Classical scholarship, Classical Studies, Georg Wissowa, German scholarship, library books, Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft
The Greek poet Callimachus said, “A big book is a big evil.” But in spite of my predilection for tiny books, I sometimes fall in love with a great big monster of a book. That happened to me unexpectedly just a few days ago, when I picked up this bruiser at my department. It weighs about as much as a small feline with a few extra pounds on her (I tried hefting one for comparison).
I lugged it upstairs and extracted the information I needed. Then it was time to return the volume to the library, but I began to feel oddly reluctant to part with it. Impressed by its monumental proportions, I marveled anew at the fact that it is only one in a huge set of massive brother volumes, a vast encyclopedia of Classical learning compiled by an army of (male) German scholars.
In 1839, when August Pauly started the encyclopedia, Victoria had been Queen of England for two years (the German states were organized into the short-lived German Confederation). When Georg Wissowa took over the new edition in 1890, he thought it would be a ten-year project. Instead, it was completed in 1978, when Jimmy Carter was President (and Germany was still divided into East and West).
The final tally was 83 volumes. They don’t make encyclopedias like that any more. This one is still much-consulted by Classical scholars. Upon receiving an offer of employment, one of my grad school professors had haggled over the terms. Apparently he insisted that the department purchase a full set of the Realencyclopädie for his personal use. Enthroned in majesty, it filled an entire wall of his office.
A smaller and updated version has now been published–and even translated into English! I checked it in the library and found this:
I think someone’s suffering a bit of book envy… 😉 But imagine… where would you even put such a collection of tomes?!
I would reserve a wall just for them! No doubt they will be on Kindle soon. But reading the encyclopedia online is definitely not the same.
It lacks that very special smell…
Indeed. Books vary a lot in scent, like men. Some of them can be funky. But when they hit the sweet spot, there is nothing better.
LOL, quite 😉
Ahh, I miss encylopedias.
Yes, I used to read them for fun. The 11th edition of the Britannica is a classic!
This is good stuff and a nice find. I may not like the heft (I have been injured by repeatedly lifting equally voluminous files), but it’s okay when the contents are worthy.
Your last observation there – isn’t it amazing how people can’t seem to take just a brief moment to to think about what their job really means? But really, I think it may not be a “librarian”, but more an intern who labels that simply doesn’t understand the alphabet necessity in this situation. In reality, they are likely Wikipedia dependent.
Thanks! It’s true that some of these books can be disastrous. I once fell while trying to remove a stack of giant volumes from a shelf.
You’re probably right that it was some oxygen-starved student worker who applied those labels. But I’ve seen it before! Sadly, I am addicted to Wikipedia myself, but I have learned the hard way that you can’t believe everything you read there…
Well, I am the same about Wikipedia. That internet is so tricky and fickle when it comes to truth. 😉