BMCR 1995.04.16

Eduard Norden (1868-1941)

, , Eduard Norden (1868-1941): ein deutscher Gelehrter jüdischer Herkunft. Palingenesia 49. Stuttgart: F. Steiner, 1994. 239 pages. ISBN 3515065881.

It is extremely timely and laudable that, in a time that is witnessing a political move towards the right in many western democracies, scholars have got together to state their belief that nationality is independent of ethnic origins. Hence the editors of these essays on Eduard Norden’s scholarship and times have labelled Norden “a German of Jewish decent” rather than a German Jew, which I take as a clear political statement to the effect that, no matter what your ethnic origins are, you can be German, recognized by others as German and Germany should be proud of your achievements.

The volume contains eleven essays, originally delivered at a symposium (where?) and it contains the usual mix of more and less useful talks that are the hallmark of this genre. The studies are grouped under the headings “Classical Philology”, “History of Religion” and “Scholarship, Politics and Society”. There is a brief introduction by Bernhard Kytzler and an appendix containing sources on Norden’s biography, a name index and photographs with running commentary.

Bernhard Kytzler opens the series of essays with a piece on “Norden’s Vorlesung ‘Geschichte der Klassischen Philologie’” in which he gives a synopsis of this lecture-course by Norden, traces some structural similarities with some of Norden’s printed work and finishes with a transcript of a sample which, on account of the numerous abbreviations and verb-less note style will remind many a colleague of his/her own lecture notes. More comforting than that will be Norden’s report of his enrollment figures: in Fall of 1893 he had five, in 1896 eight and in 1900 twelve warm bodies in his classroom. That gives me great hope for the survival of our discipline.

The second piece is by Gualtiero Galboli. He deals with Norden’s influence on Italian studies of rhetoric. His approach, noted in the first sentence, is not that of a historian of criticism and maybe that is why it appeals very much to the present reviewer who isn’t either. Galboli basically traces early references to Norden in Italian scholarship. He weighs Norden’s opinions against his compatriots’ and often engages in his own interpretations. His contribution contains a satura lanx of remarks about the style of Apuleius as well as a textual note on Ennius. Like Ovid in his Metamorphoses, Galboli has taken the theme of Norden as a catch-all for miscellaneous observations which will be of interest to those already familiar with his work.

Hubert Cancik and Hildegard Cancik-Lindemaier contribute a very wide-ranging and sensitive piece on Norden’s “Formbegriffe” which, since the publication of Francis Cairns’ book on “Generic Composition”, one would have to translate as “genres”. The Cancik couple show how Norden’s analysis of what he would call “Form” was influenced by contemporary theology and history of religion. It also shows that his “proto-genericism” does not start with Menander Rhetor but with the literature on which that rhetorician’s classifications are partly based, a fact that is probably also true of Cairns’ work. The two Canciks show that this kind of analysis does not need to rely on a later rhetorician and that it must not be ignored as it largely has been in the United States.

The following essay by Gudrun Fischer Saglia is entitled “Eduard Norden als Ubersetzer”. She analyses a passage in Norden’s translation of the “Cupid and Psyche” episode in Apuleius and his version of the sixth book of Vergil’s Aeneid. Norden in short emphasizes the “Zielsprache” over the “Ausgangssprache”. He is not trying to produce a close but readable translation but rather a rendition which affects the modern reader analogously to the way in which the Latin text would have affected an ancient reader. Fischer Saglia calls this “the principle of dynamic equivalence” (p. 72). While she never goes into the obvious problems and imponderables of such an approach to translation she does stress that, on account of his emphasis on the “Zielsprache”, Norden considers German poetry equivalent, maybe even superior to Greek works (p. 7879). This ties in quite neatly with the penultimate piece in the collection which illustrates how much Norden echoes the ideology of the German empire.

Then it’s on to the section on the history of religion and Kurt Rudolph’s article on Norden and the Gottingen School of the History of Religion. Rudolph gives a useful introduction into the approach of the Gottingen School before comparing Norden’s Agnostos Theos with its tenets. He highlights that Norden’s lasting achievement lies in the philological Field where he analyzed religious language and formulae. His limitations are on the socio-historical side. Rudolph misses in Norden’s work a connection between the history of ideas and social history (p. 103). He even refers to Karl Marx’s dictum that the history of ideas is merely a history of ghosts (Karl Marx und Friedrich Engels, “Deutsche Ideologic”, Werke 3, Berlin 1958, 38-9). Rudolph further misses a foundation in methodological theory (p. 104).

As a Classical philologist I have nothing to say about the Gottingen School. However, I cannot help but retort that social history in itself is just as inadequate as pure history of ideas and that social history has since the war acquired a position of predominance that ought to be tempered with approaches like Norden’s. Furthermore, in my view it is largely due to the fact that Norden took his methodology as a given that he managed to write so many outstanding pieces of scholarship with such lasting value that they are still in print today. Personally, I’ll take an Eduard Norden with a deficit in literary theory any day over a colleague who has read Barthes, Derrida, Foucault and Iser in the original (not that English native speakers are in much danger of that) and all that I can learn from him/her is that (s)he is “awfully bright”.

In the following study Hans Dieter Betz examines Norden’s analysis of early Christian literature in Agnostos Theos. Norden’s starting point, nowadays generally ignored by all of us, is that Theology and Philology mutually depend on each other (“daß Theologie und Philologie sich gegenseitig bedingen”, Agnostos Theos 218, cited by Betz on p. 108). Betz outlines Norden’s achievement in this field. His stylistic and formal analyses are still valuable but his overall view of “pure Greek” culture is outdated. Betz considers Norden’s generic classification of the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles as missionary sermons as apparently correct (p. 125) and then asks but never answers the question “then what about the Letters and Revelation?” Suffice it to say that the generic classification of the Gospels is about as agreed upon as that of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The literature on this topic is vast and not necessarily of interest to the readers of BMCR. I personally would rather look at them as panegyrics that start with Jesus’ γένη and then move on to his ἐπιτηδεύματα. If looked at from this point of view, one could also explain the writers’ scrambling for details about Jesus’ τρόφη, about which nobody knew very much and which was probably only of interest to his analyst. I do, however, agree with Betz’s missionary appeal at the end in which he encourages theologians and philologists alike to overcome their isolation from each other: “Isolierung bedeutet immer, wie NORDEN schon richtig gesehen hat, fortschreitende intellektuelle Atrophie”. That is generally true and could easily be transferred to other areas of our discipline.

Jorg Rüpke in his piece entitled “Der alte Norden (1925-1941): Die Entstehung der ‘Altrömischen Priesterbücher’ als biographischer Schlüssel” uses the slow process of Norden writing his Aus altrömischen Priesterbüchern as an indication of scholarly debate about the relationship between Latinists and Hellenists as well as increasingly adverse circumstances under the Nazi regime. He tries to show that Norden changed his main argument especially under the influence of Fraenkel (p. 140). Rüpke shows that there clearly was a debate going on concerning the song of the Arval brethren. Norden who throughout the volume is characterized as “diffident”, ended up yielding to Fraenkel. Much more devastating to my mind are the letters of Norden from that period which illustrate very vividly the social history of German intellectuals of Jewish descent at that time. Most poignant to me was Norden’s letter to Jaeger of 2nd February 1939 in which he explains the delayed publication of Aus altrömischen Priesterbüchern: “Beim Erscheinen werden wir wohl nicht mehr im Vaterland weilen…” (p. 147) The key word both for Norden and for the entire collection of essays is “Vaterland”.

Giovanni Casadino then traces the influence of Norden’s Die Geburt des Kindes, Aus altrömischen Priesterbüchern and the commentary on Aeneid VI in Italian scholarship. He does in essence what Calboli had done for Die antike Kunstprosa in an earlier contribution.

Then it’s on to the final section entitled “Kontexte” with the subtitle “Scholarship, Politics and Society”. William Calder III kicks off this part with an analysis of Willamowitz’s letters to Norden. His, incidentally, is the only paper that uses English extensively. I am not saying that his piece is written entirely in English because he quotes what Germans would call his “Hauspatron” at length. His thesis is simple: Wilamowitz was the most important person in Norden’s career and thought highly of him. Calder is the only author in the volume who indulges in an occasional flash of humor. With his sententiae and epigrams he would, on my analysis, make a pretty good “silver” poet: “While there is death, there is hope” (p. 175). “The letter scribbled in haste is a masterpiece of Wilamowitzian kakography” (p. 176-7). Finally, in footnote 7, he remarks a propos Franz Delitzsch’s conjecture that Eduard Meyer is Jewish because he knows Hebrew very well “On such grounds WILAMOWITZ was Greek”. A reference to the patronage system in German academia which is still alive but as far as I can see not terribly well would not have gone amiss at some point in Calder’s argument. The death of Norden’s teachers Usener and Bücheler could have ended Norden’s career. He needed to be “adopted” by someone else and Wilamowitz took him under his wing. “Once LEO declined, WILAMOWITZ wanted NORDEN” (p. 175). Calder speculates about documents of the university that might clarify the details of Norden’s call to Berlin. If they exist, those will presumably tell us more about Wilamowitz than about Norden. The list in his letter of 1st March 1906 includes Marx, Wissowa, Heinze and Norden — incidentally a short-list of a dream-team that none of us is likely to see in our lifetime even if we get 200 applications per opening. Anybody who has been involved in a search should be able to say from his own experience that personality must have been the second consideration.

Richard Faber in his piece on “Eduard Nordens ‘Heldenehrungen’” shows that Norden’s religious and political ideas (“religiös-politisch” is untranslatable: it refers to a view of politics that is analogous to a religious belief-system) were firmly rooted in German nationalism of the second empire. Both Norden’s speech on his taking office as the president of the Berlin university, later published under the title “Heldenehrungen”, and the literature he relies on is quite sickening in its quasi-religious nationalism. Ironically, it is exactly this kind of thinking by people in official and powerful positions that contributed to the demise of the Weimar Republic.

J. Edgar Bauer finally shows in his essay entitled “Wahrheitsliebe und Judentum” how Norden’s scholarship, not just his conversion to Protestantism, had estranged him from his native Judaism to such a degree that, even when the Germany he had so emphatically embraced turned against him, there was no way back. On the other hand, Bauer also shows that Norden’s emphasis on studying the historical Jesus leads him to a reading of the Gospels that does not contradict Jewish monotheism (p. 218). The link between him and Judaism is his love of the truth — Wahrheitsliebe. His main concern is to analyze tradition and see how it came into being in the historical process. Dogma and legend have to be seen as the products of a grain of historical truth (p. 215). Hence his interest in the historical Jesus rather than in the Trinity.

I had to read Bauer’s piece twice to follow his argument. He delights in nominalized adjectives and abstract nouns. Connections between the numbered paragraphs (why?) and between individual sentences are sometimes tenuous. In short, Bauer’s thought is not always easy to follow even for the native speaker. On my second reading I have to admit that, while his style is a turn-off, his argument is interesting and sound.

The entire volume is of much greater value to a social historian or a historian of ideas than to the Classicist. I approached the book as a fan of Norden’s commentary on Aeneid VI, his Antike Kunstprosa and Agnostos Theos. After reading these articles, which have taught me a great deal about Norden and his intellectual environment, I am none the wiser about Vergil or religious language. Only Galboli made a few points that are of value to me as a philologist. However, I shall certainly recommend this book to my colleague Ken Ledford whose specialty is German social history of this period. I can also recommend it as a document on contemporary German politics: Germany today is not the same as in 1930 since even Classical scholars in their ivory towers are taking a stand against resurging right wing ideas.