BMCR 2001.09.18

Wilamowitz in Greifswald. Akten der Tagung zum 150. Geburtstag Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorffs in Greifswald, 19-22. Dezember 1998, (Spudasmata, 81)

, Wilamowitz in Greifswald : Akten der Tagung zum 150. Geburtstag Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorffs in Greifswald, 19.-22. Dezember 1998. Spudasmata ; Bd. 81. Hildesheim, Zürich, New York: Olms, 2000. 723 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm.. ISBN 3487111756 DM 196.

Founded in 1456, the University of Greifswald is one of Germany’s oldest universities. From 1648 onwards, Greifswald belonged to the Swedish dominated parts of Vorpommern which in 1815 fell to Prussia. Since the mid-19th-century, the University of Greifswald was known as a launching pad for talented young scholars who got their first professorship there and left Greifswald after only a few years. In June 1933, the university was named after Ernst Moritz Arndt, professor of history in Greifswald between 1800 and 1811, a fervent pamphletist and author of patriotic verses against Napoleon and for German unification. Perhaps surprisingly, Soviet and East German authorities did not change this name after 1945. During the time of the GDR, the disciplines of classics were reduced to a marginal role, and, since the late 1960s only ancient history survived at Greifswald. After German reunification, an Institut füer Altertumskunde with chairs of Latin, Greek, Classical Archaeology, and Ancient History was newly founded. In December 1998, this institute took the occasion of the 150th birthday of Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (22. 12. 1848 – 25. 9. 1931) to organize a conference on the life and work of this famous scholar during his Greifswald years from 1876 to 1883. The majority of the conference volume’s papers are in German, two in English (by Chambers and Calder), one in French (by Dorandi).

When the 27-year-old Wilamowitz (henceforth: W.), one and a half year after his Habilitation in Berlin, was appointed to his first professorship, Greifswald classical studies could already look back to a history of some fifty years.1 A first chair of classical philology had been founded in 1818 (C. W. Ahlwardt), a second in 1827 (Georg Friedrich Schoemann); a third one was added in 1863 (Franz Susemihl); a chair of ancient history was institutionalized in 1858 (Arnold Schaefer), a professorship of classical archaeology in 1862 (Adolf Michaelis). A list of the professors of classical philology until the early 20th-century is presented in W. A. Schröder’s paper. It shows that a number of scholars including such names as Otto Jahn, Hermann Usener or Eduard Norden left Greifswald after three to five years. There were however exceptions: Schoemann and Susemihl spent their whole career in Greifswald, Adolf Kiessling spent 17 years from 1872 onwards. (Strangely, Schoemann, still known today for his works on Greek legal and constitutional antiquities, is missing from the list of Greifswald professors to whose memory this volume is dedicated). Schröder concentrates on W.’s immediate predecessors, Rudolf Schöll and Eduard Hiller, who both stayed in Greifswald for only two years, and comments on the earlier acquaintance between Schöll and W., especially Schöll’s instigation that W. write his pamphlet against Nietzsche.2 Nietzsche had been asked by Susemihl in early 1872 whether he would accept a call from Basel to Greifswald; after his refusal, Schöll was appointed. This offer to Nietzsche might have increased the angry reaction of younger classicists to an author whose Die Geburt der Tragödie was seen as a deliberative refusal of a scientific approach to antiquity.

For the succession to Hiller the faculty had shortlisted without a clear priority three persons, among them W. Whatever the patronage of Theodor Mommsen may have counted for,3 the decision in favour of W., as J. Dummer shows, was finally due to Hermann Bonitz (known as compiler of the Index Aristotelicus), who since 1875 had occupied a higher post in the Prussian Ministry of Culture. As is well known, W.’s later appointments to chairs in Göttingen (1883) and Berlin (1897) were managed by Friedrich Althoff, the famous undersecretary in the Prussian ministry, who from 1882 to 1907 massively influenced appointments for professorships in all disciplines, often as in W.’s case 4—yet not always—5 against the preference of faculties. From the very beginning, perhaps due to a recommendation by Mommsen, W. was one of Althoff’s confidential informants and could have influence on his staff policy.6 Thus he arranged Julius Wellhausen’s call to Göttingen in 1892. Wellhausen had in 1882 resigned from his chair of theology in Greifswald and then become professor of Oriental Studies in Halle and Marburg. The story of the friendship between Wellhausen and W. which had begun in their Greifswald years is sketched by R. Smend.

W. also offered patronage to scholars who had only spent a short time as students in Greifswald, such as Eduard Schwartz (who later ascribed his acceptance of a call to Göttingen in 1902 to unfair pressure by Althoff and W.) and Bruno Keil (appointed at Strassburg 1890); the same holds true for the Indo-European linguist Wilhelm Schulze, who got a Göttingen chair in 1895 (papers by P. v. Möllendorff, H. Leppin and B. Schlerath, respectively). Ludwig Traube, the future master of Latin palaeography, spent the summer term 1881 in Greifswald but then left after he fell a victim to antisemitic insults. As P. L. Schmidt points out, W.’s later comment in his autobiography on this incident seems to be more concerned with the fate of two “seduced” students, who as ringleaders were removed from the university, than with Traube’s bitter experience. (Traube’s later difficulty in acquiring an adequate post was partly due to antisemitic prejudices, partly to the specialization he had chosen.) Hans von Arnim took his doctorate in Greifswald in 1882. His embarking on the collection of the fragments of the Stoics was influenced by W., then already in Göttingen (Hans Schwabl, focusing on Arnim’s career in Vienna).

W.’s relationships with colleagues (besides Wellhausen) were of varying nature. W. was on relatively friendly terms with Susemihl; he helped his senior colleague (born in 1826) with diverse minor publications; Susemihl’s later massive Geschichte der griechischen Litteratur in der Alexandrinerzeit (1891/92) accorded with a special interest of W. (as evident in his 1882 edition of Callimachus—A. Köhnken). He could, however, appreciate Susemihl’s work only as a useful compilation (R. Kirstein). The relationship with Kiessling changed for the worse, especially since Kiessling did not fulfill his duties as co-editor of the Philologische Untersuchungen. W. (following Mommsen’s advice) avoided an open quarrel and even gave considerable support to Kiessling’s commentary on Horace (P. Dräger). The archaeologist August Preuner, once considered a great hope of the discipline, did not publish any further; W. had also a low opinion of his qualities as a teacher and did not appreciate his efforts concerning the collection of plaster casts (T. Schäfer). Otto Seeck was called to a Greifswald professorship of ancient history in 1881 on the advice of his teacher Theodor Mommsen. (Since 1878 Mommsen was W.’s father-in -law; W.’s marriage with Marie Mommsen is treated by two scions of W.’s family.) Mommsen was well aware of the scholarly limits of Seeck, who in Berlin had only obtained a venia legendi for Roman history. Accordingly, W. felt obliged to continue teaching Greek History. He was appalled by Seeck’s bad manners and thought that Seeck would not fulfill his obligations towards the students. When Seeck after Mommsen’s death in 1903 became a member of the Kirchenväterkommission of the Prussian Academy and was commissioned to prepare the profane parts of the Prosopographia Imperii Romani both got on ill terms again since W. suspected Seeck of ignoring his commitments, rightly as it turned out (S. Rebenich).

W.’s teaching of Greek history was not only due to faculty problems (though that should later happen similarly in Göttingen again).7 It coincided with his conception of a comprehensive Altertumswissenschaft. His famous 1877 birthday address for the Prussian king (and German Emperor), Von des attischen Reiches Herrlichkeit, contains (besides the political message: the praise for a national unification allegedly achieved by the 5th-century Athenian Empire) programmatic statements that for a realistic approach to Greek history (in contrast to the idealization practized by Ernst Curtius) one had to follow Mommsen’s lead with respect to the importance of epigraphy and Staatsrecht (M. Hose). The same holds true for the further antiquarian studies collected in the 1880 volume Aus Kydathen (which opened with the 1877 address); they also reflect the experience of his journey to Greece in the spring of 1873 (W. M. Calder).

In general W. always took his teaching obligations very seriously and apparently showed affability towards his students (H. Flashar). The majority of his Greifswald students came from the province of Pommern, most of them with a modest financial background (D. Hansen). Personal recollections of W.’s teaching in Greifswald are lacking but the list of his courses demonstrates an impressive quantity and diversity of subjects (M. C. Dubischar and, on the seminar’s library, G. Rommel). W. also regularly taught Latin courses, including those on the historians Sallust and Tacitus; that he did not treat Horace, the Roman poet he appreciated most, was apparently a matter of respect for his colleague Kiessling (G. Vogt-Spira).

W. stayed seven years in Greifswald, longer than he and others had foreseen. The comparatively slow progress of his academic career may have been due to the polemical tone of his writings.8 Mommsen had already warned him in 1878 that he should not open a warfare in his reviews and especially not against second-class scholars. The 32 reviews which were published between 1878 and 1883 often show W.’s polemical undertone, but they do not support the assumption that his praise or blame of works depended on the academic status of their authors (B. Huss). His publications of these years include the long article on the biographical traditions about Thucydides; this piece showed his keen eye for deducing biographical details from a work but also W.’s inclination to bold theses which could not be accepted by other scholars (M. H. Chambers). The book Antigonos von Karystos (1881) is focused on the role of Pergamum as a cultural centre; W.’s identification of Antigonos and his thesis that the philosophical schools were religious associations provoked mixed reactions (T. Dorandi). W.’s translation of Euripides, Heracles, published in 1895, is essentially the text he had dedicated to Mommsen on the occasion of Mommsen’s silver wedding anniversary in 1879, a somewhat curious gift in view of Mommsen’s dislike of Euripides. It is representative of W.’s conviction that a translation should produce a text easily accessible to a present-day public (B. Seidensticker). The piece on the chronological relation between Euripides’ and Sophocles’ Electra (1883) concentrated on criteria of content and not on possible allusions to historical data, an approach W. kept even when he later corrected his assumption on the priority of Euripides (M. Braun).

All in all, this volume contains much useful information about W.’s life and work and the development of German classical studies during the 19th- and early 20th-centuries (which can be pursued with the help of the comprehensive index personarum). But while “Wilamowitz in Greifswald” may be a suitable topic for a commemorative occasion to foster corporate identity, from other points of view this choice is not convincing: though the pieces on W.’s early work display a certain internal coherence since the authors trace the later development of W.’s position and the reactions of critics, a selection of articles on W.’s personal and scholarly relationship to other classicists according to the criterion that their acquaintance originated in Greifswald is not useful. Some authors have sensibly widened the scope of their articles beyond the hero’s Greifswald years (v. Möellendorff on Schwartz, Rebenich on Seeck, Smend on Wellhausen). In other pieces this subject serves only as a starting position for a story that could well had been told elsewhere (Schmidt on Traube, Leppin on Keil). An extreme case is Schwabl’s paper of 90 pages on von Arnim which includes 40 pages of documents on von Arnim’s academic career (e. g. his salary in Vienna). In his closing address, H. Flashar expresses the hope that W.’s 200th birthday would also be celebrated, perhaps in Greifswald again. No objections, provided this future conference would follow a systematic approach to W.’s work and/or to the history of classical scholarship.9


1. Compare J. Kroymann, “Geschichte der klassischen Philologie an der Universität Greifswald”, in Festschrift zur 500-Jahrfeier der Universität Greifswald, Greifswald 1956, vol. 2: 120-135.

2. Compare W. M. Calder III, “The Wilamowitz-Nietzsche Struggle: New Documents and a reappraisal”, Nietzsche Studien 12 (1983): 214-254.

3. As suggested by W. M. Calder III, “Die Rolle Friedrich Althoffs bei den Berufungen von Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff”, in: B. vom Brocke (ed.), Wissenschaftsgeschichte und Wissenschaftspolitik im Industriezeitalter. Das “System Althoff” in historischer Perspektive, Hildesheim 1991: 251-266, at p. 252f.

4. See Calder, above, n. 3, and below, n. 6, and idem, “Wilamowitz’ Call to Göttingen: Paul de Lagarde to Friedrich Althoff on Wilamowitz-Moellendorff”, SIFC 3. Ser., 3 (1985): 136-160; “Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff to Hermann Sauppe: two unpublished letters”, Philologus 129 (1985): 286-298.

5. Compare the story of Eduard Norden’s call to Greifswald in 1893: H. Leppin, “Eduard Nordens Berufung nach Greifswald: Handlungsspielräume im System Althoff'”, Philologus 142 (1998): 162-172.

6. Documented in: W. M. Calder III and A. Kosenina (eds.), Berufungspolitik innerhalb der Altertumswissenschaft im wilhelminischen Preussen. Die Briefe Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorffs an Friedrich Althoff (1883-1903), Frankfurt am Main 1989.

7. Compare M. H. Chambers, Georg Busolt. His career in his letters, Leiden 1990, at p. 108ff.

8. Compare E. Schwartz, “Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff”, in: idem, Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 1, Berlin 1938: 368-382, at p. 372.

9. More convincing in this respect is the conference volume on the occasion of W.’s 50th deathday: W. M. Calder III, H. Flashar, and T. Lindken (eds.), Wilamowitz nach 50 Jahren, Darmstadt 1985, but see the review essay by B. vom Brocke, HZ 243 (1986): 101-136.