BMCR 2005.05.56

Wiener Byzantinistik und Neogräzistik

, , , , Wiener Byzantinistik und Neogräzistik: Beiträge zum Symposion Vierzig Jahre Institut für Byzantinistik und Neogräzistik der Universität Wien im Gedenken an Herbert Hunger, (Wien, 4.-7. Dezember 2002). Byzantina et Neograeca Vindobonensia; Bd. 24. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2004. 495 pages, 43 unnumbered pages of plates: illustrations (some color); 24 cm. ISBN3700132697 €98.00.

The work reviewed here is a kind of “Festschrift” celebrating the forty years of the Byzantine Institute of the University of Vienna, and is dedicated, as implied in the title, to the memory of its founding father: Herbert Hunger. The papers that were presented at the Symposium held in December of 2002 make up the main body of this volume.

The theme of the book is the Institute itself, its interdisciplinary nature, and the wide variety of subjects taught and researched within its confines. The editors offer a brief history of the Institute in their introduction. They delineate how it came about, and where it is now. They conceptualise the work done in the Institute as a kind of bridge spanning the old world of the Mediterranean and present-day Europe, expressing their hope that one day there will be again a “euromediterranean” world. It was Byzantium, they say, that provided the homo byzantinus with his existential basis in the traditions of early Christianity, classical Greek learning, and Roman legal thought and statehood. In time, the Byzantines were able to pass on their “Lebensmodelle” to the emerging Europe, before the Byzantine state itself vanished as a political institution. This sentiment echoes the dictum of N. Iorga: Byzance après Byzance.

There follows a short listing of prominent scholars whose work underscores the strong ties between Austria and the Balkan Peninsula, beginning with Franz Ritter von Miklosich in the nineteenth century and ending with Berthold Rubin, who, although appointed professor of Balkan studies in 1943, was unable to take up his appointment on account of the Second World War.

It was after this war, however, that Austria’s interest in the civilization of post-classical Greece continued to grow. This interest manifested itself in the study of intellectual and art history in Late Antiquity, leading in time to the founding of the Österreichischen Byzantinischen Gesellschaft in 1946. The art historian Wladimir Sas-Zaloziecky was then its leading figure, and the first publisher of the “Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistischen Gesellschaft” (since 1969 “Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik”).

A Byzantine commission of the Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften was set up in 1948. The papyrologist Hans Gerstinger and the classical philologist Albin Lesky headed the commission. Their stated task was to look into the sources available in the Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek in the fields of papyrology and Greek palaeography. Subsequently, two young scholars, Polychronis Enepekides and Herbert Hunger were to teach these fields.

Herbert Hunger was to hold the chair of “Byzantinistik” when it was established in 1962. A year later, in 1963, the “Institut für Byzantinistik” came into being largely through his efforts. When he saw that the space originally given to the Institute was no longer adequate for the growing number of students, he secured a new place at Postgasse 7-9, where it is still today. The faculty of the Institute also increased, with some former students remaining at the University of Vienna and becoming professors at the Institute. They were: Ernst Gamillscheg, Wolfram Hörandner, Ewald Kislinger, Johannes Koder, Otto Kresten, Werner Seibt, and Maria A. Stassinopoulou.

Over time new fields were added to the curriculum. Polychronis Enepekides taught Modern Greek beginning in the middle of the last century, Helmut Buchhausen taught Byzantine art history between 1976-2002, and a newly established lectureship in “Byzantinistik und Neogräzistik” was added to the Institute in 1981, to be held by Otto Kresten. Armenian studies have been pursued since 1982 under the guidance of archbishop Dr. Mesrob Krikorian, who became honorary professor in 1987.

When Polychronis Enepekides retired in 1982, Gunnar Hering took his place. He was a historian of Southeastern Europe, with emphasis on Greece. In collaboration with faculties in related fields such as the history of Eastern Europe, Turkology, Slawistik, and Romanistik, he organized interdisciplinary research projects. At his initiative, the Institute took part in the Erasmus-Program of the Austrian Universities right from the beginning. After his untimely death in 1994, his position was left open till Maria A. Stassinopoulou was appointed in 2002.

Today, the Institute of Byzantinistik und Neogräzistik offers its students a wide range of subjects in association with teachers in related fields of the commissions of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the occasional participation of the Metropolitan of Austria and Exarch of Hungary and Central Europe, Dr. Michael Staikos, who frequently extends his material and intellectual help to Greek students in Vienna. Guest lecturers from other universities come to the Institute under the auspices of the Erasmus or Socrates programs of the European Union.

The Institute, furthermore, cooperates in its research with native and foreign institutes. In Vienna these are foremost: Kommission für Byzantinistik; Balkan Kommission; Kommission für die Tabula Imperii Byzantini; Kommission für Buch- und Schriftwesen; Institut für Kulturgeschichte der Antike, Handschriftensammlung und Papyrussammlung of the Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek. Internationally, the Institute has as its partners: Bonn University; Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Research Centre, Washington, D.C.; the Hermitage, St. Petersburg; the departments of history and archaeology of the University of Athens; and the Istituto Siciliano di Studi Byzantini e Neoellenici in Palermo. The financing of the Institute comes mainly from the University of Vienna but also from private and government foreign donors, especially the Ministry of Culture of the Hellenic Republic and the J.F. Costopoulos Foundation.

The focal point of research in this decidedly interdisciplinary Institute is, above all, the study of the Greek language (Lexicography), followed by palaeography, archival sciences, diplomatics, sigillography, and literature in its many forms. There is finally, historical demography, everyday life, material culture, the history of the Greeks in the Diaspora, and the history of Greek film. This research ranges from refining the methodologies used in these various fields of study to finding the cultural roots of modern Europe in its Mediterranean past.

The forty years that have passed since the founding of the Institute were celebrated in the form of a Symposium held in December of 2002. Its overall theme was how the field of Byzantine Studies had evolved at the University of Vienna under Herbert Hunger and beyond since his becoming an emeritus in 1985. For this purpose former students of the Institute were invited to give reports on their scholarly pursuits to provide testimony of the international impact the Institute has had on teaching and research of the subject. The answer to this call was very positive as is clear from the table of contents listing the thirty-nine contributions made to this publication. The editors close their historical overview of the Institute’s forty years by dedicating this publication to the memory of the late Herbert Hunger, who would have been ninety years of age in 2002, and to Gunnar Hering.

Evangelos Chrysos’ “Festansprache” follows the introduction. In it, he reflects how, while he was still a student, he met Herbert Hunger in June of 1961 for the first time. Chrysos takes the opportunity to go beyond the praise of the Institute’s founder, pointing to those who have followed in his tradition to make the Institute what it is today: Johannes Koder and all his co-workers. Olga Katsiardi-Hering next offers “Gedanken (thoughts) zur Wiener Neogräzistik”. Contributions of varying length originating from the papers given at the Symposium constitute the rest of the volume. Their subjects range from philology, archaeology, Modern Greek history, art history, numismatics, to hagiography. There could be no better evidence of the Institute’s interdisciplinary nature than this.

As expected, the volume is meticulously edited, and the notes are where they belong, at the bottom of the page. There is a table of contents, a register of abbreviations, and beautifully produced coloured plates.

Evangelos Chrysos finished his “Encomium” of the Institute saying:

Gaudeamus igitur,
scholares eruditi, collegae carissimi, Vindobonenses sexagenarii.
Ad multos annos!

This reviewer joins in the good wishes.