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The Correspondence of Günther Klaffenbach and Louis Robert (1929‒1972)

Daniela Summa

Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften

The paper offers an overview of a project based in Berlin, at Inscriptiones Graecae, which aims to publish a lifelong correspondence (782 letters) between two of the most significant epigraphists of the 20th century: Günther Klaffenbach (1890‒1972), Director of the Inscriptiones Graecae (IG) at the Berlin Academy of Sciences and Humanities and author of several corpora, and Louis Robert (1904‒1985), Professor at the École Pratique des Hautes Études and at the College de France, and inter alia editor with Jeanne Robert of the Bulletin Épigraphique.

The correspondence is important and fascinating in multiple respects. The connection between the two scholars began over consultations initiated by the younger man, Louis Robert, in 1929. Despite their two different approaches to the discipline and their antithetic personalities (Robert largely communicative, Klaffenbach very reserved), it developed into a scholarly collaboration and friendship: “Vous êtes l’épigraphiste dont je me sens le plus proche et avec qui je corresponds, avec une entière liberté, sur les sujets dont je sens qu’ils vous intéressent comme ils m’intéressent” (‘You are the epigraphist to whom I feel closest and with whom I correspond with total freedom on the subjects which I feel interest you as they interest me,’ Robert to Klaffenbach, 23.04.1938). The friendship evolved in solidarity through the fortunes and more often misfortunes of the times, even during the period of World War II. As their letters made their way past the censors, the two scholars from enemy countries offered each other help, both material and intellectual, and they both used epigraphic conversations as a way of retaining their humanity in a period in which civilization was crumbling around them. This long exchange continued in the 1950s and ’60s also through disagreements and forceful discussions about methods, about epigraphic projects of the coming years, and about the future of epigraphy. In this respect, as well as its historical and political interest, the correspondence sheds a better light on the ways these two prominent scholars conceived and influenced the epigraphic discipline, since they debate or refer to almost the whole of their academic life and scholarly works both in progress or accomplished. The bond continued until the death of Klaffenbach in 1972.

Klaffenbach’s letters (in German) are preserved at the Fonds Louis Robert, Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, Paris, while Robert’s letters (in French) are preserved in the Archive of the Inscriptiones Graecae, Berlin. “The Correspondence of Günther Klaffenbach and Louis Robert” is part of a series of publication projects on Wissenschaftsbeziehungen between German and French scholars before and after both World Wars, which will appear under the aegis of the Inscriptiones Graecae and with the support of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres. It will be the result of the present friendship between the two Academies, which both Klaffenbach and Robert would without doubt have welcomed.

Session/Panel Title

Writing the History of Epigraphy and Epigraphers

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