BMCR 2000.02.16

“The Wilamowitz in Me”: 100 Letters between Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff and Paul Friedländer (1904-1931)

, , "The Wilamowitz in Me": 100 Letters between Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff and Paul Friedländer (1904-1931). Los Angeles: Charles E. Young Research Library at University of California, 1999. xxv, 227. $40.00. ISSN 1041-1143.

First, the external particulars: this volume — part of Calder’s1 continuing effort to publish every unpublished ipsissimum verbum of Wilamowitz and other giants of the earth in classical studies — contains 102 letters:2 sixty-six from Friedländer [PF] to Wilamowitz [UW], thirty-three from UW to PF, one from PF to F. Hiller von Gaertringen requesting news about his brother, captured on the Russian front, one from a Generalmajor Friedrich to UW (numbered 61a) regarding PF’s prospects for promotion, and a final one from Marie von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff to PF shortly after her husband’s death. By decades, the Briefwechsel is as follows:

1904-1909: 20 (9 by PF, 11 by UW)
1910-1919: 51 (46, 5)
1920-1929: 19 (9, 10)
1930-1933: 9 (2, 7)

Twenty-eight of the letters, written during the First World War, comprise over a third of the book (67 of the 193 pages). The letters range in length from a line or two on a postcard to perhaps 1500 words.

As for content, some twenty letters touch on matters of textual emendation and authenticity, mostly in Homer, Hesiod, Greek verse inscriptions, Plato (esp. Philebus, Alcibiades I, and Laws), and John of Gaza and Paul Silentiarius. Nearly thirty comment on books and papers published by the correspondents. Ten or so speak of other scholars and colleagues, F. Leo, H. Diels, F. Klingner, W. Schadewaldt, among others. Another ten were written from abroad during travels especially in Greece and Italy. Twenty refer to academic matters, including PF’s prospects for professorships (at Berlin, Basel, Marburg, Halle), and UW’s efforts on his behalf. A little over twenty focus on the Great War, in particular PF’s military experiences on both the eastern and western fronts and his hard-won (despite an iron cross first class) promotion.

The letters will naturally interest professional scholars, though most of them contain nothing of earth-shaking importance. True, as Calder points out, there is the remarkable erudition of the younger scholar, able to challenge the greatest savant of Altertumswissenschaft regarding specific emendations and, for example, to induce him to reconsider the authenticity of Alcibiades I (earlier dubbed “sheep shit” by UW).3 There is also the impressive display of deep learning aimed by both men at individual cruces. But all this may be gleaned from the published works of the correspondents. And, too, many of the letters are little more than “thank you” notes, catching up on news, exchanges of pleasantries, and condolences on deaths (e.g. of UW’s son Tycho during the war) or wishes for the recovery of ailing family members.

There is, however, a wider fascination about some of these documents, for they are part of a larger, rather tragic story of achievement insufficiently recognized and opportunities lost through accidents of birth and time. Had PF not been a Jew and had he been born, say, twenty years earlier, his academic career might well have rivaled that of the most notable twentieth-century German classicists. But the great promise shown in his early work — the Berlin dissertation Argolica, demonstrating his expertise in both archaeology and philology, and the meticulous edition of John of Gaza and Paul Silentiarius4 — failed to win him the chair in Greek at Basel in 1914. The winning candidate, Werner Jaeger, though six years younger than PF, received (probably decisively) stronger support from UW.5 Hermann Diels’ recommendation (quoted p. x) of PF for the professorship at Marburg after the war was more efficacious.

Calder quotes (p. ix) the following from UW’s letter proposing PF for the Basel chair: “Friedländer … is in contrast to Jaeger overripe. His productions give him the feeling of being held back.” (Note UW’s abstention from concurrence with this “feeling.”) “His Johannes-book in learning and solid exegesis surpasses everything of the past decade. For a long time he has struggled with very difficult personal circumstances; and he has to earn a living.” (So, he is no aristocrat and needs the money.) “His Jewish origin casts its shadow upon him as well as a certain amount of awkwardness in his appearance.” (Why mention his ethnicity at all? And why hint vaguely at “awkwardness”? Is he physically bumbling, palsied, socially inelegant?) “I have known him now for so many years and am convinced that his character is noble and his apparent arrogance really only an appearance, of the sort I have found only in people who are destined to become university teachers.” (Scil., he will strike anyone who has not known him for a very long time as conceited in the all-too-familiar manner of self-important university teachers.) So, a good man, but Jewish, graceless, and offputtingly supercilious. Small wonder the job went to Jaeger, who later succeeded UW at Berlin and then emigrated the United States and a chair at Harvard, where, as Calder notes (pp. xiii-xiv), he did nothing to help the refugee Friedländer and his family when they arrived in the states in 1939.6

The war itself was, of course, profoundly demoralizing for PF, because of both its brutal character and an inequitable promotion system that disadvantaged Jews: it was only “through the intervention of Wilamowitz at the top [that] he became one of the few Jewish officers” (p. xii). Though, as the letters reveal, he had done his best during difficult circumstances of service to keep reading classics (e.g., the Phaedo in a foxhole in 1915), maintain his analytical skills, and stay abreast of current scholarship,7 PF re-entered academia after the war with a sense of disjointedness and dissatisfaction with the conventional work of a classical scholar. Nonetheless, he was appointed Ordinarius at Marburg and taught there for twelve years (1920-1932) and then for three at Halle (1932-1935). This was a highly productive time in his life.8 But again, his career was aborted: the National Socialist government deprived him of his position and then, briefly, of his freedom, as he was imprisoned in a concentration camp in 1938. Released through the intercession of the theologian Rudolf Bultmann (PF was a practicing Lutheran), he fled with his family to the Netherlands and thence to the United States. After a year as lecturer at Johns Hopkins (“the invitation was presumably due the initiative of Leo Spitzer …, his Marburg colleague … and friend,” p. xii), he accepted his last academic post, at UCLA, as a fifty-eight-year-old assistant professor — surely one of the most over-qualified men ever to hold that rank at an American university. He was promoted to full professor in 1945 only four years before his retirement at age sixty-seven. Calder exclaims “What a pity! What a waste!” (p. xxii).

Seen against this background, the present collection of letters acquires a distinct pathos. Here we see the former student, ever respectful, even reverent, of his teacher. Always the two address each other, even after thirty years of intimacy, in the idiom of an academic politesse — “dear (highly) (esteemed) professor/colleague” — more common in Europe and in times gone by than in present-day North America. PF gains the respect of his teacher by excelling in the kind of philological work — especially textual criticism, and historicist higher criticism — whose acme UW represents. But, though his admiration for his master persists and grows, in time he finds himself drawn to the intellectual principles of an altogether divergent aestheticism. PF is torn between his appreciation of the artistic work along lines championed by Nietzsche,9 H. Wölfflin, J. Burckhardt, and Stefan George, and his devotion to the more traditional, “scientific” approach of UW. Hence his struggle with “the Wilamowitz in me.” In a particularly important letter10 (#75 in the collection, with English translation), written in 1921 only a month after losing a premature infant son, PF movingly describes his inner conflict. “I am opposed to you in many and important matters, often struggle secretly against you, and have the feeling that perhaps you don’t completely reject me, but rather somewhat disapprove of me…. Much of the best that I have, I have through you. But that which I have now become — and that is now the other side of the coin — for many years I have become in battle against you, or perhaps better, against the Wilamowitz in me. Had I not earlier been so attached to you, the detachment would not have been so painful” (p. 213).

Every student who becomes a teacher has felt the influence of a mentor and striven to earn his or her approval. Less commonly, as time passes, the student may outgrow and discard the methods and attitudes learned in youth. But UW’s towering stature in his discipline makes PF’s candid defiance of his mentor’s intellectual principles a truly rare and courageous act. The depth and sincerity of his self-examination and the life experiences motivating that process impart a broad human appeal to this correspondence. We must thank the editors for making it available in this exemplary volume.


1. Calder wrote the preface and introduction and collaborated with Huss on the commentary. The latter comprises 509 footnotes, mostly clarifying scholarly allusions, identifying persons and publications, and reconstructing dates and sequences of events. They are masterfully succinct and instructive. Huss made the computer-transcription of the originals and created the indices ( Personarum, Locorum Antiquorum). An Appendix contains (very accurate) English translations by Caroline Buckler of eleven of the more interesting and significant letters.

2. The majority are in the Paul Friedländer Collection (1551) at UCLA, where PF held his final academic post. Others are in the Department of Manuscripts at the Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen. One letter was provided by a private source.

3. See PF, Die Grosse Alcibiades: Ein Weg zu Platon, parts 1 and 2 (Bonn 1921/23).

4. His 1911 Habilitationsschrift: Johannes von Gaza und Paulus Silentiarius: Kunstbeschreibungen justinianischer Zeit (Leipzig/Berlin 1912; rpt. Hildesheim/New York 1969).

5. On UW’s overestimation of Jaeger’s rank among his former students, see A. Henrichs, “Philologie und Wissenschaftsgeschichte: Zur Krise eines Selbstverständnisses,” in H. Flashar, ed., Altertumswissenschaft in den 20er Jahren: Neue Fragen und Impulse (Stuttgart 1995) 452-453.

6. Calder, though he notes the anger PF felt at being passed over in favor of Jaeger, yet asserts that “precise reasons for the persistent mutual dislike … remain elusive” (p. xiv); rivalry in the quest for UW’s esteem was one obvious cause.

7. “Several months ago I had the Iliad book [UW’s Die Ilias und Homer (Berlin 1916)] with me, and, in a Ruthenian mud hut as well as in a French sugar factory, I tried to read[,] both learning a great deal and finding a great deal with which to disagree” (pp. 210-211).

8. Notably, the first edition of his masterly Platon appeared in volumes I: Eidos, Paideia, Dialogos (Berlin 1928) and II: Die platonischen Schriften (Berlin 1930).

9. See H. Lloyd-Jones, “Nietzsche” [1975], rpt. in Blood for the Ghosts: Classical Influences in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Baltimore 1983) 165-181; “Wilamowitz asked, ‘What can we do for philology?’; Nietzsche preferred to ask ‘What can philology do for us?'” (p. 178).

10. “One of the most important documents we have for the history of classical philology in the twentieth century” (p. xvi), previously in W.M. Calder III, “The Credo of a New Generation: Paul Friedländer to Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff,” Antike und Abendland 25 (1980) 90-102 = Antiqua 23 (1983) 127-139, 307.