How does Greek literature affect us today?

What influence do ancient classics have on contemporary literature?

Contemporary writers and authors continue to draw on the wealth of ancient traditions and use them successfully. "Kassandra" by Christa Wolf and "Die letzte Welt" by Christoph Ransmeyer are modern bestsellers - among other things because many readers are familiar with the ancient foundations and cornerstones, stresses Antje Wessels.

"If we take Camus Sisyphos now, then perhaps this theory of the absurd could have been formulated just like that. But at the moment when this mythical figure, who is known to everyone, has this incredibly strenuous, desperate worker as an idea, then this is it Of course, much more provocative when Camus tells us that we have to imagine Sisyphus as a happy person! Yes? That means he alludes to ideas that may have already got stuck in order to then break them. And that's a lot more effective than if he hadn't named this myth. "

Ancient worlds of imagination and figures are common places of thought that European culture can fall back on at any time and apparently still wants to. Such a basis makes communication easier - even if some references to ancient content are no longer clear and recognizable at first glance!

"Well, we also have a lot of poems that are easily accessible, that give pleasure that you can appreciate, even if you don't know the background, which sometimes the authors themselves are not always aware of! You convey motifs "Ideas even without expressly mentioning terms and names. But it is a benefit if you know these contexts, that is, all of this fund, which we also communicate about when we talk, when we become aware of it."

This idea has been motivating the staff at the Seminar for Classical Philology at the Free University of Berlin since 1992 for the consistent development of the "Archive for the Reception of Antiquities in German-Language Literature after 1945". Around 3,400 poems, 260 dramas and 1,600 prose texts with references to ancient motifs and texts have now been included in this database. Vöhler explains why it seems so uninterruptedly attractive to receive ancient authors:

"The ancient authors are part of a high canon. In other words, ancient authors are among the first 100 in Europe! - who are constantly being read, constantly being edited. I believe that this is also - it is difficult to explain it any other way - that ancient literature itself is very excellent in large parts! And that it is well suited to repeatedly invoking different questions, and that one can approach Homer or Aeschylus again and again and find models among new questions. "

A look back shows that each epoch had its own very specific artistic or scientific approach to ancient fabrics. Seen in this way, "antiquity" does not exist. Rather, it is a kind of art product, created from the perspective of a respective present and used as a social ideal, concept or mirror image.

"There are different renaissances, let's say. So these are times in which antiquity plays a certain role for the respective culture. One of the main renaissance is the 14th-16th century - that is, in this period in which a rediscovery takes place of ancient literature. This has to do with the fact that Constantinople is being conquered and that the Greek literature that was mainly there comes to Italy and the scriptures become accessible and can be researched. "

The result is an enormous increase in education. The preoccupation with ancient authors - the Studia Humanitatis - shaped the whole of Europe from now on. In connection with book printing, almost all ancient authors were edited and accessible several times up to 1600.

"Then, through the Enlightenment, there is again in the various European languages, i.e. in France, Italy, in Germany, in England there are accesses to antiquity under a specifically bourgeois interest now, that is, that the bourgeoisie is now approaching and looking at: What can you actually do with antiquity? And then an idea of ​​the human being as a citizen arises, namely of the entire human being who finds himself again in antiquity. Then such great educational plans emerge, such as Humboldt or Friedrich Schlegel, or also Schiller is involved. So there are many big names who use antiquity to formulate a time criticism and based on this time criticism build a modern position based on the ideal of antiquity. "

In the 19th century an attempt is now being made to implement this ideal programmatically. Learning the ancient languages ​​in high school becomes the educational ideal of a bourgeois elite and a condition for social advancement. Classical modernity ultimately requires that Abitur knowledge naturally includes reading skills in Latin and Greek.

"And then we have a radical break, because after the Second World War they simply say that this bourgeoisie has completely failed with this whole humanistic claim! So we have this fascism and we have the war and we have Auschwitz and you ask yourself: what are the Greeks for? What have you done there? Nothing. You have not built up any resistance. "

Seidensticker: "I think this break was caused by National Socialism, not only through the failure of the bourgeoisie, but also, for example, through Hitler's enthusiasm for the Greeks, especially Sparta, through the Olympics with Breker's Greeks or Speers great architecture and all these things, the racial community between Greeks and Teutons. "

Professor Bernd Seidesticker, under whose direction the archive is being set up, refers to the subsequent remarkable development in the two German states, GDR and FRG. The interest in the ancient cultural heritage continues differently than one might expect at first glance. Although Latin and ancient Greek are still taught in West German schools and not in the East, the interest of authors in ancient materials is much more pronounced in the GDR. Vöhlers and Antje Wessels:

"In the GDR there is an attempt to build a socialist realism that has strong emphatic traits on ancient authors as well. So here the ancient potential is used again - especially through Brecht - to make a modern literature more socialist Art to shape or to be able to shape. "

Wessels: "In West German literature you have poems where - for example by Ursula Pflüger, by Gunter Eich - where they complain that the canon is narrowed, that one only reads Caesar, only Catullus, etc. have that We don't like literature in the GDR. It's a form of communication strategy. You deal with the reception of antiquity in order to convey something. "

Learning ancient languages ​​and quoting ancient materials has lost its role as an elite predicate, emphasize the staff at the Archive for the Reception of Antiquities. Instead, a much freer, more relaxed approach to ancient stories is noticeable. The role of antiquity today is no longer that of a program or an ideal and has long since ceased to offer a recipe for a successful society! The joy of dealing with and playing with tradition has taken the place of big concepts. It's just fun to label men's underpants with the label Ikaros - and at the same time know that Ikaros was the one who climbed high only to fall suddenly.