Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.06.39

Beat Näf (ed.), Antike und Altertumswissenschaft in der Zeit von Faschismus und Nationalsozialismus. Kolloquium Universität Zürich 14.-17. Oktober 1998.   Mandelbachtal-Cambridge:  edition cicero, 2001.  Pp. 641.  ISBN 3-934285-46-5.  

Contributors: Beat Näf, Volker Losemann, Antonio La Penna, Romke Visser, Gino Bandelli, Leandro Polverini, William M. Calder III, Carsten Klingemann, Stefan Rebenich, Hans-Ernst Mittig, Ingomar Weiler, Stefan Bittner, Christoph Ulf, Reinhold Bichler, Hans Kloft, Jürgen v. Ungern-Sternberg, Ursula Wolf, Markus Vinzent, Markus Schmitz, Mathias Wiegert, Klaus Junker, Stefan Altekamp, Wolfram Kinzig

Reviewed by Richard F. Thomas, Harvard University (
Word count: 3970 words

By and large, recent pro-war rallies haven't drawn nearly as many people as antiwar rallies, but they have certainly been vehement. One of the most striking took place after Natalie Maines, lead singer for the Dixie Chicks, criticized President Bush: a crowd gathered in Louisiana to watch a 33,000-pound tractor smash a collection of Dixie Chicks CD's, tapes and other paraphernalia. To those familiar with 20th-century European history it seemed eerily reminiscent of.... But as Sinclair Lewis said, it can't happen here. (PAUL KRUGMAN, NY Times, March 25, 2003)

This has been an interesting time in which to read a book such as the one under review. Many US academics who have felt uneasy or worse about the rise in nationalism evident in the last two years have also felt a pressure to conform and either to acquiesce in the policies of the current administration, or at least to be silent. One advantage, however, of reading a book such as this at a time such as this is that we are thereby helped to imagine the enormously greater pressures that must be felt when rabid nationalism actually results in tyranny. The particular branch of the history of scholarship that involves the writings of German and Italian scholars during their countries' respective submersions into National Socialism and fascism is one that has seen considerable activity in recent years. The present volume, edited by Beat Näf, who has himself contributed in primary ways to this scholarly debate,1 provides a rich and varied group of contributions.

The book is divided into eleven sections, whose themes and rationale are described in Näf's good introduction (11-14). Each section has between one and five thematically connected articles. In Part I Näf first (15-43) presents a useful bibliography, also in eleven parts, listing works on bibliography itself, general works on the history of scholarship on the period in question, on developments in individual fields (ancient history, archaeology, philology, study of religion, etc.), on particular aspects of NS and fascist ideology (lineage and nation, German ideology, Nordic theories, racial teachings, Rome cult, and "völkische Deutung"), on the educational system, on art, culture and architecture, on individual scholars, on scholarly memoirs and reflections about the period, on scholarly institutions and academies, on developments since 1945, and on studies in related fields (Ethnology, Germanistik, History, Philosophy, Law, Theology, etc.). The vast majority of work in this field is by German or German-speaking scholars, and it has proliferated particularly in the last 20 years or so, as scholars have become more willing to explore the uses and abuses of Classics in this period. The bibliography is followed by Näf's own survey and summary of the field (44-70), presented along parallel lines to those applied in the bibliography.2 There is much of value throughout, particularly in the exploration (52-67) of research in the various subfields of Classics (archaeology, philology, ancient history).

Also in Part I is "Nazionalsozialismus und Antike--Bemerkungen zur Forschungsgeschichte," by Volker Losemann.3 He begins with Hitler's focus in Mein Kampf on the importance of the classical Greek character and spirit for contemporary Germans and pursues a historicizing of the ideological positioning of historians both up to 1945 and in particular in the years that followed. He poses the question, via the Goldhagen debate, of whether we should see figures such as Aly, Altheim, Berve, Oppermann and the rest, as the "willing historians" who would parallel the "willing executioners" that the American writer has controversially posited for German society as a whole. L. is particularly interesting on the immediate post-war years, in which, as Ehrenberg wrote "No revival of Nazism seemed possible, but there was comparatively little feeling of guilt." Collective, national guilt may be problematic, but personal guilt, by scholars who might have been expected to see and somehow confront their own complicity, is another matter. L. is excellent in tracing the stages of relative silence and avoidance that characterized scholarship until the mid-'60's, when, following Germany's student uprisings and the ascendency of the left, greater scrutiny was given to NS scholarly activities. The pivotal figure, Karl Christ, rightly emerges as the standard-bearer. This chapter is an excellent synthetic, but also original, treatment of the overall subject.

Part II takes us to Rome and romanitas, that is, for the most part, the construction of ancient Rome as an ancestor and paradigm of fascist Italy. Here the focus is on publications and institutions. In "La rivista Roma e l' Istituto di Studi romani. Sul culto della romanità nel periodo fascista" Antonio La Penna explores the impact of the journal, founded in 1923, the first year of the fascist era. The ideological leader was Carlo Galassi Paluzzi, second director of Roma and, eventually, secretary for life of the Institute. He was close to important political figures, particularly Giuseppe Bottai, minister for national education, and from the very beginning, as La Penna meticulously reveals, the collaboration between intellectuals and politicians, including Mussolini, was a close one, as the cult of Rome was carefully fostered by both groups. The movement begins with notions of a spiritually elevated and purified Rome, the progression from Virgil to Manzoni seamlessly connects the classical past to the Christian, that is Catholic, present -- though fascism is also quite capable of finding secular and direct connection to that past. The pages (98-107) on the construction of intellectual superiority to Germany and the outside world are of particular interest, and the impact of this development is still felt today, and in positive ways. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, especially in Germany, had promoted Homer over Virgil, but notions of Roman originality, both in literature and in art, were promoted by fascist ideology, a development that continued to rehabilitate Rome in the second half of the twentieth century. Along with this came a general sense of the superiority of Rome and of Italy, at least through the 1920's and middle 1930's: we find hostility to German positivism, general neglect of and disdain for non-Italian bibliography, anti-Bolshevism, anti-protestantism, anti-semitism, the promotion of patria and family, all in the context of the self-sufficiency of romanità and italianità.

Romke Visser ("Da Atene a Roma, da Roma a Berlino") continues the study of La Penna, focusing on the years from 1936-1943. He examines the Italian versions of "Third Humanism," aided by the bimillennial celebrations of the births of Virgil (1929-30), Horace (1935-36), Augustus (1937-38) and Livy (1940-1), both in the ISR and in the pages of Roma, and in Atene e Roma. Paluzzi is again a central player, initiating the Scuola Storica and the Centro internazionale di Studi romani to spread belief in the justice of romanità among foreign as well as Italian students. Visser's article ends with a vivid account of Bottai's attempt to promote a "corporate humanism" through the institute Studia Humanitatis, founded in Berlin in 1942 and intended to promote German-Italian humanistic dialogue, a doomed enterprise in a world where Aryan myths by now easily trumped the myth of Rome.

In "Il mito di Roma al confine orientale d' Italia," Gino Bandelli studies in close detail the manifestation of romanità in the specific context of the "new provinces," particularly Trieste and the old Hapsburg areas of control. Through the lens of the Irredentists (those advocating the return of all Italian-speaking areas of Italy to the new kingdom of Italy), the myth of Rome would have a particular emphasis. The archaeologist Giulio Quirino Giglioli, one of the chief fascist archaeologists (and organizer of the Mostra Augustea in 1937/38) recalls figures such as Ruggero Timeus, who even before the First World War looked to Rome and Roman antiquity as an ideological tool in their nascent imperialism. Finally for this section Leandro Polverini ("L' impero romano--antico e moderno") examines the continuities of the fascist claims to a close connection with antiquity. He points out just how short-lived the new Italian empire was--six years from Mussolini's injunction (May 9, 1936), with its hexametrical clausula, that the new Roman legionnaires should celebrate the reappearance of the Roman empire on the "fateful hills of Rome" (sui colli fatali di Roma") until the British and Commonwealth troops won the battle for North Africa. Polverini looks at the question through the studies of three ancient historians, who, although from different generations, were all pro-fascist at the time of their respective publications: Mario Attilio Levi, La politica imperiale di Roma (1936); Ettore Pais, Roma dall' antico al nuovo impero (1937); Luigi Pareti, I due imperi di Roma (1938). He ends with some judicious reflections on how we judge such writings, with the help of hindsight and the passage of time. As I suggested at the outset, we must in assessing these writings, ask ourselves how we would have behaved in the same circumstances.

Part III consists of a single offering, "Racism in Anglo-American Classics" by William M. Calder III. In typically lively fashion he ranges around in the quest to demonstrate the eminently demonstrable, namely that nineteenth- and early- to mid- twentieth century institutions of higher education in the US were frequently racist and anti-semitic in their outlook and practice. The relevance of this article to the volume as a whole is somewhat questionable, but it is a mine of information, at times useful (e.g. 173 on the remarkable William S. Scarborough (1852-1926), who disproved in his own admirable attainments John C. Calhoun's assertion that the black man could not learn Greek), though in at least one detail more problematic.4 The thesis of this article is stated at the outset, namely "that, 1933-1945 excluded, racism in Anglo-American classics played a far more effective role than in Germany." Of course, on a question such as this it becomes difficult to exclude those years, and difficult to imagine a more effective role than that played (beyond academic circles), by the Latinist Hans Oppermann's 1943 NSDAP-published tract, Der Jude im griechisch-römischen Altertum. Nevertheless Calder is right to remind us that racism is hardly confined to Germany and Italy, or to those years.

Part IV is focused on scientific research and institutions under the NSDAP, and it follows well on the heels of Calder's article in showing just how fundamentally academic points of view had an impact on national and political events -- particularly relevant as we observe the ways some of our own political scientists have impressed their extreme views on our leaders. Carsten Klingemann compares the ideological involvement of the sciences on the one hand with those of the Classics and the social sciences on the other. He collects useful data on increases in numbers of chairs in the various disciplines and in general provides a useful holistic assessment of the degree to which the universities actually became organs of the Nazi state. Classics and ancient history, unsurprisingly, came closest to reflecting NSDAP ideologies. Next we have Stefan Rebenich, "Zwischen Anpassung und Widerstand? Die Berliner Akademie der Wissenschaften von 1933 bis 1945," which, as the title suggests, explores the degree of political conformity in that academy to which classicists owe so much for its support of the most monumental research projects of the last century and more (IG, CIL, and ThLL, to name a few). Rebenich presents a brief history of the academy, followed by enquiry into the degree to which various members saw their activities in relation to contemporary politics. The words of Eduard Norden, member of the Academy since 1912, spoken on the occasion of Hitler's accession to the Reichschancellorship, were not atypical: "unus homo nobis audendo restituit rem Ein Mann allein hat durch seinen Wagemut den Staat wiederhergestellt" (208). There was in general, both in the Academy and throughout the world of classical studies a natural convergence of nationalism and antidemocratism with the basic claims of National Socialism (227-8). Editions, commentaries, concordances continued to attract the attention of scholars, Pauly-Wissowa articles continued, but that does not provide the full picture. Also useful are appendices listing full and corresponding members of the Academy, describing its projects, and listing its publications in the years in question.

An even closer convergence occurred in the areas of sculpture and architecture, as is succinctly surveyed by Hans-Ernst Mittig, "Antikebezüge nationalsozialistischer Propagandaarchitektur und -skulptur." In these areas propaganda was decentralized, as images and structures emerge from a number of different sources and locations not just from the regime per se. A section on "Prestige" examines some of the monumental structures of Nazi propaganda: Paul Ludwig Troost's "Haus der Deutschen Kunst" in Munich, with its ancient colonnade and its simplification and hardening of Doric style; Speer's tribunal in Zeppelin Feld at Nuremberg; Josef Thorak's pediment for the tribunal at Mars Field in the same complex; the deeply disturbing statue of "Dionysus" by Arno Breker. A section on "Militanz" well connects athletic and martial images, while one on "Rassismus" explores the constant effort to connect that curious construction of Greece that was a product of German romanticism and mysticism with German nationalism and Nordic mythology. The results are curious and aesthetically unpleasing. Ingomar Weiler (Part VI, "Zur Rezeption des griechischen Sports im Nazionalsozialism") also examines the obsession now of Hitler himself with the same combination of Greek spiritual revival and intense German nationalism. The German obsession with "Greek" athleticism starts in the nineteenth century, and it is built on connecting the heroes of Homer, the "athletes" of Pindar, Hercules, Alexander and the Spartans with the contemporary Aryan. Weiler well quotes from Origines Ariacae (1883), which found that "die reinen Griechen dem arischen Typus angehören, der blond, blauäugig, dolichokephal und von grosser Statur." All of this a good 40 years before Hitler would parrot such ideas in Mein Kampf.

In "Die Entwicklung des Althistorischen Unterrichts zur Zeit des Nationalsozialismus," Stefan Bittner examines the teaching of ancient history in the context of neo-humanistic gymnasia. Since there was no self-standing subject known as ancient history, the topic was taught as a part of history in general, and preeminently as a part of German history. Bittner traces curricular developments up to 1933, then observes the ways ancient history was taught without systematic revision for the first five years of the Third Reich. In 1938 there was a fuller overhaul, under the direction of people such as Oppermann, Schachermeyr and Aly, some of the most enthusiastic conflaters of antiquity and Nazism. The rest was history.

Part VIII, with five contributions, begins with Christopher Ulf, "Ideologie als Grundlage für Abgrenzung und Spezifik der Antike bei Ed. Meyer, H. Berve, E. Kornemann, W. Jaeger und V. Ehrenberg." Ulf presents a complex but very productive theoretical mode of looking at these historians, connecting their essential conservatism with the NS outlook. Berve thought culture and society, and therefore race and nationhood, were what motivate history; he constructs western man, with Greeks at the head, and insists on a Greek identity that is more than the sum of its parts and can therefore be replicated in other times and places (that is, his own). Kornemann, with his focus on Rome, sees a greater emphasis on the state and the people (Volk) and locates the West not so exclusively in Greece but rather in mid-Europe. Jaeger's Paideia, with its view of Greek culture as based on the values of honor instilled by elites and the necessity of strong leadership (Humanismus/Führertum), is also a product of its times, as Paul Friedländer well noted (330, n. 120). On the other hand Victor Ehrenberg (334 "Die 'unvölkisch-klassische' Antike Victor Ehrenbergs"), as the subtitle suggests, sought to view ancient history free from the NS Weltanschauung.

Reinhold Bichler treats a topic that was particularly congenial to NS ideology ("Alexander der Grosse und das NS-Geschichtsbild"). On this topic historians such as Berve, Kornemann, Kolbe, Schachermeyr (with Ehrenberg again an exception), had before them the Führer's own words from Mein Kampf, where Alexander is featured in discussions of world domination, the "West," and the racial struggle in which Hellenism and Germanism are to unite. But, as emerges from Bichler's meticulous and lively article, there are also continuities in this matter: Alexander was already a figure around whom racial theories had formed before 1933, and at the same time there are interesting post-war revisions, notoriously by Schachermeyr, who is here treated extensively.

Hans Kloft ("Politische Geschichte versus Wirtschaftsgeschichte. Von Beloch zu Berve: Ein Paradigmenwechsel?") begins with an epigram from a 1988 Bonn antiquarian book catalogue: "Motto: H. Berve, Das neue Bild der Antike, leicht gebräunt und stockfleckig, aber sonst in gutem Zustand (slight browning and damp-stained, but otherwise in good condition)." The historian Helmut Berve was dismissed from his post at the University of Munich in 1945, as Kloft notes at the outset of this study of one of the period's most complicit academics. He focuses on Berve's blunt criticism of the fourth volume of Beloch's Griechische Geschichte (1927-28), published in the 1928 issue of Gnomon. By 1934 Schachermeyr could charge Beloch with socialism and hostility to leaders in terms (384) that make clear the agenda of Berve and himself. So it is that the Beloch's focus on economic history is replaced by a focus on politics, with the ancient reconstructed through the lens of the modern. Kloft traces Berve's blending of Deutschtum with Griechentum through the course of the Third Reich; and even in the second volume of his Griechische Geschichte, published in 1952, some of Berve's ideas on the decline, as he saw it, that attends racial mixing, survive pretty much intact.

Jürgen v. Ungern-Sternberg ("Imperium Romanum vs. Europa. Gedanken zu einigen Vorträgen deutscher Althistoriker in den Jahren 1939 bis 1942") examines more popular publications (e.g. in Die Antike, Das Gymnasium, Neue Jahrbücher für Antike und deutsche Bildung) produced by a number of writers (Fritz Taeger, Joseph Vogt and Matthias Gelzer in addition to Berve and Kornemann), and discussing notions of "Reich," "Volk," and "Gross-Raum," in relation to Rome, Germany and the rest of Europe. Vogt took Rome's victory over Carthage as a paradigm for the West's conquest of the East but did not discuss Europe. Rome was appropriated and assimilated to the status of "Reich," the model for what the new German Europe would look like. Ungern-Sternberg's chronological parameters (1939-1942) reflect the fact that by the latter date Germany was an occupying force in a Europe that was largely resistant to the Reich of which it was to be a part. It is not only in our times that we see failed attempts to export nationalism, an ideology that in the process of being exported is necessarily converted to imperialism.

Ursula Wolf ("Rezensionen in der Historischen Zeitschrift, im Gnomon und in der American Historical Review von 1930 bis 1943/44") presents a juxtaposition of American Historical Review with Historische Zeitschrift and Gnomon and compares the reviews in terms of books selected for review, critical principles applied, and so on. Her results, which might seem surprising, suggest that there were numerous points of contiguity between the American and the German periodicals, although crucial differences remain, for instance the fact that HZ and Gnomon published no reviews of Jewish historians after 1935.

Part IX consists of two contributions, on classical philology, and it is something of a relief to move from Berve to Helene Homeyer, whose life and works are revealed for the first time by Markus Vinzent (whose father was a student of Homeyer, who gave her papers to him) in "Bio-graphie und Historio-graphie. Helene Homeyer: Frau -- 'Halbarierin' -- Exilierte" (the excessive hyphenation is presumably connected to opening discussion, not particularly relevant, of Paul Veyne, poststructuralism and Derrida). Vinzent begins by listing the classical philologists exiled by Hitler, noting that they include no women. This is because the first German woman to be habilitated in Classical Philology was Homeyer, in 1955, at Tübingen, after she resumed her pre-war studies upon her return to Germany from England. Although her life does not emerge as particularly remarkable (she worked on a variety of subjects, was particularly interested in linguistics, co-compiled the Pocket Oxford German Dictionary, and also translated Dorothy Sayers into German), it is nevertheless of value to follow the vicissitudes and eventual success of this woman. Next, in another timely offering, Markus Schmitz ("Plato and the Enemies of the Open Society") borrows Karl Popper's title in this examination of Plato scholarship in Nazi Germany. Popper published his defence of liberal democracy and lament about its failure to stem the rise of fascism in 1945, but as he himself stated (468, n. 8): "Although much of what is contained in this book took shape at an earlier date, the final decision to write it was made in March 1938, the day I received the news of the invasion of Austria" [from which Popper had gone into exile, in New Zealand, a year earlier]. Schmitz focuses on the writing of Gadamer, Heidegger and Jaeger and convincingly brings together the antidemocratic, elitist and nationalistic Plato scholarship that form the backdrop to Popper's work. Parallels with contemporary US politics, and so-called "Straussian" neoconservativism, suggest themselves.

There are three offerings in Part X, on pre-historical and archaeological studies. First MatthiasWiegert ("Ur- und Frühgeschichtsforschung in der westlichen Rheinprovinz von 1933-1945"), who focuses on the state support for archaeological research in this period. Traditionally archaeological study in the west of the country had focused on Roman material and culture, but from the middle of the nineteenth century there had been a rise in prehistorical and palaeoanthropological (i.e. German) research, which would tie into NS obsession with such issues as "Rasse," "Volk" and the like. This serves to introduce Wiegert 's good and full account of the intensifying of state support for this research through the period. Next comes Klaus Junker on the DAI: "Zur Geschichte des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts in den Jahren von 1933 bis 1945." This is based on his 1997 monograph on the Institute between 1929 and 1945, of which a condensed English account is available in Antiquity 72 (1998) 282-92. Junker treats the obsession with Olympia in the context of the Games of 1936, and he gives good detail on the Römisch-Germanische Kommission (RGK) of the DAI and on the eventual downgrading of the interest in Roman (rather than early German) archaeology, as "Römling" became a term of abuse for those too interested in things Mediterranean ("Undeutsche"). And last in this part Stefan Altekamp, who studies Italian archaeology in Libya from 1911-1943. Treating as he does the pre-fascist period he is able to trace a decrease in the level of archaeological attention to Libya. This allows him to question, legitimately it seems to me, the commonly received view that archaeology had a particularly privileged position under fascism. There is interesting material on cartography and on the projection of Italian colonialism at Leptis Magna and Tripoli.

The book ends with the 90-page contribution (Part XI) of Wolfram Kinzig, "Evangelische Patristiker und Christliche Archäologen im 'Dritten Reich'," in essence studies of three protestant church historians (Hans Lietzmann, Hans von Soden, Hermann Wolfgang Beyer), along with bibliographical appendices. This is an important topic, and one that still has political resonances. Kinzig's choice is a fortunate one, since the three scholars in question occupy the whole range of attitudes to the regime: Lietzmann was sympathetic, von Soden was strongly opposed, and Beyer was an active collaborator and enthusiast, giving divine sanction to the regime's racism (e.g. 584 "marriage between members of different races is an offense against the will of God").

As is inevitable with conference proceedings, the categories and individual contributions of this volume are somewhat random in organization and patchy in coverage. Ancient history gets the lion's share of attention, and it is true that this field was the most openly complicit, at least in Germany, but philologists played their part too, and I would have liked to see more on fascist readings of Greek and Roman authors. But the book is a real achievement, and a valuable contribution to the history of twentieth-century classical scholarship in some of its least fine hours.


1.   Cf. particularly B. Näf, Von Perikles zu Hitler? Die athenische Demokratie und die deutsche Althistorie bis 1945 (Bern, Frankfurt am Main, and New York 1986).
2.   My own contribution to this topic, two chapters in my Virgil and the Augustan Reception, Cambridge 2001, obviously appeared too late to be included.
3.   Losemann's monograph Nazionalsozialismus und Antike: Studien zur Entwicklung des Faches Alte Geschichte 1933-1945 (Hamburg 1977) remains a seminal and important contribution.
4.   Calder's claim (177) that James Loeb was "denied . . . an honorary degree from his alma mater, Harvard, for whom he had done so much" is in fact incorrect. In a letter (in the Warburg Institute Archive), from Loeb to his friend Aby Warburg, written on May 2, 1928, Loeb writes "Mir hat Harvard ein Doctor of Laws zugesprochen. Wir bleiben aber daheim. Das Risiko (he suffered from a psychological illness at the time) wäre für mich zu gross. In absentia gibt's keinen Ehrendoktor, so muss ich auf die schöne Ehrung verzichten." He also received an honorary MA in 1913, but then too illness kept him from picking it up. For all of this, see B. Salmen, "James Loeb -- Leben und Wirken," in B. Salmen, ed. James Loeb 1867-1933, Kunstsammler und Mäzen (Murnau 2000): 63, 61.

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