Monday, March 29, 2010


A Heretic and an Ignoramus

Some interesting quotations from Jakob Burckhardt in G.W. Bowersock, "Burckhardt on Late Antiquity from the Constantin to the Griechische Kulturgeschichte," in A. Cesana and L. Gossman, edd., Begegnungen mit Jakob Burckhardt (Basel: Schwabe/Beck, 2004), pp. 215-228, rpt. in Bowersock's From Gibbon to Auden: Essays on the Classical Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 109-122:

p. 110 (on his reluctance to publish Griechische Kulturgeschichte):
No sir, such a poor outsider, who doesn't belong to the professional guild, may not venture anything of the sort; I'm a heretic and an ignoramus and, with my questionable opinions, would be viciously torn apart by the Viri eruditissimi [learned men]. Ah yes, believe me, I know these people.
The source of this quotation seems to be Heinrich Gelzer, "Jakob Burckhardt," in Ausgewählte kleine Schriften (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1907), p. 197 (without indication of date):
Nein, mein Herr, solch ein armer Fremdling, der ausserhalb des Zunftkreises steht, darf so etwas nicht wagen; ich bin ein Ketzer und ein Ignorant und würde mit einem Ansichten von den Viri eruditissimi arg zerzaust werden. Ja! ja! glauben Sie mir. Je connais ces gens.
Bowersock, p. 112 (from Weltgeschichtliche Betrachtungen):
Huge activity—collecting and constructing—in the study of classical antiquity. A beginner discovers, on every imaginable topic, large learned works already available—handbooks, or at least dissertations and monographs—thesauruses, collections of this and that. Doubts if one can do anything new. In fact independent works seem largely pointless in comparison with the handbooks (on the state, law, religion, morality, law, art, etc.). Everything has long since been excerpted from every side.

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