Bernhard Kytzler, Reclams Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Autoren. Stuttgart: Reclam 1997. Pp. 529. ISBN 3-15-029618-8. DM28.00.
Classical Philology Seminar, Universisty of Turku, Finland
In the introduction to this book, Bernhard Kytzler explains the main line he wants to follow; his account of the individual authors of antiquity will always make the connection between modern Western culture and its roots in the ancient world of Greece and Rome. So by describing the life and work of an ancient writer -- as far as it is possible to trace them at all -- the author informs the reader also about how modern philologists view their work. So, for instance, in the case of Homer, Kytzler refers to the two different philological approaches to Homer which originated from two different German philological schools, the so-called 'Unitarier' and the 'Analytiker'. And he follows this by mentioning what happened when, in the twenties of this century, the ideas of so-called 'Oral Poetry' were introduced into the philological discussion on Homer.
In describing the life and work of Plato and Aristotle Kytzler not only reports what scholars discovered but he also presents ideas and interpretations of his own by quoting key-passages of the authors in question. In rejecting conventional critical approaches to Plato's Republic he shows that Plato never really believed that the ideal state would ever come into being, that it was only the consequence of what he had in mind as the ideal way of government. In order to prove this opinion he quotes from Plato's Republic (9.592a- b): 'Perhaps it (the ideal state) is laid up as a pattern in heaven, where those who wish can see it and found it in their own hearts. But it doesn't matter whether it exists or ever will exist; it's the only state in whose politics he can take part.'[] At the end of his article he refers to a judgement of Goethe about Plato which seems to him the most adequate:
'Plato verhält sich zu der Welt wie ein seliger Geist, dem es beliebt, einige Zeit auf ihr zu herbergen. Es ist ihm nicht sowohl darum zu tun, sie kennenzulernen, weil er sie schon voraussetzt, als ihr dasjenige, was er mitbringt und was ihr so not tut, freundlich mitzuteilen. Er dringt in die Tiefen, mehr um sie mit seinem Wesen auszufüllen, als um sie zu erforschen. Er bewegt sich nach der Höhe, mit Sehnsucht, seines Ursprungs wieder teilhaft zu werden. Alles, was er äussert, bezieht sich auf ein ewig Ganzes, Gutes, Wahres, Schönes, dessen Forderung er in jedem Busen aufzuregen strebt. Was er sich im einzelnen von irdischem Wesen zueignet, schmilzt, ja man kann sagen, verdampft in seiner Methode, in seinem Vortrag.' []In his article on Aristotle, Kytzler shows that, in opposition to Plato, he was convinced of a development to perfection hic et nunc and so he became the favourite philosopher of Thomas Aquinas and the ancestor of western Universities in general. Again Kytzler quotes in this context a passage of Goethe which seems to him the most profound characterisation of Aristotle:
'Aristoteles hingegen steht zu der Welt wie ein Mann, ein baumeisterlicher. Er ist nun einmal hier und soll hier wirken und schaffen. Er erkundigt sich nach dem Boden, aber nicht weiter, als bis er Grund findet. Von da bis zum Mittelpunkt der Erde ist ihm das übrige gleichgültig. Er umzieht einen ungeheuren Grundkreis für sein Gebäude, schafft Materialien von allen Seiten her, ordnet sie, schichtet sie auf und steigt so in regelmässiger Form pyramidenartig in die Höhe, wenn Plato, einem Obelisken, ja einer spitzen Flamme gleich, den Himmel sucht.' []These two statements characterize the two philosophers by creating two different ways of looking at the world, Idealism (Plato) and Materialism (Aristotle) which are still alive even today.
In general, Kytzler follows the traces of ancient authors in later centuries up to modern times, whether he writes about epic poets like Homer and Hesiod, or about lyric and tragic poetry or about the ancient philosophers. This is also the case when one looks at the great historians of the ancient world, because they created a special way of analyzing historical facts which also influenced modern scholars in dealing with history. Kytzler also takes philology into account: he refers to the many-sided character of the ancient Greek dialects and shows that it was not until the fifth century B.C. that the Attic dialect was accepted as a kind of leading language. He refers also to the fact that in the post-Christian centuries, the so called KOINH/ developed into the main language. So the Bible and the Old Testament are specially mentioned in this context.
In opposition to some philological schools which considered the Romans only as the great imitators of the Greeks, Kytzler always stresses the point that by imitating the ancient Greeks the Romans created an independent way of looking at the world. The reader is also very pleased to find at the end of this volume a general list of Greek and Roman authors in relation to the political and cultural affairs of their time. So this volume offers a valuable introduction to all who want to get an idea of what ancient culture was like in terms of poetry, philosophy and history. But the expert, the classical scholar, will discover many inspiring nuances and shades he never thought about, because the cultural movements are presented in a wider context: The individual ancient authors are very well known to an expert, but putting them into a greater context opens up new dimensions for further consideration.
[] H.D.P. Lee (tr.), Plato: The Republic (Harmondsworth 1955).
[] Dorothea Kuhn et al. (edd.), Goethes Werke. Band XIV 'Materialen zur Geschichte der Farbenlehre' III (Hamburg 1960) 53-4: 'Plato's relationship to the world is that of a blessed spirit, who chooses to shelter for some time on it. For him it is not so important to do anything to learn to know it (because he already presupposes it), as to inform it in a friendly way about what he brings along and what is so necessary for it. He penetrates to the depths, more to complete them with his nature, than to explore them. He advances on high with longing, to become part of his source again. Everything that he expresses, refers to something eternally whole, good, true, and beautiful, whose challenge he strives to rouse up in every heart. Those particular features of earthly nature that he takes hold of, melt, yes one can say, evaporate in his mode of discourse.' (tr. ed.).
[] Dorothea Kuhn et al. (edd.), loc. cit. p. 54: 'Aristotle on the other hand stands to the world like a man, a builder. It is simply here that he finds himself and here that he is expected to work and build. He inquires about the floor, but no further than until he finds ground. From there up to the center of the earth the rest is indifferent to him. He surrounds his building with an immense perimeter, gathers materials from all sides here, organizes them, stacks up them up and so climbs step by step pyramid-wise on high, while Plato like an obelisk, yes, like a point of flame, seeks heaven.' (tr. ed.).