Plutarch in Germany: The Stefan GeorgeKreis

  • Lawrence A. Tritle


Plutarch’s place in the classical tradition is usually considered as a Renaissance or Early Modern phenomenon, seldom as one extending into the twentieth century. Germany illustrates this perception as exemplified in the celebrated works of Schiller, Hölderlin, and Goethe. Yet Plutarch also influenced later generations in Germany as elsewhere. This is seen in the case of the poet Stefan George and his circle, the so-calledGeorgekreis. Familiar with the Plutarchan legacy, George impressed the style and technique of Plutarch upon his circle. The biographies of Friedrich Gundolf (Caesar) and Ernst Kantorowicz (Kaiser Friedrich der Zweite) demonstrate Plutarch’s continuing impact. Complementing these modern lives are the ideas of George himself as well as other modern thinkers, particularly Friedrich Nietzsche.


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    See, e.g., M.H. Howard,The Influence of Plutarch in the Major European Literatures of the Eighteenth Century (Chapel Hill, 1970).Google Scholar
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    See P. HoffmannClaus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg und seine Brüder (Stuttgart, 1992), pp. 61–78, for discussion of the Stauffenberg association with S. George. One example of the George-von Stauffenberg link is the vision of a “secret Germany” that theGeorgekreis shared. George wrote a poem with this title (“Geheimes Deutschland” inDas Neue Reich, 1917), Kantorowicz’s dedication inKaiser Friedrich carried the phrase, and finally von Stauffenberg, just as he was executed, may have cried out these words (for the last reference I thank Dr. Philip Beeley of the Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand, Berlin).Google Scholar
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    Beyond the scope of this investigation are the researches of others within theGeorgekreis who conducted the usual forms of scholarship normally associated with the study of Plutarch. Among these was Victor Frank (=Frank Mehnert), killed in Russia in 1943, whose posthumously published translation of theLives of Agis and Cleomenes appeared in 1944 (published by Frank’s friend K.J. Partsch asAgis und Kleomenes. Nach dem Plutarch, by Delfinverlag in Munich). This is a later draft of a 1937 ed. prepared in typescript and now deposited in the George Archiv in Stuttgart; this text closes with the inscription “von Cajo [=K.J. Partsch]und Frank—1937.” Fr. Frank informed me that Robert Boehringer wrote this inscription. Frank’s decision to translate the lives of the revolutionary kings of Sparta in war-torn Nazi Germany conjures up diverse thoughts on his perception of Plutarch and the constant nature of his appeal. For discussion of Frank and his relationship with the Stauffenbergs, and his translation and work on Plutarch, see Hoffmann, ibid.,Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg und seine Brüder (Stuttgart, 1992) pp. 160–61, 165–66.Google Scholar
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    E. Landmann,Gespräche mit Stefan George (Düsseldorf, 1963), p. 126 (a conversation in Basel, c. November 1923–9 March 1924). This remark may be merely a pompous boast, or perhaps a vague and rather generous estimate of the occasions when George dipped into Plutarch for exempla or poetic inspiration.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., Kehr, pp. 270–71. The coincidence of Gundolf’sCaesar appearing at this moment should not be exaggerated. U. Goldsmith has pointed out to me that this study of Caesar had been almost an obsession with Gundolf for years. This began with his 1903 dissertation,Caesar in der deutschen Literatur, followed (e.g.) by reference to Caesar in hisDichter und Helden in 1912 (seeDichter und Helden 2 [Heidelberg, 1923], p. 48). After the 1924 publication ofCaesar, Gundolf would return to this subject withCaesar im neunzehnten Jahrhundert (Berlin, 1926), “Zur Geschichte von Caesars Ruhm,”Neue Jahrbücher für Wissenschaft und Jugendbildung 6 (1930): 369–82, and “Paracelsus und Dnate. Ein Nachtrag zur Geschichte von Caesars Ruhm,”Neue Schweizer Rundschau, Wesen und Leben, xxiii, 38/39 (1930): 105–06. These later works on Caesar were republished under the titleCaesar by Helmut Küpper Verlag (vormals G. Bondi), Darmstadt, 1968. For a specialized study see V. Pöschl, “Gundolfs Caesar,”Euphorion 75 (1981): 204–16.Google Scholar
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    M. Chambers, et al.,The Western Experience 5 (New York, 1991), p. 378; the description ofKaiser Friederich as a “stimulating interpretation” is that of the late David Herlihy (mentioned to me by M. Chambers). See also T. Reuter,Germany in the Early Middle Ages, 800–1056 (London and New York, 1991), p. 12, who describes Kantorowicz’s work as “new wave.”Google Scholar
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    See Seekamp, et al.,Stefan George,Stefan George, Leben und Werk: Eine Zeittafel (Amsterdam, 1972), p. 234. The references to Plutarch are again suggestive of the interest and stimulus of Plutarch on George and theGeorgekreis.Google Scholar
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    Kantorowicz,Frederick,Kaiser Friedrich der Zweite (Berlin, 1927) pp. 26–7, and id., Kantorowicz,Kaiser Friedrich, 1: 30–31. The incident occurred in 1201 when Markward of Anweiler seized the regency of the young monarch.Google Scholar
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    For other examples of anecdotes, see Kantorowicz,Frederick,Kaiser Friedrich der Zweite (Berlin, 1927) pp. 6–7, 40, 56, 154, 160, 362, 432, and id., Kantorowicz,Kaiser Friedrich, 1: 11–13, 40, 54–55, 145–46, 150–51, 334, 396. George’s influence on Kantorowicz as well as his use of anecdotes, dreams, and portents is also mentioned by R.E. Lerner, “Ernst Kantorowicz and Theodor E. Mommsen,” inAn Interrupted Past, pp. 189, 193, 196–97 (see above n. 43 for full citation).Google Scholar
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    See also Kantorowicz,Frederick Kaiser Friedrich der Zweite (Berlin, 1927) pp. 660–63, and id., Kantorowicz,Kaiser Friedrich, 1: 604–606 for a similar paean to the knights of Germany.Google Scholar
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    Brackmann,HZ 140 (1929): 534–35, 548–49. Brackmann’s attack on Kantorowicz, just as Kehr’s earlier criticisms of Gundolf, were in fact anticipated by the still earlier criticisms and mockery of Stefan George himself by U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, the great philologist. Essentially this represents another phase in theHistorikerstreit alluded to above, which placed in opposition those who supported the place of positivism in the Academy (e.g., Brackmann, Wilamowitz) and those who saw and denounced it as sterile, lifeless, and bourgeois (e.g., George, Gundolf, Kantorowicz). For discussion of this see Goldsmith, “Wilamowitz and the ‘Georgekreis’” inStudies, pp. 125–62, and id., “Wilamowitz as Parodist of Stefan George,” inStudies, pp. 163–72. Cf. H. Lloyd-Jones, “The Dionysiac Centaur,” in id., Kantorowicz,Greek in a Cold Climate (Savage, MD, 1991), pp. 151–52 (=a rev. of M.S. Silk and J.P. Stern,Nietzsche on Tragedy [Cambridge, 1981]).Google Scholar
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    For a similar view see Momigliano,Greek Biography, p. 1.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lawrence A. Tritle
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of HistoryLoyola Marymount UniversityLos Angeles

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