Han Kurig and Robert Münzel (edd.), Jacob Bernays: Geschichte der Kassischen Philologie. Spudasmata Band 120. Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 2008. Pp. 198. ISBN 978-3-487-13697-4. EURO29.80.
University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
Robert Menzel (1859-1917), the director of the Hamburger Stadtbibliothek (to-day's 'Staats- and Universitätsbibliothek') since 1902, followed the lectures of Jacob Bernays (1824 [Hamburg]-1881 [Bonn]) during his university years in Bonn from the summer of 1878 onwards. In winter 1878/79 he took stenographic notes of the lecture 'Geschichte der Klassischen Philologie', of which he produced a mundum (fair copy) of 219 pages, in German letters, using Latin letters for the names and bibliography. This text has now been carefully edited by Hans Kurig, who has added an 'Einleitung' (pp. 9-29) giving general orientation, and also an 'Anhang' (pp. 173-98). There we find 15 pages of excerpts 'Aus Jacob Bernays' Schriften zu den in der Vorlesung behandelten Personen and Themen', a 'Schriftenverzeichnis' of the publications by Bernays and also of those on him, plus an 'Index: Personen'. The main portion of the volume contains the 'Geschichte' (pp. 31-172), explained by Kurig's 677 condensed footnotes, a very helpful, informative, and meaningful addition.
Bernays had been called by Richard Harder 'the most profound expert in world literature in his century'.[] Indeed Bernays' wide range of publications is overwhelming, such is the panorama of his erudition. His work extends from Homer to Renaissance Latin, from his influential contribution to the understanding of Aristotle's definition of tragedy to Juvenal's Satires. In his interpretations, he links, for example, Petrarch to Erasmus to Voltaire; he likens Lessing to Diderot (p. 61) as well as to Laurentius Valla (p. 176), who for him is an 'Italian Lessing'. Montaigne is cited as an authority for Turnebus (p. 95), Wieland for Justus Lipsius (p. 104); Rousseau is quoted for St. Augustine (p. 46). Johann Gottfried von Herder (p. 160) and Wilhelm von Humboldt (p. 161) are called up to elucidate Bernays' judgements. Here a typical specimen of his comparisons: 'Macchiavelli ... übertrifft den Thukydides an Leichtigkeit and den Aristoteles an Fülle, and steht keinem von Beiden an Tiefe and Strenge nach' (= Macchiavelli . . . surpasses Thucydides in lightness and Aristotle in fullness, and is he inferior to neither of them in profundity or in sharpness', p. 179).
Bernays lets his 'Geschichte' begin much later than other scholars: in the year 370, omitting entirely the philology of Alexandria and Pergamon, which for him is part of the history of Hellenic literature. A.D. 370 is chosen as a starting point since in this year 'in Alt- and in Neu-Rom Öffentliche Bildungsanstalten gegründet wurden' (= 'public institutions for education were founded in Old and in New Rome', p. 32).
The first of Bernays' six periods in this history of learning extends up to the death of Charlemagne; the next to the death of Dante (1321); the third 'die Zeit der italienischen Philologie' ('the time of Italian Philology', p. 33), until the French invasion under Karl VIII (1495). Here there is a gap of a full twenty years: the fourth period begins only in 1515. It reaches its end with the deaths of 'the greatest philologist of this period and of the greatest king', i.e. Justus Scaliger (+1609) and Henry IV, murdered in 1610. For Bernays, this is the 'prime time of true philology' (' . . . die Blütezeit der wahren Philologie', p. 33) under the leadership of France and Germany. There follows a Dutch-English period from 1610 to the death of Hemsterhuys in 1768. Sixth and final place goes to the hundred years 'bis jetzt' ('up to now', p. 34); it is entitled 'die deutsche Periode', its main merit is 'eine neue, vollendete Art der Kritik' ('a new, perfect kind of criticism'). The main task of Classical Philology, however, is for Bernays 'das Erstarken des Mittelalter and der Neuzeit an dem classischen Altertum' ('the growing strength of medieval and modern times through interaction with classical antiquity', p. 32).
As interesting as Bernays’ conception might be, one cannot let it stand; the centre of Classical Philology is the elucidation of classical texts, and this is what the Hellenistic scholars have done. It was these old colleagues who have invented, introduced, and institutionalised the categories of grammar, of synonymy, of rhetoric, and so on; their position at the beginning of western philology cannot minimised.
Another criticism might be of minor importance: Bernays is more than ready and all too willing to introduce the idea of 'Welt' (= world). He honours the University of Göttingen with 'eine Art von Weltstellung' (‘a kind of statement about the world’, p. 184); ancient Athens (p. 35) influences, according to him, 'fast den gesamten Erdkreis' (almost the entire world’). More evidence for this thought pattern: the title of a thoughtful posthumous article of his in 1883 was 'Weltalter and Weltreich' (‘Ages of the World and Empire’).[] While talking about no more than the limited region of the Mediterranean basin, these learned generations pronounced 'World influence' for phenomena which were unknown in most the parts of the globe. What a pity that a free spirit like Bernays' was unable to avoid the pitfalls of Europe's colonial thinking and its jargon!
He proves his own free position all the more in 'Geistesgeschichte' by distancing himself from what he calls 'Professorenwesen' (p. 111); for instance he underlines that Scaliger is 'nicht engherig- philologisch' (= 'not narrow-mindedly philological', p. 101). We should keep in mind that Bernays, being an orthodox Jew, never got a call to a Prussian professorial chair. No less a lumen than Theodor Mommsen remarked about this sarcastically in a letter to Welcker, that 'bekanntlich noch immer die Vorhaut ein wesentliches Professoringrediens ist' (= ' . . . the foreskin is still an essential ingredient for a professor', p. 16).
A disadvantaged leading scholar in central Europe during the nineteenth century-Bernays was honored 1981, in the centenary of his death, with a stimulating conference in Tel Aviv, well documented in the Acta (see n. 2). Now, Krusig's most welcome addition to our knowledge of his teaching is also an eye-opening insight into what students in his time were able to understand and willing to learn. Videant posteri!
[] Richard Harder in his review of M. Fraenkel (ed.), Jacob Bernays: Ein Lebensbild in Briefen, in Gnomon 8 (1932) p. 669: '. . . der profundeste Kenner der Weltliteratur, den das Jahrhundert hervorgebracht hat.')
[] In Deutsche Revue über das gesammte nationale Leben der Gegenwart 8 (1983) 68-74. Bernays’ text is now easily available, edited and introduced by Bernhard Kytzler, in John Glucker and André Laks (edd.), Jacob Bernays. Un philologue juif (Lille 1996) 229-242. This volume contains also 'Un portrait' by Jean Bollack, ‘Un homme d'autre monde’ (pp. 133-225), the most penetrating study on Bernays so far.