Wiener, Leo

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WIENER, LEO (1862–1939), philologist and historian of Yiddish language, literature, and folklore. Born in Bialystok, Poland, he studied at the University of Warsaw in 1880, and then in Berlin. In 1882 he immigrated to the U.S. He became a lecturer in the department of Germanic and Romance languages at the University of Kansas (1892–95), and taught in the Department of Slavic Studies at Harvard University (1895–1930), becoming assistant professor in 1901 and professor in 1911. Wiener published articles on Yiddish linguistic elements in Polish, German, Ukrainian, and Belorussian (1893–1904). In his work The Popular Poetry of the Russian Jews (1899), he not only studied Yiddish folk poems but analyzed the poetry of badḥanim. He was the first to introduce the poetry of Morris *Rosenfeld, who had been a sweatshop worker, to the general public by translating his poems into English (Dos Liderbukh, "The Songbook," 1897) under the title Songs from the Ghetto (1898). In 1898, Wiener traveled to Europe to collect material for his pioneering volume, The History of Yiddish Literature in the Nineteenth Century (1899). I.L. *Peretz encouraged him and Abraham Elijah *Harkavy, librarian at the Asiatic Museum of St. Petersburg, presented him with a thousand Yiddish books, which formed the basis of the Yiddish collection of the Harvard University library. After the turn of the century Wiener's interest in Yiddish declined. He compiled a valuable anthology of Russian literature (2 volumes, 1902–03) and translated Tolstoy into English (24 volumes, 1904).

He was the father of Norbert *Wiener.


Rejsen, Leksikon, 1 (1926), 984–6; lnyl, 3 (1960), 447–9; N. Wiener, Ex-Prodigy; My Childhood and Youth (1953); S. Niger, Bleter Geshikhte fun der Yidisher Literatur (1959), 283–93.

[Sol Liptzin]