All Scholars

RITSCHL, Friedrich Wilhelm

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  • Date of Birth: April 06, 1806
  • Born City: Grossvargula (near Erfurt)
  • Born State/Country: Germany
  • Parents: a Protestant pastor & wife
  • Date of Death: November 08, 1876
  • Death City: Leipzig
  • Death State/Country: Germany
  • Married: Sophie Dorothea Guttentag
  • Education:

    Study in Erfurt; Wittenberg, 1825-6; Leipzig, 1825-6; Ph.D. & habil., Halle, 1829.

  • Dissertation:

    Schedae criticae (Halle, 1829); habil., De Agathonis vita (Halle, 1829).

  • Professional Experience:

    Extraordinarius, Halle, 1829, 1832; extraordinarius, Breslau, 1833-4; ordinarius, 1834-9;  travel in Italy to inspect manuscripts, 1836-7; ordinarius, Bonn, 1839-65; dir. University Library, 1854-65; co-ed., Rheinisches Museum, 1842-76; ordinarius, Leipzig, 1865-76; corr. memb. Berlin Academy, 1845; Leipzig, 1865. 

  • Publications:


    Thermae Magistri sive Theoduli Monachi Ecloga vocum Atticarum (Halle, 1832); De Oro et Orione: Specimen historiae ariticae grammaticorum Graecorum (Breslau, 1834); Die Alexandrinischen Bibliotheken unter den ersten PtolemOem und die Sammlung der Homerischen Gedichte durch Pisistratus, nach Anleitung eines Plautinischen Scholicms (Breslau, 1838; reprinted Amsterdam, 1970); Parerga zu Plautus und Terenz (Leipzig, 1845; repr. 1965)T. Macci Plauti Comoediae. Vols. 1-3. (Bonn, Elberfeld, and Leipzig, 1848-1854); Aeschyli Septem ad Thebas (Elberfeld and Leipzig, 1853; 2d ed., Leipzig, 1875); Priscae Latinitatis monumenta epigraphica ad archetyporum fidem exemplis lithographis repraesentata (Berlin, 1862; repr. 1868); Neue Plautinische Exkurse. Sprachgeschichtliche Untersuchungen (Leipzig, 1869)T. Macci Plauti Comoediae, posthumously completed by Gustav Loewe, Georg Goetz, Friedrich Schöll, vols. 1-4 (Leipzig, 1878-94).

    Articles (Collected)

    Opuscula philologica, vols. 1-5 (Leipzig, 1866-1879; repr. Hildesheim and New York, 1978).

  • Notes:

    Friedrich Ritschl was one of the most prominent philologists and most influential academic teachers of the nineteenth century, a pioneer in the field of Old Latin and, particularly, Plautine studies.

    Ritschl was the eldest of three siblings. After completing his preparatory education in Erfurt and Wittenberg, where his most important teachers were Franz Spitzner (1787-1841) and Gregor Wilhelm Nitzsch (1790-1861), he began his study of philology in 1825 at the University of Leipzig with Gottfried Hermann (1772-1848), who at that time was at the height of his powers. After two semesters Ritschl transferred to Halle, which seemed more congenial to him than Leipzig, in order to study with Hermann’s brilliant pupil Carl Reisig (1792-1829). Ritschl in turn would become Reisig’s most distinguished pupil. Later, in brief sentences he wrote an impressive evaluation of the personality and work of his teacher. In the summer of 1829 Ritschl took his doctorate at Halle with the dissertation Schedae criticae (Reisig had died unexpectedly earlier that year in Venice at the age of thirty-six), and several months later he habilitated there with the monograph De Agathonis vita. In the winter semester of 1829-30, Ritschl began his teaching career at Halle, which, from the start, he pursued with the greatest success. In 1832 his influence was recognized when he was awarded the title Professor Extraordinarius.

    In 1833 Ritschl was appointed salaried Extraordinarius at Breslau, where in autumn 1834 he was promoted to Ordinarius (i.e., full professor). For the year 1836-37 he was granted a traveling fellowship to Italy that was of decisive importance for his subsequent scholarly work. He chiefly visited Milan, Florence, and Rome, and in the libraries of these cities he engaged in intensive manuscript study. At Milan he met, among others, Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873).

    A full year after his return Ritschl was appointed the successor of August Ferdinand Naeke (1788-1838) at Bonn. Here, in the following twenty-six years (1839-1865), he achieved unique eminence and produced a large number of remarkable students. Among them one may recall Georg Curtius (1820-85), Heinrich Brunn (1822-94), Jacob Bernays (1824-81), Otto Ribbeck (1827-98), Johannes Vahlen (1830-1911), Franz Bücheler (1837-1908), Adolf Kießling (1837-93), Hermann Usener (1834-1905), Friedrich Blass (1843-1907), Erwin Rohde (1845-98), and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). In 1842, along with Friedrich Gottlieb Welcker (1784-1868), he founded anew the Rheinisches Museum and turned it into an organ for publication of outstanding articles that pointed the way to future research. He edited the journal until his death. In 1854 he succeeded Welcker as head librarian of the Bonn University Library, which he reorganized from the ground up and for which he continually performed a lasting service.

    In 1865, as a result of a disagreement concerning the appointment of a new colleague, an unpleasant quarrel arose between Ritschl and his collega proximus, Otto Jahn (1813-69), which separated into two hostile camps not only faculty and university but the whole of Bonn, as well as the scholarly public. Because of this, Ritschl accepted an appointment at the Saxonian University of Leipzig. A number of his students, among them Erwin Rohde and Friedrich Nietzsche, sided with him. For eleven years more, in spite of increasing illness and the infirmities of old age, he was able to work successfully. The most important students of the Leipzig period were Wilhelm Roscher (1845-1923), Friedrich Schöll (1850-1919), Georg Goetz (1849-1932), Paul Cauer (1854-1921) and Otto Crusius (1857-1918). He died in Leipzig during the night of 8-9 November 1876. He was also the cousin of Albrecht Ritschl (1822-1889), one of the leading Protestant theologians of his time.

    As a student of Gottfried Hermann and Carl Reisig, Ritschl began with contributions to the field of Greek philology. His dissertation, Schedae criticae, offers a series of critical contributions mainly to Greek authors and already reveals the young scholar’s analytical gift and his vast erudition in ancient literature from its beginnings down to late antiquity. The Habilitationsschrift on Agathon, which appeared in the same year as the Schedae, was part of a comprehensive monograph on the life and work of this Greek tragedian. In broad investigations, starting in the footsteps of Scaliger, Ritschl determined there with methodologically strict proofs the place of Agathon in the history of Greek literature, faithful to his proud motto, “nil tamdifficilest quin quaerendo investigari possiet” (Ter. Heaut. 675). His edition of Thomas Magister, Ecloga vocum Atticarum (1832), has retained its importance until the present day. Similarly, his study De Oro et Orione (1834), which Ritschl in his subtitle called Specimen historiae criticae grammaticorum Graecorum, laid the groundwork for later concern with these grammarians. His comprehensive monograph, Die Alexandrinischen Bibliotheken unter den ersten Ptolemäern und die Sammlung der Homerischen Gedichte durch Pisistratus (1838) yielded important results inter alia concerning the chronology of the first Alexandrian librarians as well as stichometry in antiquity. It started off from a scholiast’s note in a fifteenth-century parchment manuscript of Plautus in the library of the Collegio Romano.

    At this time, and for many years previously, Ritschl’s attention was attracted strongly to the Plautine comedies. The first fruits of this interest were an edition of Bacchides (1835) and a comprehensive monograph, Ueber die Kritik des Plautus, which contained a complete survey of the manuscripts and editions up to that time. Now that poet was to enter into the center of Ritschl’s lifework and gain for him the honorable title of sospitator Plauti. In 1815 Angelo Mai had announced the discovery of the Plautus palimpsest he had found in Milan. The careful utilization of this find during his time in Italy led Ritschl to his insight into the regularity of the structure of Plautine verse, whereby suggestions of Richard Bentley and Gottfried Hermann were brilliantly confirmed. A flood of further studies, among them on the name, lifetime, and theatrical activity of Plautus, followed and were first brought together in Parerga ZU Plautus und Terenz (1845). In 1848 Ritschl’s Plautus edition began to appear. By 1854 nine plays had been edited. The edition placed scholarly attention to the poet on a totally new foundation. With the help of Ritschl’s pupils Gustav Loewe (1852-83), Georg Goetz, and Friedrich Schöll, the work was later published in revised form and brought to completion.

    After Plautus, Terence and Varro had chief claim on the penetrating researches of Ritschl. His treatment of the Seven against Thebes of Aeschylus, on the other hand, was not consistently happy. There the assumption of a strict parallelism in the seven pairs of speeches led to a series of arbitrary attacks on the text that caused Wilamowitz to speak of the “tyrannical dialectic of Ritschl.”

    Ritschl’s concern with Plautus aroused his interest in the collection and editing of archaic Latin inscriptions. They seemed to him essential for a more precise understanding of the history of the Latin language. The preparatory work of many years led in 1862 to the monumental publication of Priscae Ladnitatis monumenta epigraphica, with numerous lithographs elegantly inserted and the inclusion of exemplary indices. The importance of this volume for research in the history of the Latin language can scarcely be overestimated and has certainly benefited the understanding of archaic literary Latin.

    The philological works of Ritschl are accompanied by a lifelong concern with the goals and methods of philology. Already in his lectures on meter at Halle in winter semester 1831-32 he had concerned himself with this theme. In a contribution to the third volume of the Conversations-'Lexikon der neuesten Zeit und Litteratur that appeared in 1833, he defined the task of philology as “the reproduction of the life of antiquity through research on and intuition of its essential manifestations.” In summer semester 1835 at Breslau, for the first time he delivered lectures on the encyclopedia and methods of philology, which, along with a similar one on philological hermeneutics and criticism, he held again and again later in revised forms. A planned publication, “On the Method of Philological Study,” never went beyond fragments and aphorisms, first published from his literary remains in the fifth volume of his Opuscula philologica. His “Ten Commandments for Classical Philologists” composed with Karl Lehrs (1802-78) give an idea of how he wanted the activity of the philologist to be seen.

    1. Thou shalt not parrot.

    2. Thou shalt not steal.

    3. Thou shalt not fall down on thy knees before manuscripts.

    4. Thou shalt not take the name of Method in vain.

    5. Thou shalt learn to read.

    6. Thou shalt not gather Sanskrit roots and reject my manna.

    7. Thou shalt learn to distinguish intellects.

    8. Thou shalt not believe that Minerva is blue haze and a humbug: she has been ordained Wisdom for you.

    9. Thou shalt not believe that ten bad reasons are equal to one good one.

    10. Thou shalt not believe what several of the pagans have said: “Water is the best.”

    The importance of Ritschl lies in the brilliant handling of the critical and exegetical method perfected by him and in the consequent historical exploitation of the material studied by him. With this way of working, not least because of the great number of his students, he essentially determined the further development of philology. Obviously not all the results that he reached in this way have lasted permanently, but, on the other hand, what is offered in opposition to him could not, as Wilamowitz remarks in his Geschichte der Philologie, have been attained without him. Friedrich Nietzsche in Ecce Homo called him the only genius in the world of learning whom he had personally met.

    Translated by William M. Calder III

  • Sources:


    Opuscula philologica (Leipzig, 1879) 5:725-66.


    Friedrich von Bezold, Geschichte der Rheinischen Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität von der Gründung bis zumjahr 1870 (Bonn, 1920) 313-14; 386-9; 503-12; Ernst Bickel, Friedrich Ritschl und der Humanismus in Bonn (Bonn, 1946); Franz Buecheler, in Kleine Schriften (Leipzig, 1927) 2:427-9; Conrad BursianGeschichte der classischen Philologie in Deutschland von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart (Munich, 1883) 812-49; William M. Calder, III, “Karl Lehrs’ Ten Commandments for Classical Philologists,” CW 74 (1980-81) 227-8; Basil L. Gildersleeve, “Personal Reminiscences of Friedrich Ritschl,” PAPA 8 (1877) 14-15; ------,“Friedrich Ritschl.” AJP 5 (1884) 339-55; Hans Herter, “Aus der Geschichte der Klassischen Philologie in Bonn,” in Kleine Schriften, ed. Ernst Vogt (Munich, 1975) 648-64; Paul Egon Hübinger, “Heinrich v. Sybel und der Bonner Philologenkrieg,” HJ 83 (1964) 162-216; Christian Jensen and Ernst Bickel, “Das Philologische Seminar” in Geschichte der Rheinischen Friedrich-Wilhelm-Universität zu Bonn am Rhein, vol. 2Institute und Seminare 1818-1933 (Bonn, 1933) 187-210; Japp Mansfeld, “The Wilamowitz-Nietzsche Struggle: Another New Document and Some Further Comments,” Nietzsche-Studien15 (1986) 41-58, especially 52-55; Lucian Mueller, Friedrich Ritschl. Eine wissenschaftliche Biographie (Berlin, 1877; 2d ed„ 1878); Sesto Prete, “Gli inizi della critica Plautina (F. Ritschl),” in Convivium, Raccolta nuova 1 (1947) 759-69; ------,“Zwei unbekannte Briefe von Friedrich Wilhelm Ritschl,” RhM 115 (1972) 363-70; Otto Ribbeck, Friedrich Wilhelm Ritschl. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Philologie, vols. 1 and 2 (Leipzig, 1879-81); ------, “Ritschl, Friedrich Wilhelm,” ADB 28: 653-661; Erwin Rohde, “Friedrich Ritschl,” in Kleine Schriften (Tübingen, 1901) 2:452-62; J.E. Sandys, A History of Classical Scholarship(Cambridge, 1903-8) 3:138-42; Wolfgang Schmid, “Aus der Geschichte der klassischen Philologie vor Usener und Bücheler, Friedrich Ritschl und Jacob Bernays,” in Ausgewahlte philologische Schriften, ed. Hartmut Erbse and Jochem Küppers (Berlin, 1984) 695-717; Ernst Vogt, “Nietzsche und der Wettkampf Homers,” A&A 11 (1962) 103-13, especially 108-111; ------, “Der Methodenstreit zwischen Hermann und Böckh und seine Bedeutung für die Geschichte der Philologie,” in Philologie und Methodologie der Geisteswissenschaften, ed. Hellmut Flashar, Karlfried Gründer, Axel Horstmann (Göttingen, 1979) 103-21, especially 119-120; Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Geschichte der Philologie (Leipzig, 1921) 60-1.

  • Author: Ernst Vogt