Henriette Harich-Schwarzbauer and Barbara von Reibnitz (edd.), Hildegard Cancik-Lindemaier: Von Atheismus bis Zensur. Römische Lektüren in kulturwissenschaftlicher Absicht. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2006. Pp. ii + 382. ISBN 3-8260-3204-7. Euro49.80.
Foreign Languages, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban
This is indeed a rara avis. Precisely forty years ago, a young researcher published a doctoral dissertation on Seneca's Epistulae morales. This book, a promising start to a distinguished academic career, was not followed up because of what the German language bluntly calls die Ochsentour ('donkey work') -- a career track with a long list of daily duties on campus, such as committee meetings, reports, planning exercises, workshops with their more or (more often) less meaningful titles and topics, examining, lecturing, student counselling, library, and secretarial work -- all of which distract one from research. However, the young author kept her research going. Substantial contributions to prestigious lexica followed one another: To Handbuch religionswissenschaftlicher Grundbegriffe (1988-2001) on difficult topics such as 'Ätiologie' and 'Allegorese', on such important people as W. F. Otto and E. Rohde; to 'Der Neue Pauly' on complicated questions such as 'Menschenopfer' and 'Toleranz'; to Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart on 'Symbol', 'Totenkult', 'Vorsehung', and much more, all in all twenty-eight examples of the finest scholarship -- a production a full professor could be proud of.
But there was even more -- a constantly growing stream of deeply learned publications. While the 'Schriftenverzeichnis' ('List of Publications', pp. 369- 75) covers on its first page the printed results of eighteen years work, each of the following four and a half pages covers the production of only five or four or even three years; all in all fifty-four publications. Small wonder, that two younger colleagues, Henriette Harich- Schwarzbauer (Basel) and Barbara von Reibnitz (Zürich), found it useful to collect and publish a selection of twenty-two of them in a book under the sub-title of 'Readings in Roman Cultural History' (Römische Lektüren in kulturwissenschaftlicher Absicht). The word 'Römisch' in this subtitle does not at all exclude Greek - - the paper on 'Marriage and Love' (pp. 83-104), for instance, explicitly mentions in its subtitle 'Sketches of Greek Philosophers and Roman Poets'; and the Greek background of Roman culture is here present on every page of these studies.
The book opens with a precious little gem: 'Aubrey Beardsley, Mädchen und Satyr' ('Aubrey Beardsley, the Little Girl, and the Satyr', pp. 3-12), eight pages of text and two black-and-white illustrations, an elucidation of the British artist's sketch of 1895, its learned background and its erotic impetus. A model of reception studies in nuce, the text studies the picture of the encounter of a satyr and a young girl, both sitting on a lawn, both with a book. A literary exchange between two very unequal partners? What are they up to? I feel, the answer comes from Dante (Inferno 5.138): Quel giorno più non vi leggemmo avante (‘We were not able to read further that day’).
Six subsequent chapters, each of them containing three or four papers, discuss criticism of religion and society, the mythology of Hercules, the Vestal Virgins, Statius, and Tacitus. In the centre we find a section entitled 'Opfer und Tod' ('Sacrifice and Death', pp. 191- 242), looking not only at ancient phenomena, but also at the 'Opferphantasien' ('Fantasies of Sacrifice') by Hugo von Hoffmanthal, Rudolf Borchardt, Gerhard Hauptmann. These poets claimed, at around 1900, to carry on an ancient tradition but are unmasked here as building up their own fin de siecle fantasies, selling them to the public as if they were heritage items, without any protest from the Classicists of their day.
This 'unmasking' is a typical merit of the papers presented here, an achievement which cannot be rated highly enough. It is the fruit of a deeply grounded combination of all of the disciplines mentioned in titles of the different sections of the book: philosophy, feminism, religious studies, cultural history, Classics, and Classical Philology. Traditional methods are strictly observed and masterfully used, but ancient and modern views also interact here in a most fruitful way. The result is a collection of refreshing studies published in an impeccable manner (unless one wants to take offence at the use of idem for eadem in the bibliography on p. 172).
It should not be forgotten that three significant contributions are in English: 'Corpus: Some Philological and Anthropological Remarks upon Roman Funerary Customs' (pp. 231-41); 'Seneca's Collection of Epistles: A Medium of Philosophical Communication' (pp. 325-41); 'Madness and Suffering in the Myths of Hercules' (pp. 159-73). Taken together, they work as an excellent introduction into a book full of surprising eye-openers and refreshing new insights.