Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.01.20

Carl Joachim Classen, Antike Rhetorik im Zeitalter des Humanismus. BzA 182.   München/Leipzig:  K.G. Saur, 2003.  Pp. 374.  ISBN 3-598-77734-5.  EUR 90.00.  

Reviewed by Christopher B. Krebs, Harvard University (
Word count: 1466 words

Wer die Nationalliteraturen Europas im Zeitalter des Humanismus und Barock verstehen und würdigen will, muß auch die neulateinischen Werke einbeziehen, und wer die neulateinische Literatur verstehen will, muß sich stets vor Augen halten, daß sie ausnahmslos aus der fruchtbaren Spannung zwischen Tradition und Neuerung erwachsen ist, zwischen Antike und Gegenwart (...).1

Carl Joachim Classen's (CJC) "Antike Rhetorik im Zeitalter des Humanismus" is a lucid contribution to the voluminous book of European Geistesgeschichte. Its eleven chapters -- papers, originally, that bear witness to a 40-year-long interest in the material, now revised and adjusted to their new framework -- illuminate the rhetorical tradition in the era of Humanism, partly explicating the different forms of reception of the Classics in different parts of Europe (the 'Romania', Spain, 'Germany'2), partly situating a particular humanist (George of Trebizond, Heinrich Bebel, Philip Melanchthon, Johannes Sturm, Lodovico Guicciardini) within this tradition, thereby giving a macro- as well as microscopic view of it. The work collected in this volume can in many respects be regarded as the measure to which one's own should live up: the author's thorough knowledge of the primary as well as the secondary literature (in virtually all western-European languages), his examplary accuracy, and his elaborate, but not laboured, prose add up to scholarship at its very best.

In many chapters CJC traces the rhetorical tradition (it must be said that the collection would have benefitted from an introduction; also, the arrangement of the papers does not seem to follow a chronological order, but unfortunately not a thematic order either): chapp. I (Cicerostudien in der Romania im fünfzehnten und sechzehnten Jahrhundert), II (Das Studium der Reden Ciceros in Spanien im fünfzehnten und sechzehnten Jahrhundert), VI and VII (Cicero inter Germanos redivivus I and II) illuminate the varying interests in Cicero's speeches and rhetorical treatises in Italy, France, Spain, and Germany to the end of the 16th century. These studies offer interesting insights into how the respective humanistic movements -- though varied in themselves -- bear characteristic features which allow us to distinguish and denominate them (as the Italian, French, Spanish, and German Humanism). Equally concerned with the rhetorical tradition, though not (only) with the reception of Cicero, are CJC's paper on Quintilian and the Revival of Learning in Italy (IV), his review(s) Cicero und Seneca in der Rhetorik der Renaissance (V), and his Lodovico Guicciardini's Descrittione and the Tradition of the Laudes and Descriptiones urbium (XI).

In chapters III (The Rhetorical Works of George of Trebizond and Their Debt to Cicero), VIII (Heinrich Bebel), IX (Neue Elemente in einer alten Disziplin. Zu Melanchthons De Rhetorica libri tres), and X (Die Bedeutung Ciceros für Johannes Sturms pädagogische Theorie und Praxis), on the other hand, CJC focuses on individual authors and investigates how they react to and in turn shape the rhetorical tradition.

Surveying the reception of Cicero in Italy (from Petrarch to the beginning of the 16th century: 5-20), France (from Bernard and Thierry to the end of the 16th century: 21-68), and Italy again (merely adumbrating the development in the last two thirds of the 16th century: 68-71), CJC shows how in Italy scholarship of many interests (summarized on p.20) gave way gradually to an increasingly narrow-minded stylistic concern with the imitation of Ciceronian language -- Ciceronianism. In France, on the other hand, scholarship was dominated by a text-critical interest as well as a desire to gain knowledge of practical relevance from Cicero's work (see e.g. 66). Then again in Spain (72-136) classical studies are indissolubly tied to the grammatical, linguistic, and rhetorical education, while this education in turn is bound to the promotion of Christian faith (e.g. 128). Finally, humanistic interests in the German speaking region: German humanism depended on Italian humanism to a greater degree than the French and Spanish humanism did (191f.), and it found itself more exposed to the Italian charge of barbarism: one Italian voice among many is Giannantonio Campano's: Incredibilis est hic ingeniorum barbaries: Rarissimi norunt litteras, nulli elegantiam.3 Hence, especially the early German humanistic movement was characterized by fighting this incrimination by cultivating latinitas: "für oder wider den Ciceronianismus zu streiten, kam niemandem in den Sinn" (213). Partly because of this dispute, Cicero's work is not studied for its own sake, i.e. in order to appreciate its art, but rather for the sake of self-improvement, i.e. in order to find useful rhetorical figures, poignant phrases, convincing arguments. This general overview of the situation of humanism in Germany CJC complements with the presentation of the work of commentators, who either regarded themselves as Germans or were an integral part of the German humanistic movement (see 226):4 Latomus (227-30), Melanchthon (230-5), Sturm (235-8), De la Ramée (238-40), Hegendorff, Camerarius and Hildebrand (240-3).5

These four chapters not only provide an insight as to the different forms of the reception of Ciceronian oratory and rhetoric and thereby remind us of the relativity of Classical studies, but also hint at the excellent work done by humanists, nowadays too often ignored.6

Chap. 4 is concerned with the "various stages and levels of interest in and influence of Quintilian's work in the initial period of Italian humanism" (174). Chap. 5 contains CJC's review of Christian Mouchel: Cicéron et Sénèque dans la rhétorique de la Renaissance (Marburg 1990), and Juan Maria Nuñez Gonzáles: El Ciceronianismo en España (Valladolid, 1993). Chap. 11 is -- despite the 'and' in its title -- not so much about Lodovico Guicciardini's descrittione as about the tradition of the laudes and descriptiones urbium: CJC first addresses the laus urbis as a topos within various literary genres, then discusses the topical nature of its numerous elements (334), and finally gives a rough outline of the continuation of this genre up to Guicciardini's work. It is this tradition, CJC concludes, "which he [Guicciardini] used to give expression to his own views (...)" (355).

The first presentation of an individual humanist (chap. 3, 137-52) deals with George of Trebizond, focussing on his Rhetoricorum libri quinque and his commentary on Pro Ligario. CJC pays special attention to the "role played by Cicero's speeches" (140) in the rhetorical treatise, and then examines the impact of George's work on subsequent commentators of Cicero's, Giorgio Merula and Jacob Locher. Judging from the comparatively small number of printed editions, CJC concludes that, rather than because of his two major rhetorical works, George was read because of his Isagoge dialectica (152).7

In chap. 9 CJC discusses Melanchthon's De Rhetorica libri tres with its revolutionary feature of the genus didacticum as an addition to the traditional three genera causarum, a change which he shows to be the result of Melanchthon's fusing of the rhetorical system with the artes praedicandi (270ff.). Having browsed through Melanchthon's later work (284ff.), CJC investigates the impact the humanist had on the rhetorical tradition, on his students (291ff.), and also on other humanists (299ff.).

After editing Greek authors, Johannes Sturm published two commentaries: on the first Philippic and on de haruspicum responso. CJC follows Sturm's development from this early work until his de imitatione oratoria, revealing how Sturm attempts to teach his students with the help of Cicero (316f.) to argue and speak well, and what he sets out as his idea of a curriculum (De literarum ludis aperiendis: 322f.). This inevitably brings up the issue of the form of the imitation of Cicero, which Sturm discusses in the mentioned treatise and CJC summarizes as: "(...) Cicero-imitatio nicht als Fessel, (...) sondern als Richtschnur" (330f.).

The portrait of Heinrich Bebel (246-53) is basically a short version of CJC's Zu Heinrich Bebels Leben und Schriften, which provides the reader with the core data of Bebel's life and works.8

This edition is completed by a very helpful index nominum and indication of the papers' original appearance; it also contains useful appendices (on Spanish and Portugese editions and translations of Cicero's oeuvre (129-31); on Spanish editions, commentaries, and rhetorica until the middle of the 19th century (131-6); and on editions of Bebel's work as well as selected bibliography: 250-3) and excels by all standards.9

In this review's preliminary quote CJC refers to the impact of classical literature on an era in the history of European literature, and he emphasizes that it is necessary to illuminate the tradition in order to understand its parts. The continuity of the classical tradition extends beyond the period CJC has chosen; in fact, it lasts, though less dominantly, until today (the project ad fontes, financed by the EU, explores the potential of this tradition within the framework of European unification). Though long known, this fact has recently enjoyed increasing popularity, especially in the context of the justification of classics, and reception studies have grown in number -- and will in future. It can only be hoped that as regards knowledge and accuracy their authors will follow in Carl Joachim Classen's footsteps.


1.   Classen, Antike Rhetorik..., p.189.
2.   Unlike France and Spain, 'Germany' as well as 'Italy' consisted of a multitude of more or less independent political units which did not form a nation; hence the quotation marks. The reader is asked to bear this in mind, even when in what follows the quotation marks are omitted. Cf. note 4.
3.   Giannantonio Campano, op. om., Roma 1495, epist. VI.2 (fol. xlixv).
4.   A famous episode is Bebel's letter to Erasmus (20. January 1515), in which he asks him to declare himself publicly to be German: Proinde haec unum te rogo, ut ita palam te Germanum declares tuis scriptis, ne ullo modo aut Angli aut Galli (...) possint de te superbire aut suum te civem immodice gloriari.
5.   Rudolf Wolkan's edition of Enea's letters (to which CJC refers on p. 191, fn. 3) is not complete; it is to be continued by Johannes Helmrath.
6.   CJC mentions Richard Heinze's claim "man solle in den Reden untersuchen, "warum und zu welchem Zweck Cicero im Einzelfalle seine Gedanken so und nicht anders gefaßt und vorgetragen hat" (...)". CJC quips that this had, indeed, been done by some of the mentioned humanists, "deren Arbeit nur eben heute nicht mehr beachtet wird" (71).
7.   The specialist will be interested in CJC's arguments for the thesis that the commentary on Cicero's Philippicae was not written by George (147f.).
8.   Classen, Carl Joachim: Heinrich Bebels Leben und Schriften, Nachr. Ak. Wiss., Göttingen 1997, pp. 1-86.
9.   The number of typos is small: p.16 (Frage nach der Verbindlichkeit Ciceros als stilistischem Vorbild); p.38 (seinen Satire), p.45 (fn.152: Bibliothetskataloge, entbalten); p.90 (Eramus' Lob, and fn. 68: Opus Epistolarum Des. Erasmi Roterodamus); p.137 (rnanuels, and fn. 2: um 1360); p.204 (verfasst), p.214 (enun-ciari); p.231 (der Ciceros Reden); p.280 (traditinellen); p.292 (wie ausgiebig die...); p.305 (Ausdrücklich er fügt...); p.309 (Rhetorihandbücher); p.310 (rnit); p.320 (metophora); p.323 (ergänz, and ibid: etium); p.334 (fn.9: as combination of the two).

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