All Scholars

CURTIUS, Georg

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  • Date of Birth: April 16, 1820
  • Born City: Lübeck
  • Born State/Country: Germany
  • Parents: Karl Georg, syndic of Lübeck, & Dorthea Plessing C.
  • Date of Death: August 12, 1885
  • Death City: Hermsdorf near Warmbrunn
  • Death State/Country: Germany
  • Married: Amalie Reichhelm, October 1850.
  • Education:

    Study at Bonn, 1838-40; Ph.D., Berlin 1842; phil. habil., 1846.

  • Dissertation:

    “De nominum Graecorum formatione, linguarum cognatarum ratione habita” (Berlin, 1842); “Die Bildung der tempora et modi im Grechischen und Lateinischen Sprach vergleichend dargestellt” (phil. habil., Berlin, 1846). 

  • Professional Experience:

    Teacher, Vitzhum’schen Hymnasiu, Dresden, 1842-5; private docent, Berlin, 1845-9; elector, Frankfurt Parliament, 1848; extraord. prof., Prague, 1849-51; ordinarius, 1851-4; Kiel, 1854-62; Leipzig, 1862-85; dean, faculty of philology, 1869-70; memb. Königlich-Sächsische Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften, Leipzig, from 1863; corr. memb., Prussian Academy of Sciences, from 1869. 

  • Notes:

          The younger brother of the historian Ernst, Georg Curtius was schooled at the Katharineum school in Lübeck whose faculty included the editor of Thucydides Johannes Classen (1805-91), to whom Curtius dedicated his Verbum der Griechische Sprache. Curtius’s early affinity for linguistics led him to investigate the structure of classical languages more deeply and methodically than had been done before. In Bonn he studied under Freidrich Gottlieb Welcker (1784-1868), Friedrich Ritschl (1806-76), the Sanskritist Christian Lassen (1800-76) and August Wilhelm von Schlegel (1767-1845) and in Berlin, Franz Bopp (1791-1867), August Boeckh (1785-1867), and Karl Lachmann (1793-1851). His dissertation, dedicated to Lassen and Ritschl, treated the influence of Sanskrit on Greek morphology and his habilitation and his habilitation showed that structure depends not only on the individual nature of the language itself but also on an historical comparison with other languages. While still a docent in Berlin, he published his first attempt to accommodate classical philology to the new discoveries of comparative linguistics, but though heavily influenced by his teacher Bopp, he remained a classicist, not a comparative linguist (Sandys, 208). In Berlin his brother Ernst was tutoring in the royal court while working on his own habilitation and could have given his brother entrée into that society and its great scholars, but Georg declined. Instead, he went to Prague where, with August Schleicher (1821-68), who arrived from Bonn the next year, Prague became a center of comparative linguistics. Curtius devoted his career to the interdependent studies of linguistics and philology. produced his Griechische Schulgrammatik in 1852 to answer the deplorable state of Greek primers in Austria. The volume is so distinguished by the depth of his knowledge and the clarity of his presentation that it immediately became the standard school text over the objections of Karl Wilhelm Krüger (1796-1874), whose flawed historical grammar had earlier replaced that of Philipp Buttmann (1764-1829) in the schools. Krüger ruthlessly attacked Curtius’s method, but the latter’s volume remained influential for the next half-century. Curtius added a teacher’s guide in 1863 to explain to teachers how to use the book without burdening the students with excessive linguistic theory. For the 10thedition of the grammar, Friedrich Bernhard Gerth (1844-1911) revised the section on syntax, then Richard Carl Meister (1848-1912) edited the 17th to the 22nd editions. Curtius thus not only introduced the concepts of comparative linguistics to scholars but also to schoolteachers. 

          Curtius left Prague for Kiel in 1854 during the Austrian turmoil. Within four years he had produced his most famous book, Grundzüge der griechischen Etymologie, in which he fully explored the historical relations of morphology across languages adding his own examples to those of others. This volume, which ran to five editions, enlarged the study of etymology, the field in which Curtius showed the purpose of his central contribution, expressed in his Leipzig inaugural, Philologie und Sprachwissenschaft, the linking linguistics to philology. 

          He remained in Leipzig for the remainder of his life. There he began a Grammatische Gesellschaft in which he trained students in his methods. The student contributions that comprised the ten volumes of Studien zur griechischen und Lateinischen Grammatik offer the fruits of the society, followed by his Leipzig Studies  The first volume of his comprehensive study of the structure of the Greek verb appeared in 1873. 

  • Sources:

    E. Windisch, Georg Curtius, Eine Charakteristik (Berlin, 1887); F. Lochner von Hüttenbach, “Georg Curtius und die Vergleichende Sprachwissenschaft,” in Festschrift für Robert Muth zum 65. Geburtstag…, ed. P. Händel & W. Meid (Innsbrück: Institute für Sprachwissenschaft der Universität Innsbruck, 1983) 217-29; R. Meister, ADB 47 (1903) 597-602.

  • Author: Ward Briggs