The Case of Wagner

Page 23 of 36

We must make it clear to ourselves that we are acting in an absurd manner when we try to defend or to beautify antiquity: who are we!


We are under a false impression when we say that there is always some caste which governs a nation's culture, and that therefore savants are necessary; for savants only possess knowledge concerning culture (and even this only in exceptional cases). Among learned men themselves there might be a few, certainly not a caste, but even these would indeed be rare.

[Pg 118]


One very great value of antiquity consists in the fact that its writings are the only ones which modern men still read carefully.

Overstraining of the memory—very common among philologists, together with a poor development of the judgment.


Busying ourselves with the culture-epochs of the past: is this gratitude? We should look backwards in order to explain to ourselves the present conditions of culture: we do not become too laudatory in regard to our own circumstances, but perhaps we should do so in order that we may not be too severe on ourselves.


He who has no sense for the symbolical has none for antiquity: let pedantic philologists bear this in mind.


My aim is to bring about a state of complete enmity between our present "culture" and antiquity. Whoever wishes to serve the former must hate the latter.


Careful meditation upon the past leads to the impression that we are a multiplication of many pasts: so how can we be a final aim? But why not? In most instances, however, we do not wish to be this. We take up our positions again in the[Pg 119] ranks, work in our own little corner, and hope that what we do may be of some small profit to our successors. But that is exactly the case of the cask of the Dan: and this is useless, we must again set about doing everything for ourselves, and only for ourselves—measuring science by ourselves, for example with the question: What is science to us? not: what are we to science? People really make life too easy for themselves when they look upon themselves from such a simple historical point of view, and make humble servants of themselves. "Your own salvation above everything"—that is what you should say; and there are no institutions which you should prize more highly than your own soul.—Now, however, man learns to know himself: he finds himself miserable, despises himself, and is pleased to find something worthy of respect outside himself. Therefore he gets rid of himself, so to speak, makes himself subservient to a cause, does his duty strictly, and atones for his existence. He knows that he does not work for himself alone; he wishes to help those who are daring enough to exist on account of themselves, like Socrates. The majority of men are as it were suspended in the air like toy balloons; every breath of wind moves them.—As a consequence the savant must be such out of self-knowledge, that is to say, out of contempt for himself—in other words he must recognise himself to be merely the servant of some higher being who comes after him. Otherwise he is simply a sheep.

[Pg 120]


It is the duty of the free man to live for his own sake, and not for others. It was on this account that the Greeks looked upon handicrafts as unseemly.

As a complete entity Greek antiquity has not yet been fully valued: I am convinced that if it had not been surrounded by its traditional glorification, the men of the present day would shrink from it horror stricken. This glorification, then, is spurious; gold-paper.


The false enthusiasm for antiquity in which many philologists live. When antiquity suddenly comes upon us in our youth, it appears to us to be composed of innumerable trivialities; in particular we believe ourselves to be above its ethics. And Homer and Walter Scott—who carries off the palm? Let us be honest! If this enthusiasm were really felt, people could scarcely seek their life's calling in it. I mean that what we can obtain from the Greeks only begins to dawn upon us in later years: only after we have undergone many experiences, and thought a great deal.


People in general think that philology is at an end—while I believe that it has not yet begun.

The greatest events in philology are the appearance of Goethe, Schopenhauer, and Wagner; standing on their shoulders we look far into the distance The fifth and sixth centuries have still to be discovered.

[Pg 121]


Where do we see the effect of antiquity? Not in language, not in the imitation of something or other, and not in perversity and waywardness, to which uses the French have turned it. Our museums are gradually becoming filled up: I always experience a sensation of disgust when I see naked statues in the Greek style in the presence of this thought-less philistinism which would fain devour everything.

[Pg 122]




Of all sciences philology at present is the most favoured: its progress having been furthered for centuries by the greatest number of scholars in every nation who have had charge of the noblest pupils. Philology has thus had one of the best of all opportunities to be propagated from generation to generation, and to make itself respected. How has it acquired this power?

Calculations of the different prejudices in its favour.

How then if these were to be frankly recognised as prejudices? Would not philology be superfluous if we reckoned up the interests of a position in life or the earning of a livelihood? What if the truth were told about antiquity, and its qualifications for training people to live in the present?

In order that the questions set forth above may be answered let us consider the training of the philologist, his genesis: he no longer comes into being where these interests are lacking.

If the world in general came to know what an unseasonable thing for us antiquity really is,[Pg 123] philologists would no longer be called in as the educators of our youth.

Effect of antiquity on the non-philologist likewise nothing. If they showed themselves to be imperative and contradictory, oh, with what hatred would they be pursued! But they always humble themselves.

Philology now derives its power only from the union between the philologists who will not, or cannot, understand antiquity and public opinion, which is misled by prejudices in regard to it.

The real Greeks, and their "watering down" through the philologists.

The future commanding philologist sceptical in regard to our entire culture, and therefore also the destroyer of philology as a profession.



If a man approves of the investigation of the past he will also approve and even praise the fact—and will above all easily understand it—that there are scholars who are exclusively occupied with the investigation of Greek and Roman antiquity: but that these scholars are at the same time the teachers of the children of the nobility and gentry is not equally easy of comprehension—here lies a problem.

Why philologists precisely? This is not altogether such a matter of course as the case of a professor of medicine, who is also a practical physician and surgeon. For, if the cases were identical, preoccupation with Greek and Roman antiquity would be[Pg 124] identical with the "science of education." In short the relationship between theory and practice in the philologist cannot be so quickly conceived. Whence comes his pretension to be a teacher in the higher sense, not only of all scientific men, but more especially of all cultured men? This educational power must be taken by the philologist from antiquity; and in such a case people will ask with astonishment: how does it come that we attach such value to a far-off past that we can only become cultured men with the aid of its knowledge?

Free Learning Resources