words merely an empty formula.

Ammann-Bubenik also writes about types (Gattung) and stresses how the Hapsburgian era imitation of Ausonius emphasizes the continuity of Hapsburg rule with that of Rome. He describes their need for seeing an unbroken series of rulers from Rome to the present, but it seems to me that the paper doesn't fully escape from contemporary assumptions about temporal linearity and dynamism. Consequently, if I understand Ammann-Bubenik correctly, tradition is conceptualized in a somewhat anachronistic manner. At the very least, the paper submerges the crucial differences in the way imitation can be deployed.

Of the papers whose topics are on our side of the temporal divide, so to speak, I found particularly interesting Mischa Meier's on Wagner's Ring cycle. Wagner's fascination with the Oresteia is well known, and Meier shows how Wagner replaces the various functions of the Greek chorus with the Leitmotiv. Another that will engage many is Marcel Remme's discussion of Werner Jaeger's interpretation of Plato and its distorting role on his own Paideia.


Paper titles:

A. Schniewind, "Begriffsrezeption im Neuplatonismus oder: Wer ist der plotinische SPOUDAÎON?"

S. Friede, "Alexander und Narcissus-ein Fall direkter Rezeption? Das Lied von Narcissus in der Amazonenepisode des Roman d'Alexandre, die Narcissus-Episode bei Ovid und der französische Narcisse."

E. Nemerkényi, "Latin Classics in Medieval Hungary. Problems and Perspectives"

J. Strothmann, "Caesar und Augustus im Mittelalter. Zwei komplementäre Bilder des Herrschers in der staufischen Kaiseridee" J. Ammann-Bubenick, "Kaisarien und Hapsburgergenealogien -- Eine poetische Gattung"

S. De Angelis, "Zur Galen-Rezeption in der Renaissance mit Blick auf die Antropologie von Juan Luis Vives. Überlegungen zu der Konfiguration einer 'Wissenschaft vom Menschen' in der Frühen Neuzeit."

C. Schäfer, "Die These von der natürlichen Sklaverei in antiker Philosophie und spanischer Conquista"

A. Becherer, "Die panegyrische Inszenierung des Herrschers in der französischen Literatur der Renaissance -- Versepos und Eklogendichtung"

K. Westerwelle, "Montaignes Kritik an Platos Dichtungstheorie"

C. Rock, "Römische Schlactordnungen im 17. Jahrhundert?"

A. Bitzel, "Auf der Suche nach einem neuen Hektor. Zur Rezeption der Antike in der lutherischen Militärseelsorge des 17. Jahrhunderts"

U. Scharrer, "Robert Filmer, John Milton, William Prynne und die aristotelische Theorie der Monarchie."

S. Arend, "Zwei Leben: Vom artifex naturae zum stoischen Weisen. Die Aktualisierung des senecaischen secundam naturam vivere in Gryphius' Drama Papinian (1659)"

S. Gippert, "Ovid im 'Augustan Age' -- Joseph Addisons Metamorphosenrezeption"

S.J. Schreiner, "Sedes Pacis Martis Austriaci -- Ein panegyrisch-aitiologisches Gedicht auf Prinz Eugen von Savoyen und das Belvedere"

H. Müller, "Apuleius reversus -- Wielands fragmentarisches Gedicht 'Psyche'"

S. Elit, "Übersetzen als internationalen Dichterwettstreit. Klopstocks Übersetzung horazischer Oden als doppelter poetischer Überbietungsversuch" A. Müller, "'Der Marmor ist vom feinsten Korn' -- Äesthetische Erfahrung am Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts"

I. Heuer, "Ancient Rome in Canto IV of Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage"

E.K. Wittich, "Das Einzelne und Ganze -- Detail(un)genauigkeit und Wissenschaftsanspruch der Antikerezeption bei Karl Friedrich Schinkel"

S. Bahe, "Die Beuth/Schinkelschen Vorbilder für Fabrikanten und Handwerker. Antike als Mittel der Wirtschaftsförderung?"

B. Coers, "Zitat, Paraphrase und Invention: Zur Funktion der pompejanischer Wandmalerei im Historienbild am Beispiel von J.A.D. Ingres' 'Antiochus und Stratonice' und Anselm Feuerbach's 'Gastmahl des Plato'"

M. Meier, "Chöre und Leitmotive in den Bühnenwerken Richard Wagners: Von der griechischen Tragödie zum Musikdrama"

G. Sprigath, "Der Fall Xenokrates von Athen. Zu den Methoden der Antike-Rezeption in der Quellenforschung"

W. Kofler, "Poggios Plautus: Poetik und Rezeption in Conrad Ferdinand Meyers Novelle Palutus im Nonnenkloster"

A. Bohne, "Überlegungen zu zwei Einzelbeispielen des Pergamonaltares im deutschen Bürgertum am Ende des 19. Jahrhunderts"

D. Ipsen, "Der verstellte Blick: Man sieht nur, was man weiss. Antikewahrnehmung in Reiseberichten über Griechenland um 1900"

I. Starz, "'Heiliger Frühling' als Kulturformel der Moderne. Erinnerung und kultureller Raum in der Kunst der Jahrhuundertwende"

I. Panteleon, "Inventa Inventorum"

C. Welzbacher, "'Die geheiligten Bezirke unseres Volkes' -- Antikenrezeption in der Architektur des Dritten Reichs als Beispiel für das Nationalsozialistische Historismuskonzept"

M. Remme, "Paideia. Werner Jaegers Bildungsphilosophie"

M. Bleck, "Ovid und Benjamin Britten"

G. Damschen, "Formen der Begründung. Zur Struktur und Reichweite reflexiver Argumente bei Platon, Cicero, und Apel"

M. Janka, "Der Dichter, der Professor und die 'Friedendfrau': Die Lysistrate-Bearbeitungen von Erich Fried (1979-1985) und Walter Jens (1986) in der Tradition der modernen Aristophanesrezeption"

J. Gindele, "Immer wieder anders und neu -- Christop Ransmayrs Roman Die letze Welt und das Werk Ovids. Ansätze zu einem Vergleich"

H. Kaufmann, "Odysseus' Rückkehr nach St. Lucia. Der Erzähler in D. Walcotts Omeros"

J. Obmann/D. Wirtz, "Die Wiederkehr der Götter? Vorchristliche Heiligtümer im Spiegel der Esoterik und des Neuheidentums"

A. Kemmann, "Rhetorik als Disziplin -- was sie war, was sie ist, und was sie sein könnte"


1.   See Charles Taylor, "Interpretation and the Sciences of Man", in his Philosophy and the Human Sciences. Philosophical Papers 2, Cambridge 1985.
2.   A notable example is David Constantine's Early Greek Travelers and the Hellenic Ideal, Cambridge 1984.
3.   Artemis Leontis captures the ambivalence between tradition as the origin of what we have left behind and an axiological constant: "Tradition is an unsettling territory of the modern imagination: both a burdensome repository of outmoded values and an inevitable, if lost, center of return." Topographies of Hellenism. Mapping the Homeland, Ithaca 1996, p.25.
4.   See Reinhard Koselleck, "Modernity and the Planes of Historicity", in Futures Past. On the Semantics of Historical Time, Cambridge MA, 1984; originally published 1968 as "Vergangene Zukunft der frühen Neuzeit."

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