Karl Kerényi

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Karl (Károly) Kerényi [ ˈkaːroj ˈkɛreːɲi ] (born January 19, 1897 in Temesvár , Kingdom of Hungary , Austria-Hungary ; † April 14, 1973 in Kilchberg , Switzerland ) was a Hungarian classical philologist and religious scholar .


Hungary 1897–1943

Karl Kerényi was born as the son of the post office clerk Koloman Kinzig (1868 1934), whose ancestors immigrated to Hungary from the Kinzig valley in the Black Forest. This took the family name Kerényi, the Hungarian form of Quirinus. Kerényi learned German as a foreign language in school and consciously chose it as his research language during his studies. Kerényi identified with the city of Arad , where he went to high school, because the city of the 13 martyrs of the Hungarian struggle for freedom of 1848/49 exuded a spirit of independence. While studying classical philology at the University of Budapest , he particularly valued the Latinist Géza Némethy and the Indo-European and Indologist Josef Schmidt as teachers . 1919 Kerényi was in Budapest with a dissertation on Plato and Longinus - research into the history of ancient literature and aesthetics doctorate and taught at various Budapest gymnasiums Greek and Latin . In addition, he undertook extensive travels in the Mediterranean region and completed study visits to Greifswald , Berlin and Heidelberg with the classical scholars Eduard Norden , Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff and Franz Boll . After his habilitation in 1927 at the University of Budapest, he was appointed professor for Classical Studies (Greek and Latin Philology and Ancient History ) at the University of Pécs in 1934 . In Budapest, he continued to give Friday lectures on ancient literature and mythology as a private lecturer, which many intellectuals attended because of their liberal nature.

As a result of a strong shift in political forces to the right , the university system in Hungary was reformed under political pressure in 1940. Professors who refused to submit to this pressure were concentrated at the University of Szeged . In 1941 Kerényi was transferred against his will to the University of Szeged to a professorship for classical studies . The pro-Western, liberal Prime Minister Miklós Kállay tried other hand, 1943, the right -oriented pro-Nazi revise policy. He began sending liberal scientists who had already made a name for themselves abroad to Western Europe to show that there was also another, free-thinking, anti-fascist Hungary. The Foreign Ministry offered Kerényi to spend a year with diplomatic status as a cultural attachée in Switzerland , which Kerényi accepted on condition that he resided on Lake Maggiore ( Ticino ) instead of Bern . When the German Wehrmacht marched into Hungary in 1944 and another political change took place, Kerényi dissected: Like most other Hungarians with diplomatic status in Switzerland, he returned his passport and thus became a stateless, political refugee.

Switzerland 1943–1973

Since 1941 Karl Kerényi has been a lecturer at the Eranos conference in Ascona at the invitation of Carl Gustav Jung . The regular contacts with the Swiss psychologist originally established his connection with Switzerland and Ticino, which now led to permanent emigration. In Switzerland, Kerényi was a lecturer for Hungarian language and literature at the University of Basel from 1945 to 1947 . In November 1947 Kerényi traveled to Hungary to give an inaugural address at the Academy of Sciences with the idea of ​​helping to build a democratic Hungary. However, following warnings of the communist overthrow under Mátyás Rákosi , Kerényi left immediately after arriving in Budapest. Under the Stalinist Rákosi dictatorship, Kerényi was discredited by the propaganda apparatus under György Lukács . His academic title was revoked and was only awarded post mortem in 1989.

Karl Kerényi wrote and published most of his extensive work in Switzerland between 1945 and 1968, and although he can be described as an academic outsider, it was during this time that he had his greatest impact as one of the last representatives of the great tradition of ancient humanist studies . For more than twenty years, from 1934 to 1955, Kerényi also maintained an active correspondence with Thomas Mann on the subjects of mythology , religion , humanism and psychology. From 1948 to 1966 Kerényi was research director at the CG Jung Institute in Küsnacht near Zurich, where he lectured on mythology until 1962. During these years Kerényi lived near Monte Verità in Ascona. In 1962 he received Swiss citizenship . Kerényi has also held various visiting professorships, for example at the universities of Bonn (1955/56), Oslo and Rome (1960), Zurich (1961) and Genoa (1964). Between 1960 and 1971 he gave annual lectures at the meetings of the Institute of Philosophy at the University of Rome .

Karl Kerényi died on April 14, 1973 in Kilchberg and is buried in the Ascona cemetery.


His first marriage was to Erzsébet (Elisabeth) Stamberger (1896–1990), who worked as a Latin teacher. This marriage resulted in two daughters, including the writer Grácia Kerényi (1925–1985). After the divorce, in 1936 he married the student Magda Lukásc (* 1914), daughter of a high school director. This marriage resulted in a son and two daughters, including the classical archaeologist Cornelia Isler-Kerényi (* 1942).


His second wife, Magda Kerényi, devoted her further life and work to preserving Kerényi's legacy. Since her death in 2004, all testimonies to Kerényi's life story (photos, letters, documents, manuscripts, etc.) that were not lost during the war in Budapest have been accessible in the German Literature Archive in Marbach . His extensive library and the estate of Magda Kerényi are in the University of Pécs , where a street is named after him.

Scientific work and philosophical ideas

Philological foundation

From a young age philosophers like Schopenhauer , Bachofen and Nietzsche , writers like Hölderlin and Rilke and scientists like Wilhelm von Humboldt exerted a central influence on Karl Kerényi. During his studies in classical philology, Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff was the internationally leading classical philologist. For Kerényi, however, Erwin Rohde's approach to ancient fiction was to be groundbreaking . This led to his first book The Greco-Oriental Roman Literature in Religious-Historical Illumination. An attempt with which Kerényi completed his habilitation. But soon after his habilitation in 1929 Kerényi got tired of school philology on a trip to Greece. Kerényi saw the task of philology in the analysis of the written tradition of antiquity as an expression of lived life, just as archeology is dedicated to the sensual tradition of antiquity (through the effect of direct contact). His first conscious steps away from school philology were his early works Apollon (a collection of essays) and The Ancient Religion . In the same year 1929 Kerényi also met Walter F. Otto for the first time, who from then on had a strong influence on him. The researcher of Greek mythology gave Kerényi the decisive impetus to focus on the religious element of ancient existence. Special mention should also be made of the two volumes of the Mythology of the Greeks written by Kerényi (two volumes, published in 1951 and 1958) and the Mysteries of Eleusis (1962).

Differentiation from Wilamowitz and the German concept of myth

As a result, Karl Kerényi made a conscious separation from Wilamowitz's philology. For Kerényi, Wilamowitz's approach stood for an authoritarianism which he linked with the rise of National Socialism and which he did not consider ethically justifiable. Kerényi thus increasingly developed a negative attitude towards the contemporary German concept of myth, which was used as a guiding reference in National Socialist Germany. As early as 1934 Kerényi expressed his clear-sighted horror at the radicalizing developments in Germany. Establishing a liberal and human-psychological concept of myth that could not be misused for nationalist ideologies was a constant concern of Kerényis, which was also reflected in his relationship with several of his scientific minds. Most clearly seen in Wilamowitz, Kerényi later also developed a sensitive sense towards Otto and Mann, to distance himself from those aspects in their understanding of myth that he recognized in German National Socialism.

Psychological expansion of mythology

Karl Kerényi's scientific approach to interpreting the figures of Greek mythology as archetypes of the human soul met the archetypal theory of the Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung. Together with Jung, an attempt was made to establish mythology as a science. The essays The divine child in mythological and psychological lighting (1940) and The divine girl (1941), which appeared shortly afterwards in a volume under the title Introduction to the essence of mythology (1941), emerged from the collaboration with Jung . For Kerényi, the theory of religion was a humane and humanistic matter, which further cemented his reputation as a humanist . For Kerényi, every look at mythology is a look at man, and therefore every theology is at the same time anthropology . Analogous to Jungian psychology, Kerényi developed the interpretation of Greek mythology using psychological archetypes . In the same humanistic sense, Kerényi defined himself as a “philological-historical” as well as a “psychological researcher”. In later years Kerényi developed this psychological interpretation further and replaced the concept of the archetype with that of the archetype. This becomes clear in his important publications on Prometheus (1959) and especially on Dionysus (1976), Kerényi's main work, which he began as an idea in 1931 and completed in 1969. Kerényi did not regard the phenomena of the Greek religion as a historical curiosity, but as a genuine expression of human experience. Thanks to this attitude and thanks to his essayistic style, Kerényi was able to address many people outside the philological guild, but it remained quite isolated in academic philology.

Kerényi as a cultural scientist

On the basis of his personal experience, Karl Kerényi emphasized the role of the philologist as an interpreter , whereby “the better the interpreter interprets, the more he is an organ, both as a receiver and as a renderer. […] His whole being and being, his structure and his own experiences form a factor of interpretation that cannot be eliminated. ”In this sense, Kerényi's understanding of science for 1944 was very modern. At a time when the humanities were trying to establish themselves objectively and scientifically, Kerényi recognized that the only means of scientific objectivity here is to reveal the researcher's individual scientific subjectivity. Kerényi also anticipated a paradigm shift in the late 20th century by devoting himself to interdisciplinarity and combining the humanities subjects of literature, art, history, philosophy and religion. The inclusion of novel poetry in his studies on mythology and humanism is documented, among other things, in the publications of his correspondence with Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse . Kerényi published a series of further thoughts on European humanism in 1955 under the title Spiritual Path of Europe . Other personalities who were important personal and scientific interlocutors for Kerényi include the Hungarian authors László Németh , Antal Szerb and Pál Gulyás, the psychologist Leopold Szondi , the writer Otto Heuschele and the historian Carl Jacob Burckhardt .

In Hungary, Karl Kerényi's scientific achievements remained known only to a narrow circle of intellectuals throughout his life. To date, only a small part of his publications has appeared in Hungarian. Kerényi was banned from Hungarian cultural life as too bourgeois- liberal from the 1940s, first by the right-wing nationalist and later also by the communist regime . Although he was vehemently defended by well-known Hungarian writers such as László Németh and Antal Szerb , it was not until the 1980s that he was morally and academically rehabilitated in Hungary . The Hungarian writer Antal Szerb has drawn features of Karl Kerényi in his fictional character Rudi Waldheim in the novel Journey in the Moonlight .

Prizes and awards


Fonts (selection)

See Magda Kerényi: A Bibliography of C. Kerényi. In: Carl Kerenyi: Dionysus. Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life (= Bollingen Series. Vol. 65 = Archetypal Images in Greek Religion. Vol. 2). Princeton University Press, Princeton / NJ 1976, ISBN 0-691-02915-6 , pp. 445-474.

  • The Greek-Oriental fiction in the history of religion. One try. Mohr, Tübingen 1927.
  • Apollo. Studies on ancient religion and humanity. Leo, Vienna et al. 1937.
  • Pythagoras and Orpheus. Publishing house Die Runde, Berlin 1938.
  • The Aegean festival. The sea god scene in Goethe's Faust II. Pantheon, Amsterdam et al. 1941.
  • Labyrinth Studies. Labyrinthos as a line reflex of a mythological idea (= Albae Vigiliae. Vol. 15). Amsterdam et al. 1941.
  • with Leo Lanckoroński : The Myth of the Hellenes in Masterworks of Coin Art. Pantheon, Amsterdam / Leipzig 1941.
  • with CG Jung : Introduction to the essence of mythology. God child myth. Eleusinian Mysteries. Pantheon, Amsterdam et al. 1942 (first published as The Divine Child and The Divine Girl in: Alba Vigiliae. Vol. 6–7 and Vol. 8–9. 1940–1941).
  • Hermes the soul guide. In: Eranos yearbook. Vol. 9, 1942, pp. 9-107 (published individually in: Albae Vigiliae. NF Vol. 1. Rhein-Verlag, Zurich 1944).
  • Mysteries of the Kabiren. In: Eranos yearbook. Vol. 11, 1944, pp. 11-53.
  • Daughters of the sun. Reflections on Greek deities. Rascher, Zurich 1944.
  • Bachofen and the future of humanism. With an interlude about Nietzsche and Ariadne. Rascher, Zurich 1945.
  • The birth of Helena including humanistic writings from the years 1943–1945 (= Albae Vigiliae. NF Vol. 3). Rhein-Verlag, Zurich 1945.
  • Prometheus. The Greek mythologist of human existence (= Albae Vigiliae. NF Vol. 4). Rhein-Verlag, Zurich 1946.
  • The divine doctor. Studies on Asklepius and his place of worship. Ciba, Basel 1948.
  • Niobe. New Studies on Ancient Religion and Humanity. Rhein-Verlag, Zurich 1949.
  • The mythology of the Greeks. Rhein-Verlag, Zurich 1951–1958.
    • Volume 1: The stories of gods and mankind. 1951.
    • Volume 2: The Heroes of the Greeks. 1958.
  • The virgin and mother of the Greek religion. A study on Pallas Athene (= Albae Vigiliae. NF Vol. 12). Rhein-Verlag, Zurich 1952.
  • Hours in Greece, Horai Hellenikai. Rhein-Verlag, Zurich 1952.
  • Involuntary art trips. Trips in old Europe 1952–1953 (= Albae Vigiliae. NF Bd. 13/14). Rhein-Verlag, Zurich 1954.
  • Europe's spiritual path. 5 lectures on Freud, Jung, Heidegger, Thomas Mann, Hofmannsthal, Rilke, Homer and Hölderlin (= Albae Vigiliae. NF Vol. 16). Rhein-Verlag, Zurich 1955.
  • Dealing with the divine. About mythology and the history of religion (= Kleine Vandenhoeck series. Vol. 18). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1955.
  • Greek miniatures. Rhein-Verlag, Zurich 1957.
  • Prometheus. The human existence in Greek interpretation (= Rowohlt's German Encyclopedia. Vol. 95). Rowohlt, Hamburg 1959.
  • as editor: conversation in letters. Thomas Mann. Károly Kerényi. Rhein-Verlag, Zurich 1960.
  • Forays of a Hellenist. From Homer to Kazantzakis. Rhein-Verlag, Zurich 1960.
  • The mysteries of Eleusis. Rhein-Verlag, Zurich 1962.
  • Ticino desk. Mythological, unmythological. Steingrüben-Verlag, Stuttgart 1963.
  • as editor: The opening of access to myth (= ways of research. Vol. 20). Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1967.
  • The ancient novel. Introduction and text selection (= Libelli. Vol. 315). Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1971, ISBN 3-534-05313-3 .
  • with Hermann Hesse : close correspondence. Edited and commented by Magda Kerényi. Langen-Müller, Munich et al. 1972, ISBN 3-7844-1488-5 .
  • Zeus and Hera. Archetype of the father, husband and wife (= Studies in the History of Religions. Vol. 20). Brill, Leiden 1972, ISBN 90-04-03428-5 .
  • Dionysus. Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life (= Bollingen Series. Vol. 65 = Archetypal Images in Greek Religion. Vol. 2). Princeton University Press, Princeton / NJ 1976, ISBN 0-691-02915-6 .
    • German: Dionysus. Archetype of indestructible life. Langen Müller, Munich 1976, ISBN 3-7844-1561-X .
Work editions
  • Works in separate editions. Edited by Magda Kerényi. Eight (in nine) volumes. Langen-Müller, Munich et al. 1966-1988.
    • Volume 1: Humanistic soul research. 1966.
    • Volume 2: On the trail of myth. 1967.
    • Volume 3: Diaries and hiking books, 1953-1960. 1969.
    • Volume 4: Apollon and Niobe. 1980, ISBN 3-7844-1756-6 .
    • Volume 5: Paths and companions. Two volumes. 1985–1988, ISBN 3-7844-2055-9 (part 1), ISBN 3-7844-2121-0 (part 2).
    • Volume 6: (not published).
    • Volume 7: Ancient Religion. 1971.
    • Volume 8: Dionysus. Archetype of indestructible life. 1976, ISBN 3-7844-1561-X .
  • Works in separate editions. Edited by Magda Kerényi. Five (in six) volumes. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1994-1998.


  • Luciano Arcella (Ed.): Károly Kerényi. Incontro con il divino (= Disenciclopedia. Vol. 11, ZDB -ID 2389340-0 ). Settimo Sigillo, Rome 1999.
  • Andreas Bigger: Karl Kerényi. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland . October 14, 2008 , accessed February 27, 2020 .
  • Sotera Fornaro: Kerényi, Karl. In: Peter Kuhlmann , Helmuth Schneider (Hrsg.): History of the ancient sciences. Biographical Lexicon (= The New Pauly . Supplements. Volume 6). Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2012, ISBN 978-3-476-02033-8 .
  • Cornelia Isler-Kerényi : Un Unwilling Emigrant into European Classical Scholarship. In: György Karsai, Gábor Klaniczay (eds.): Classics and communism: Greek and Latin behind the Iron Curtain. University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana et al. 2013, pp. 45–54 ( online ).
  • Giuseppe Martorana (Ed.): Károly Kerényi. La storia delle religioni nella cultura del Novecento (= myth. Vol. 7). Università di Palermo - Facoltà di lettere e filosofia - Istituto di storia antica, Palermo 1998.
  • William McGuire, Aldo Magris: Kerényi, Károly . In: Lindsay Jones (Ed.): Encyclopedia of Religion. Second edition. Vol. 8, Thomson Gale / Macmillan, Farmington Hills / MI 2005, ISBN 0-02-865741-1 , pp. 5112-5116.
  • Lilla Dominika Mehmke:  Kerényi, Karl. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 11, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1977, ISBN 3-428-00192-3 , p. 511 f. ( Digitized version ).
  • Renate Schlesier , Roberto Sanchiño Martinez (ed.): New humanism and anthropology of the Greek myth. Karl Kerényi in the European context of the 20th century. Conference from February 16 to 21, 1997 in the Centro Stefano Franscini on Monte Verità in Ascona. Rezzonico, Locarno 2006, ISBN 88-85688-08-X .
  • János György Szilágyi (Ed.): Mitológia és humanitás. Tanulmányok Kerényi Károly 100th születésnapjára. Osiris, Budapest 1999, ISBN 963-379-730-6 .

Web links


  1. Kerényi: Ticino desk. 1963, p. 148ff.
  2. Kerényi: Ticino desk. 1963, p. 152f.
  3. Schlesier, Sanchiño Martinez (ed.): New humanism and anthropology of the Greek myth. 2006, p. 203.
  4. Kerényi: Ticino desk. 1963, p. 154.
  5. ^ Kerényi: Conversation in letters. 1960, p. 210.
  6. ^ A b Christoph Jamme: Kerényi and the German philosophy. In: Schlesier, Sanchiño Martinez (Hrsg.): New humanism and anthropology of the Greek myth. 2006, pp. 33-41.
  7. biography .
  8. ^ Kerényi: Conversation in letters. 1960, p. 20.
  9. a b Kerényi: A bibliography of C. Kerényi. 1976.
  10. ^ Kerényi: Conversation in letters. 1960, p. 102.
  11. ^ Fritz Graf : Greek and Roman mythology with Karl Kerényi. In: Schlesier, Sanchiño Martinez (Hrsg.): New humanism and anthropology of the Greek myth. 2006, pp. 71–82, here p. 82.
  12. ^ Kerényi: Conversation in letters. 1960, p. 21f.
  13. ^ Kerényi: Conversation in letters. 1960, p. 59.
  14. a b c d Fritz Graf: Philologist, mythologist, humanist. Karl Kerényi was born a hundred years ago. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung , 18./19. January 1997 digitized version, available for purchase. Retrieved March 18, 2011 .
  15. On Wilamowitz cf. Kerényi: Conversation in letters. 1960, p. 59 f. and 102 f. On Walter F. Otto cf. Fritz Graf: Greek and Roman mythology with Karl Kerényi. In: Schlesier, Sanchiño Martinez (Hrsg.): New humanism and anthropology of the Greek myth. 2006, pp. 71–82, here p. 77. For Thomas Mann cf. Markus Edler: Thomas Mann and Karl Kerényi. In: Schlesier, Sanchiño Martinez (Hrsg.): New humanism and anthropology of the Greek myth. 2006, pp. 43–56, here p. 46.
  16. ^ Kerényi: Conversation in letters. 1960, p. 43.
  17. ^ Kerényi: Conversation in letters. 1960, p. 29.
  18. Kerényi: Dionysus. Archetype of indestructible life. 1976, cover.
  19. ^ Kerényi: Conversation in letters. 1960, p. 31.
  20. Schlesier, Sanchiño Martinez (ed.): New humanism and anthropology of the Greek myth. 2006, p. 11.
  21. ^ Imre Monostori: The Reception of Karoly Kerényi in Hungary. In: Schlesier, Sanchiño Martinez (Hrsg.): New humanism and anthropology of the Greek myth. 2006, pp. 161-166.