• Date of Birth: March 10, 1771
  • Born City: Marburg
  • Born State/Country: Germany
  • Parents: Christoph Andreas Joachim Leonhardt, a bookbinder and tax collector, and Philippine Eleonore Bang C.
  • Date of Death: February 16, 1858
  • Death City: Heidelberg
  • Death State/Country: Germany
  • Married: Sophie Müller, 1799; Anna Sebastian, 1831.
  • Education:

    Study Protestant theology & philosophy, Marburg, 1789-90; studied philology, Jena, 1790-1; study in Leipzig, 1798.

  • Professional Experience:

    Privatdozent, Marburg, 1791-1800; extraordinarius, 1800-2; ordinarius, 1802-4; ordinarius in classical philology & ancient history, Heidelberg, 1804-45; vis. prof. summer, Leiden, 1809; knight of the French Legion of Honor (1837) and the peace class of the order Pour le mérite (1849).. 

  • Publications:

    Herodot und Thucydides (1798); Epochen der griechischen Literaturgeschichte (1802); Die historische Kunst der Griechen in ihrer Enstehung und Fortbildung (1803; 2nd ed, 1845); Idee und Probe alter Symbolik (1806); Historicorum Graecorum antiquissimorum fragmenta (1806); Symbolik und Mythologie der alten Völker, besonders der Griechen 4 vols. (1810–12, 2nd ed. 1819, 3rd ed. 1837; French trans. by Joseph Daniel Guigniaut, 1825–51 as Les religions de l’antiquité considérées principalement dans leur forms symboliques et mythologiques, 1825-41); Plotinus, De Pulchritudine (1814); Cicero, De natura deorum (1819); Commentationes Herodoteae (1819); Abriß der römischen Antiquitäten zum Gebrauch bei Vorlesungen (1824, 1829); Zur Geschichte altrömischer Cultur am Ober-Rheim und Neckar (1833); Zur Gemmenkunde (1834); Plotinus, 3 vols. (Oxford, 1835); Zur römischen Geschichte und Alterthumskunde (1836); Das Mithraeum von Neuenheim bei Heideberg (1838); Zur Galerie der alten Dramatiker (1839); Zur Archäologie oder zur Geschichte und Erklärun der alten Kunst (1846-7); Zur Geschichte der griechischen und römischen Literatur (1847); Zur Geschichte der classischen Philologie seit Wiederherstellung der Literatur (1854);Friedrich Creuzers Deutsche Schriften: neue und verbesserte (Leipzig: Leske, 1837); Opuscula selecta 2 vols. (1854).

  • Notes:

    A student of philosophy and theology at Marburg, Creuzer became interested in philology under the influence of the then-Privatdozent legal scholar Friedrich Carl von Savigny (1779-1861). He moved to Jena, the center of the Romantic movement, where he studied under the Kantian Karl Leonhard Reinhold (1757-1823), the Hellenist Christian Gottfried Schütz (1747-1832), and the Romantic poet Novalis (Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg, 1772-1801) and the then-lecturer in history Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805). Creuzer’s literary interest led him to his early work on historiography, as practiced by Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon, using Lucian’s How to Write History (Πῶς δεῖ Ἱστορίαν συγγράφειν) as his starting-point. He began This period culminated in Die historische Kunst der Griechen (1803), which was likely instrumental, along with the influence of the economist Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling (1740-1817) and the Protestant theologian Karl Daub (1765-1836), in securing him a professorship at Heidelberg. He continued this line of research in 1807 with the grand scheme of an edition of the fragments of the Greek historians, which resulted only in one volume. His commentary on Herodootus was completed in 1819 by his student Christian Felix Bähr (1798-1872).

    When he arrived in Heidelberg in 1804, he became close with the Romantic poets there, chiefly Clemens Brentano (1778-1843), Achim von Arnim (1781-1831) and the Catholic writer Joseph Görres (1776-1848). Shortly after his arrival he met another Romantic poet, Karoline von Günderrode (1780-1806), who wrote under the name Tian. Creuzer, though married, fell in love with her and divorced his wife, which was emotionally painful enough to plunge him into depression. He also feared that marriage so soon after his divorce would cause a scandal that might endanger his career. He hesitated to marry her quickly and his friends counseled him not to pursue his relationship with such an unstable and needy woman. Creuzer’s depression worsened as he delayed making a commitment and to gain relief he wrote to Günderrode that he was ending the affair. When she received the letter, Günderrode committed suicide on the bank of the Rhine.

    Throughout this period Creuzer managed to be somewhat productive. He began, with Taub, the Heidelbergische Jahrbücher der Literatur (1805-10), publishing no less than August Boeckh (1785-1867), Wilhelm Grimm (1786-1859), and the Prussian Protestant leader Philip Konrad Marheineke (1780-1846). Creuzer was a founder of the philological seminar in 1807 and became a popular teacher.  His publications covered a wide range of subjects, from archaeology to historiography to comparative mythology, to philology, all in a period when it still seemed possible for one person to encompass what was known of the classical world.

     The combination of Creuzer’s theological studies, his revitalization of Neo-Platonism, his attendance on the lectures of Görres, his “innate mysticism” (Deutsche Schriften 5:12) and his attachment to Symbolists among the Romantics like Christian Gottlob Heyne (1729-1812) and Karl Philipp Moritz (1756-93) is at work in his most famous publication, the four-volume Symbolik und Mythologie der alten Völker, besonders der Griechen (1810-12), in which he proposed that Bronze-Age myths as symbols derived from an original Indian monotheistic revelation that came to the Pelasgians through Egypt and thence to Greece. Myths had no exclusive cultural or national significance, but were all (including Christianity) symbolic of a monotheistic revelation. The factual data did not come from Egyptian sources but Greek and Roman ones. His views were held by others chiefly Johann Arnold Kanne in Pantheum der ältesten Naturphilosophie of 1811 and System der indischen Mythe of 1813. His theories were supported by Hegel and Schelling, and had considerable influence outside classics, but they met with considerable objection, chiefly from Goethe, Gottfried Hermann (Briefen über Homer und Hesiod and Über das Wesen und die Behandlung der Mythologie), Christian Lobeck (Aglaophamus), and particularly Johann Heinrich Voss who refuted Creuzer so thoroughly in his Antisymbolik that exposed the lack of true data and the speculative nature of his theory, but his attacks, in Wilamowitz’s words, “apart fro being distasteful, were deprived of their effect by their violence.” With this work the romantic circle of Heidelberg ended and Creuzer’s symbolic approach was discarded, largely because of new findings from the Near East and developments in linguistics.

    The interest in the law, prompted by his relationship with Savigny, was instrunebtal in  Creuzer’s valuable editions of Cicero’s De Legibus, De Re Publica, and the second Verrine oration (1818-29) and later De Natura Deorum, De Divinatione, and De Fato with his student Georg Heinrich Moser (1780-1858) and Plotinus in three volumes (Oxford, 1835; Paris 1855). His archaeological work took place in the 1830s and centered on Roman monuments on the Upper Rhine and Neckar (1833), Mithraeum discovered in 1838 near the village of Neuenheim (1838), and Greek holdings in German museums (1839). In 1835 his students gathered his private collection if antiquities as the Antiquarium Creuzerianum, the foundation of Hedelberg’s archaeological museum. 

  • Sources:

    AutobiographyAus dem Leben eines alten Professors (1848); Paralipomena der Lebenskizzen eines alten Professors (1858).

    LettersFriedrich Creuzer und Karoline Günderode: Briefe und Dichtungen, ed. E. Rohde (Heidelberg: G. Winter, 1896); Die Liebe der Günderode; Friedrich Creuzers Briefe an Caroline von Günderode, ed. K. Preisendanz (1912); O. Dammann, “Briefe Friedrich Creuzers an Joh. Heinr. Ch. Bang,” Neue Heidelberger Jbb., (1938) 34-51.

    K.B. Starck, Friederich Kreuzer, sein Bildungsgang und seine bleibende Bedeutung (Heidelberg: Norderstedt Hansebooks, 1875); L. Urlichs, ADB 4 (1876) 593-6; Sandys, 3:65-6; Wilamowitz, 106; Der Kampf um Creuzers Symbolik; eine Auswahl von Dokumenten, ed. Ernst Howald (Tübingen, 1926; repr. Hildesheim: Olms, 1984); A. Momigliano, “Friedrich Creuzer and Greek Historiography,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 9 (1946) 152-63; A. Momigliano, Contributo alla Soria degli Studien classici (1955) 593-6; Hessische Briefe des 19. Jahrhunderts Briefe Friedrich Creuzers an Savigny, ed. H. Dahlmann (1972); W.P. Sohnle, Georg Friedrich Creuzers Symbolik und Mythologie in Frankreich (Göppingen: A. Kümmerle, 1972); M.M. Münch, La symbolique de Friedrich Creuzer (Paris: Ophrys, 1977); F. Marelli, Lo sguardo da Oriente. Simbolo, mito e grecità in Friedrich Creuzer (Milan: LED, 2000); S. Fornaro, “Friedrich Creuzer und die Diskussion über Philologie und Mythologie zu Beginn der 19. Jahrhunderts” Pontes 1, ed. M. Korenjak & K. Tochterle (2001) 28-42; 200 Jahre Heidelberger Romantik, ed. F. Strack & Barbara Becker-Cantarino, Heidelberger Jahrbücher 51 (Berlin: Springer, 2008); Friedrich Creuzer 1771-1858. Philologie und Mythologie im Zeitalter der Romantik. Begleitband zur Ausstellung in der Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg ed. Frank Engehausen, Armin Schlechter, Jürgen Paul Schmidt (Ubstadt-Weiher: Verlag Regionalkultur, 2008); T. Ziolkowski, Heidelberger Romantik: Mythos und Symbol (Heidelberg: Winter, 2009). 

    Portrait by Jacob Wilhelm Christian Roux, courtesy Goethe House, Frankfurt

  • Author: Ward Briggs