Νίτσε καὶ Ἀλεξάνδρεια

In his Die Geburt der Tragodie aus dem Geist der Musik (‘The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music’) Friedrich Nietzsche traces the decline of ancient tragedy both to an increasing dominance in rational thought and theoretical contemplation of the world and to optimism about knowledge, citing Socrates as its creator. The rebirth of tragedy and, with it, of Hellenism can only result by establishing the limits of  knowledge. He uses the adjective ‘Alexandrian’ as a synonym for ‘theoretical’, ‘Socratic’, and ‘learned’ [4. 610] in the sense of a quixotic accumulation of knowledge and an exaggerated confidence in the possibilities of human cognition. Alexandrian humans, ‘who are basically librarians and proofreaders sacrificing their sight to book dust and printing errors’ (Geburt der Trag. ch. 18, Werke III.1, 116), oppose art, myth and everything Dionysian; They are at best epigones, but are never themselves productive. Nietzsche therefore singles out the educational aspect of ancient Alexandrian culture and uses ‘Alexandrian’ in a purely pejorative way to characterise Roman Antiquity, the Renaissance and particularly his own time, which is wholly ‘caught in the net of Alexandrian culture’ and the ‘the theoretical man, equipped with the highest powers of understanding and working in the service of science’ (Geburt der Trag., ch. 18,Werke III.1, 112).

Friedrich Nietzsche accuses the philologists of his time of unproductive erudition (Fragment 5,47, Werke IV.1, 129) and criticises: Aufklarung und alexandrinische Bildung ist es – besten Falls!–, was Philologen wollen. Nicht Hellenenthum (‘Elucidation and Alexandrian education are – at best! – what philologists want. Not Hellenism.’ Fragment 5,136, Werke IV.1, 151). An adequate understanding of Antiquity can not be arrived at in this manner. Nietzsche repeated his rebukes in David Straus, characterising the eponymous hero as a ‘cultural Philistine’ (David Strauß, ch. 2, Werke III.1, 161) and remarking: Vieles Wissen und Gelernthaben ist … weder ein nothwendiges Mittel der Kultur, noch ein Zeichen derselben und vertragt sich nothigenfalls auf das beste mit dem Gegensatze der Kultur, der Barbarei (‘Much of what is known and learnt is … neither a necessary instrument of culture nor a sign of the same, and of necessity it at best complies with the antithesis of culture, barbarity’. David Strauß, ch. 1, Werke III.1, 159)

J. Hartmann, Alexandrinism, στό: ἔκδ. M. Landfester – H. Cancik – H. Schneider – F. G. Gentry, Brill’s Encyclopaedia of the Ancient World New Pauly, τ. 1, Leiden – Boston 2006.

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