European Scholar

FRAENKEL, Eduard David Mortier

  • Image
  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1888-03-17
  • Born City: Berlin
  • Born State/Country: Germany
  • Parents: Julius, a wine merchant, & Edith Heimann F.
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 1970-02-05
  • Death City: Oxford
  • Death State/Country: England
  • Married: Ruth von Velsen, 9 February 1918.
  • Education:

    Askanisches Museum 1897-1906; study at Göttingen, 1909-12; Berlin, 1910-11; Ph.D., Göttingen, 1912; 

  • Professional Experience:

    TLL, 1913-17‘; privatdozent, Berlin, 1917; extraordinarius, 1920-3; ordinarius, Kiel, 1923-8; Göttingen, 1928-31; Freiburg, 1931-3; Bevan Fellowship, Trinity College, Cambridge, 1934; Corpus Prof. Latin, Corpus Christi College, Oxford, 1934-53; hon. fell., 1953-70.

  • Dissertation:

    De media et nova comoedia quaestiones selectee” (Göttingen, 1912).

  • Publications:


    Plautinisches im Plautus., Phil. Unters. 28 (Berlin, 1922; Italian translation by F. Munari, with numerous additions, as Elementi Plautini in Plauto. Florence, 1960); Iktus undAkzent im lateinischen Sprechvers (Berlin, 1928); Aeschylus. Agamemnon, ed. with a commentary, 3 vols. (Oxford, 1950); Horace (Oxford, 1957; 2d ed. (revised), 1970-1; 3d ed., 1971; 4th ed., 1974. German translation by G. and E. Bayer, Darmstadt, 1963); Beobachtungen zu Aristophanes (Rome, 1962); Kleine Beiträge zur klassischen Philologie, 2 vols. (Rome, 1964); Leseproben aus Reden Ciceros und Catos (Rome, 1968).


    “Zur Geschichte des Wortes Fides.” RhM 71 (1916) 187-99 = Kleine Beiträge 2:15-26; “Das Geschlecht von Dies.” Glotta 8 (1917) 24-68 = Kleine Beiträge 2:27-72; Review of Lucan, ed. A. E. Housman. Gnomon 2 (1926) 497-532 = Kleine Beiträge 2:267-308; “Kolon und Sate,” NGG, Phil.-hist.Kl. 1932: 197-213 = Kleine Beitrdge 1:73-92. Review of Servianorum in vergilii carmina commentariorum editionis Harvardianae, vol. 2, ed. E. K. Rand, et al., JRS 38 (1948) 131-43 and 39 (1949) 145-54 = Kleine Beitrdge 2:368-90; “Der Einzug des Chors im Prometheus.” ANSP 2.23 (1954) 269-84 = Kleine Beiträge 1:389-406; “Ein Motiv aus Euripides in einer Szene der neuen Komodie.” Studi in Onore di Ugo Enrico Paoli (Florence, 1955) 293-304 = Kleine Beiträge 1:487-502; “Die sieben Redepaarenim Thebanerdrama des Aeschylus.” ABAWphil.-hist. Kl., Heft 3 (Munich, 1957) = Kleine Beiträge 1:273-328; Introduction to F. Leo, Ausgewählte Kleine Schriften (ed.) (Rome, 1960); Review of Catullus, A Commentary, ed. C. J. Fordyce, Gnomon 34 (1962) 253-63; Review of The Authenticity of the Rhesus of Euripides, by W. Ritchie, Gnomon 37 (1965) 228-41; (Note that the Kleine Beiträge was the result of notably rigorous selection and rejection: much not there printed is therefore implicitly disavowed.)



  • Notes:

    Eduard Fraenkel was one of the most distinguished of Wilamowitz’s pupils, equally eminent in Greek and Latin, in Germany and in England, equally influential in England and in Italy.

    Fraenkel was born seven days into Frederick Ill’s brief reign, a paternal first cousin of the philologist Ernst Fraenkel (1881-1957); his father was a first cousin (maternal) of Ludwig Traube (1861-1907), and Eduard’s sister married Hermann Frankel (1888-1977). Fraenkel’s mother, Edith, to whom he was deeply devoted, nursed him through osteomyelitis and its consequences: a withered right hand; her brother, the publisher Hugo Heimann (1859-1951), helped found Fraenkel’s remarkable library. Fraenkel wrote meticulously with a withered right hand, enjoyed a remarkably robust constitution, a superb memory, and tireless energy, and applied these to a severe routine. His classical education began at the Askanisches Gymnasium, under, nota- bly, Otto Gruppe. But it was above all Wilamowitz who fascinated the schoolboy and law student. On Fraenkel’s return from Italy in 1907, he turned decisively to classical philology and studied under Eduard Meyer (1855-1930), Hermann Diels (1848-1922), and Eduard Norden (1868-1941), for whom he shared Wilamowitz’s strange disdaiz. At Göttingen Jacob Wackernagel (1853-1938) and Friedrich Leo (1851-1914) exercised a lasting influence, and the preface to his edition of Leo’s papers is tender and masterly. There Fraenkel met his great friends Günther Jachmann (1887-1979), Giorgio Pasquali (1885-1952) and Peter Von der Mühll (1885-1970). Though he returned briefly to Berlin in 1910-1911 (where his influences were Vahlen and Schulze; the latter’s studies of “Wort- und Sittengeschichte” remained an inspiring element in Fraenkel’s teaching for the next sixty years). After receiving his degree from Göttingen the next year he joined the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, which he always maintained was a crucial influence. In 1917 he returned to the University of Berlin as Privatdozent and soon married (see below). Thereafter, his German career moved swiftly upwards.

    Fraenkel was Norden’s likely successor at Berlin until the Aryan Law of 1933. Plautinisches im Plautus (1922; beautifully translated and expanded in the Italian version of 1960) is “one of the most exciting works of classical scholarship,” as Wilamowitz recognized. In the twenties, Fraenkel concentrated also on Roman law (and remained a great admirer of the Digest,for content and for Latinity), on Lucan, and on “Iktus und Akzent” (“il mio disgraziato libro,” he said; “a disaster” comments a necrologist).

    He left Germany in 1934. Fortunately, the Chair of Latin at Oxford fell vacant in the next year, and he towered over the field. A.E. Housman (1859-1936), cordially respectful of Fraenkel’s Gnomon review of his Lucan, lent strong support. His early years at Oxford were uncomfortable; refugees did encounter xenophobia and anti-Semitism; professors there are not especially important, and college tutors jibbed at his rough language and new ways. The autobiographies of E.R. Dodds (1893-1979) and C.M. Bowra (1898-1971) are suggestively unrevealing; his great friend and helper, though, was Sir John Beazley (1885-1970). And there arrived a remarkable flood of fellow exiles helped and gathered by Gilbert Murray (1866-1957), Hugh Last (1894-1957), and Sir David Ross (1877-1971). They did not form a unified and loving whole, but with Fraenkel, Rudolf Pfeiffer (1889-1979), Felix Jacoby (1876-1959), Paul Jacobsthal (1880-1957), Raymond Klibansky (1905-2005), Paul Maas (1880-1964), Lotte Labowsky (1905-91), C.O. Brink (1907-94), the composer Egon Wellesz (1885-1974), Richard Rudolf Walzer (1902-75), and Stefan Weinstock (1901-71) all gathered, it became easier to understand what Germany had to offer, and the grand scale of the Agamemnon commentary established Fraenkel’s unchallengeable professional eminence. The crushing review of the Harvard Servius was undertaken as a diversion before ordering the final draft of the Agamemnon. Forty years have not treated that commentary kindly, but it remains a monument of scholarly technique, of mastery of detail, of huge and varied erudition. Fraenkel’s seminars (see below) on the play transformed Oxford teaching methods and standards.

    At Corpus, he became a “good college man”; colleagues also learned to respect his ferocities and his genius, while he came to admire the traditional English grounding in Latin and Greek (and regularly went to talk in the older schools). But Horace(1957), admired at the time, has not weathered well; see D. Armstrong, Arion 3 (1964) 116-28 for a feline but largely just summary of its defects. Fine observations and rich annotation coexist with unfruitful critical approaches and (twenty years after Roman Revolution) a naïve view of the Augustan principate. In the same period there appeared also a great flood of substantial articles and reviews on central Latin topics (usually poetic). Retirement changed nothing; exceptionally, he retained his college rooms and his two yearly seminars (the often entertaining introduction to Greek meter—he did have a notable musical ear and a splendid reading voice—and the more demanding study of a text) continued. His Roman publisher friend, Don Giuseppe De Luca (1898-1962), brought out his reissue of two of Wilhelm Schulze’s (1863-1935) monographs, selections of Leo’s papers and of Fraenkel’s own, a collection of essays on and elucidations of Aristophanes, and Leseproben aus Reden Ciceros und Catos (1968), on the rhythms of the individual cola of Latin oratory. He received six honorary degrees (including Oxford’s); his eightieth birthday was celebrated throughout Europe, and age barely touched his memory, his energy, and his urge to teach.

    Fraenkel was by birth a Jew (fidem profiteor Mosaicam, in his doctoral vita), which did not impede his career under Weimar; his master Leo’s Lutheranism he could not accept and finally did not need to. Momigliano’s interpretation of Fraenkel as an essentially Jewish teacher is deeply perverse and unconvincing. Fraenkel did visit Israel, wrote (once) for a Jewish journal, visited Jewish excavations on holiday, yet loved Bach’s cantatas and Anglican Oxford and, as a European, spoke of “we who are Christians ....” Both his determination to transmit what he had learned and the manner of his death are as much Roman as Jewish. His wife, Ruth (“the best thing about Fraenkel,” said Wilamowitz), was of Lutheran extraction; they met in Schulze’s seminars (Fraenkel viewed with proprietary interest the numerous matches made in his own) and married in 1918. There were five children. Ruth set his work loyally before hers (she was Ph.D. Berlin 1917), though she continued to publish sporadically, to translate from the German, to type, to index, and to discuss everything with him. She gave gentle, wise, and unfailing support. Fraenkel had no intention or desire to survive her. We revere his suicide, for love. They are buried in St. Cross Cemetery, Oxford.

    Of Fraenkel’s books, I have deliberately said very little. Though he still lives powerfully in the Elementi and in the Kleine Beiträge, his greatest and most lasting contribution to scholarship was through his teaching—“For us, the last representative in flesh and blood of the great Altertumswissenschaft of nineteenth-century Germany”; at the same time “Lehrer aus Passion." He showed his British and Italian students what that tradition meant, how and why they should revere it, and how they could seek, by aemulatio and imitado, to become part of it themselves. R. G. M. Nisbet (1925-2013) noted rightly that Fraenkel “fertilized the minds even of those who reacted against him.” Perplexingly, he adds that he “failed to found a school.” Rather, spurning mass- produced imitators, he preferred to exercise widespread, indirect, but decisive influence on generations of English and Italian classicists.

    The Oxford inaugural is dated 13 Feb. 1935; Housman died on 30 April 1936, a strikingly isolated figure. Fraenkel introduced new levels of perceptivity and professionalism. My copy of Nisbet-Hubbard on Horace Carm. 1 is dated five weeks after his death. The best of Berlin Wissenschaft came to flower triumphantly transplanted on English soil. When Fraenkel reached Oxford, graduate research was not esteemed; even when he retired from the chair, that form of apprenticeship was still taking root. The seminar, not individual supervision, was his instrument; that included some younger dons (there had been more, but he had found their presence inhibited the young), graduate students, undergraduates, and some varied extranei. Few of the noted Fraenkeliani were formally his graduate students. In his last fifteen years there come to mind Reeve, Pecere, Taplin, Rizzo, Macleod, Cassio, Passalacqua, Anna Morpurgo, Konig, Keudel, Livrea, Muecke, Wallace-Hadrill, Hine; to go a little further back, Wilson, Lloyd-Jones, G. W. Williams, Delz, Fedeli, Nisbet, Knauer, Canfora, Cavallo, Dell’ Era, Questa, Tandoi, Hubbard, L. E. Rossi.

    Williams quoted a description of the Oxford seminar as “a circle of rabbits addressed by a stoat.” Very true, especially on a bad day. Unlike Pasquali (the distinction is Timpanaro’s), Fraenkel knew in advance the answer he wanted to emerge from discussion. Debate was directed, and at Oxford, disagreement was far less tolerated than—to judge from the printed record—was the case in Italy. Fraenkel stood like a shepherd beyond a fence: his (Oxford) flock was not lured, wooed, coaxed to choose the right gate; most of us, fearful and bemused, rushed blindly, trusting to luck, instinct, or guesswork. But strangely, years later, facing fences of our own choice, we found we knew how to choose our gates. He harassed us until he got us thinking roughly as he had been trained to think himself. The seminars could be grim, bullying affairs; equally, his approval could warm you for twenty years. Those he held at Florence, Urbino, and Pisa in the ’50s were recognizably close kin to those of Oxford; at Rome and Bari, a decade later, he was still awe-inspiring, but also notably relaxed and tolerant. Even at Oxford, non omnia possumus omnessometimes elegantly let off the uninformed. He did enjoy, warmly, but most decorously, female beauty; that counted, in the seminars. He likewise loved great music, and a remarkable range of composers are mentioned in his footnotes. Most appropriately, a late and particularly treasured Oxford pupil is now an internationally renowned soprano!

    Between Italy and England there is a crucial distinction: “Eduard è sempre agitato quando è a Oxford, qui in Italia è felice” (Ruth, to Italo Mariotti). He certainly found great happiness in Italy, from a first trip in the winter of 1906-1907. He was there briefly in 1936 with a group of younger Oxford colleagues: “when I act as a guide in Rome, I like to be with someone who is completely ignorant.” For the ’50s, Timpanaro, and for the ’60s, Rossi have given us memorable pictures. The review of G. Pasquali’s Storia dello spirito tedesco nelle memorie d’un contemporraneo helps explain (Gnomon 26 [1954] 337-41 = Kleine Beiträge 2:601-7): the portrait of Pasquali radiates loving envy of his dear friend’s exuberant unconventionality and informality. The photographs of the Rome seminar’s outings show Fraenkel truly beatific. He loved the country and all its beauties, the language and literature (both Dante and Pinocchio!), the food, drink, art, and, notably, the cigars. He knew his students would be less well prepared: “io non sono carnivoro,” he assured them; “I get angry with colleagues, not with students.”

    Peter Levi refers to Fraenkel’s constant maxim that “learning was easy and all too common in Oxford, but what we needed was judgment.” Though Fraenkel’s publications moved in wide orbits, admirably charted by Timpanaro, and his interests, as footnotes often reveal, were vaster still, his teaching concentrated on a small canon, particularly, in the later years, of the dramatists. There is a compact unity in his approach and method from the first to the last; he was delighted to see Elementi reissued after forty years.

    But what did we learn? Part of the answer is to be found in the books and articles, part in the published seminars, part in the obituaries; the heart of the matter is still “oral tradition.”

    How to say “I love you" in idiomatic Italian (on Terence Eun. 655,1 suspect); how to look at the whole scene, not just at the line or word; how to distinguish, on the other hand, the word or idiom as anomalous and therefore as especially significant in its context; how to suspect elegant emendations and admire ruthless deletions (he came rather to rue his Jachmann-inspired hatchet work on Petronius, in Müller’s first edition); how to recognize in individual words the echo of a custom, or a ritual, or an outlook, distant from, but adding greatly to, its context; how to maintain an informed general interest in the history of classical scholarship, and how not to drown in bibliographical or editorial trivia; how to be right without having a parallel to back you up; how to proceed and where to turn when Kühner-Gerth disagrees with Schwyzer and all editors of Sophocles are at odds; how to respect your predecessors while maintaining your independence; how to think clearly and simply; how to cite the one truly relevant parallel; how to give due weight to the staging and visual impact of an ancient play; how to listen intelligently to a passage from an ancient author, and to learn from its rhythms and cadences; how to be alert for patterns in sound, language, meter and thought; how to learn from what you see, not just from what you read; how to distrust the artificial and cleave to the simple; how to avoid the prolix, the pedantic, the quibbling, the opaque; how to despise wanton erudition and superfluous parallels, elder-worship and standard handbooks; how to love Greek and Latin and how to love working on them; how to find fulfillment, and excitement, through Sitzfleisch. Those who actually enjoyed the seminars will of course have learned far more than this. A strong fellow-feeling binds those who took his seminars, though they are characterized by no unity of thought.

    Fraenkel’s impact is perhaps uniquely complex: in Italy he did a very great deal to reinforce what Pasquali had transplanted from Göttingen; in Oxford he dominated for thirty-five years and still dominates Greek and Latin studies. His sense of the profession’s seriousness and high standards, and his real belief in the excellence of the authors taught coincided better than might have been anticipated with old English views of the desirability of refined linguistic training and the real moral and spiritual value of the best classical authors: Thomas Arnold and Wilamowitz unite as the intellectual grandparents of, notably, Colin Macleod (1943-81), Fraenkel’s most admired pupil.

  • Sources:

    Addenda to Wilamowitz, Glaube der Hellenen 2. Berlin, 1932: 549-52; H. Lloyd-Jones, “Preliminary Notes on Menander’s Dyskolos." CR 9 (1959) 183-92; Colin Macleod, “Wilamowitz.” QS 5 (1977) 101-18. (A fragmentary Italian lecture on Wilamowitz.)


    Horsfall, N. M. “Eduard Fraenkel. Bibliography.” JRS 66 (1976) 200-5.


    W.M. Calder, III. “Seventeen Letters of Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff to Eduard Fraenkel.” HSCP 81 (1977) 275-97 = Calder, W. M., Ill, U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Selected Correspondence 1869-1931. Naples, 1983: 93-116 (with 306-7); S. Prete, S. Pagine amare di storia della filologia classica. Sassoferrato, 1987. (Fraenkel’s correspondence with G. Jachmann.)


    A list of obituaries is given by H. Lloyd-Jones, 634, n. 1 and by L. E. Rossi, xxxi. Momigliano’s obituary is reprinted in Quinto Contribute, 1026-9; I. Mariotti, “Eduard Fraenkel, concittadino di Plauto.” A&R 30 (1985) 170-8; H. Lloyd-Jones,Gnomon 43 (1971) 634-40; C.W. Macleod, Collected Essays (Oxford, 1983): 347-8; S. Rizzo, Rassegna di Cultura e vita scolastica. 24, 4-5 (1970) 13; S. Timpanaro, “Ricordo di Eduard Fraenkel.” A&R 15 (1970) 89-103; G. Williams, PBA 56 (1972) 415-42.


    Fraenkel had a remarkable private library: the Ashmolean Museum, Library, Oxford, from 1972 has held all pamphlets and offprints, all books heavily annotated, and those others which did not duplicate its already existing holdings and the (almost complete) collection I assembled of F.’s own opuscula. His papers, including some unpublished work, are held by Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and a handlist may be obtained on application to the Librarian.


    Horsfall, N. M. Due seminari Romani di Eduard Fraenkel: Aiace e Filottete di Sophocle. Rome, 1977.

    L. E. Rossi’s preface contains a remarkable portrait of the Rome seminars (vii-xxx), Belfagor 38 (1983) 433-51 (Ajax) overlaps. Cyclostyled versions at least of the Bari seminars on Ar. Birds, Plaut. Pseud. (1965) and Soph. Aj. and Cat., (1966) exist. It is a pity that the project of publication outlined at Belfagor 27 (1972) 634, n. 1 was not carried out.

    For their help, I am grateful to Otto Skutsch, Scevola Mariotti, Frances Muecke, Frank and Colin Hardie, Albio Cesare Cassio and Silvia Rizzo, Tonino Pecere and Chico Rossi.


    Image: Courtesy, Corpus Christi College, Oxford

  • Author: Nicholas Horsfall