Post-doctoral Fellow Tracy examines Nietzsche as a classicist

Mac Watson

At 4:30 p.m. Tuesday evening in Main Hall 201, Kevin Tracy addressed an issue very controversial in the study of classics and philology, the study of human nature in ancient texts and languages: Friedrich Nietzsche’s position as a classicist and philologist. The lecture was a part of events for Classics Week. Professor Tracy’s lecture drew an interesting audience, ranging from members of the Classics department, including recently retired Professor Dan Taylor, to high school students, whose sheepish looks of being overwhelmed suggested that the lecture had been required.
Overall, Professor Tracy’s talk was interesting and not too difficult to understand for the interested but unknowledgeable student. It was worthwhile even for those who are not disciplined philologists, as it linked many intriguing concepts between an ancient study and a recent philosopher.
Professor Tracy began by speaking about Friedrich Wolf’s effort to take credit for Homeric epics away from Homer, and give it to multiple poets constructing an epic over time. Professor Tracy linked this view to the Epicurean view of the world as an accident. Nietzsche took Wolf’s Epicurian model and applied it to his world, making the world accidental and meaningless.
Professor Tracy continued by looking at Nietzsche’s only work on the classics, “The Birth of Tragedy,” and how it can be seen to fit into this philological tradition, if at all. He saw this work as not only non-philological, but also anti-philological. Tracy mused that Nietzsche would cringe if he knew he were being considered a classicist, for his work did not represent the careful study of philological questions characteristic of philology, but the dramatic presentation of an ambiguous reality in Homer’s work.
Professor Tracy furthered his argument by showing that most philologists at the time disregarded Nietzsche’s work as more than an entertaining read because the rash, revolutionary scholar had become an embarrassment to the science.