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Philology’s Roommate: Hermeneutics, Rhetoric, and the Seminar

Constanze Güthenke

Oxford University

In the invitation to this panel, one organizer described the relationship between Classics and theology as that of ‘roommates’. This paper takes seriously the implications of this figure of speech and will begin from the few months in 1799 when Friedrich Schlegel and Friedrich Schleiermacher shared lodgings in Berlin, a period of co-habitation and sharing of ideas that also led to the plan for a collaborative translation of Plato’s works. In the end, Schleiermacher executed the project on his own, but in its conceptualization, it bears the traces of both (Arndt 1996; Lamm 2000).

For sure, Schlegel was as much an unusual philologist, as Schleiermacher an unusual theologian, though both contributed significantly to ambitious, idealist programs for what the role of a philology of the classical world could and should be, Schlegel as a philosophical and literary thinker, Schleiermacher as a theologian, philosopher, and university reformer. Their intellectual mobility with regard to philology not only reflects on their personal qualities, but also on the fact that the disciplinary boundaries between classical philology, theology, and philosophy, rather than fixed, were still consciously in the making within the modern academy: the professionalizing, state-supported research university that produced what William Clark has called ‘our own progenitor: homo academicus germanicus protestantus’ (Clark 2010: 475).

How are we to read their temporary living and working arrangements, and what might they be symptomatic of? In the same way that this period has been read as one when the spheres of literature and philology were permanently parting ways, exemplified by the moment in 1805 when Goethe, hidden behind the curtain of a lecture room, listened to F.A. Wolf discussing Homer (Most 2004)? Philology, in many ways, held together the study of the ancient Greek and Roman world on the one hand, and the study of theology and scripture on the other hand – as much as it tried to keep them apart (Grafton et al 1986). Importantly, though, philology was less a question of method or technical skill only, but a claim to interpretive structure and authority that continued to keep the classical and the biblical in relation to each other, whether in terms of disciplinary practices (Marchand 2009), or of Idealist speculation (Billings 2014).

At last year’s panel on ‘Philology’s Shadow’, Eric Gunderson spoke critically about a ‘monotheistic hermeneutic’: the search for a single, auratic meaning and an essentially Christian metaphysics that still guides our discipline now. Rather than simply tell this genealogical story from a more historical angle and as one of hermeneutics only, this paper seeks to supplement such a narrative by two other shared ‘rooms’ in which the interactions of philology and theology play out: one is the space of rhetoric, that is to say the language of Protestant personal faith, interiority, affect, and obligation, particularly as it was shaped by the highly figurative language of Pietism (Grote 2014; Schrader 2004). But there is also another again quite literally shared room: that of the seminar. Despite the rise and the differentiation of the philological seminar as a disciplinary space of independent research, students of theology were not absent from this site, nor should we forget that the same German word ‘Seminar’ also denotes the seminary (Spoerhase and Dehrmann 2011).

When Max Weber, in his 1919 essay about academic life, ‘Science as Vocation’ (Wissenschaft als Beruf), recognized that regulated, modern scholarship and spiritual, metaphysical demands continued to be linked in a complex, tense social frame, he was not explicitly discussing the philologists. But the ambitions of philology in fact had enabled and exemplified such links, and it is the calculated, yet partial, and intimate, yet centrifugal room-sharing of Classics and Theology under the term philology that should remind us of the fact that philology is also a social form of being that shaped lastingly what life in the house of the modern research university looked like.

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Philology's Shadow II

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