All Scholars

CORSSEN, Paul Wilhelm

  • Image
  • Date of Birth: January 20, 1820
  • Born City: Bremen
  • Born State/Country: Germany
  • Parents: Friedrich, a merchant, and Charlotte Amalie C.
  • Date of Death: June 18, 1875
  • Death City: Lichterfelde (near Berlin)
  • Death State/Country: Germany
  • Education:

    Joachimsthal Gymnasium, Berlin, 1834-40; B.A., Berlin, 1846. 

  • Professional Experience:

    Teacher, Marienstiftsgymnasium, Stettin, 1845-6; lecturer, Schulpforte, Berlin,1846-66.

  • Publications:

    Origines poesis romanae (Berlin: Bethge, 1846); Über Aussprache, Vokalismus, und Betonung der lateinischen Sprache, 2 vols. (Leipzig: Teubner,1858–1859); De Volscorum lingua commentatio… (Naumburg: Sieling, 1858); Kritische Beiträge zur lateinischen Formenlehre (Leipzig: Teubner, 1863), Kritische Nachträge zur lateinischen Formenlehre (Leipzig: Teubner, 1866); Alterthümer und kunstdenkmale des Cisterzienserklosters St. Marien und der landesschule zur Pforte (Halle: Buchhandlung des Waisenhauses, 1868); Die Rudelsburg: Den Besuchern der Burg zur Nachricht (Naumburg: Sieling, 1869); Über die sprache der Etrusker, 2 vols. (Leipzig: Teubner, 1874-5); Beiträge zur Italischen Sprachkunde (Stuttgart: Teubner, 1876).

  • Notes:

    Corssen’s early education influenced his decision to be a schoolmaster. His earliest education began when his father moved the family from Bremen to Schwedt.  The rector of the Joachimstahl was the eminent editor August Meineke (1790-1870), whose dedication to scientific philology Corssen admired for the rest of his life. At Berlin he studied under August Boeckh (1785-1867) and Karl Lachmann (1793-1851) and in 1846 won the essay prize for the set topic “Origines poesis romanae.” He completed his state examination and after a probationary year at the Marienstiftsgymnasium, Stettin, 1845-6, he was named adjunct at the prestigious royal academy Schulpforte, where he distinguished himself for his utter devotion to his duties, his friendly and helpful demeanor with students and the quality of his teaching, particularly in history courses. One of his students, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), who was enrolled at Schulpforte from 1858-64 recalled, “My sense of style, for the epigram as a style, was awakened almost instantly when I came into contact with Sallust. I have not forgotten the surprise of my honored teacher, Crossen, when he had to give his worst Latin pupil the best grade—I had finished with one stroke.” He got along with all of his colleagues, but in his early thirties he developed symptoms of the disease that would ultimately force his retirement in 1866, though he did not in the intervening years relent in the energy he applied to his teaching and research. Two years later he showed his love of Pforte with his study of the art and antiquities of the St. Marien monastery and Pforte. He lived with his brother in Lichterfelde and did much research there. In 1874 he received an invitation from the Italian government to the university in Rome.  

                Having written successfully on early Latin poetry, he began his research centered on the origins of Latin. His Über Aussprache, Vocalismus, und Betonung der lateinsichen Sprache (1858-9; 2nd ed. 1870) won a prize from the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences in 1854 and contested no less than Friedrich Ritschl’s (1806-76) theory of word and voice accents in Latin. Ritschl’s students rose to his defense: Peter Langen (1835-97) published a dissertation under Ritschl drew conclusions from an analysis of the ancient grammarians and in 1877 Friedrich Schöll (1850-1919), Georg Goetz (1849-1932), and Carl Gustav Löwe (1852-83) wrote Analecta Plautina, recurring again to the evidence from ancient grammarians on accent and metre. His work on Latin forms in 1863 and its supplement in 1866 contributed to the understanding of the structure of Latin and led Corssen to investigate the origins of Latin as found in early Italic dialects. In this period he put forward his theories in Franz Felix Adalbert Kuhn’s (1812-81) Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung auf dem Gebiete des Deutschen Griechischen und Lateinischen. Despite his illness he continued to work on his language studies publishing a revised version of his work on Latin pronunciation. By 1870 he was well enough to visit Italy for the first time and investigate inscriptions for himself.  In 1874 he published the first volume of his work on the language of the Etruscans, proposing that the language of the Etruscans was not only an indoeuropean language but an Italian one. This theory also met resistance from the Assyriologist Archibald Sayce (1846-1933) and Ernst Windisch (1844-1918), friend of Nietzsche and student of Ritschl, who did not feel that Etruscan was an indoeuropean language challenged his findings and the methods by which he arrived at them, but in the year of Corssen’s death Wilhelm Deecke (1831-97), who studied Cypriot inscriptions and Etruscan, wrote a positive account. Corsson’s did not live to complete his major work on the language of the Etruscans, but it was finished and indexed by his friend Ernst Wilhelm Adalbert Kuhn (1846-1920). 

  • Sources:

    Sandys 3:142-3; Lotholz, ADB 4 (1876) 504-5; Wilhelm Deecke, Crossen und die Sprache des Etruskers Eine Kritik (Stuttgart: 1875) Nietzsche: The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols, trans. Judith Norman ed. Aaron Ridley (Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press, 2005), 224. 

  • Author: Ward Briggs