Wednesday, July 25, 2018


Arne Jönsson, Gregor Vogt-Spira (ed.), The Classical Tradition in the Baltic Region: Perceptions and Adaptations of Greece and Rome. Spudasmata, 171. Hildesheim; Zürich; New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 2017. Pp. 600. ISBN 9783487155838.

Reviewed by Thea De Armond (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This weighty volume gathers together twenty-five papers (not including the introduction) on the reception of Graeco-Roman antiquity in the Baltic region. According to the volume's editors Arne Jönsson and Gregor Vogt-Spira, the humanist embrace of classicism was somewhat delayed in the Baltic states, relative to Europe's "more southerly" parts (9). Scholarship from and about the Baltic region has not played a significant role in the recent efflorescence of reception studies; nevertheless, the development of reception studies (what Jönsson and Vogt-Spira call "[c]lassics after [a]ntiquity," 10) in the Baltic states has not been delayed, as much as pursued within each state's "national context" with relatively little international exchange on the topic (10). The Classical Tradition in the Baltic Region, a product of the Colloquium Balticum, a network of classical scholars hailing from the Baltic states (in particular, from Lund, Marburg, Riga, Tartu, Vilnius, and St. Petersburg), begins to address that lack.

The volume is divided into four sections. The first entitled "Prominent Writers in Latin of the Early Modern Period / Profile neuzeitlicher Latinität," comprises eight case studies of post-classical (but not necessarily Early Modern) Latinity. The chapters in this section range widely in both geography and approach—from Vita Paparinska's account of Riga's significance in the 13th-century chronicle Heinrici Chronicon, to Martina Björk's close-reading of the astronomer Tycho Brahe's Latin poetry, to Boris Dunsch's attempt to insert the Pomeranian professor Marcus Bernhardinus into the neo-Latin poetic canon. A standout in this section is Thomas Schattschneider and Jens Pickenhan's consideration of the reception of Latin authors in Early Modern inscriptions from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, which they link to humanist "self-fashioning."

The second section of the volume "The Translation and Reception of Classical Literature / Übersetzungen und Rezeption antiker Literatur," is somewhat narrower in geography: four of the five chapters analyze Swedish and Swedish-language authors and texts (this is a partial product of the Swedish Empire's extent—much of the Baltic region was under its sway during the Early Modern period). Only Ilze Rūmniece's chapter, which argues for the utility of Dionysios of Halicarnassus' literary theory to contemporary Latvian translation, ventures further afield.

The third section of the volume, "The Presence of Antiquity in Early Modern Culture / Kulturelle Präsenzen der Antike" analyzes classicism in the Baltic region beyond "high literature." Bernard van Wickevoort Crommelin and Ojārs Lāms' contributions consider the deployment of classicism toward political ends, the former, toward free trade in the Baltic Sea, the latter, toward the elevation of the Latvian language and, concomitantly, a Latvian nation. Kristi Viiding and Jaanika Anderson's chapters are the only contributions to the volume that occupy themselves with antiquity's reception in images and material culture. Viiding analyzes printer's marks in Early Modern Estonia and Livonia, in particular, a classically inspired printer's mark in Dorpat / Tartu, while Anderson gives an account of the plaster cast collections at the University of Tartu.

The final section of the volume, "The History of Scholarship and Education / Bildungs- und Wissenschaftsgeschichte" is chiefly occupied with classicism at Baltic universities. Two of its contributors focus on individual scholars and works: Tomas Veteikis considers the Cato Graeco-Latinus of the German scholar and poet Johannes Mylius, and Ieva Kalņina introduces readers to the University of Latvia's first professor of classical philology Kārlis Straubergs. Other chapters are more occupied with the quotidian goings-on at the Baltic universities: Kaidi Kriisa traces the transition from Latin to vernacular languages in the dissertations and orations of the Academia Gustaviana (today, the University of Tartu); Janika Päll surveys education in rhetoric in Early Modern Estonia. Cajsa Sjöberg's refreshing—if avowedly unclassical—contribution to this section analyzes three eighteenth-century dissertations pertaining to silk production in Sweden. The volume closes with two accounts of classical studies under totalitarianism, that of Gita Bērziņa and Ieva Kalņina, on classical studies in Nazi and Soviet Latvia, and that of Nijolė Juchnevičienė, on classical studies in Soviet Lithuania (particularly, at Vilnius University).

The Classical Tradition might have benefited from a more analytical introduction or, perhaps, from introductions to its constituent sections. Given the unfamiliarity of much of the volume's material to scholars outside the Baltic states, such introductions may have helped the average reader to draw broader, interpretive conclusions from the volume's wide-ranging contents. After all, the volume's existence posits (and the volume's editors imply) a unique—and regionally unified—reception of classical studies. The volume's English-language articles were, occasionally, awkwardly worded; however, for the most part, this did not muddy their clarity. Interested scholars—and scholars of reception would do well to be interested—can easily read past any infelicities of language. That this volume unifies and makes available a large body of information otherwise unknown to many scholars outside the Baltic area is, of itself, an important contribution to reception studies.

Authors and titles

Arne Jönsson and Gregor Vogt-Spira: Introduction / Einleitung
I. Prominent Writers in Latin of the Early Modern Period / Profile neuzeitlicher Latinität
Vita Paparinska: Riga in Heinrici Chronicon
Astrid M. H. Nilsson: Truth in Renaissance Historiography: The Case of Johannes Magnus
Magnus Frisch: Nil utilius, nil praestantius. Über Geschichte, Wesen und Bedeutung des akademischen Lebens in Daniel Hermanns Gedicht De vita literata sive scholastica
Martina Björk: Urania and Apollo: Myth and Identity in Tycho Brahe's Latin Poetry
Thomas Schattschneider and Jens Pickenhan: Rugia me genuit. Antike Autoren in lateinischen Inschriften der Frühen Neuzeit in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern
Anders Piltz: The Classical Heritage in Protestant and Catholic Propaganda. The Example of Laurentius Boierus
Boris Dunsch: Marcus Bernhardinus' Epigrammatum Pars Prima – Eine neulateinische Greifswalder Epigrammsammlung aus der Mitte des 17. Jahrhunderts
Frank Lembke: Ein lebensrettendes Plagiat? Friedrich von Monaus Traktat über den Luftröhrenschnitt (1644)
II. The Translation and Reception of Classical Literature / Übersetzungen und Rezeption antiker Literatur
Arne Jönsson: Presenting Poems. Paratexts to Sophia Elisabeth Brenner's Collection of Poems, Stockholm 1713
Magdalena Öhrman: For the Love of Letters: Swedish 18th Century Reception of Ovid's Heroides
Jerker Blomqvist: Die symbolische Deutung des Daphnemythos bei Esaias Tegnér
Johanna Akujärvi: Suethice. On 19th Century Swedish University Translations of Ancient Literature
Ilze Rūmniece: ΕΚΛΟΓΗ ΟΝΟΜΑΤΩΗ. Antike Sprachtheorie und die Übersetzung antiker Texte in der Gegenwart
III. The Presence of Antiquity in Early Modern Culture / Kulturelle Präsenzen der Antike
Bernard van Wickevoort Crommelin: Aspekte interkultureller Beziehungen zwischen den Niederlanden und dem Baltikum in der frühen Neuzeit
Kristi Viiding: Das humanistische Druckersignet im 17. Jahrhundert. Die antike Vorlagen und Funktionen eines Spätlings aus dem baltischen Raum
Gregor Vogt-Spira: Friedrich der Große und der Diskursraum der Antike. Literature – Bildung – Politik
Jaanika Anderson: "Begs leave most respectfully to inform his Friends and Public that he has on sale the most extensive collection of casts in Sulphur […]"
Ojārs Lāms: The Impact of Ancient Culture Heritage on the Emancipation Process of the Latvian Nation in the Mid-Nineteenth Century: the Works of Juris Alunāns
IV. The History of Scholarship and Education / Bildungs- und Wissenschaftgeschichte
Tomas Veteikis: The Cato Graeco-Latinus by Johannes Mylius: a Monument from the Early Stage of the Humanist Education in Lithuania
Kaidi Kriisa: Vernacular Languages Instead of Latin – the Transition in Academic Dissertations and Orations at the University of Tartu (Academia Gustaviana) in the 17th Century
Janika Päll: School Rhetoric in Early Modern Estonia and Livonia: Rhetorical Exercises from Dorpat (Tartu)
Cajsa Sjöberg: Swedish Silk. Three 18th-Century Dissertations about Sericulture
Ieva Kalņina: Kārlis Straubergs zwischen antiker Welt und baltischer Mythologie
Gita Bērziņa and Ieva Kalņina: Die Klassische Philologie an der Universität Lettlands in der Zeit der nationalsozialistischen und sowjetischen Okkupation
Nijolė Juchnevičienė: Classical Scholarship in Lithuania at the Beginning of the Soviet Era: the Struggle for Survival

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