BMCR 1991.07.05

Otto Jahn: Mit einem Verzeichnis seiner Schriften

, Otto Jahn: Mit einem Verzeichnis seiner Schriften. Stuttgart: Teubner, 1991. 87 pages. ISBN 9783519074236.

Carl Werner Müller is editor-in-chief of Rheinisches Museum and an alumnus of the Bonn Institute. He has produced a concise, welcome and highly readable book about an earlier Bonn scholar, the one man in the history of the world who had both Theodor Mommsen and Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff as students. This book is an expansion of his English life[1] with an enlarged bibliography (45-87) of works by and about Jahn.[2] There are four plates including (23) the famous portrait of the young Haupt, Jahn and Th. Mommsen taken in 1848 at Leipzig before a bust of Goethe, the year of the revolution which caused all three to be tried for treason and to lose their professorial posts and the year in which Hermann died and Wilamowitz was born. Jahn would be his teacher, Haupt directed his dissertation and Mommsen became his father-in-law. Müller’s German is admirably lucid and can be recommended to graduate students struggling with the language. A section on the madness, confinement and early death of Jahn’s wife, his notorious affair with his housemaid, Auguste, and the birth of his bastard son, Otto Jahn Jr., was omitted from the English version but is added here (38-40). A letter to a small girl is also included to illustrate Jahn’s love for children. In fact the lack of domestic expenses enabled Jahn to amass the largest private academic library (over 30,000 titles) in Prussian classics and devote time to students rather than to children.

Müller shows that Jahn exerted influence of a breadth that exceeded even Mommsen’s and Wilamowitz’. His critical editions of Persius and the Juvenal scholia cannot be neglected by modern editors. His edition of Cicero, Brutus has been reedited as late as 1964. Until Radt his collection of the testimonia sophoclea in his edition of Electra was definitive. His text of de sublimitate revised by Blume in 1967 remains standard. He began the modern study of Hellenistic literature. In Kunstgeschichte, Religionsgeschichte and Wissenschaftsgeschichte, his contributions still exert influence today: see Calder-Cancik-Kytzler, passim. His early support for CIL was decisive and won Mommsen for the project. He inspired his student Carl Robert to edit the corpus of Roman sarcophagi. He began the custom of holding lectures on Winckelmann’s birthday, now common throughout Germany. All this is apart from his pioneer work in Germanistik and musicology.

I note several details. It is not clear (16) that the reason why Jahn left Pforte after only a year was the death of Lange on 9 July 1831. Lange, therefore, remained “eine Vaterfigur” only in Jahn’s memory. To Jahn’s unusual admiration for French scholars (18) one might add that Gottfried Hermann’s mother was French, a fact Wilamowitz never admits. Jahn’s refusal to publish in Rheinisches Museum because of his disagreements with Ritschl (30) may well have inspired Wilamowitz’ refusal. They both preferred Hermes, founded by Mommsen. In my opinion Müller underestimates the importance of the Wilamowitz-Nietzsche quarrel when he calls it (32) “das abschliessende Satyrspiel” to the tragedy of the Jahn-Ritschl struggle. The Wilamowitz-Nietzsche quarrel was methodological (historicism vs. intuition) while Jahn-Ritschl was academic intrigue and a conflict of powerful personalities of nostalgic interest today largely as proof that classics could once generate national political attention. To Jahn’s archaeological students (44) should be added Hugo Blümner (1844-1919), whose dissertation on references to art in Lucian was owed to Jahn’s suggestion and whose great work on ancient technology and crafts owes its inspiration to Jahn.

Jahn may be the sole example of a titanic classical scholar better known for his work in another field. His four volume life of Mozart (1856-59) is the high point of nineteenth century musicology (40) and remains not only authoritative but the model for subsequent lives of composers. It is the only one of his works that has been translated (1882) into English. With philological Akribie Jahn based his life on original sources which he first collected and transcribed. The life deserves critical attention today. Perhaps because of the scepticism that long preoccupation with Schliemann has engendered, I should like to see the text history of C 14.01 Sinfonia concertante investigated.[3] I think it not at all impossible that it is a forgery of Jahn, himself a composer and a great Mozartkenner, a Zunftscherz, comparable to his colleague Justi’s Roman letter of Velaquez. In short, Müller’s life is welcome, accurate and concise. I recommend it warmly.


[1] C. W. Müller, “Otto Jahn,” Classical Scholarship: A Biographical Encyclopedia, edited by W. W. Briggs and W. M. Calder III (New York 1990) 227-238.

[2] W. M. Calder III, H. Cancik, B. Kytzler, Otto Jahn (1813-1868): Ein Geisteswissenschaftler zwischen Klassizismus und Historismus (Stuttgart 1991) 258-286 (full bibliography of works by and about Jahn).

[3] For its suspicious textual history see Ludwig Ritter von Köchel, Chronologisch-thematisches Verzeichnis sämtlicher Tonwerke Wolfgang Amadé Mozarts ed.6 (Stuttgart 1964) 866.