Walter F. Otto

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Walter Friedrich Gustav Hermann Otto (usually short Walter F. Otto * 22. June 1874 in Hechingen , † 23. September 1958 in Tübingen ) was a German classical scholar , the particularly for his work on meaning and aftermath of the Greek religion and mythology is known , especially through the standard work The Gods of Greece (first 1929).


Walter F. Otto was born the son of the master pharmacist Hermann Ernst Otto in Hechingen in the Hohenzollern region. After his family had moved to Stuttgart a little later , Walter F. Otto attended the Eberhard-Ludwigs-Gymnasium there from autumn 1882. Instead of the Abitur , he passed the so-called bankruptcy in 1892, as was possible in Württemberg at the time , an exam that entitled him to admission to the Tübingen Evangelical Monastery, which, thanks to free board and lodging and in some cases individual support, amounted to a scholarship.

As expected by the 'donors', Otto began to study Protestant theology , but switched to classical philology after two semesters . He became a student of professors Otto Crusius , Ludwig Schwabe and Wilhelm Schmid . Schmid persuaded Otto to move from Tübingen to Bonn , where he finished his studies with Hermann Usener and Franz Bücheler . Bücheler, famous above all as a Latinist, had such a strong influence on the young philologist that Otto also devoted himself mainly to questions of Roman culture and literature in the following 20 years, whereas today he is primarily known as a Graecist because of his later works.

Otto received his doctorate in Bonn in 1897 with the dissertation Nomina propria latina oriunda a participiis perfecti (“Latin proper names derived from the perfect participle”); to do this, he passed the state examination for teaching at secondary schools. In the following year he became an assistant in the preparation of the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae (ThLL) and moved to Munich . Until 1911 he worked as editor and writer of the Onomasticum Latinum ; During this time he also completed his habilitation with Crusius. In autumn 1911 Otto received his first appointment as associate professor in Vienna, where he met Hans von Arnim ; the two became close friends.

Two years later Otto moved to Basel , where he had been appointed full professor , and another year later (1914) to the newly founded University in Frankfurt am Main , where he worked for 20 years as a professor of classical philology. A close friendship developed with Karl Reinhardt .

In 1934, the Nazi government forced Otto to accept a call to Koenigsberg as the successor to the expelled Paul Maas . From 1933 to 1945 he was a member of the "Scientific Committee" of the Nietzsche Archive , which he had been head of since 1935. In 1939 and 1940 he edited the year books Geistige Tradition together with Karl Reinhardt and Ernesto Grassi . In the introductions Otto expressed his concern about the fate of the ancient tradition; the yearbooks were banned by the regime. At the end of the Second World War, Otto was in 1944 still flee from Königsberg, but lost it all his possessions incl. Books and manuscripts. In the period up to the end of the war Otto found refuge in Elmau near Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria , where he entertained the Elmau community through lectures and small theater performances.

After the end of the war, Otto initially only received representative positions: at the end of 1945 in Munich, in 1946 in Göttingen , in autumn 1946 as a visiting professor in Tübingen, then as a representative there, in all cases for Greek studies. After the Tübingen chair was filled again, he was a member of the university's faculty as an emeritus . In Tübingen Otto found peace, good working conditions and students; at 83 he was still giving lectures and colloquia. Otto died in Tübingen in autumn 1958 while working on an essay Die Bahn der Götter (published posthumously ). He was buried in the Tübingen forest cemetery.

In his writings on Greek religion and mythology, v. a. In the two books, The Gods of Greece (1929) and Dionysus (1933), which are often regarded as his main works , Walter F. Otto particularly emphasized the 'rational' features of ancient mythology. This markedly differentiated him from the more traditional religious studies school of Hermann Usener ; In Otto's description, the Greek belief became a kind of "religion of objective knowledge" (Karl Reinhardt). This explains the strong effect Otto's writings have had on non-philological scholars, but also on the classical philologist Karl Kerényi . For the same reasons, however, they were also (especially Theophania , 1959) misunderstood and attacked by Christian theologians as an attempt to revive the ancient religion. Walter F. Otto himself always rejected such an interpretation as absurd.


Independent works (chronological)
  • as "Gvaltervs Otto": Nomina propria Latina oriunda a participiis perfecti, particvla prima. [Bonn] 1897; then Teubner, Lipsiae (Leipzig) 1898 (also published as year books for classical philology , supplement volume 24.7 [1898], pp. 746-777, 4), OCLC 3994362 (dissertation University of Bonn 1897, pages [745] -932; 21 cm, "Commentatio ex supplemento vicesimo quarto Annalium philologorum seorsum expressa").
  • The ancient spirit and the Christian world . Bonn 1923.
  • The Manen or of the archetypes of belief in the dead . Berlin 1923 (second edition Tübingen 1958, reprint Darmstadt 1983).
  • Cultural history d. Antiquity. Overview over new appearances. Beck, Munich 1925.
  • The ancient Greek idea of ​​God . Berlin 1926.
  • with Rudolf G. Binding : Proximity of antiquity / time and antiquity. Two speeches. Englert and Schlosser, Frankfurt am Main 1926.
  • The gods of Greece. The image of the divine in the mirror of the Greek mind. Bonn 1929, OCLC 466146329 ; 10th edition (= Klostermann Red Series. Volume 54), Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main 2013, ISBN 978-3-465-04184-9 .
  • The European spirit and the wisdom of the East . Frankfurt am Main 1931.
  • Dionysus. Myth and Cult. Frankfurt am Main 1933; 7th edition (= Klostermann Red Series. Volume 43), Frankfurt am Main 2011, ISBN 978-3-465-04133-7 .
  • The Greek myth of gods in Goethe and Holderlin. H. Küpper, Berlin 1939.
  • as ed. with Ernesto Grassi and Karl Reinhardt : Geistige Tradition. Helmut Küpper, Berlin 1940
  • The poet and the old gods. Frankfurt am Main 1942.
  • The example of the Greeks. Tübingen / Stuttgart 1949.
  • Law, archetype and myth . Stuttgart 1951.
  • The muses and the divine origin of singing and saying . Düsseldorf 1954.
  • The shape and the being. Collected treatises on the myth and its meaning for mankind . Düsseldorf 1955.
  • Theophania. The spirit of the ancient Greek religion . Second edition Hamburg 1959; now fourth edition (= Klostermann Rote Reihe Volume 90), Frankfurt am Main 2017, ISBN 978-3-465-04292-1 .
  • Myth and World . Stuttgart 1962.
  • The word of antiquity . Stuttgart 1962.
  • The reality of the gods. On the indestructibility of the Greek worldview , ed. by Ernesto Grassi. Reinbek near Hamburg 1963.
  • Epicurus . Klett, Stuttgart 1975.
  • Essays on the history of Roman religion . Hain, Meisenheim am Glan 1975.

In addition, there are numerous publications in magazines, encyclopedias, etc. as well as various editorships (including Hesiodea. Festschrift for Karl Reinhardt , 1952, and Platon, Phaidon, Politea , 1958).


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