History classical philology aesthetics

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BALOGH, Piroska

History, classical philology – aesthetics

The texts published by Károly Koppi, Ézsaiás Budai, Lajos János Schedius, and Johann Christian Engel share a common characteristic: they represent a well-defined subgroup of professional academic treatises of the period. Károly Koppi’s text is an introduction to his monograph on universal history, which can also be read individually as a methodological piece. The monograph entitled Praelectionum historicarum tomus I. was also used as a textbook in the 1780s and 1790s at the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Pest. The book gives an overview of universal history until the death of Alexander the Great, and as no sequel was published, Koppi’s concept of further periods can only be reconstructed from manuscript lecture notes. The well-structured text, published as an introduction to the volume with numerous footnotes, meets today’s requirements for methodological treatises, both in form, content, and methods of referencing. Among contemporary historians, it was perhaps Johann Christoph Gatterer, an important model for Koppi, who most consistently applied these methods in his books on universal history. Koppi’s introduction, however, is not only longer, but also more complex: the text not only defines the conceptual framework and the temporal and spatial scope of his subject, but also provides an overview of and guidance to research methodology and the history of science, and includes a detailed annotated appendix of historical works, thus offering a unique insight into the workshop of the contemporary researcher-historian.

The other three treatises are even more clearly linked to the philological tradition of Göttingen, in particular to Christian Gottlob Heyne and the journal Commentationes Societaties Regiae Scientiarum Gottingensis, partly edited by him, the title of which clearly refers to the sub-genre under study, the scientific commentary. Schedius and Engel’s treatises, both as students of Göttingen, were written at Heyne’s encouragement and won academic prizes. In Budai’s case, the personal connection with Heyne is not so strong, but the professor’s lectures undoubtedly had a great influence on him when he wrote his thesis as a conclusion to his studies in Göttingen. These Latin-language treatises, or, as suggested by their titles, commentaries, deal with specific historical topics based on extensive knowledge of sources and literature: the classical philologist Budai’s commentary deals with the history of science, the aesthete Schedius’s with the anthropology of religion, and the historian Engel’s with state theory and statistics. In these commentaries, the threefold methodology, replacing the usual linear narrative construction, rearranges the available expert knowledge: the texts, by using a genetic methodology, provide the impact history, the contextualisation by using a comparative and a mapping method, and the main characteristics of the phenomena under study by means of an overview of their evolution. This method used to sort and organise knowledge results in the active and innovative production of knowledge and formation of conclusions, which always have some relevant and pragmatic aspects, whether religious, political, or cultural. These historical treatises are thus always first and foremost written about and for the present, without losing their historiographical credibility or providing an occasion to question the thoroughness or revelatory character of historical research behind them.

These generic frameworks are clearly decisive in terms of how and in what composition the set of concepts examined in this project appear in each treatise. Károly Koppi’s dissertation on historical research methodology stands out among the four dissertations in that it functions as a meta-text because of its methodological subject matter, i.e., it does not present and explore a scientific problem in the history of science, history of religion, or political theory, but reflects on the research methods that can be used to identify and describe various historical phenomena. The consequence of this is that the basic concept of historicity clearly and almost monolithically dominates Koppi’s text. Next to the presentation of historical sources, periods, and basic concepts, the methodology of historical research and historiography, as well as the detailed description of the usefulness of auxiliary sciences are given prominence. This demonstrates that Koppi does not simply provide the students and scholars reading his volume with information and concepts about universal history, that is, he does not simply impart to them knowledge embedded in a narrative. In fact, Koppi presents history as historical research, an essentially creative process and he wants his readers to master this: he describes methods of knowledge production and does so in a versatile way. Koppi’s introduction shows very clearly that the professor does not see the essence of history in the acquisition of historical narratives, but in the acquisition of a historian’s ways of thinking and seeing. He does not teach history; he teaches one to be a historian. For this reason, in addition to the methodological dominance, the basic thematic concepts of knowledge transfer in history that determine its scientific character and that are typical of Gatterer’s introduction as well (society, power, human resources, natural resources) are only present in Koppi’s work in an indicative way.

The conceptual web of the three commentaries also shows that their authors’ aim was not primarily to provide data-like information about a historical narrative they had constructed. In all three cases, the conceptual web is organised around a central vision that defines the spectrum of research. The emphatic keywords of Budai are as follows: human resources, (cultural) landscape, and nature concept. These three key concepts, especially when the conceptual groups subordinate to them (cultural climate theory, urbanity, population density, religion, mother tongue) are also considered, show that the treatise explores the regional distribution of human culture, or, in today’s terms, the locality of knowledge transfer, and embeds it in the context of society and historicity. The treatise encompasses a time spectrum from Antiquity to Budai’s contemporary present, and its spatial spectrum is similarly broad, though essentially Europe-centred. Although the text records a great number of factual information, it is defined by the highly focused conceptual network discussed above, not by listing the concepts, but by showing their interconnections in the context of the history of knowledge. At the same time, the text is an excellent example of how Ézsaiás Budai’s interests determined essentially by his training as a classical philologist are transformed by the fact that he does not use the information he had collected (also as a classical philologist) to characterise (cf. national characterology), but links it to the observation of the processes of knowledge transfer.

The conceptual web of Schedius’s treatise is even more focused: its dominant fundamental concept is clearly that of rites. As its subordinate concepts (sacraments, mysteries) demonstrate, the main methodological innovation of the treatise is that it links Catholic sacramentalism with the mystery-phenomenon in Greco-Roman and Asian religious history, and thus offers an explanation for the development of several religious customs, which, in addition to the discipline of secrecy concerning the sacraments, became more centralised with the Reformation. Accordingly, the historicity of the temporal spectrum from Antiquity to Schedius’s contemporary present is shown primarily in the context of church history (historicity). The argumentation ­– rich in data and sources – is structured by the use of concepts, which relies very strongly on methodological innovation and comparison, and Schedius’s conclusions regarding the contemporary religious milieu are formulated along these lines. This dominant, monolithic conceptual focus is also necessary, because Schedius, a professor of aesthetics, primarily interprets textual sources, and does so in large numbers, using micro-philological methods. The extent of textual interpretations would easily render his thesis opaque, more of cultural-historical interest, if he did not deploy a well-focused analysis and conceptual framework. The main aim of Schedius’s textual analysis is to reinterpret texts and phenomena previously read in the traditional context of church history. To understand the conclusions of his thesis, the readers have to disassociate themselves from the religious, theological, and in some cases, personal aspects of the significance of the doctrine of the sacraments, and accept that, from the perspective under study focusing on rites, the Catholic sacraments could be treated together with the Greek mysteries, what is more, from the point of view of impact history, they should be treated together, and also that these are, in fact, cultural symbols.

The conceptual network of Engel’s treatise seems to be the most fragmented and complex among the three commentaries published here. The two most dominant concepts of the treatise are governance and administration and power. The former, as the description of its subordinate concepts (magistrate, the rights of the popular assembly, the powers of the sovereign, dysfunctions) by Engel pinpoint, is like a machine or mechanism, and the treatise’s use of language is clearly influenced by the statistical terminology of the time. As for the concept of power, priority is given to the form of government, laws, and the distribution of lands. The latter is shown as a skeleton and a framework, and the former as the building blocks of this system: this shows well that the conceptual framework of Engel’s treatise is in fact the model of the state. However, this model does not only have structural components: there is also the image of the human community – of society – embedded in the state. The concepts of society and community primarily demonstrate social stratification, while the key concept of human resources manifests the stratification of lifestyles. What is more, the key concept of the experience of otherness also gains significance, marking out the boundaries of the community by examining the characteristics of the images of the enemy and assimilation. The novelty of Engel’s treatise is thus not only that it draws parallels between ancient and contemporary state formations, but it is rather the elaborate use of state descriptions based on fundamental statistical concepts applied to modern contemporary state formations: in the background of the treatise, a modern state characterology unfolds instead of a national characterology.

It is clear that, although the authors of the treatises come from three different disciplines, namely history, classical philology, and aesthetics, the conceptual framework of their works reflects both the specific approach of their discipline (history of science, history of symbols and culture, statistical description) and perspectives making these specific problems interconnected and interoperable. The two most important elements of the interoperability of disciplines are a sophisticated approach to historicity and the application of the above-mentioned “philological” methodology based on a threefold procedure, adopted from Göttingen. This demonstrates that it is a scientific model which, in line with the characteristics of the so-called Göttingen paradigm, takes into consideration the interoperability of scientific disciplines, while at the same time enables the various philological disciplines to function as auxiliary sciences to each other. The unique approach to historicity, the specific, yet coherent system of the auxiliary sciences, and the application of an innovative research methodology that also takes pragmatic questions into account are the three important cornerstones of Koppi’s methodological treatise, and the three commentaries provide the reader with an insight into the functioning of the methodological model thus described.