How to reconcile Nietzsche the philologist with Nietzsche the philosopher? In one of his first letters to Nietzsche from November 1887, the Danish critic Georg Brandes expressed his surprise at his discovery of Nietzsche’s philological past: “I know nothing about you. I see with astonishment that you are a professor and a doctor. I congratulate you in any case on being intellectually so little of a professor.” Brandes’ declaration presupposes a thick division between the different roles that constituted Nietzsche’s life, something that corresponds to the two halves of Nietzsche’s mature life: the decade or so he spent employed by the University of Basel as a Professor of Classical Philology between 1868 and 1879, and the decade or so he then spent traveling around Europe and writing the philosophical works for which he is so esteemed today. But it also presupposes that there is a clear division between Nietzsche’s writing and thinking at these different points of his life, and that consequently there is no continuous spectrum of authentically and unproblematically “Nietzschean” ideas that span both eras. The book under review follows in this vein by arguing that Nietzsche the philologist ought to be considered separately from Nietzsche the philosopher, and that Nietzsche’s philology is valuable in and of itself: “our primary aim,” the editors Jensen and Heit declare in their brief introduction, “is to show not how Nietzsche’s earlier works on antiquity help us to understand Nietzsche, but how they may improve our understanding of antiquity” (xviii). Jensen and Heit also declare their desire that their collection might appeal to classicists as well as Nietzscheans, and that it “will hopefully go some way towards dispelling the long-held image of Nietzsche as a scholarly dilettante” (xviii). Whether or not this hope bears fruit, the volume gathers together an impressive array of insights into Nietzsche’s philological career and gives a vivid account of Nietzsche’s stellar career as a young philologist.
The thirteen essays in this volume are divided into five sections (I have included the table of contents at the end of the review for reference). Though the volume has one official introduction, in practice it has two: the second is the opening essay proper of the volume, in which Joachim Latacz sets the scene for Nietzsche’s philological career by giving an overview of the social, historical and biographical that provided the backdrop to Nietzsche’s rise to prominence at Basel. The other essay of the first section is by James Porter, which focuses less on the way that Nietzsche’s philological practice grew out of contemporary scholarly norms, and more on how it subverted them. As he has done extensively elsewhere, particularly in Nietzsche and the Philology of the Future and The Invention of Dionysus (both 2000), Porter argues convincingly that Nietzsche was never a normal classicist, and was always deeply concerned with pointing up the ironies and difficulties of the discipline in his writings, and especially in his teaching (Porter focuses on his lecture notes, particularly for three courses on Aeschylus’ Choephoroi, Greek meter and the “Encyclopedia of Philology”). The focus in this essay on Nietzsche’s lecture style in the classroom (28-32) offers a particularly exciting insight into the reality of Nietzsche’s philological career.
The second section continues the focus on Nietzsche’s philological process. After Glenn Most and Thomas Fries offer a detailed account of how Nietzsche used the scholarly sources available to him while writing his lecture notes on Greek and Roman rhetoric, Douglas Burnham’s essay directly tackles the relationship between Nietzsche’s philological writing and The Birth of Tragedy (BT). Burnham points out that the significance of the Greek god Apollo, who would come to play an integral role in the final form of BT, developed only late in the writing process of that book. Indeed, Burnham demonstrates that the god featured only very briefly in some of the writings that preceded BT and which contained drafts of the work it would come to contain (including the public lectures “Greek Musical Drama” and “Socrates and Tragedy” from January 1870, as well as other unpublished essays). Following this, Burnham argues that the prominence of Apollo came in response to Nietzsche’s desire that his account of Greek culture be of a unified culture, and also to place the idea of the “agon,” or “contest,” at the heart of his ideas about Greek culture.
In the third section the focus shifts to Nietzsche’s published philological writings on ancient literature. Anthony K. Jensen examines the work on Theognis of Megara, a lyric poet active in the sixth century BC. Jensen explains the scholarly problems posed by Theognis in a very lucid way (103-6), and also cites Nietzsche’s following comment in a letter to Carl von Gersdorff in April 1867 that sheds some light on Nietzsche’s stylistic reasons for leaving behind the strictures of classical philology:
I never again want to write in so wooden and dry a manner, so logically straitjacketed, as I did for example in my essay on Theognis: along this path no grace is seated. (KSB 2, 209, cited on p. 103).
Jonathan Barnes, in a reprint of his 1986 article in Nietzsche-Studien, explores Nietzsche’s interest in the ancient biographer Diogenes Laertius and tests Nietzsche’s philological claim that the main source for Diogenes’ Lives of the Philosophers was a lost work by Diocles of Magnesia. The final article of this section is by Alexey Zhavoronkov, which focuses on Nietzsche’s writings about Homer and especially his inaugural lecture “On the Personality of Homer,” later published as “Homer and Classical Philology.” Zhavoronkov suggests that Nietzsche “belongs to the few thinkers of his time who take the Homeric gods seriously,” and that his insights on Homer are striking because he assesses Homer from “a philosophical and psychological viewpoint” rather than a philological one (141). Zhavoronkov concludes with a particularly insightful exploration of the influence of Nietzsche’s differentiation between shame and guilt culture on the work of later scholars, both inside and outside of classics, including Ruth Benedict, E. R. Dodds, Arthur Adkins and Bernard Williams (146-8).
The penultimate section, “Literature, Language, Culture,” takes a more thematic approach to Nietzsche’s interest in the classical world. Carlotta Santini’s essay approaches Nietzsche’s understanding of the concept of literary history, and his particular approach to philology as “a reflective and creative interpreter of antiquity” (161); Matthew Meyer explores Nietzsche’s relationship with Plato through the modern writer’s portrayal of the “music-making Socrates” in BT. Vivetta Vivarelli’s brief essay explores Nietzsche’s recurring interest in the idea of the ancient Greek audience, and is particularly interesting for its evocative exploration (186-8) of Nietzsche’s indebtedness to Anselm Feuerbach’s Der vaticanische Apollo (1833). The final section carries on this focus on the general contours of Nietzsche’s appeal to antiquity: here, Helmut Heit explores Nietzsche’s fascination with the Presocratic thinkers as prototypes for modern philosophy, and Hubert Cancik and Hildegard Cancik-Lindemaier conclude the volume with a rich examination of Nietzsche’s unfinished work “We, Philologists,” taking in its sources, its inspirations (including Leopardi and Burckhardt), and its thematic focus on archaic Greek religion. Babette Babich then explores some of the self-reflexive and reflective elements of Nietzsche’s approach to classical antiquity and ancient science in particular, in a suggestive essay that complements Porter’s earlier essay well. Babich focuses particularly on Nietzsche’s comment in Antichrist that the influence of Christianity has made the achievement of Graeco-Roman antiquity “in vain,” and has obscured the fact that, already in ancient Greece, “all the scientific methods were already available” (A 59; KSA 6: 247, cited on p. 240), but that science did not develop along the same lines as it has done in modernity. This leads the essay to consider the way in which modern science relies for much of its self-definition on the antagonism of an anti-empiricist tradition (as in the emblematic story of Galileo) that simply did not exist in antiquity. Babich thus suggests that we can use Nietzsche’s account of the history of science to inspire fresh approaches to the ancient world that do not simply treat it as an earlier version of the modern world, but which take it seriously on its own conceptual terms and try to do justice to the inventiveness and creativity of ancient thinkers.
The essays included in this volume are wide-ranging, informative and engaging, and offer an excellent orientation to those looking to understand Nietzsche’s philology and its relationship to contemporary scholarly contexts. On reading it, I felt that two future paths of inquiry suggested themselves that would complement these studies and shed further light on the complex relationship between Nietzsche and his academic career. The first would be to explore more explicitly the way that the role of Nietzsche as an exceptional classicist remains of great importance to those who work on him and his relationship to the ancient world. This is the impression given in this volume most clearly by the essays of Porter and Babich (as well as those by Santini and Zhavoronkov), and this position sits uneasily with the broader desire of the volume to rehabilitate Nietzsche as a solid philologist whose sensible scholarship has been sadly ignored by those seeking out the fireworks that characterize his philosophy. The second, related to the first, would be to focus on the lines of influence that have issued forth from Nietzsche’s work within classics that took his unorthodox classicism as an inspiration and not a difficulty. One example of this would be the Cambridge Ritualists (there are no references to Jane Harrison in the volume, though a handful to Francis Cornford): a focus on these scholars would give a broader sense of what a “Nietzschean” style of philology might look like. Similarly, a figure that could have been more discussed was Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Möllendorf. It seems somehow emblematic of Nietzsche’s subterranean and unpredictable influence on the discipline that the young man who took the greatest umbrage at BT should go on to become perhaps the archetypical “scholar of antiquity” of all time, and more insight into their antagonistic relationship would perhaps go some way to understanding Nietzsche’s orientation toward this role. Obviously a volume that tries to recuperate and rehabilitate Nietzsche’s status as a philologist would have a hard time finding a place for Wilamowitz’s anti-Nietzscheanism, but some sense of the ways in which Nietzsche did not match up to the philological standards of his day is surely important for appreciating the other ways in which he did.
List of essays
Introduction – Anthony K. Jensen and Helmut Heit.
Part 1: Nietzsche’s Place in Philology
1—On Nietzsche’s Philological Beginnings – Joachim Latacz
2—Nietzsche’s Radical Philology – James I. Porter
Part 2: Scholarly Processes
3—The Sources of Nietzsche’s Lectures on Rhetoric – Glenn W. Most and Thomas Fries
4—Apollo and the Problem of the Unity of Culture in the Early Nietzsche – Douglas Burnham
Part 3: Scholarly Achievement
5—Nietzsche’s Valediction and First Article: The Theognidea – Anthony K. Jensen
6—Nietzsche and Diogenes Laertius – Jonathan Barnes
7—Nietzsche’s Influence on Homeric Scholarship – Alexey Zhavoronkov
Part 4: Literature, Language, Culture
8—The History of Literature as an Issue: Nietzsche’s Attempt to Represent Antiquity – Carlotta Santini
9—Greek Audience: Performance and Effect of the Different Literary Genres – Vivetta Vivarelli
10—The Ancient Quarrel between Philosophy and Poetry in Nietzsche’s Early Writings – Matthew Meyer
Part 5: Philosophy, Science, Religion
11—Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Early Greek Philosophy – Helmut Heit
12—Nietzsche’s Philology and the Science of Antiquity – Babette Babich
13. The Religion of the “Older Greeks” in Nietzsche’s “Notes to We Philologists” – Hubert Cancik and Hildegard Canci