Friday, March 10, 2017


Philological Method

William M. Calder III, "How Did Ulrich Von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff Read a Text?" Classical Journal 86.4 (April-May, 1991) 344-352 (at 350):
In revolt against the stifling methodology of the Ritschl School Wilamowitz was reluctant to discuss method. His student, Wolfgang Schadewaldt, records that in 1919 he once remarked on philological method:26
Then colleagues Harnack and Roethe come to me and say; "You are in good shape; you have the 'Philological Method.'" Why, this prized "philological method"? There simply isn't any—any more than a method to catch fish. The whale is harpooned; the herring caught in a net; flounders are stomped upon; the salmon speared; the trout caught on a fly. Where do you find the method to catch fish? And hunting? I suppose there is something like method there? Why, ladies and gentlemen, there is a difference between hunting lions and catching fleas.
The famous remark was part in fun. He imitates Ovid on the lack of method in love (AA 1.763-64). But he reveals his practical disgust with endless talk on method. Rather, with Aristotle, sit down and get on with it. One may adduce A.E. Housman's famous comparison of philological method to a dog hunting fleas.27

26 See Wolfgang Schadewaldt, Hellas und Hesperien: Gesammelte Schriften zur Antike und zur neueren Literatur in zwei Bänden, edd. Klaus Bartels, Reinhard Thurow and Ernst Zinn II (Zürich 19702) 606-7, with my note at Rheinisches Museum NF 126 (1983) 191. The simile well reveals Wilamowitz' impatience with tiresome blithering about method.

27 The Classical Papers of A.E. Housman: III 1915-1936, collected and edited by J. Diggle and F.R.D. Goodyear (Cambridge 1972) 1059.

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