BMCR 2012.06.51

Die hellenistischen Utopien. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde, Bd 293

, Die hellenistischen Utopien. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde, Bd 293. Berlin; New York: De Gruyter, 2011. xx, 359. ISBN9783110263817 $165.00.

The Polish researcher Marek Winiarczyk dedicated a quarter-century of his life to the study of utopian thinking and writing in the Hellenistic period (see p. XI); now he proudly presents his results in an overview of almost 400 pages. German pages, to be precise. Because although based in Wroclaw, the pre-Stalin Breslau, he is well aware that his native Polish language (in which he has authored two quite unusual and very successful detective stories) is not known widely enough worldwide. His name, however, might be familiar to many of his colleagues: his book’s bibliography (pp. 267- 327: 60 pages!) enumerates 18 pertinent publications by him since 1976, foremost among them Euhemeros von Messene. Leben, Werk und Nachwirkung (München 2002).

Winiarczyk’s bibliography is a treasure trove of relevant research material: Chapter IV offers to the reader (or perhaps: the user) no fewer than 224 annotations, Chapter V, 343! All of them are full of the latest as well as of the oldest relevant titles, going back even to the 16th – 18th centuries (cf. e.g. p. 190 on G. B. Ramusio, Navigationi e Viaggi 1550, where Iambulos was treated on pp. 174-176).

The book devotes one chapter each, worked out in the most thorough manner, to the Big Five authors: Theompompos of Chios, Hekataios of Abdera, Onesikritos of Astypalaia, Euhemeros of Messene, and Iambulos, and one to the founding of Ouranopolis by Alexarchos. A framework is given by the profound introduction on the problems of ancient utopias (pp.1-27) and a closing summa summarum (Zusammenfassung pp. 219-260 plus ‘Addendum’ p. 265) and, as second appendix, a list of three dozen utopian motifs in ancient literature (pp. 261- 263). In closing, four indices lead through the book to the names of persons, places, objects, and all the loci citati (pp. 329-360).

It should be added that the results of these vast efforts are presented clearly and reliably. A few minor glitches seem negligible to me: e.g. the Russian authors Tschernyschew and Sifmann (pp. 12 and 183 respectively) are omitted from the bibliography; that the “Polnische Akademie des Könnens” (p. XI) remains enigmatic; that ‘Hellenismus’ is spelled with only one ‘l’ (p. 317), and a few more such nugae.

While for reasons of space we cannot discuss here in detail the five individual authors as portrayed in their respective chapters, it is important to reflect on Winiarczyk’s stance on the phenomenon of ‘utopia’ itself, as outlined in the first chapter. Here Winiarczyk first deals with the term (p. 1); he then sketches the history of learned research on ancient utopianism (pp. 2–4); thereafter he goes into various attempts at definition and classification (pp. 4-12). This overview is rounded out by a look at the reasons for the genesis of utopian texts (pp.12-14). Most important are the final three sections: on the history of utopias in the Greek world (pp. 14-20); the characteristics of utopias (pp.21- 22); and ultimately reality comes in (pp. 22- 26): “Das Problem der Utopieverwirklichung” (the problem of realizations of utopias). All this culminates (pp. 26-27) in “Einfluss der Utopie auf den gesellschaftlichen Wandel” (the influence of utopianism on change in society).

In an (un?)lucky coincidence, at the same time as Winiarczyk’s book (and that means: too late to be used) there appeared a voluminous study by Thomas Schölderle, Utopia und Utopie. Thomas Morus, die Geschichte der Utopie und die Kontroverse um ihren Begriff (Baden-Baden, Germany, 2011), on the history of utopianism and the controversy about its understanding. It might be seen as a complementary study to Winiarczyk’s book, in a similar fashion as the contribution of E. Von Contzen, “Die Verortung eines Nicht. Ortes (sic!). Der fiktionale Raum in Thomas Morus, Utopia” in Neulateinisches Jahrbuch, 13, 2011.

Winiarczyk is certainly right when he deplores the confusion in modern terminology concerning utopianism. While he conjures up forerunners like Karl Kerényi and Karl Mannheim, Ernst Bloch and Michael Bloch, Moses I. Finley and F. E. and F. P. Manuel, his own suggestion is remarkably clear and should be followed: he proposes that we restrict the notion of the “Utopische” to human dreams, desires, and wishful thinking, as it is found in mythology, fantasy, idealisation, and literary conventions such as the ‘locus amoenus’ (p. 11). His ‘utopian elements’ seem to me a reasonable way to deal with various phenomena scattered through ancient epic, comedy, lyric, and philosophy.

It is a colourful world into which Winiarczyk takes us, a world of wishful thinking and day-dreaming, but also of clear reasoning and constructive planning, rich in contrast and with many dimensions. While the learned discussion certainly will continue, Winiarczyk’s book will remain a fundamental point of orientation for our understanding of the earliest stage of European utopianism as it manifested itself in Greek culture.