Hermann Diels

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Undated photography by Hermann Diels

Hermann Alexander Diels (born May 18, 1848 in Biebrich am Rhein , Duchy of Nassau ; † June 4, 1922 in Berlin-Dahlem ) was a German classical philologist, historian of philosophy and religious scholar.


Born and raised in Wiesbaden as the son of elementary school teacher and station master Ludwig Diels (* August 8, 1820, † June 2, 1872) and his wife Emma nee. Rossel (born August 18, 1817; † October 29, 1885), Diels developed a keen interest in science at an early age , the further promotion of which, however, exceeded the modest means of the family. As a result, after graduating from high school, he turned to studying classical philology .


Diels (left, seated) with his fellow students (Bonn 1869)

Supported by his uncle Karl Rossel (teacher, later secretary of the Association for Nassau Antiquities in Wiesbaden , * December 10, 1815 - July 2, 1872) Diels began his classical philology studies in Berlin in April 1867, but moved to Bonn in 1868 , where he received his doctorate in December 1870 under Hermann Usener with the thesis De Galeni historia philosopha . Here he made the acquaintance of Carl Robert and especially Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff , with whom he became a close friend.

On July 8, 1871, Diels passed the teacher examination and worked from October 1872 to 1877 as a grammar school teacher in Flensburg and Hamburg - a profession that he then practiced in Berlin for another 5 years until 1882.

Scientific career

Diels' family grave

At the instigation of Eduard Zeller , Diels returned to Berlin in 1877 to take up a position as editor of Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca (the academy project for a complete edition of the ancient Greek Aristotle commentaries) on October 1st . In July 1881 he was elected to the class and plenary session of the Prussian Academy of Sciences. A year later he received an associate's position at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität and ended his work as a senior teacher at the Königstädtisches Gymnasium . In 1886 he became a full professor . This was followed by the deanery from 1891–92 and finally as rector from 1905–06 . As the successor to Theodor Mommsen , he became secretary of the academy's philosophical-historical class in 1895 and held this position until 1920, the year of his retirement .

Following a lecture tour through Scandinavia , Diels died of a heart attack on June 4, 1922 in Berlin-Dahlem. His grave is in the Berlin Dahlem cemetery .


On July 17, 1873, he married Berta Dübell (* 1847 - June 15, 1919). With her, Diels had three sons:


Hermann Diels' estate was acquired by the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium after his death (as part of the rebuilding of its holdings, which had been destroyed during the First World War ). The estate included Diels' extensive private library, which in addition to thousands of books also contained hundreds of separate prints, dissertations and programs, as well as a large number of notes and a few letters of philological content. Some of these notes and letters were in two large cardboard boxes, while others were scattered in different books until 1930. At the initiative of the student Emile de Strycker and the library director Etienne van Cauwenbergh, the scattered notes and letters were recorded and saved in separate envelopes.

During the Second World War , the University Library in Leuven was set on fire on May 17, 1940 in retaliation by the German occupying forces. The largest part of Diels' estate was lost; Only 162 works remained that had been transferred to the library of the Department of Classical Philology before the attack. When the University of Leuven was divided into a French-speaking and a Flemish-speaking university in 1970/71, the remainder of Diel's estate was also divided.


Three works occupy a prominent position in Diel's oeuvre: The Doxographi Graeci (1879), the Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca (1882–1909) and The Fragments of the Pre-Socratics (1903).

After his doctoral thesis had already been related to the topic of ancient doxographies , Diels continued this work at Usener's suggestion, which ended with the Doxographi Graeci , which were awarded by the Prussian Academy of Sciences in 1877 and published in 1879 . With this work, the writings of the doxographers were brought into a text-critical order for the first time and thus the tradition of Greek philosophy was made available for research in a processed and comprehensible form.

It was probably this work that aroused Zeller's interest and prompted him to bring the young scientist to Berlin to work on the Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca . In the following period, from 1882 until the publication of the last volume in 1909, Diels took over the editing of the Commentaria and the successful completion of this project represents a significant part of his academic merit. He himself edited the commentary of Simplikios .

His most influential work, however, was probably The Fragments of the Pre-Socratics (1903). In them he put doxographies, original quotations and forgeries (each with a German translation) clearly against each other and thus enabled a sharper look at the differences between Plato and Aristotle on the one hand and the pre-Socratics on the other. It was only through this book by Diels that the term pre-Socratics became really popular, whereby Diels - by including philosophers who lived after Socrates - apparently did not (as later philosophers did) intend to classify them strictly in terms of time, but rather named all those philosophers that can be seen separately from Socrates or the Platonic school. The work is divided into part A with early poems, prose and the tradition of the seven wise men , and part B, which deals with the pre-Socratics in a narrower, i.e. also historical, sense. From 1934 (5th edition) Walther Kranz took care of the publication of the fragments . Hence the citation: (name of the philosopher), Diels / Kranz (or DK ), number of the philosopher in the fragments , fragment category ( A for reports of ancient writers, B for literal quotations or C ), fragment number, ( verse number if applicable). For example Parmenides DK 28 B 3 for the third fragment from Parmenides ' didactic poem .

In addition, Diels published a large number of smaller works, among other things on ancient technology and medicine, as well as questions of religious studies. In 1907 he initiated the Corpus Medicorum Graecorum / Latinorum . His previous manuscripts of the ancient doctors already contained numerous texts and translations by Greek doctors.



  • Hermann Diels: Small writings on the history of ancient philosophy . Edited by Walter Burkert . Knowledge Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1969, pp. XIV – XXVI
Selection of scientific papers
  • Doxographi Graeci / coll., Rec., Prolegomenis indicibusque instruxit Hermannus Diels . Reprint of the 4th edition from 1965: De Gruyter, Berlin 1979, ISBN 3-11-001373-8
  • The fragments of the pre-Socratics . 3 volumes, reprint of the 6th improved edition from 1951/52: Weidmann, Zurich 1996, edited by Walter Kranz, ISBN 3-296-12201-X , ISBN 3-296-12202-8 and ISBN 3-296-12203- 6th
  • Parmenides didactic poem . Reprint of the 1st edition from 1897 (edited by Jonathan Barnes, Rafael Ferber, Livio Rossetti): Academia Verlag, 2003, ISBN 3-89665-217-6
  • Ancient technology: 7 lectures . 2nd, expanded edition, Teubner, Leipzig and Berlin 1920
  • as publisher: Anonymus Londinensis ex Aristotelis Iatricis Menoniis et aliis medicis eclogae (= Supplementum Aristotelicum . Volume 3.1). Reimer, Berlin 1893
  • The manuscripts of the ancient doctors. (= Abh. Königl. Preuss. Akad. Wiss., Phil.-hist. Cl. [1905] 1–158, [1906] 1–115 and [1907] 1–72). Unchanged, photomechanical reprint of the 1905–07 edition, Zentralantiquariat der DDR, Leipzig 1970
  • Contributions to the twitch literature of the Occident and the Orient . Unchanged, photomechanical reprint, Zentralantiquariat der DDR, Leipzig 1970.
  • About the font "Antipocras" by Nicolaus of Poland. In: Session reports of the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences, phil.-historical class. Volume 16, Berlin 1916, pp. 376-394.
Letter issues
  • William M. Calder III , Maximilian Braun , Dietrich Ehlers (Eds.): Philology and philosophy. The letters of Hermann Diels to Theodor and Heinrich Gomperz (1871-1922) . Weidmann, Hildesheim 1995. ISBN 3-615-00172-9
  • William M. Calder III, Maximilian Braun, Dietrich Ehlers (eds.): "Dear Prince". The correspondence between Hermann Diels and Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1869–1921) . Weidmann, Hildesheim 1995. ISBN 3-615-00173-7
  • Dietrich Ehlers (ed.): Correspondence. Hermann Diels, Hermann Usener, Eduard Zeller . Akademie-Verlag, Berlin. 2 vols. 1992. ISBN 3-05-001124-6


Web links

Commons : Hermann Alexander Diels  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Hermann Diels  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. Emile de Strycker SJ: The estate of Hermann Diels . In: Philologus - magazine for ancient literature and its afterlife . Volume 121 (1977) pp. 137-145 (accessed via De Gruyter Online).
  2. Jutta Kollesch : Hermann Diels in its importance for the history of ancient medicine. In: Philologus . Volume 117, 1973, pp. 278-283.