All Scholars

DIETERICH, Albrecht

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  • Date of Birth: May 2, 1866
  • Born City: Hersfeld, Hessia
  • Born State/Country: Germany
  • Parents: Albrecht, a high-school teacher, & Henriette Münscher D.
  • Date of Death: May 6, 1908
  • Death City: Heidelberg
  • Death State/Country: Germany
  • Married: Maria Usener, 1899.
  • Education:

    Study at Leipzig 1885-6; Ph.D., Bonn, 1888; phil. habil., Marburg, 1891; travel in Greece and Italy,1892-5.

  • Dissertation:

    Papyrus magica Musei Lugdunensis Batavi quam C. Leemans edidit in Papyrorum Graecarum tomo II, V. (Bonn, 1888); habilitation: De hymnis Orphicis capitula quinque (Marburg, 1891)

  • Professional Experience:

    Prof. extraord. Giessen, 1895-7; prof., 1897-1903; prof. Heidelberg, 1903; founder, Hessische Volkskunde Verein; ed. Religionsgeschichtliche Versuche und Vorarbeiten, 1903; ed. Archiv für Religionswissenschaft, 1904-8.

  • Publications:

    Abraxas: Studien zur Religiosgeschichte der späteren Altertums (Leipzig, 1891); Nekyia: Beiträge zur Erklärung der neuentdeckten Petrusapokalypse (1893); “Aischylos 13,” RE 1,1 (1893) 1065-84; Die Grabinschrift des Aberkios(Leipzig, 1896) Pulcinella: pompejanische Wandbilder und römische Satyrspiele (Leipzig, 1897); Über Wesen und Ziele: Eine Mithrasliturgie (Leipzig, 1903, 1910); Mutter Erde, ein versuch über Volksreligion (Leipzig, 1905, 1925); Kleine Schriften, ed. Richard Wünsch (Leipzig, 1911).

  • Notes:

    Albrecht Dieterich’s early training came in his father’s school. His professors at Leipzig, Georg Curtius (1820-85), Otto Crusius (1857-1918), and Otto Ribbeck (1827-88) grounded him thoroughly in his principal interests, Greek and the New Testament. At Bonn he was introduced to funerary inscriptions by Franz Bücheler (1837-1908) and iconography by Reinhard Kekulé (1839-1911). His dissertation was directed by Hermann Usener (1834-1905), whose daughter he married. He began work on the “Magical Papyrus” (J 394) at Leiden and adduced parallels in expression and theme from Roman religious cults like Orphism and Gnosticism. He concluded that lines 475-834 were the liturgy of the Mithras cult. He moved on to another magical papyrus, J 395, which he added as an appendix to Abraxas, in which he embodies the methods he learned from Usener. Previous studies of religion had stressed the mythology, but Dieterich concentrated on ritual. In that book he adduced language common to Stoic, Orphic, Hermetic, Egyptian and Judaic rites. For his Marburg habilitation he continued to draw from literary and religious sources to show how Orphic hymns figure in Egyptian religion. His views have been superseded now, but the data he used has been useful even to those whose conclusions have differed. Of literary figures, his favorite was Aeschylus for the depth and complexity of his religious themes (He wrote the initial article on Aeschylus for the RE.).  Dieterich’s own religion led him to relate his researches to the development of Christian stories. For instance, he considered Serapis, a combined Egyptian and Hellenistic god to be a pre-Christian henotheitic diety.  The discovery in Egypt in 1886-7 of the second-century CE Apocalypse of Peter by Gaston Maspéro (1846-1916) led Dieterich to consider in his Nekyia ancient accounts of descent to the underworld and their relation to Hebrew and Christian apocalyptic traditions. Witnessing ancient paintings in Campania in 1894-5 reminded him of Aristophanic characters who had counterparts in theater up to his own day. An interest in folklore throughout history came to the center of his attention at Geissen, where he encountered Erwin Rohde’s (1845-98) newly published Psycheand the mythologist Wilhelm Mannhardt’s (1831-80) Wald- und Feldkulte.  He helped found the Hessische Vereinigung für Volkskunde and began the Religionsgeschichte Versuch und Vorarbeiten, which he edited until his death. When Crusius moved to Munich in 1903, Dieterich took his place at Heidelberg. There he solidified his role as a leading authority on ancient religion with his controversial Mutter Erde, the book by which he is best known. This study of ritual, particularly those accompanying birth and death was, like all of his work, met with some skepticism, but universal admiration for the quality and quantity of his evidence.  He did not develop a “school’ or “circle” of students; his best student was Ludwig Deubner (1877-1946), who received the Ph.D. at Geissen and continued Dieterich’s work on ancient religions but during World War I he became a decorated code-breaker, claiming that he methods of classical philology were invaluable in his work. 

  • Sources:

    Biog.: Kleine Schriften ix-xl; bibliography, ibid., xl-xlvii; R. Wünsch, BBJ 32 (1909) 70-102; G. Uhlig, Das Human. Gymnasium  (1908) 135-6; Peter Robert Franke, NDB 3 (1957) 669; Olof Pettersson, Mother Earth: An Analysis of the Mother Earth Concepts according to Albrech Dieterich (Lund, 1967); Antje Wessels, Ursprungszauber: Zur Rezeptionvon Hermann Useners Lehre von der religiösen Begriffsbildung (RGVV 51) (Berlin & New York, 2003) 96-128;Hans Dieter Betz, The Mithras Liturgy: Text, Translation, and Commentary (Tübingen, 2003) 14-26; Suzanne Marchand, “From Liberalism to Neoromanticism: Albrecht Dieterich, Richard Reitzenstein, and the Religious Turn in fin-de-siècle German Classical studies,” in Out of Arcadia: Classics and Politics in Germany in the Age of Burckhardt, Nietzsche and Wilamowitz, ed. Ingo Gildenhard & Martin Ruehl (London, 2003) 129-60.

  • Author: Ward Briggs