Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.02.52
Michael von Albrecht, Literatur als Brücke. Studien zur Rezeptionsgeschichte und Komparatistik. Spudasmata, 90. Hildesheim: Olms, 2003. Pp. 370. ISBN 3-487-11893-9. EUR 48.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Andreas Fuchs, Universität Rostock (email@example.com)
Word count: 1660 words
In his recent study, Michael von Albrecht (A.), the professor emeritus of Latin language, expert on comparative literature, and student of music, offers of eight papers on literature as a bridge between different cultural areas. These essays were all written after 1974. Some of them have been substantially reworked; one is published for the first time. According to the blurb, the book is addressed to teachers of Latin, German and other modern languages. The essay on Goethe and the folk-song [263-325, an abridged version of his book "Goethe und das Volkslied" from 1986, now out of print] will certainly be of interest to students of music. The footnotes at the end of each essay (which is optional in Spudasmata) point to a readership outside academic life, too, as do the translations, which are added to the source texts. However, A. discusses texts in seven different ancient and modern languages including Russian, so that many of us might be happy about the translations, offered mostly by A. himself. Those already familiar with the essays will know A's very careful, illuminating, and convincing approach to the analysis of literature of every kind and every time. Therefore, it is enjoyable to find again eight thought-provoking and quite famous essays, some of which were out of print, between two book covers. Although A. did not intend the essays specifically for scholarly circles, they will nevertheless prove useful as a powerful anthology of texts. There is not so much to be said and criticized about the scholarly contents of the individual papers. Short comments will be enough. However, a few remarks will be made as to the coherence of the individual essays and to the methodology.
In the subtitle and a few times throughout the book A. uses the term "Rezeptionsgeschichte". The provocative ideas on the theory of reception by the school of Constanz, more than thirty years ago, are still highly influential and engendering new theories on this subject. Therefore, A. might have stated and defended his own view of this disputed term, including his opinion about the dimension of the readers' actualization of texts. Other chapters show that A.'s view here is very traditional. He takes the texts as closed items, not necessarily open to actualizing readers. Nevertheless, A. uses terms like "produktive Rezeption" reminding the reader of modern literary theory. Besides, A.'s metapoetical view is stressed by his careful discussion of intertextuality.1
Together with a very detailed table of contents (v-xii), the concise introduction (xiii-xv) provides a new frame for the eight essays. Much effort has been put into structuring the previous essays and giving the newly arranged chapters titles, as can be seen in the table of contents. In his introduction A. summarizes the four main parts (two essays in each part) of the volume. These four parts stand for four cultural areas in which connection through literature could take place.
Firstly, literature is able to bridge different epochs. A. brings out two major points of this traditional field of classical reception. These points, the perspective of reception and the question of originality, can be taken as the scope of the first two essays in this volume. A. emphasises rightly that there is a double approach to classical reception. According to A., one should discuss classical reception, or here literature bridging different epochs, either by beginning with the ancient author or with the receiving author. A. defines the originality of reception by the way a poet uses literary sources and not by new invented contents (xiii: "Originalität zeigt sich nicht im Was, sondern im Wie.").
Secondly, after literature has been discussed as a bridge of chronological gaps, its function of connecting locally separated cultural areas is illustrated. Again, A. takes into account two perspectives. Essays three and four are to be read with the question in mind of how the eastern cultural area is influenced by the western, and vice versa. The polarity of west and east, from the separation of the Roman Empire onwards, is taken as fundamental for the development of European culture. It now becomes more obvious that A. intends to emphasize the importance and relevance of the analysis of ancient literature in modern times.
Thirdly, the topic of this section is literature as a bridge to fine arts and science. The first essay here on Lucretius (195-234) is an example of this particular function of literature. It is followed by an essay focussing on the interactions of literature and science in Rome in general (235-259, first published here). Again, A. stresses that literature is able to connect different historical periods. The emphasis lies on the beneficial effect of ancient thought and literature.
Fourthly, the subject is "Folklore und Weltliteratur". In this part the coherence of the essays is not obvious because their topics and the approaches are quite different. One essay deals with literature as a bridge between different cultural levels: the relationship between Goethe's ideas and folklore. In the last paper of the collection A. discusses general problems of translation. He confines himself to the translation of Latin poetry. Although there is no explicit summary of A.'s principal train of thought or a general epilogue to the collection, the last essay can serve as such. A. argues that modern languages and cultures profit from translating ancient literature. A translator has to examine modes of expression, stylistic criteria, grammar, etc. of the ancient language and of his own language. Because of these close examinations the work of translators has already contributed and will contribute to freeing one's own language and culture and "Selbstfindung" (xiv). Being engaged in the study of ancient texts helps modern cultures and nations to find their identity. A. reemphasizes very strongly the importance and relevance of ancient thinking for modern times.
One general remark about the essays has to be made: reworking the essays, A. added epilogues at the end of the essays, which serve, on the one hand, as summaries, and, on the other hand, as emphases of the importance of ancient literature and classics in general. This is quite repetitive.
Now for some specific comments. The essays on Catullus and on Lucretius are meant to be introductions to the poets, their poems, and their influence on later times. In the footnotes, A. refers to the more comprehensive articles in his "History of Latin Literature". After short sections on the traditions of the texts a detailed history of reception follows in each article. A. elucidates Catullus' effect on literary genre in German Romance poetry and on poems by Iosif Brodskij (apart from many other aspects). A.'s extensive knowledge of European literature is a pleasure for the reader. In his article on Lucretius A. draws attention to the fact that "De rerum natura" was a double object of reception, on the first hand because of its sublime style and on the other hand because of Lucretius' physical and philosophical knowledge. A. seems to overestimate Lucretius' understanding of indeterminism in his theory of atoms and compares the modern scientific findings of indeterminism without traditional causality in micro-physics (228).
The essays of the second part were, when printed for the first time, completely new approaches. In his paper "Der Teppich als literarisches Motiv" (abridged and reworked version of 1974), A. develops ideas of poetical shaping in general and of the individual contribution of the poet. It was a novelty to take the tapestry as starting-point for a "motivgeschichtliche Untersuchung" of most of this literature.
The paper "Turgenev und die Antike: Antike Reminiszenzen als Mittel der Charakterisierungskunst" (163-191, enlarged version of 1998) describes the Russian author as poeta doctus. Turgenev's modes of reception are many and diverse. A. gives a detailed impression of them, including (apart from others) the masterly way of quoting ancient texts, traditional similes, and the use of Virgil, Homer, and Catullus as subtexts. It is the vivid style resulting from the supposed surprise at so many reminders of ancient literature in these Russian texts that should best convince the readers of the relevance of studying classical antiquity (following A.'s intention).
A.'s paper on the interactions of literature and scholarship ("Literatur und Wissenschaft in Rom: Wechselwirkungen", 235-259) recalls a few chapters of his book "Roman Epic". A. writes "scholarship" (235) as translation of "Wissenschaft" in order to differentiate it from science, the subject of the paper on Lucretius. A. argues rightly both that scholarship contributed to preserve literature and that literature and poetical texts stimulated scholarship in ancient Rome. There is a large section on the tradition of texts and on texts of Cicero, Varro, Virgil, Ovid, Seneca, Lucan, and St. Augustine as examples of literature stimulated by scholarship. In the part on Lucan, A. reinforces again the fact that the "Pharsalia" is more than an "Anti-Aeneis" (250).2 However, A. does not refer to recent scholarship on this longstanding quarrel between scholars.
In his last essay "Brücken zwischen Sprachen: Vom Übersetzen römischer Poesie" (327-361, enlarged version of 2001) A. compares eight German translations of Aeneid 4,651-666. After that, A. describes the difficulties, like metaphor and metonymy, and states the limits of translation. In addition to the many things A. can say on so many modern and ancient languages he could have used the insights of modern translation studies to classify his own important results of analysis, for he quotes and praises the book Römische Übersetzer (Darmstadt 1995) by Astrid Seele (329), and Seele takes a semantic diagram, adopted from translation studies, for her analyses of Roman literature.
The book makes one think that "literature as bridge" is used to convince the readers of the importance and relevance of ancient literature. However, is it necessary to convince the intended readership? We could doubt whether the new frame is really worthwhile. It might have been enough to get these important and readable essays published as (a part of) "Kleine Schriften" arranged chronologically. The disappointment lies in the discrepancy between A.'s extensive knowledge of literature and his modest aim of showing the general relevance of ancient literature.3
1. Cf. in this collection Catull: Ein Dichter mit europäischer Ausstrahlung, 3-49, and here on Johannes Secundus, 7-19. You can also compare the detailed discussion of intertextualism in his book: Roman Epic. Leiden 1999 (= Mnemosyne, Supplement 189).
2. Cf. Der Dichter Lucan und die epische Tradition (Fondation Hardt 15), 1970, 279-308.
3. I have noticed seven typos, which do not obstruct reading.