Synopses & Reviews
This book is an account of the modern German fascination with the art, politics and religion of ancient Greece from Winckelmann to Nietzsche's generation. Philhellenism was the paradoxical German effort to overcome the ruptures of modern political and social life by means of the appeal to a historical whole rather than a transcendental or universal ideal. Traditionally, the story of German Philhellenism has been told in terms of German admiration for Greek beauty and the political consequences of this aesthetic sensibility. Through the study of two themes this book traces instead the transformation of the German understanding of Greek public life and religion, the forces which underlay and disrupted the admired aesthetic. At the heart of these inquiries was the centrality of the agôn, or contest. Competitive institutions were the foundation of Greek politics and artistic achievement, the key to understanding the polis, but also the seeds of Greek self-destruction. For German Philhellenes, the status of women was the best measure of the gulf that separated modernity from Greek antiquity. In the wake of the French Revolution, Philhellenes engaged in attempts to reconcile ancient political freedom, artistic grandeur and a cultivated female citizenry. But in the course of the nineteenth-century, research on the Eleusinian mysteries and the delineation of a distinctly female religiosity increasingly aligned the ancient Greek feminine with the threatening democratic and egalitarian phenomena of modern Europe.
'A fascinating study of eighteenth-century German Philhellenism and of the debates which it generated in their social and political context. Damian Valdez's book is full of illuminating insights into the writings of Winckelmann, Herder, Schiller and Goethe.' - Joachim Whaley, Professor of German History and Thought at the University of Cambridge, UK, and author of Germany and the Holy Roman Empire, 1493-1806
"Valdez intricately maps out the colourful and densely populated map of German philhellenism in the late eighteenth century. This rich and important book provides us with a fuller and more sophisticated picture of German engagements with ancient Greece. Valdez elegantly examines the significance of German philhellenism for Enlightenment historiography and eighteenth-century literature and politics, and his book will find a wide and appreciative readership." - Daniel Orrells, Associate Professor, The University of Warwick, UK
This book is an account of the modern German fascination with the art, politics and religion of ancient Greece from Winckelmann to Nietzsche's generation.
Philhellenism—the fascination with the art, politics, religion and society of ancient Greece- is a powerful and compelling phenomenon in German culture and intellectual history, creating a language and a series of key ideas that were to exert a continuous influence on German thought, aesthetics and politics well into the twentieth century. In this book Valdez examines the first generation of German Philhellenes from Winckelmann to Goethe. He shows how German Philhellenism was torn between the search for a historical whole which could explain and encompass Greek excellence, and the desire to incorporate individual aspects of Greece in a wider ethical and artistic enterprise, and finally, to give it a place in the history of freedom itself. Valdez also shows that German philhellenic ideas grew out of a dialogue with French and British ideas and historiography. He charts how the fascination with Greek antiquity was reflected in theatre and literature and how the longings and idealisation of Philhellenes clashed with the more critical and sober historians of the Enlightenment. The book also explains how the search for the historical reality of philhellenic ideals created intense emotional and ideological conflicts about the unique nature of male friendship in ancient Greece and about the position of women in ancient Athens.
About the Author
Damian Valdez holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Cambridge, UK. He is currently an Affiliated Lecturer at the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge, UK.
Table of Contents
PART I: THE AGÔN OR CONTEST
1. Winckelmann: Greek Sculpture and the Games
2. Herder: Fame and the Fragility of Freedom
3. Humboldt and Schiller: The Divergent Paths of Philhellenism
4. The Polis: The Spartan Cosmos and the Death of Socrates
5. Curtius, Nietzsche, and Burckhardt: The Apotheosis of the Agôn
PART II: THE PARADOX OF GERMAN PHILHELLENISM
6. The Women of Athens I: The Varieties of Enlightenment History
7. The Women of Athens II: In Search of Diotima
8. From Goethe's Iphigenie to Hegel's Antigone
9. The Eleusinian Mysteries: Friedrich Creuzer and K.O. Müller
10. The Dionysian and Democracy: Bachofen and Nietzsche