BMCR 2000.01.03


, Der Altertumswissenschaftler Eduard Norden (1868-1941) : das Schicksal eines deutschen Gelehrten jüdischer Abkunft : mit den Briefen Eduard Nordens an seinen Lehrer Hermann Usener aus den Jahren 1891 bis 1902. Spudasmata ; Bd. 73. Hildesheim: Olms, 1999. 213 pages. ISBN 9783487110097 DM 74.

In the days when high university administrators still took note of such things, Eduard Norden was called “the most famous Latinist in the world” by James B. Conant, president of Harvard University, during the award of an honorary degree on the three hundredth anniversary of the university’s founding. With A.E. Housman already in his grave, there was no one to dispute the title. Today scholars will associate Norden’s name primarily with the masterly commentary on Aeneid 6, his most nearly perfect work, which revolutionized the commentary form by considering not just the individual words and phrases but the architecture of the text. Others will also remember the Gercke-Norden Einleitung in die Altertumswissenschaft, which provided the framework for such works of abiding importance as Wilamowitz’s Geschichte der Philologie or Maas’s Textkritik. Those dealing in any way with prose style in Greek or Latin will be familiar with his marvellously precocious and comprehensive, if uneven, Antike Kunstprosa.

Born in 1868 in Emden in East Frisia as the son of a Jewish physician, Eduard Norden was won over for the study of classical philology by a gifted schoolmaster, Philipp Kohlmann. Norden was baptized in the Evangelical Church at age 17 and went on to study Classics in Bonn and (for two semesters) Berlin. After promotion with a thesis on Varro’s Menippean Satires in Bonn with Franz Bücheler, he became successively Assistent in Strasburg, Extraordinary and then Regular Professor in Greifswald, where he married Marie Schultze, the daughter of the city’s mayor;1 the Kunstprosa (1898) quickly brought him a call to Breslau (1899); with Aeneid 6 under his belt (1903), he was appointed at age 38 to the top post in his profession in Germany, the Latin chair in Berlin — a breathtaking climb. But the year 1933 brought clouds to the horizon, and they thickened over the last years of Norden’s life. He was forced to give up his Chair and his right to university teaching (1935). In the sequel his disabilities multiplied: he lost his privilege of publishing in Germany and his right to vote; the notorious “Jewish tax” of 1938 forced him to sell his house and much of his library; he lost his right to use university facilities; like all males who were Jewish in the sense of the law and did not have identifiably Jewish given names, he had to take “Israel” as a second first name, etc. Though the Nordens’ own home was protected by a young neighbor who was an SA member on “Reichskristallnacht,” the experience of friends who were less lucky convinced the Nordens to seek permission to live in Zurich, which, with the help of Swiss friends, above all Ernst Howald, was granted. He died in Zurich on 13 July 1941.

Much information about Norden’s life has been published in recent years by E. Mensching,2 as well as by W.M. Calder III and Bernhard Huss.3 Wilt Aden Schröder (hereinafter S.) uses those materials but also makes new documents accessible. The present volume, attractively produced and carefully proofread (I have noted only a couple of trivial typographical errors), consists of three parts. In the first part S. sketches Norden’s life with great sympathy (pp. 9-86); the second part consists of previously unpublished letters of Norden and others (pp. 87-144), especially his Bonn teacher Hermann Usener, the third part, of other previously unpublished documents pertaining to Norden, mostly illustrating his via dolorosa during the Nazi period (pp. 145-183); an appendix provides information about the courses taught by Norden, a list of his major works and addenda to the bibliography of Norden’s works prepared by B. Kytzler and printed at pp. 63-88 of Norden’s Kleine Schriften. A selective index of persons and ancient authors concludes the volume (there is a separate index to the edited letters at p. 144). The main increment in information provided by S. thus pertains to the pre-Berlin years, especially the relation to Usener, and the last years, 1933-41, and thus helps to round out the picture presented by the correspondence with Wilamowitz. In its main outlines this later phase is similar to Paul Maas’s experience: the scholar, albeit relieved of teaching, hopes to be able to lead a quiet life of study until “Reichskristallnacht” persuades him that this is not possible, and he emigrates.4

The title of the book calls for some comment. In spite of James B. Conant’s characterization, it would, as S. argues (p. 65), be an injustice to call Norden merely a Latinist. Norden was chiefly a classical philologist, devoted to the understanding of Greek and Latin texts. Nevertheless I do not quarrel with S.’s designation “Altertumswissenschaftler”; after all, he studied archaeology with R. Kekulé and Carl Robert (p. 13); on his own showing, with typical conscientiousness, Norden engaged in as much reading as he could in order to equip himself for his work as a member of the Central Directorate of the German Archaeological Institute (letter to Theodor Wiegand, cited by S., pp. 32-33); and he engaged in topographical studies in connection with his research on the Germani.5

From the proportions indicated above it is clear that a full biography of Norden is not attempted here. The first part is an expanded version of an article on Norden which S. prepared for the Biographische Lexikon für Ostfriesland, and it still has the essential character of an encyclopedia article. The emphasis is on ascertaining the facts of Norden’s life with the aid of documents, including Norden’s personnel files in Berlin and in the Philosophical Faculty of the University of Berlin. S.’s extensive archival research has given him a vantage point from which to correct omissions and errors of fact in earlier accounts. This is, in fact, the strength of the book: one gets a clear picture of the facts of Norden’s life and their chronology. His professional work is documented by reminiscences of Norden’s students and reviews and other reactions to his published works. At the same time it must be said that the section entitled “Nordens Persönlichkeit und sein Werk” is a bit disappointing in that the personality is largely reconstructed from the reminiscences of students; here one would have liked to see more use made of the correspondence with Wilamowitz, who was, I think, the major influence on the mature Norden,6 and reminiscences of other contemporaries. Such phenomena as Norden’s being subject to chronic depression and ill health are noted in passing (see p 24, p. 51, n. 149; p. 63, n. 185) but not discussed in any detail. His disparagement of Roman culture in comparison with Greek (p. 27) might also have merited further examination.

All readers will be gripped by the story of a great scholar brought low by forces that he could scarcely comprehend.7 Philological readers will also be interested in the discussion of Norden’s works, briefly and aptly characterized,8 and their genesis. It is typical of Norden that the books generally had some relation either to his university lectures (the Kunstprosa : p. 16, n. 33; Aen. 6: p. 18, n. 38) or public lectures (most of the others). Norden’s sharp eye for literary forms led to discoveries of lasting value, such as his analysis of the form of hymns and prayers,9 but not all his ideas have stood the test of time; thus his thesis, in the same work, that the concept of the “unknown god” is typically Oriental, not Greek, is clearly wrong (p. 27). In spite of his finely honed sense of literary form in the texts that he studied, Norden’s own books hardly ever attained a perfectly rounded form10 — a point that he shared with Wilamowitz and of which Wilamowitz expressed his approval (p. 65 and n. 190).

The critical points in a scholarly career are the changes of university. Letters of Norden’s father published here for the first time make it clear that his first professional post as Assistent at Strasburg resulted from Usener’s contact with Kiessling, not Bücheler’s with Kaibel, as had been previously supposed (p. 90). New documents bearing on Norden’s call to Greifswald evidently appeared too late to be cited by S.: they show the Faculty, realizing that the best chance of a provincial university lies in obtaining a promising young scholar, pushing through the call to Norden in spite of the different plans of the powerful Prussian Hochschulreferent Friedrich Althoff.11 By the time of Norden’s other critical passage, the call to Berlin, Althoff has evidently been converted to an enthusiastic supporter.12 Once Leo was no longer in question, Diels and, a bit more reluctantly, Wilamowitz fell into line with that, as S. shows against those who have supposed that Wilamowitz orchestrated the call (p. 22 and n. 51).

An excursus appended to the section on Norden’s life and work discusses Norden’s scholarly projects in the twenties and culminates in an attempted refutation of the thesis of J. Rüpke that Norden’s last book, Aus altrömischen Priesterbüchern (1939), was essentially completed by 1925-26 but was held back when Norden’s results, presented in a lecture in Weimar on 26 May 1926, encountered criticism from Eduard Fraenkel on the grounds that Norden had underrated Greek influences. The known facts are these: in 1921, in the aftermath of the publication of Die Germanische Urgeschichte in Tacitus Germania (1920), Norden was keen to shift his focus away from the Germani and toward other themes; materials later treated in Aus altrömischen Priesterbüchern were presented in lectures of 1925-26 and encountered said criticism; in 1934 Norden published Alt-Germanien, in 1939 (in Sweden) Aus altrömischen Priesterbüchern. At issue is how far work on the early Latin texts had progressed by 1925/26 and whether the resulting book should be categorized as essentially a work of the 20s or the 30s. The correspondence with Wilamowitz in the 20s contains occasional references to the limes research that forms part of Alt-Germanien; the letters leave it unclear, however, how he allocated his time between this work and that on early Latin texts. Writing in 1948, Kurt Latte, who was present at the 1926 lecture, described the publication of Aus altrömischen Priesterbüchern as imminent at the time of the lecture;13 it is not clear whether this is an inference ex eventu (so S.) or based upon definite information. Thus a “non licet” appears to be, on present evidence, the appropriate conclusion.

The second and third parts of the book present a useful series of documents bearing on the early and late phases of Norden’s life, some, but not all of which, are discussed in part 1. Among the new insights are the genesis of Norden’s appointment at Strasburg (see above) and the fact that at Strasburg he was engaged to be married but that the engagement was broken off.

One of the towering figures of classical scholarship of the past century, Eduard Norden led a life compounded of triumph and tragedy. The scholarly achievement is remarkably consistent and was perhaps best encapsulated by Werner Jaeger’s remark that he both traced the development of religious ideas and at the same time studied their literary form.14 He can thus be seen as continuing and synthesizing at a high level the work of his two Bonn teachers, Usener for history of religion and Bücheler for style. Though one may differ with this or that interpretation or emphasis, those interested in Norden have reason to be grateful to S. for both the new evidence he has uncovered and for providing an outline of the life that clarifies a number of points. While recognizing his subject’s weaknesses,15 S. is clearly moved by a desire to see that justice is done to Norden’s memory and defends him, successfully I think, against some cavils he has suffered in recent literature (p. 24, n. 59; p. 34, n. 86; p. 57, n. 170). With the main facts established on the basis of the documents, the stage is now set for a full-scale biography that will fit all the pieces of the puzzle into an ordered whole. S. himself is the person best placed to provide that biography, and one hopes that he will do so.


1.Calder and Huss (n. 3 below, p. XIII) have suggested that Norden was thus compensating for his Jewish background, an idea rejected by S. (p. 16, n. 31); certainly the young lady and her family had other qualities to recommend them to the young scholar than just her father’s office (see S., p. 127, n. 316). What effect his Jewish background may have had on Norden will be a topic to be addressed in a full-scale biography.

2.E. Mensching, Nugae zur Philologie-Geschichte, 6 parts (Berlin, 1987-93), esp. 1, 2, 5 and 6.

3. “Sed serviendum officio …” The Correspondence between Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff and Eduard Norden (1892-1931), ed. W.M. Calder III and Bernhard Huss (Hildesheim, 1997).

4. The fullest account at E. Mensching, Über einen verfolgten deutschen Altphilologen: Paul Maas, 1880-1964 (Berlin, 1987).

5. Eduard Norden, Alt-Germanien. Völker- und namengeschichtliche Untersuchungen (Leipzig, 1934), first section.

6. S. acknowledges the influence at p. 24, n. 59 (Norden’s practice in taking leave of absence likely to have been modelled on Wilamowitz rather than Jaeger) and p. 25 (the modelling of the Norden-Stiftung on the similar Wilamowitz-Stiftung).

7. Especially pathetic the comment of F. Wehrli, who had heard Norden lecture in Berlin (1927-28) and grew closer to him in the Zurich years: “Daß ihm sein Anspruch, deutscher Kulturträger zu sein, bestritten wurde, konnte er nicht begreifen” (Mensching, n. 2 above, 1, 87, cited by S., 52, n. 151).

8. See, e.g., p. 17 (on the Kunstprosa): “Das Originelle war, daß Norden, an die antike Rhetorik und Stilbetrachtung anknüpfend, bestimmte Stilmerkmale durch die Jahrhunderte verfolgte und ihre weitgehend unveränderte Geltung feststellte” with following remarks on Norden’s theory of the origin of rhyme in modern poetry.

9. Eduard Norden, Agnostos Theos. Untersuchungen zur Formengeschichte religiöser Rede (Berlin, 1913), 143 ff.

10. See the letter to A. Brinkmann printed by S., p. 131, in which Norden denies that Kunstprosa is a “schönes Buch.”

11. Hartmut Leppin, “Eduard Nordens Berufung nach Greifswald: Handlungsspielräume im ‘System Althoff’,” Philologus 142 (1998), 162-72; S., p. 15, n. 29, requires some modification accordingly.

12. Diels to Wilamowitz 30.9.05 (cited p. 21, n. 48) of Althoff: “Sein Mann ist vielmehr Norden …”

13. Cf. Kurt Latte, Kleine Schriften, ed. O. Gigon, W. Buchwald, W. Kunkel (Munich, 1968), 91, n. 1.

14. Werner Jaeger, “Die klassische Philologie an der Universität Berlin von 1870-1945,” in Studium Berolinense. Aufsätze und Beiträge zu Problemen der Wissenschaft und zur Geschichte der Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität zu Berlin, ed. H. Leussink, E. Neumann, G. Kotowski (Berlin, 1960), 476 (cited by S., p. 64, n. 186).

15. The main one in his scholarship was the lack of the gift of divination (S., p. 62 and n. 182). I take it that this — and not the wish to flatter his English addressee — is why Wilamowitz, in a letter to E.H. Blakeney dated 3.6.30, called Housman “den ersten lebenden Latinisten” (cf. S., p. 44, n. 118); Wilamowitz was not wont to pronounce on such matters without careful deliberation.