Friedrich Ritschl

Having studied with Hermann at Leipzig and then Hermann’s student Karl Christian Reisig at Halle, Ritschl made it his life’s work to complete Hermann’s initiatives on Plautus with a philological method unmatched in rigor.45 Ritschl spent more than thirty years detailing every slight alteration in mood, tone, and voice, every textual emendation made throughout a millennium, every seemingly meaningless speck of editorial dust that had gathered on or around the image of Plautus. A motto Ritschl drummed into the members of his seminar is indicative of his martinet-attitude toward method: “Lesen, viel lesen, sehr viel lesen, moglischst viel lesen [Reading, a lot of reading, a whole lot of reading, as much reading as possible].”46 Such a careful training Ritschl acquired under his Sprachphilologen teachers. “The best that there is in me as regards philology I owe to seminary exercises under my teachers Gottfried Hermann in Leipzig and Karl Reisig in Halle.”[1]

Given that Nietzsche himself had no real interest in Plautus, would he have had patience with such a micrological Hermannian? Just here is the point on which Ritschl has been misjudged by scholars of Nietzsche, and where his historiographical influence has been falsely ascribed.[2] Misunderstood is that Ritschl never considered his own accomplishments - petits faits that they were - the proper goals of philology but examples of the appropriately rigorous methodology that should serve as but one contributory rung on the ladder to a more multifaceted education. A worthy philologist must begin with these basic and most certain elements of the text, and from there proceed to useful and philologically valid images of that text’s author, and then only from there move into the grand scope of Alterthumswissenschaft. Ritschl had, in encyclopediae formally consistent with Boeckh’s better-known version, attempted to express the grandiose accumulation of his learning. His “Zur Geschichte der classischen Philologie,” “Gutachten uber philologische Seminarien,” and “Zur Methode des philologischen Studiums” each appear strongly influenced by Boeckh, but are ‘corrected’ by means of a more serious analytic tone.[3] Boeckh and the Romantics he helped to inspire - Goethe, Holderlin, and the so-called ‘historical’ philosophy of the Hegelians - too often overlooked those preliminary stages before constructing their Gesamtbilden of the ancient world. Speculation without critical rigor, Ritschl taught, remains mere guesswork. In his lectures on metric, Ritschl sought, “the reproduction of the life of classical antiquity through intuition and knowledge.”[4]

Emphasizing the combination was key: one may not reduce philology to either the knowledge of the Sprachphilologen or the intuitions of the Sachphilologen. Accordingly, scholars should not pigeonhole Ritschl himself into one school or the other. Ritschl’s destination was Boeckh’s, but his road was distinctively Hermann’s.51 As one student recalls, “He was rigidly just to the letter, but he read in every tittle of the letter the revelation of the



This was something of a taboo. At the same time Ritschl tried to maintain a personal loyalty to Hermann and to both the strict methods and the fierce distrust of metaphysics he taught at Leipzig - contrary to the intuitive assemblages of Boeckh and Welcker - he never accepted Hermann’s narrow corralling of the antiquarian’s holistic pedagogical goals. Philology must not be taught as a collection of obscure facts about long-desiccated texts; it must serve to inculcate in its students a desire for critical rigor, a patience for certainty, and an intrepid spirit tempered with a deep appreciation for their cultural heritage. Only then could philology reclaim its magisterial role as the guardian of culture. A few years after his 1829 dissertation, a sprach- philologische apology entitled Schedae Criticae, Ritschl published an important manifesto for the field: “Ueber die neueste Entwickelung der Philologie” (1833). Here Ritschl laments the quarrel between the two factions, on the grounds that it moved the field further away from the more noble balance established by Wolf. The blame goes to the Sachphilologen, Ritschl thought, for having too-enthusiastically aligned themselves with the optimism of Winckelmann and for having adopted too-uncritically the idealistic theories of intuition put forth by Schelling and Hegel.53 Their disavowal of linguistic criticism opened the door to clever but indemonstrable speculations about the ‘meanings’ of art and archeological artifacts. Such speculative theorizing precipitated an overcorrection from the critical school, however, which had nobly sought empirical evidence in the face of intuitive reconstruction, but ultimately overcompensated by trying to force history into a scientific straitjacket. The intended pedagogical ends of the antiquarians were worthy, but the means they employed illicit. The methods of the critical school were justified, but their goals were stilted.

Although Ritschl’s philological practices were indeed dry critical analysis, they must be considered in the context of these pedagogical ideals. Philology must play an essential part in universal history if it is to have cultural value; through it, classical antiquity should be one of the chief steps upon the general course of development for human education.[5] Ritschl was aiming, in a way that would be echoed by his student Nietzsche, at “complete human education,” forming the whole person for the sake of their cultural and spiritual development, creating future men rather than just future instructors.[6] Without the re-enlivened spirit of philology practiced properly, “all higher culture of modern times would become narrow, muddy, and wither away.”[7] In accordance with what Nietzsche would later demand of true educators, Ritschl did serve culture by effectively forging students who in fact surpassed him. Ritschl’s words: “The mark of a true master is the creation of a more elevated version of himself - and taking joy in such elevation.”[8] In a collection of epigrams and aphorisms that bear close resemblance to Nietzsche’s own, Ritschl writes, “All too many will be crushed under the weight of philology. All too many will simply not understand it. However, those who can, those who have a sense for the great and broad, the height and depth of science - that is an invaluable, eternal victory for life.”[9] [10] [11] Note how closely this stands to Nietzsche’s dictum in 1874: “And so let my proposition be understood and pondered [erwogen]: history can be borne only by strong personalities, the weak are entirely extinguished [loscht ... aus] by it.”59 These pedagogical intentions distanced Ritschl from Hermann and thereby endeared him none to Hermann’s Berlin disciples, Karl Lachmann and Moritz Haupt.6°

Beyond his mischaracterization as a narrow-minded Sprachphilolog, it is sometimes thought that Ritschl was non- or even anti-philosophical, and that he thus would have rejected philosophically colored interpretations tout a fait. This is simply an overstatement.61 We have already witnessed the deeply reflective way in which he cast his methodologies and pedagogical ideals; but beyond this, Ritschl had in fact been the mentor of F. A. Lange, who completed his dissertation at Bonn in 1851 on a theme that Nietzsche himself would directly take into his own hands under Ritschl: ‘ Quaestiones Metricae.’ That Ritschl could be mentor to two of the greatest philosophers of the later nineteenth century forces us to reevaluate those labels. It is more accurate to say that Ritschl mistrusted, as nearly all stripes of neo-Kantians did, the kinds of idealized speculations about historical matters so prominent in the Romantics and Idealists. That Herder, Holderlin, Schiller, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel purported some sort of special apprehension of historical matters beyond the limits of phenomenal experience— or in philological terms: beyond textual-linguistic evidence - was, to Ritschl, as much as to Helmholtz, Lange, Cohen, or Windelband, radically unacceptable. But according to the common academic prejudices of the mid nineteenth century, to be anti-Speculative or anti-Idealist was sometimes to be branded anti-Philosophical.

Only with this versatile outlook combined with these pedagogical goals, something forgotten in Nietzsche scholarship today, could Ritschl have been almost universally lauded by his students. Ritschl never bred mechanical Plautus scholars nor inculcated the sort of lifeless pedantry Nietzsche came to revile. His charisma in the classroom was earned through presenting to his students a Wolfian whole of antiquity won through careful critical philology.[12] Only with this universal outlook, too, could Ritschl have been appointed to the co-editorship of the field’s most important journal, Das Rheinisches Museum fur Philologie, alongside F. G. Welcker, himself a fervent Sachphilolog. The longtime Bonn journal had been founded there by Boeckh in 1827, and had long been the measuring stick of historical studies. Ritschl’s appointment to its helm, as the former student of Hermann, would have baffled anyone at the time who still believed he was a blind apostle of his teacher. Ritschl saw it as his mission to bridge the gap left by Hermann and Boeckh, to return to the ideals and methods intertwined by F. A. Wolf. “Kritik and Hermeneutik are at the same time the means and the end.” They must each look upon the other as “Bauleute an einem unddemselben Gebaude [builders on one and the same building].”[13]

As a teacher, mentor, and friend, no one exercised a more consistent function in Nietzsche’s early scholarly activity than “Hochverehrter Herr Geheimrath” Ritschl.64 We saw in the previous chapter Ritschl’s extraordinarily high praise of Nietzsche’s early scholarly pieces. And we see now the degree to which Nietzsche’s early publications were grounded in Ritschl’s ideal combination of Kritik and Hermeneutik. As a good Sprachphilolog, Nietzsche uses the methods of linguistic analysis and source criticism to critique the extant texts of his chosen authors and the editorial tradition from which they arose. But as an interpreter, Nietzsche - like Ritschl, but unlike Hermann, Lachmann, and Haupt - never remained at the level of pure linguistic critique. He repeatedly overstepped the negative task of philology to offer a creative, speculative, but persistently naturalistic explanation of an historical agent’s motivation in order to offer his audience a clearer picture of the meaning of antiquity generally.

  • [1] Gildersleeve (1884), 352. The passage is quoted second hand from J. H. Wright in an address at theNational Educational Association in 1882.
  • [2] Silk and Stern (1983), 92; Figl (1984), 154-172; Reibnitz (1991), 204-233; Calder 111 (1991), 202;Niemeyer (1996), 60-64. Nietzsche’s French biographer Charles Andler judges: “Ritschl was apuritan of science.” Andler ([1958] 1920-1931) 1, 298. Benne is a positive corrective in this respect:Benne (2005), 60-65. Apart from these, the neglect of Nietzsche’s teacher is startling. In the WeimarNietzsche-Bibliographie, there is only one entry on Ritschl, and that is in a French collection ofcorrespondence surrounding The Birth ofTragedy. This is additionally surprising in light of the recentquantity of research on Nietzsche’s philology, some of the best known of which practically ignoresthese figures. Although Porter often cites Ritschl’s correspondence with Nietzsche as evidence of thelatter’s development, Ritschl himself and his influence receives no sustained treatment. Porter(2000a). The neglect has been such that the biographer Ronald Hayman talks at length aboutNietzsche’s teacher Albrecht Ritschl. Albrecht Ritschl (1822-1889) was a professor of theology atGottingen when Nietzsche was at Bonn. He was the author of an important work on the origins ofthe Catholic Church. He was not, however, the teacher of Nietzsche.
  • [3] All are found in Ritschl (1879).
  • [4] The lectures on metric were delivered in the winter semester of 1831-1832. The citation is provided byRibbeck (1879-1881) 1, 85. For how Ritschl’s lectures on metric shaped the content of Nietzsche’sthoughts on the same topic, see generally Gunther (2008).
  • [5] Ibid., v, 11. 2 Ibid., v, 21-22, 27. 3 Ibid., v, 15. 4 Ibid., v, 31. 5 Ibid., v, 29.
  • [6] 59 HL, 5; KSA 1, 283. Nietzsche’s emphasis.
  • [7] 6° Nietzsche considered these scholars “unreasonable opponents of Ritschl [.. .], little half-witted
  • [8] barkers.” Nietzsche to Edmund Oehler, January 15, 1866; KSB 2, 107.
  • [9] 61 Contra Pletsch, Nietzsche’s dual lament that Ritschl overestimated the value of philology and was averse
  • [10] to philosophy in his RUckblick aufmeine zwei Leipziger Jahre need not be understood as a narrow
  • [11] minded devotion to the existing norms of critical philology. Pletsch (1991), 75. See BAW 3, 305.
  • [12] Cf. Benne (2005), 49. 2 Ritschl (1879) v, 14—5.
  • [13] 64 This was often Nietzsche’s address to Ritschl. See for examples, KSB 2: 224, 226, 242, 244, 251.
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