Saturday, October 01, 2016


Licht vom Osten

M.L. West (1937-2015), The East Face of Helicon: West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth (1997; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003), p. xi:
'The beginnings of Greek literature are starting to take on a new aspect.' Those words, written in the year of my birth by Franz Dornseiff, are still applicable. Another writer has gone so far as to proclaim the end of Classical scholarship as a self-sufficient discipline:
The days of an exclusively 'classical' scholarship are over. To write about Greek literature without knowing something of the West Asiatic has become as impossible as studying Roman literature without knowledge of the Greek.1
That depends, of course, on which area of Greek literature is in question, but I hope to show the truth of the statement as regards the whole field of Archaic and early Classical poetry.

Even from Oxford it is possible to discern the beginnings of a new and welcome trend for classicists and ancient historians to study at least one oriental language. It would perhaps be too absolute to say that this is where the future of our studies lies; but nothing will contribute more to their progress than the bringing of new evidence to bear, and this is a particularly promising direction in which to look for it. It must become a firm part of our agenda for the twenty-first century. But there is much consciousness-raising still to be done. There are still too many classicists who thoughtlessly use 'the ancient world' or 'das Altertum' as a synonym for 'Graeco-Roman antiquity', as if other ancient civilizations did not exist.

1Dornseiff, 35, 'Die Anfänge der griechischen Literatur beginnen ein anderes Gesicht zu bekommen'; Petriconi, 338 n. 18, 'Die Zeiten einer nur "klassischen" Philologie sind damit vorbei; über die griechische Literatur zu schreiben, ohne etwas von der vorderasiatischen zu wissen, ist ebenso unmöglich geworden wie etwa ohne Kenntnis der griechischen die römische Literatur zu studieren.'
The references in the footnote are to Franz Dornseiff, Antike und alter Orient. Interpretationen = his Kleine Schriften, vol. I (Leipzig: Koehler & Amelang, 1956), and Hellmuth Petriconi, "Das Gilgamesch-Epos als Vorbild der Ilias," in Alessandro S. Crisafulli, ed., Linguistic and Literary Studies in Honor of Helmut A. Hatzfeld (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1964), pp. 329-342.

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