Skip to content Skip to navigation

Negotiatio Germaniae

Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht
January 2005

In the five and a half centuries since its rediscovery Tacitus' Germania has exercised an influence out of all proportion to its length. The appropriation of 'die kleine Schrift des grossen Römers' by nationalist and national socialist ideologues in the twentieth century is notorious; its central place in the politicization of ancient German history at the turn of the sixteenth century is also familiar to students of humanism.1 Krebs (henceforth K.) addresses himself to the earlier period in this reworking of his Kiel doctoral dissertation. Limiting himself to the four humanists in his title, he analyses the manipulation of the Germania by these litterati-cum-politicians. How, he asks, could this text be used to support diametrically opposed arguments in the wrangle between papacy and Holy Roman Empire? His study encompasses detailed examination of the Germania itself and careful consideration of the generic frameworks within which his humanist authors were writing, with a particular emphasis on the 'rhetorical' quality of both ancient and renaissance texts. The introductory chapter sets out the stakes and the key terms of K.'s project, defined as 'eine imagologische Studie der Varianz der imago Germaniae' (16). The theoretical framework is borrowed from comparative imagology, an approach perhaps unfamiliar to Anglophone readers (as it was to this writer). 'Imagologie' in its constructivist form seeks to replace essentializing 'national characters' with the 'images' we create of ourselves and other societies; it arose in post-war France, and spread to comparative literature departments in Germany in the 1960s and 1970s. Whereas the sociocultural context of modern Europe remains intrinsic to the approach of most practitioners, K. treats imagology as a hermeneutic literary tool, defining its concern as 'das Bild des (fremden oder auch eigenen) Landes innerhalb eines literarischen Werkes' (26).2 At the heart of this study are the 'imago Germaniae', the image of Germania constructed by Tacitus, and the 'negotiatio Germaniae', the competing manipulations it was subjected to by later readers in their construction of 'functionalist myths' of the past. These myths may assert a continuity of past and present ('fundierend-legitimierend[e]'), or construct a differing past which either glorifies or vilifies the present in contrast (respectively 'kontrapräsentisch-defizitäre' and 'kontrapräsentisch-überlegene imagines'). K adopts an appropriate, if not especially novel, approach in this study of reception, though some may question the value of this polysyllabic classification (not to mention the malformation 'imagology' itself).