Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The owl of Minerva; update

I wonder if Winckelmann ever came across such a lovely object in his archaeological work. This tetradrachm was found in Lyon, where excavations probably did not begin before the 19th century. (I am willing to be corrected on this.) It is now in room 19 at the Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon.

UPDATE: Dagmar Riedel (follow her on Twitter; also here) informs me that Winckelmann would likely have seen the Athenian tetradrachm, as such coins circulated widely in antiquity. They can be found, for instance, in early modern Wunderkammern.

In connection with Fritz Strich, especially his practice of Geistesgeschichte, I have been reading about Hegel. It is an odd thing, and perhaps somewhat scandalous to say, but one can learn a lot about Hegel's philosophy by reading what others write about him. I came across Hegel's phrase about Minerva this morning while reading Clive James' marvelous small essay on the philosopher: "The owl of Minerva begins its flight only in the gathering darkness." James is taken with the phrase for its clarity, since after Hegel's death, "his prose became famous for being unyieldingly opaque." James likes such poetic lines plucked from philosophers, and he goes on to cite Kant's dove and Benjamin's "angel of history," while saying that Benjamin is not considered a philosopher. Though he might be when he wrote of the angel of history, flying backward with its hands raised to its face, "appalled by the spectacle of the ruins piling up constantly before its eyes."

I have noticed in my research on Strich that some contemporary German scholars attempt to link Geistesgeschichte to proto-fascist tendencies. As James points out, some of Hegel's thought may have contained lethal tendencies, but, as Hegel's metaphor indicates, "the time had to become lethal before the tendencies became obvious." Hegel thought history was tending in a good direction -- how optimistic was Geistesgeschichte! The problem was that his thought could be highjacked by those heading in a different direction. For instance, Marxism. The Nazis were actually late-comers.

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