Monday, June 04, 2018


Independence from Modern Authors

Arnaldo Momigliano, "The Ancient City of Fustel de Coulanges," Essays in Ancient and Modern Historiography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), pp. 325-343 (at 337-338):
Something about the composition of the Cité antique is revealed to us by two letters from Fustel published by L. Halkin in Mélanges Bidez, Volume I, 1934, pp. 465-74. A German scholar who for a long time had been Professor of Law at Liège and had now retired to Stuttgart, L.A. Warnkoenig, had said that he would be willing to review the Cité antique in a German periodical. He did in fact publish a long and admiring review in Jahrbücher der deutschen Rechtswissenschaft 11, 1865, pp. 81-94. Fustel thought it expedient to explain to him the method he had used in writing the book. He stated without false modesty that 'his type of mind was such that he could not be content with details'. His method had been the comparative one. By comparing the Rig-Veda with Euripides, the laws of Manu with the Twelve Tables or Isaeus and Lysias, he had arrived at the conclusion of a remote community of beliefs and institutions among Indians, Greeks and Italic peoples. He had not troubled to read what the moderns had written. Indeed he had imposed upon himself the principle of not reading them, and in particular of not reading the works of Mommsen, until he had almost finished his book. He insists on this independence from modern authors also in the reply to Morel, where the books of Becker and Marquardt are specified among those not read. It is nonetheless clear that these claims only go to demonstrate that Fustel was fully informed about contemporary historical research and made a distinction, for instance, between Marquardt and Mommsen. If the Cité antique is haughtily devoid of references to modern authors while revealing an enviable familiarity with classical texts, one must deduce from this not simple ignorance, but intentional disregard: the same disregard that led Hegel to ignore Niebuhr's critical method and that made Bachofen (with certain exceptions) indifferent to Mommsen's methods. The attitude they have in common is one which repudiates modern criticism of the sources in order to preserve the sources' data. In his inaugural lecture at Strasbourg in 1862 Fustel declared: 'I then resolved to have no masters on Greece other than the Greeks themselves, nor on Rome than the Romans.' Even more explicitly, in fragments published after his death: 'I would rather be mistaken in the manner of Livy than that of Niebuhr; and in the manner of Gregory of Tours than that of Mr Sohm.' And he added more generally about his adversaries: 'They put themselves up as critics because they have no critical spirit' (Revue Synthèse Hist. 2, 1901, pp. 249-50, 257-8). Later, in writing, or rather in rewriting the Histoire des Institutions politiques de l'ancienne France, Fustel confessed with regret that he had had to yield to the new fashion of presenting all the scholarly material (Histoire, I, La Gaule Romaine, 1891, p. iv n.).
Related post: The Scholarly-Industrial Complex.

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