Marinus A. Wes, Classics in Russia 1700-1855: Between Two Bronze Horsemen. Leiden, New York and Cologne: Brill's Studies in Intellectual History 33, 1992. Pp. viii + 368. ISBN 90-04-09664-7. Gld.165/US$94.29.
William M. Calder III
University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign
The author, a distinguished ancient historian and Wissenschaftshistoriker, is one of the very few western classical scholars who really controls Russian. I do not mean that he can read Russian books. He can also read unpublished xviiith and xixth century Russian documents. That is he controls and can exploit archival material. His book on early Rostovtzeff is not only of permanent value because of the unique information it therefore contains. It is written in English prose that often exceeds what one finds in native speakers.(1) This book, an English translation with expanded documentation of an earlier (1991) Dutch original, is more Rezeptionsgeschichte than Wissenschaftsgeschichte. Not less important but a different field. It documents Russia's discovery of pagan Greece and Rome. What had happened in Western Europe during the Renaissance only occurred after 1700 in Russia. Through the discovery of ancient Greece and Rome, Russia, beginning with Imperator Peter the Great, first entered Gorbachov's 'Common House of Europe.' Wes presents the growth of the classical tradition in Russia as 'an aspect of the history of Russia's orientation to Western Europe in general' (p. 4). It is a journey from Byzantium to Athens and Rome. The story reminds us that Classics is more than emending Manilius and as part of the intellectual and even political history of the West provides the best argument for its survival as an academic discipline in this banausic age. Omne ignotum pro magnifico. I am incompetent to judge Wes' contribution here. I have learned much from his thoughtful chapters on Pushkin, Gogol and Ivan Goncharov whose Oblomov gave Wilamowitz' son his name. None of this is unimportant but generally of more concern to Slavists than to classicists.
Danish, Dutch or Swiss classical scholarship historically has been far more influential upon the progress of knowledge within the field than has Russian. Europeans could not read Russian. Russians too rarely wrote in Latin as Poles still do. The situation was unexpectedly similar to the United States'. There were no research libraries and many young Russians took doctorates in Germany. Hence much is a list of unfamiliar names with brief biographical data and notes to Russian sources. All useful but tangential. Normally classical scholars consult only two sorts of Russian publications: (a) editions of Greek inscriptions found on Russian soil (e.g., Latyschev's corpus) and (b) catalogues of art collections, such as the red-figured Attic vases of the Hermitage by A. A. Peredo/lskaye, which foolish nationalism prevented from being published in French in CVA. Even important excavation reports are rare.
No classical scholar comparable to August Boeckh or Gottfried Hermann or to Richard Porson arose in Russia between 1700-1855. Rostovtzeff, by far the most widely known Russian classical scholar and himself driven into exile from his own country, would be born in 1870. Nor were resident Germans of the calibre of August Nauck or Lucian Mueller, yet there. These were men whose work could not be ignored no matter where they lived. Their careers will be chronicled in the promised second volume (1855-1995). The most important chapter here for classicists is 'Diamonds for Scholarship: the birth of Altphilologie in Russia.' There are remarks on J. G. Ernesti but Wes stresses the role of Goettingen (there was no university at Berlin before 1809) and especially C. G. Heyne,(2) the teacher of F. A. Wolf. The most important figure by far in the book for classicists is Christian Friedrich Matthaei (1744-1811), student of Ernesti at Leipzig. Why?
Certainly the greatest single contribution to classical scholarship that emerged from Russia during the period treated by Wes was the discovery of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, first published by Ruhnken 1780-82. Ruhnken had purchased the MS Leidensis BPG 33H from Christian Friedrich Matthaei. Unfortunately Wes is vague precisely where precision is needed. He writes (p. 77) 'Matthaei sent him [sc. Ruhnken] a copy of the manuscript of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter (the only surviving manuscript of this hymn)...' His source may be Sandys (HCS Vol. 2 p. 460): 'a transcript.' But it was not a copy. It was the codex Mosquensis itself that Matthaei sold Ruhnken.(3) The controversy concerns whether Matthaei himself had first purchased the codex from the Moscow Imperial Archive and legally exported it or did he steal it. Wilamowitz (Geschichte Vol. 3 p. 40) is clear. It was gestohlen. His view presumably derives from 0. von Gebhardt, which is accepted implicitly by N.J. Richardson and others.(4) Wes (p. 77 n. 16) considers the allegation 'ill-based.' But he provides no evidence for the honesty of Matthaei other than that the Russians would not have gone to such trouble to lure a thief back. Cras credam. The whole matter deserves more careful investigation. I should have liked far more too on Matthaei's publication of the forged Sophocles, Clytemnestra, in 1805. We are given only the most tantalizing details (pp. 68, 80, 103, 125). Was Matthaei taken in by a Byzantine composition or was he himself the forger? K. L. Struve in 1807 (aet. 22) 'conclusively demonstrated that Matthaei's Clytemnestra could not possibly be by Sophocles.' By whom did Struve think it was? Radt on Sophocles frr. 334-335 is mute. Indeed a monograph on Matthaei would be welcomed. He was a complex man of great intelligence, who made a permanent contribution. He deserves more attention. This is just one fascinating detail in a consistently stimulating book. I urge reading it.
(1) See Marinus A. Wes, 'Michael Rostovtzeff, Historian in Exile: Russian Roots in an American Context,' Historia Einzelschriften 65 (Stuttgart 1990) with the reviews of W. M. Calder III, BMCR 2 (1991) 156-162 and Brent D. Shaw, JRS 82 (1992) 216-228.
(2) Add to p. 87 n. 32: Norbert Kamp et al., Der Vormann der Georgia Augusta: Christian Gottlob Heyne zum 250. Geburtstag (Göttingen 1980).
(3) See Allen-Halliday-Sikes, The Homeric Hymns (Oxford 1936) xviii and P. S. Breuning, De hymnorum homericorum memoria (Utrecht 1929) 53-58.
(4) 0. von Gebhardt, Centralblatt für Bibliothekwesen 15 (1898) 442-458; N.J. Richardson, The Homeric Hymn to Demeter (Oxford 1974) 66.