Re: Another Greek Professor Story

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed Apr 29 1998 - 12:30:13 EDT

At 8:26 AM -0500 4/29/98, James P. Ware wrote:
>Both Don and I agree that this sort of story illustrates the kind of
>philological competence which is probably necessary for those suggesting
>SWEEPING deficiencies in the accumulated lexical wisdom of the last three
>centuries, as enshrined in LSJ, Schmidt, Trench, Thayer, etc. Is there
>perhaps such a thing as too much linguistics, too little philology?

Your story about the professor you and Don W. both had is a neat one, Jim,
and it puts me in mind of a story that Friedrich Nietzsche told about the
nature of a philologist. I'm translating the German text of a monograph on
Nietzsche and Jakob Burckhardt (the two were professors together in Basel
just prior to the Franco-Prussian War) by Edgar Salin, who reports an oral
version by Karl Reinhardt from 1922):

"... the cynical characaterization of the professional scholar given to a
young student as a warning against the study of philology. When the young
man explained to him that he wanted to study philology, in order to
understand better the works of the ancients, Nietzsche explained to him:
        "'You don't know what a philologist is. Imagine, if you will, a
good burgher who has inherited a precious painting from his ancestors. He
is delighted, looks at it repeatedly and treasures it highly. One day he
discovers to his horrow that it has a flawed spot on one edge. He has a
mind to repair it and for that reason studies for half a year the master's
technique, the background and the arrangement of colors in his painting.
The finally he pulls himself together and goes to work, and look: the fault
has been made whole, the picture is flawless! So happy is he with his work
that he invites his friends in and everyone admires his perfect
accomplishment. His friends also have pictures and they have all been
hitherto altogether happy with them. But when they return home, each
observes to his astonishment that his picture has flawed places that have
hitherto escaped his attention. Each of them rushes back, picture under his
arm, and they all beg the lover of flawless paintings to repair theirs as
well. It now takes him much less time to prepare; he requires only five
more months for the second picture, only three for the third, he gets by
the next one in four weeks, and thereafter he is proud to be able to
dispatch from his house one picture every three weeks as good as new. After
two years spent in this activity, he needs a little recreation and goes on
a Sunday afternoon to his city's gallery of paintings. But his recreation
is a terrible disappointment, for the poor man doesn't see any pictures at
all any more, but only--flawed spots! That's your philologist.'"

--or your model of one who has perhaps had too much linguistics and too
little philology?

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:39:36 EDT