BMCR 2004.09.35

Leitbild Wissenschaft? Altertumswissenschaftliches Kolloquium, 8

, , , Leitbild Wissenschaft?. Altertumswissenschaftliches Kolloquium, Bd. 8. Stuttgart: F. Steiner, 2003. 216 pages : 6 illustrations ; 24 cm.. ISBN 3515083480 €44.00.

Have there been specific Leitwissenschaften in antiquity which proved influential when meeting with other sciences or cultures? This is the core question of the book Leitbild Wissenschaft? edited recently by Jürgen Dummer and Meinolf Vielberg. The book is the product of a series of lectures by scholars from various disciplines which accompanied the graduate seminar (Graduiertenkolleg) Leitbilder der Spätantike at the University of Jena in 1998/99.

The collection starts with a paper by Hans Hinrich Biesterfeldt (pp.9-37) which can be singled out from the following essays as it is the only one actually dealing with the direct reception of antiquity, namely the influence of hellenistic medicine, theology and science on Arabic-Islamic culture, which is mainly based on school curricula surviving from pre-Islamic times. Biesterfeldt not only shows in how many and fruitful ways the ancient heritage was accepted by the Islamic world, but also refers to the lucky cases where as a result of this acceptance Arabic translations help classical philologists to reconstruct the Greek original texts either totally lost or extant only in manuscripts younger and more doubtful than the Arabic version.

The second contribution, by Philippe Bruggisser (pp. 39-76), which is a German translation of the original,1 deals with the asylum of Romulus and its varying perception in the Christian and pagan tradition. This different perception is illustrated by the way in which the asylum is judged in Augustine’s City of God and Servius’ commentaries on Virgil.

The influence of the educational system of antiquity is also demonstrated in the essay by Richard Klein (pp. 105-147), which discusses the achievement of the three famous Cappadocian bishops, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa, who estimated highly the heritage of the classical tradition for Christian education of late antiquity and with their monastic rules established a tradition which has lasted until modern times.

Raban von Haehling’s paper, “Das Verhältnis frühchristlicher Theologen zu den Naturwissenschaften” (pp. 77-103), in fact does not concentrate only on the sciences. Von Haehling rather speaks of Christian authors and their opinions on the canon of Greco-Roman education as a whole and concludes vaguely: “Doch bei zunehmender zeitlicher Distanz und angesichts der Ausbreitung des Christentums erweist sich eine gänzliche Negierung der Naturwissenschaften als unangebracht …”

Stephan Mitchell, in his interesting article on the boundaries between Jewish, Christian and pagan religion, which is based on his earlier studies on the cult of Theos Hypsistos,2 tries to prove that despite the hostile but obviously exaggerated passages about Jews in Tacitus and others under the Emperors Julian and Claudian, the Jewish religion was widely accepted, and the fusion of manners, customs and thoughts with Rome was therefore inevitable. Of course the graphic illustrations make his arguments seem sometimes simplistic, but the idea of the syncretic monotheism of the theosebes remains a fascinating thesis. Mitchell closes with the verdict that the period 40 to 70 AD was ideal for the dissemination of Christianity, especially since many educated Romans were open to this new form of Judaism — had the crucifixion taken place a generation later, the new religion would never have been so successful.

With Ulrich Schindel’s paper (pp. 173-189) we return to the realm of school and education. Schindel presents the profession of the grammaticus in late antiquity and shows how theological texts like the Younger Isidore were used in school classes. He also reaffirms his 1975 thesis3 that the appendix of Donatus’ Ars maior is by an anonymous grammaticus, written between 450 and 550 AD.

In the concluding essay of the collection (pp. 191-204), Wolfgang Schuller clearly demonstrates that in late antiquity Roman civil law was accepted as superior and that even the Teutons who were settling in the area of the former Western Roman empire adapted it in the form of the leges barbarorum, a codification in Latin based entirely on the Roman model that even replaced former oral Germanic law and was in its content very little influenced by Christian thoughts.

The above-mentioned core question of the book is answered by the editors themselves in their foreword: “Schon in der Antike und besonders in der von weitreichenden gesellschaftlichen und geistigen Konflikten bestimmten Spätantike gab es offenbar ‘Leitwissenschaften’ wie Philosophie und Theologie.” It must be stated, though, that most of the contributors do not deal with specific methods or concrete Wissenschaft but with knowledge on a broader cultural level. Therefore the question mark in the title is justified in more than one sense.

Despite the slight inaccuracy of this definition and the fact that only Schuller clearly dwells on the concept of Leitbild, the undeniable strength of the collection lies in the way in which it shows how classical textual and religious tradition interact in later periods. The interesting overall theme of the book could due to its nature as a collection of single essays in the end only be answered partially and sometimes it is too superficial, still it is thanks to the editors that a broader public with a certain timely distance can participate in the Jena lectures. Very useful is the extensive index of names, words (Greek, Latin, and Arabic), and sources.

There are a number of small inaccuracies which could be avoided by thorough editing: for example, on p. 189 Ju-gendliche is misspelled, in the index (p. 207) A.Uhl is erroneously called S. Uhl, and on the same page the 5th century AD emperor Maiorian is listed under medieval and modern names. The way in which articles are cited in the footnotes is not standardised either, compare p. 39 n. AugStud 30.2, 1999, 75-104 with p. 165 Hermes 45 (1910), 347-68. It is also puzzling that the essays appear in alphabetical order of the contributors, although the editors announce them in their foreword (p. 7) in thematic order, which would have added value to the overall composition of the collection.


1. “City of the Outcast and the City of the Elect: The Romulean Asylum in Augustine’s City of God and Servius Commentaries on Virgil“, in AugStud 30.2, 1999, 75-104 = M.Vessey, K. Pollmann, and A.D. Fitzgerald (edd.), History, Apocalypse, and the Secular Imagination: New Essays on Augustine’s City of God, Bowling Green 1999, 75-104; cf. also Bruggisser’s monograph on Romulus Seruianus, Bonn 1987.

2. “The cult of theos hypsistos between pagans, Jews and Christians”, in P. Athanassiadi and M. Frede (edd.), Pagan Montheism in Late Antiquity, 1999, 81-148; “Wer waren die Gottesfürchtigen”, Chiron 28, 1998, 55-64.

3. U. Schindel, Die lateinischen Figurenlehren des 5. bis 7. Jahrhunderts und Donats Vergil-Kommentar (Abhandlungen der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Göttingen. Philologisch-Historische Klasse 3. 91), Göttingen 1975.