Monday, October 22, 2018


Johannes Helmrath, Eva Marlene Hausteiner, Ulf Jensen (ed.), Antike als Transformation. Konzepte zur Beschreibung kulturellen Wandels. Transformationen der Antike, 49. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2017. Pp. vi, 265. ISBN 9783110500660. €79,95. ISBN 9783110499261. ebook.

Reviewed by Janina Sieber, Bavarian State Library Munich (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below]

The present volume is based on the annual conference held by the so-called "Collaborative Research Centre" (Sonderforschungsbereich) Transformations of Antiquity at the Humboldt University of Berlin in 2014. This conference dealt with the concept of allelopoiesis,, a reciprocal dependence between a receiving culture and a received culture (in this case: antiquity). Allelopoiesis is the concept of this edited volume as well. Each research group of the Sonderforschungsbereich invited an outside scholar to describe and test his or her own results; therefore, each essay is from a member or several members of the research group and is followed by an essay of the corresponding guest.

The ideal reviewer of this collection would be someone who is a specialist in Assyriology, Classical Philology, Film Studies, Political Sciences, History of Art, History of Science and History of Technology. Having been trained only in Classical Philology and History of Art I will simply give an overview of each of these rich and demanding studies.

After a short editorial introduction, the volume starts with Michael Weichenhahn discussing how the ancient Mesopotamian kingdom inspired the German "panbabylonists" in the beginning of the 20th century. Weichenhahn mainly focuses on the Assyriologists Hugo Winckler and Alfred Jeremias and states that there was a relationship (or: allelopoiesis) between the highly developed Babylonian culture with a similar decline on the one hand, and the great significance of Assyriology during the Wilhelminian period and its declining importance on the other hand. His correspondent Gerd Grasshof takes another point of view: that 20th century Assyriology was interested in Babylonia not because of Wilhelminian society but because of the general philhellenic movement and the fact that Greek astronomy was a relevant part of Babylonian knowledge.

The next contribution by the Berlin scholars Marcus Becker and Ulf Jensen is dedicated to the 1964 American epic movie "The Fall of the Roman Empire". Becker first describes how the camera perspective shows Rome and especially the Forum Romanum as the political center of power of the Western world, while Jensen focuses on the decadent cinematic interior symbolizing the East. Their "dialogue partner" Rachel Elsner emphasizes the same dichotomy between orient and occident in the work of the 19th-century French painter Jean-Léon Gérôme; in his historical paintings, all oriental motives seem to be dreamlike and timeless scenes, whereas the Roman world is presented in a more realistic, precise way.

The following two pairs of contributions deal with political issues. Marco Walter discusses the transformative effects of the metus hostilis, or Feindtheorem ("enemy-theorem"), and exemplifies this phenomenon through the Persian invasion of Greece when the antagonists Athens and Sparta became allies because of the fear of the external enemy and through the destruction of Carthage, which increased the political unity of the Roman empire. Veith Selk discusses this "enemy-theorem" particularly with regard to political thinkers like Augustine and Spinoza.

Eva Marlene Hausteiner's contribution is dedicated to the idea of "federation" and "confederation" with regard to the Greek city states and other federations such as the British Commonwealth. Her correspondent Thomas Hueglin expands this discussion using the examples of federal structures from the United States government to Bismarck's policy.

Alexander Klaudies' detailed contribution deals with the notitiae communes, the general terms in the philosophical work De veritate by the 17th-century scholar Herbert of Cherbury. Klaudies argues that Herbert refutes preceding philosophical schools like skepticism, rationalism and empiricism. (The contextualization and embedding of the relevant philosophical schools would have been helpful for readers not familiar with Herbert's philosophy in detail.) In her corresponding contribution Anne Eusterschulte emphasizes the criticism of religion in Herbert's work.

The contribution of Christoph Lehner and Helge Wendt deals with the "Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes" and questions whether Isaac Newton's Principia can be attributed to the "modern" party. Joyce Van Leeuwen presents another "querelle" between "the new and the old" considering the pseudo-Aristotelian Problemata Mechanica and their commentaries from the 16th and 17th century. The final two contributions have to do with translation and allelopoiesis from a philological perspective. Josefine Kitzbichler and Thomas Poiss both describe how contemporary tendencies in literature, theatre and the scholarly community itself can affect translations, here with the first German translations of Sophocles' King Oedipus from the 18th century and Schadewaldt's 20th century translations as examples.

It is clear that the present volume deals with varied and complex subjects of reception of antiquity. This is appealing but also problematic, since the concept of allelopoiesis sometimes appears artificial and unnecessarily complicated. Nevertheless, a reader interested in a particular field of reception will find some inspiring contributions in this well produced volume, which is suitably rounded off with two bibliographic indices and almost twenty pages of color photos in the appendix.

Table of Contents

Johannes Helmrath, Eva Marlene Hausteiner, Ulf Jensen: Vorwort – 1
Michael Weichenhahn: Die Sterne Babylons – Leitfaden zur Konstruktion einer globalen Kultur am Anfang der zivilisierten Menschheit – 15
Gerd Graßhoff: Panbabylonismus als Mythos der Kulturentwicklung – 39
Ulf Jensen, Marcus Becker: Disparate Topologien. Zum Wechselspiel von Geschichtsbild und Filmszenographie in The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) – 47
Rachel Esner: Making the Truth with Images. Some Visual Context for The Fall of the Roman Empire - 71
Marco Walter: Widerständigkeit vs. Deutungshoheit: die Transformation des metus hostilis – 81
Veith Selk: Politische Denker als Allelopoieten. Allelopoiese in der politischen Ideengeschichte – das Beispiel des Feindtheorems – 95
Eva Marlene Hausteiner: Leerstellen des Bundes: Über konföderale Ausblendungen in föderalen Denktraditionen – 109
Thomas O. Hueglin: Allelopoietische Wechselwirkungen bündischer Föderalität: Eine Erwiderung – 127
Alexander Klaudies: Transformative Dynamik und Kontinuität – Zum Theorem der notitiae communes in der Philosophie Herberts von Cherbury – 139
Anne Eusterschulte: Erkenntnis- und Religionskritik bei Herbert von Cherbury – 159
Christoph Lehner, Helge Wendt: Mechanik in der Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes – 179
Joyce van Leeuwen: Antike Mechanik im 16. Jahrhundert – 197
Josefine Kitzbichler: Übersetzung als Allelopoiese: „um so abweichender […], je mühsamer sie nach Treue strebt" (Humboldt). Ad fontes – Die Intention auf das Original – 209
Thomas Poiss: Übersetzen als Konstruktion – 225


1.   Klaudies begins his contribution with a longer quotation from De veritate (Sunt igitur Notitiae Communes principia illa, contra quae disputare nefas; sive ea pars scientiae, qua[m] ex sua prima intentione nos imbutos voluit Natura, 139). Here he erroneously transcribes the Latin ablative qua as quam (p. 42, De veritate, London 16453) but the translation is correct.

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