Rohde, Erwin

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ROHDE, ERWIN (18451898) was German philologist. Rohde served as professor of classical philology at several universities; appointed to a chair at Kiel in 1872, he moved to Jena four years later and to Tübingen in 1878, followed by a very short stay in Leipzig in 1886, from where he went to Heidelberg.

Rohde's major study on the Greek novel, Der griechische Roman und seine Vorläufer, appeared in 1876. Its second edition (1900), prepared by Fritz Scholl, contains as an appendix an address given by Rohde in 1875, in which he suggests the desirability of further study of the book's tentative thesis: that the animal fables and many other tales from India and other parts of Asia originated in Greece and, much later, found their way back to the West, where speculations about their Asian origin began. A third edition of this work was published in 1914, prepared by Wilhelm Schmidt, and a fourth was released in 1961, reflecting an ongoing interest in the study.

Rohde's name, however, is associated primarily with Psyche, Seelencult und Unsterblichkeitsglaube der Griechen (18901894). In 1897 the author completed his preparations for the second edition of this work, which went through several later editions and was translated into English as Psyche: The Cult of Souls and Belief in Immortality among the Greeks (1925). The author stresses that the cult of the souls, discussed in part 1 of the book, is a notion clearly distinct from and to some extent in contrast with belief in immortality, to which the second part is devoted. The most succinct formulation of this distinction is found in chapter 8: "The continued life of the soul, such as was implied in and guaranteed by the cult of souls, was entirely bound up with the remembrance of the survivors upon earth, and upon the care, the cult, which they might offer to the soul of their departed ancestors." Belief in the immortality of the soul, in contrast, sees the soul as "in its essential nature like God," a notion in radical conflict with "the first principle of the Greek people," namely that of an absolute gulf between humanity and divinity (pp. 253254).

Tracing the belief in the divinity and immortality of the soul back to its Thracian context, Rohde elaborates his thesis of the formative impact on Greek life and thought of, on the one hand, the religion of paramount gods of the Homeric poems and, on the other hand, the worship of Dionysos, a Thracian deity whose cult was "thoroughly orgiastic in nature." These two forces explain the two opposing features of the Greeks, an "extravagance of emotion combined with a fast-bound and regulated equilibrium." (p. 255). His description of "the awe-inspiring darkness of the night, the music of the Phrygian flute , the vertiginous whirl of the dance," which could lead people to a state of possessedness, conveys vividly his own vision of the cult. "Hellenized and humanized," the Thracian Dionysos found his place beside the other Olympian gods, and continued to inspire, not least in the field of the arts: "the drama, that supreme achievement of Greek poetry, arose out of the choruses of the Dionysiac festival" (p. 285).

Much of Rohde's language has been adopted by later researchers. At the scholarly level, his thesis of the Dionysian origin of the Greek belief in immortality is now widely rejected, following the criticism of, among others, Martin P. Nilsson, and his interpretation of psuche was largely abandoned after Walter F. Otto's study of 1923. But whatever criticisms have been raised, there is still widespread agreement that Rohde's Psyche is one of the most significant books in the field because of its remarkable erudition, the clarity of its methodology, and the tremendous impact it has had in circles beyond those professionally engaged in the study of the classical Greek world. The work is in its own right a "classical" expression of the belief in "the imperishable spirit of Hellas."


In addition to works cited in the text of the article, Rohde's Kleine Schriften, 2 vols. (Tübingen, 1901), bears mention. Biographical resources on Rohde include Otto Crusius's Ein biographischer Versuch (Tübingen, 1902) and Friedrich Nietzsche's posthumously published Friedrich Nietzsches Briefwechsel mit Erwin Rohde, edited by Elizabeth Forster-Nietzsche and Fritz Scholl (Leipzig, 1923).

New Sources

Cancik, Hubert. "Erwin Rohdeein Philologe der Bismarckzeit." In Semper Apertus, Sechshundert Jahre Ruprecht-Karl-Universität Heidelberg, edited by Wilhelm Doerr, vol. 2, pp. 436505. Berlin, 1985.

Hofmiller, Josef. "Nietzsche und Rohde." In Versuche. Munich, 1909.

Seillière, Ernest. Nietzsches Waffenbruder Erwin Rohde. Berlin, 1911.

Vogt-Spira, Gregor. "Erwin Rohdes Psyche: eine verpaßte Chance der Altertumswissenschaften?" In Mehr Dionysos als Apoll. Antiklassizistische Antike-Rezeption um 1900, edited by Achim Aurnhammer and Thomas Pittrof, pp. 159180. Frankfurt am Main, 2002.

Willem A. Bijlefeld (1987)

Revised Bibliography