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  • HELEN ROCHE (a1)

Studies of German philhellenism have often focused upon the idealization of Greece by German intellectuals, rather than considering the very real, at times reciprocal, at times ambivalent or even brutal, relationship which existed between contemporary Germans and the Greek state from the Greek War of Independence onwards. This review essay surveys historiographical developments in the literature on German philhellenism which have emerged in the past dozen years (2004–16), drawing on research in German studies, classical philology and reception studies, Modern Greek studies, intellectual history, philosophy, art history, and archaeology. The essay explores the extent to which recent research affirms or rebuts that notion of German cultural exceptionalism which posits a Hellenophile Sonderweg – culminating in the tyranny of Germany over Greece imposed by force of arms under the Third Reich – when interpreting the vicissitudes of the Graeco–German relationship. The discussion of new literature touches upon various themes, including Winckelmann reception at the fin-de-siècle and the anti-positivist aspects of twentieth-century philhellenism, the idealization of ‘Platonic’ homoeroticism in the Stefan George-Kreis, the reciprocal relationship between German idealist philhellenism and historicism, and the ways in which German perceptions of modern Greece's materiality have constantly been mediated through idealized visions of Greek antiquity.

Corresponding author
Faculty of History, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, cb3 9ef
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The author is very grateful not only to the Historical Journal for obtaining review copies of several of the works cited here, but also to the editors of the Oxford University Press Classical Presences series for generously providing a number of books from their back-catalogue. Sadly, two further relevant monographs, Erika Fischer-Lichte's Tragedy's endurance: performances of Greek tragedies and cultural identity in Germany since 1800 (Oxford, 2017), and Johanna Hanink's The classical debt: Greek antiquity in an era of austerity (Cambridge, MA, 2017), appeared too late to be included in this essay – for a detailed discussion, the reader is advised to consult the author's forthcoming reviews of both works, which are scheduled to appear in the Classical Review (68, 1) and Reviews in History respectively.

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1 Ross, Ludwig, Erinnerungen und Mitteilungen aus Griechenland (Berlin, 1863), pp. 104–5, quoted in Güthenke, Constanze, Placing modern Greece: the dynamics of Romantic Hellenism, 1770–1840 (Oxford, 2008), pp. 244–5.

2 Marchand, Suzanne L., Down from Olympus: archaeology and philhellenism in Germany, 1750–1970 (Princeton, NJ, 1996), p. xviii.

3 Butler, Eliza Marian, The tyranny of Greece over Germany: a study of the influence exercised by Greek art and poetry over the great German writers of the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Cambridge, 1935; repr. 2011). For a detailed discussion of the book's genesis and its place within Butler's oeuvre, see Peacock, Sandra J., ‘Struggling with the daimon: Eliza M. Butler on Germany and Germans’, History of European Ideas, 32 (2006), pp. 99115.

4 As an example of this tendency, see the smorgasbord of essays included in Stephens, Susan A. and Vasunia, Phiroze, eds., Classics and national cultures (Oxford, 2010).

5 Hamilakis, Yannis, The nation and its ruins: antiquity, archaeology, and national imagination in Greece (Oxford, 2007), p. viii.

6 Bilsel, Can, Antiquity on display: regimes of the authentic in Berlin's Pergamon Museum (Oxford, 2012), pp. 52–5; Hamilakis, Nation, pp. 250–3; Heß, Gilbert, Agazzi, Elena, and Décultot, Elizabeth, eds., Graecomania: Der europäische Philhellenismus (Berlin, 2009), p. x.

7 Güthenke, Placing modern Greece, p. 51; Hamilakis, Nation, p. 253; Orrells, Daniel, Classical culture and modern masculinity (Oxford, 2011), pp. 139, 134–5; cf. Cartledge, Paul, ‘The importance of being Dorian: an onomastic gloss on the Hellenism of Oscar Wilde’, in idem, Spartan reflections (London, 2001), pp. 185–91. See also Leoussi, Athena S., ‘Nationalism and racial Hellenism in nineteenth-century England and France’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 20 (1997), pp. 4268.

8 See the seminal studies by Ruehl, Martin and Marchand, Suzanne: Ruehl, Martin A., The Italian Renaissance in the German historical imagination, 1860–1930 (Cambridge, 2015); Marchand, Suzanne L., German orientalism in the age of empire: religion, race, and scholarship (Cambridge, 2009). On the rise of Germanic archaeology and prehistory during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, see Marchand, Olympus, ch. 5, passim.

9 Herder, Johann Gottfried, Sämmtliche Werke, ed. Suphan, Bernhard, Redlich, Carl, and Steig, Reinhold (33 vols., Berlin, 1887–1913), ii, p. 111, quoted in Harloe, Katherine, Winckelmann and the invention of antiquity: history and aesthetics in the age of Altertumswissenschaft (Oxford, 2013), p. 206.

10 von Humboldt, Wilhelm, ‘Über den Charakter der Griechen, die idealische und historische Ansicht desselben’, Werke in fünf Bänden, ii: Schriften zur Altertumskunde und Ästhetik. Die Vasken (5th edn, Darmstadt, 2002), pp. 6572, at p. 65.

11 Meid, Christopher, Griechenland-Imaginationen: Reiseberichte im 20. Jahrhundert von Gerhart Hauptmann bis Wolfgang Koeppen (Berlin, 2012), p. 2; Friedrich von Schiller, Xenion 320, in Werke und Briefe in zwölf Bänden, i (Frankfurt, 1992), p. 618. On the dangers of imputing too much importance to the notion of the purity of a purported ‘philhellenic “faith”’, see Valdez, Damian, German philhellenism: the pathos of the historical imagination from Winckelmann to Goethe (Basingstoke, 2014), p. 3.

12 Orrells, Masculinity, pp. 88–9.

13 Winckelmann, Johann Joachim, Gedanken über die Nachahmung der griechischen Werke in der Malerey und Bildhauerkunst (2nd edn, Dresden and Leipzig, 1756), p. 3.

14 Marchand, Olympus, pp. 7–8.

15 Butler, Tyranny, p. 6.

16 Bilsel, Antiquity on display, p. 42. See also more generally Potts, Alex, Flesh and the ideal: Winckelmann and the origins of art history (New Haven, CT, 1994).

17 Güthenke, Placing modern Greece, pp. 64–5.

18 Most, Glenn W., ‘On the use and abuse of ancient Greece for life’, Cultura Tedesca, 20 (2002), pp. 3153, at p. 42.

19 Marchand, Olympus, pp. 159–60.

20 Ibid., pp. xviii–xix.

21 Ibid., p. 6.

22 II, Wilhelm, ‘Eröffnungsansprache zur Schulkonferenz 1890’, in Giese, G., ed., Quellen zur deutschen Schulgeschichte seit 1800 (Göttingen, 1961), pp. 196–7.

23 Jochmann, Werner, Adolf Hitler: Monologe im Führerhauptquartier, 1941–1944 (Hamburg, 1980), p. 214; see further Roche, Helen, ‘In Sparta fühlte ich mich wie in einer deutschen Stadt” (Goebbels): the leaders of the Third Reich and the Spartan nationalist paradigm’, in Rash, Felicity, Horan, Geraldine, and Wildmann, Daniel, eds., English and German nationalist and anti-Semitic discourse, 1871–1945 (Oxford, 2013), pp. 91115.

24 Marchand, Olympus, pp. 354–75.

25 Ibid., p. xxiv.

26 Other considerations of this theme include Volker Riedel, ‘Zwischen Klassizismus und Geschichtlichkeit. Buch, GoethesWinckelmann und sein Jahrhundert”’, International Journal of the Classical Tradition, 13 (2006), pp. 217–42; Saure, Felix, ‘Beautiful bodies, exercising warriors and original peoples: sports, Greek antiquity and national identity from Winckelmann to “Turnvater Jahn”’, German History, 27 (2009), pp. 358–73; and Elisabeth Décultot, ‘Winckelmanns Konstruktion der griechischen Nation’, in Heß, Agazzi, and Décultot, eds., Graecomania, pp. 39–59; eadem, Erlebte oder erträumte Antike? Zu Winckelmanns geplanten Griechenlandreisen’, in Kocziszky, Eva, ed., Ruinen in der Moderne. Archäologie und die Künste (Berlin, 2011), pp. 125–40; eadem, Lesen versus sehen? Winckelmanns Umgang mit den gegenständlichen und schriftlichen Quellen zur antiken Kunst’, in von Ammon, Frieder, Rémi, Cornelia, and Stiening, Gideon, eds., Literatur und praktische Vernunft (Berlin, 2016), pp. 317–34, all of which draw on her earlier work on Winckelmann and his oeuvre: Décultot, Elisabeth, Johann Joachim Winckelmann: enquête sur la genèse de l'histoire de l'art (Paris, 2000); and idem (trans., ed., and commentary), J. J. Winckelmann: de la description (Paris, 2006).

27 Harloe, Winckelmann, esp. pp. xvi–xvii, 7.

28 Ibid., esp. p. xvii.

29 Ibid., esp. p. 165.

30 Ibid., esp. p. 243.

31 Sünderhauf, Esther Sophia, Griechensehnsucht und Kulturkritik: Die deutsche Rezeption von Winckelmanns Antikenideal, 1840–1945 (Berlin, 2004), p. xxvii.

32 Ibid., esp. p. 241.

33 Ibid., p. 116.

34 Ibid., chs. ii.3, iii.

35 Ibid., ch. v. These aspects of National Socialist philhellenism are also cogently discussed in Chapoutot, Johann, Greeks, Romans, Germans: how the Nazis usurped Europe's classical past (Oakland, CA, 2016) (original French edition: Le national-socialisme et l'Antiquité (Paris, 2008)), esp. pp. 136–42, 156–9, 175–86. For more negative views of Winckelmann and the philhellenic tradition during the Third Reich, see Roche, Helen, ‘“Anti-Enlightenment”: National Socialist educators’ troubled relationship with humanism and the philhellenist tradition’, Publications of the English Goethe Society, 82 (2013), pp. 193207.

36 Sünderhauf, Griechensehnsucht, p. 359.

37 Ibid., ch. iii, esp. pp. 173–203, 152.

38 Stiewe, Barbara, Der ‘Dritte Humanismus’: Aspekte deutscher Griechenrezeption vom George-Kreis bis zum Nationalsozialismus (Berlin, 2011), pp. 36–7.

39 Ibid., pp. 9–11.

40 The first volume of Jaeger's monumental three-volume work, Paideia: Die Formung des griechischen Menschen, appeared in 1934. For a detailed analysis of some of the relevant aspects of Humboldt's own thought, see Saure, Felix, ‘“…meine Grille von der Ähnlichkeit der Griechen und der Deutschen”: Nationalkulturelle Implikationen in Wilhelm von Humboldts Antikekonzept’, in Rosenberger, Veit, ed., ‘Die Ideale der Alten’: Antikerezeption um 1800 (Stuttgart, 2008), pp. 113–29; idem, Agamemnon on the battlefield of Leipzig: Wilhelm von Humboldt on ancient warriors, modern heroes, and Bildung through war’, in Krimmer, Elisabeth and Simpson, Patricia Anne, eds., Enlightened war: German theories and cultures of warfare from Frederick the Great to Clausewitz (Rochester, NY, 2011), pp. 75102; also Vick, Brian, ‘Of Basques, Greeks, and Germans: liberalism, nationalism, and the ancient republican tradition in the thought of Wilhelm von Humboldt’, Central European History, 40 (2007), pp. 653–81.

41 Stiewe, Der ‘Dritte Humanismus’, pp. 237–43. On the existing Prussian military tradition of laconophile philhellenism, see also Roche, Helen, Sparta's German children: the ideal of ancient Sparta in the Royal Prussian Cadet-Corps, 1818–1920, and in National Socialist elite schools (the Napolas), 1933–1945 (Swansea, 2013).

42 Stiewe, Der ‘Dritte Humanismus’, p. 311. The most notorious attempt to align the Third Humanism with the educational ideals of National Socialism was arguably Jaeger's article ‘Die Erziehung des politischen Menschen und die Antike’, Volk im Werden, 1 (1933), pp. 43–9, which was intended to impress education minister Bernhard Rust with his ideological credentials. For more on this, see Marchand, Olympus, ch. 9, esp. pp. 325–30.

43 Stiewe, Der ‘Dritte Humanismus’, pp. 9, 311.

44 Butler, Tyranny, pp. 322–31.

45 Lane, Melissa S. and Ruehl, Martin A., eds., A poet's Reich: politics and culture in the George Circle (Woodbridge, 2011); Melissa S. Lane, ‘The Platonic politics of the George Circle: a reconsideration’, pp. 133–63; and Adam Bisno, ‘Stefan George's homoerotic Erlösungsreligion, 1891–1907’, pp. 37–55. On the George Circle's relationship with Plato, see also Rebenich, Stefan, ‘“Dass ein strahl von Hellas auf uns fiel”: Platon im George-Kreis’, George-Jahrbuch, 7 (2009), pp. 115–41, revised and translated as “May a ray from Hellas fall upon us”: Plato in the George-Circle’, in Roche, Helen and Demetriou, Kyriakos, eds., Brill's companion to the classics, fascist Italy and Nazi Germany (Leiden, 2018), pp. 178204.

46 Lane, ‘Platonic politics’, p. 134; Bisno, ‘Erlösungsreligion’.

47 Bisno, ‘Erlösungsreligion’, esp. p. 49. See also Sünderhauf, Griechensehnsucht, pp. 203–13; Stiewe, Der ‘Dritte Humanismus’, p. 128.

48 See also Matzner, Sebastian, ‘From Uranians to homosexuals: philhellenism, Greek homoeroticism and gay emancipation in Germany, 1835–1915’, Classical Receptions Journal, 2 (2010), pp. 6091; Evangelista, Stefano, ‘“Life in the whole”: Goethe and English aestheticism’, Publications of the English Goethe Society, 82 (2013), pp. 180–92; Davidson, James, The Greeks and Greek love: a radical reappraisal of homosexuality in ancient Greece (London, 2007), also provides some insight on this theme.

49 Orrells, Masculinity, p. 18.

50 Ibid., ch. 1, p. 186.

51 Billings, Joshua, Genealogy of the tragic: Greek tragedy and German philosophy (Princeton, NJ, 2014), p. 7. For a theatrical perspective on such debates, see Fischer-Lichte, Tragedy's endurance, pp. 42–68.

52 For a more straightforwardly philosophical approach to Schiller's tragic aesthetics, see Hughes, Samuel, ‘Schiller on the pleasure of tragedy’, British Journal of Aesthetics, 55 (2015), pp. 417–32.

53 For a similar sentiment, see Sachs, Jonathan, Romantic antiquity: Rome in the British imagination, 1789–1832 (Oxford, 2010), p. 25.

54 A paraphrase of Winckelmann's observation on the final pages of his Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums (Dresden, 1764).

55 Güthenke, Placing modern Greece, p. 11.

56 von Hofmannsthal, Hugo, ‘Buch der Freunde’, in idem, Reden und Aufsätze III. 1925–1929 (Frankfurt am Main, 1979), pp. 233–99, at p. 265, quoted in Meid, Griechenland-Imaginationen, p. 4.

57 Mylona, Nafsika, Griechenlands Gedenkorte der Antike in der deutschsprachigen Reiseliteratur des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts (Würzburg, 2014); Meid, Griechenland-Imaginationen, ch. iv, p. 350.

58 Hamilakis, Ruins, esp. p. 25; Tsiovas, Dimitris, ‘Introduction: decolonizing antiquity, heritage politics, and performing the past’, in Tsiovas, Dimitris, ed., Re-imagining the past: antiquity and modern Greek culture (Oxford, 2014), pp. 126.

59 Dimitris Plantzos, ‘Dead archaeologists, buried gods: archaeology as an agent of modernity in Greece’, in Tsiovas, ed., Re-imagining the past, pp. 147–64, at p. 150.

60 Hamilakis, Ruins, p. 233; Bilsel, Antiquity on display, pp. 223–40; Mylona, Gedenkorte, p. 140; Vassilis Lambropoulos, ‘Unbuilding the Acropolis in Greek literature’, in Stephens and Vasunia, eds., Classics and national cultures, pp. 182–98.

61 Güthenke, Placing modern Greece, p. 243; Hamilakis, Ruins, p. 1; Tsiovas, ‘Introduction’, pp. 13–16. For a broad-brush portrait of these tropes, their genesis and development, see also Hanink, Debt.

62 Meid, Griechenland-Imaginationen, p. 163.

63 Fleischer, Hagen, ‘Die “Viehmenschen” und das “Sauvolk”. Feindbilder einer dreifachen Okkupation: Der Fall Griechenland’, in Benz, Wolfgang and Otto, Gerhard, eds., Kultur–Propaganda–Öffentlichkeit: Intentionen deutscher Besatzungspolitik und Reaktionen auf die Okkupation (Berlin, 1998), pp. 135–69; see also more generally Mazower, Mark, Inside Hitler's Greece: the experience of occupation, 1941–1944 (New Haven, CT, 2001).

64 Meid, Griechenland-Imaginationen, pp. 428, 264.

65 For one such hyperbolic definition of ‘violence’ against Greek culture in the German context, see Alexandra Lianeri, ‘A syncretic antiquity in translation: polis and political modernity in conflict in nineteenth-century Greek Antigones’, in Tsiovas, ed., Re-imagining the past, pp. 59–78, esp. pp. 65–6.

66 Heß, Agazzi, and Décultot, eds., Graecomania, p. xi; Hillemann, Marco and Roth, Tobias, eds., Wilhelm Müller und der Philhellenismus (Berlin, 2015), p. 9.

67 Güthenke, Placing modern Greece, p. 116; Tobias Roth, ‘Mit scharfen und mit zerbrochenen Zithern. Wilhelm Müllers Kriegslyrik, die Lieder der Griechen und der Kampf um Griechenlands Antike’, in Hillemann and Roth, eds., Wilhelm Müller, pp. 19–43, at p. 35.

68 Mylona, Gedenkorte, pp. 132–43.

69 Bilsel, Antiquity on display, p. 223.

70 Hamilakis, Ruins, p. 62.

71 Sünderhauf, Griechensehnsucht, pp. 344–5.

72 See also Hamilakis, Ruins, ch. 5; Katerina Zacharia, ‘Postcards from Metaxas’ Greece: the uses of classical antiquity in tourism photography’, in Tsiovas, ed., Re-imagining the past, pp. 186–208, at p. 194.

73 Greek ambassador A. Rizo-Rangabé to Karl Wernecke, Oberbürgermeister of Stendal, letter dated 2 Apr. 1936, Stadtarchiv Stendal 010–08/05, quoted in Sünderhauf, Griechensehnsucht, p. 345.

The author is very grateful not only to the Historical Journal for obtaining review copies of several of the works cited here, but also to the editors of the Oxford University Press Classical Presences series for generously providing a number of books from their back-catalogue. Sadly, two further relevant monographs, Erika Fischer-Lichte's Tragedy's endurance: performances of Greek tragedies and cultural identity in Germany since 1800 (Oxford, 2017), and Johanna Hanink's The classical debt: Greek antiquity in an era of austerity (Cambridge, MA, 2017), appeared too late to be included in this essay – for a detailed discussion, the reader is advised to consult the author's forthcoming reviews of both works, which are scheduled to appear in the Classical Review (68, 1) and Reviews in History respectively.

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