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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction

By Ernst Curtius (1814–1896)

ERNST CURTIUS, a noted German archæologist and historian, was born at Lübeck September 2d, 1814. He studied philology at Bonn, Göttingen, and Berlin. When in 1837 Christian August Brandis was appointed confidential adviser to Prince Otho of Bavaria, the newly elected king of Greece, Curtius accompanied Brandis’s family to Athens as a private tutor. He remained with the Brandises until 1840, when he joined Ottfried Müller’s archæological expedition to Delphi. No sooner were the excavations well under way, however, than Müller died. Curtius thereupon returned to Germany, stopping at Rome on the way; and in 1841 took his doctor’s degree at Halle.

In 1844 he was appointed tutor to the Crown Prince of Prussia (the late Emperor Frederick), being at the same time made a professor extraordinary at the University of Berlin. He held his position as tutor to the Crown Prince until 1850, when the latter matriculated at Bonn. In 1856 he succeeded Hermann as professor of classical philology at Göttingen, but returned some twelve years later to Berlin to occupy the chair of classical archæology and to act as director of the cabinet of antiquities in the Royal Museum.

Curtius also much advanced the study of classical archæology as presiding officer of the Archæological Society, as editor of the Archæological Journal, as perpetual secretary of the Royal Academy, and as the founder of the German Archæological Institute at Athens. He undertook a number of scientific missions in the service of the Prussian government, and in 1874 concluded with the Greek government a convention which secured to the German Empire for a term of years the exclusive right to make excavations in the Greek kingdom. The following year the first excavation was begun at Olympia in Elis, the site of the ancient Olympic games, under the direction of Curtius, who with others published the results in a voluminous and most interesting report.

Curtius’s chief work is his ‘History of Greece,’ which appeared in 1867. It was originally published in three volumes as one of a series of manuals for classical students issued by a Berlin house, and was consequently intended for popular use; a circumstance that necessitated the omission of the copious notes in which the text of a German scientific work is commonly lost. It showed a remarkable familiarity with the climate, resources, and physical characteristics of Greece; and interpreted ancient life with much eloquence from the classical literature and from the monuments of ancient art. But the monarchical leaning of the author prevented him from entering fully into and appreciating the public life of the democratic communities which he described; and his enthusiastic temperament led him sometimes to exaggerate and to be too eager a partisan, to accept unproven hypotheses too readily and press them too hard.

Besides his ‘History of Greece,’ Curtius’s most notable works are ‘Peloponnesos’ (1850–51), which describes in detail the ancient remains on the Peloponnesus; ‘Die Stadtgeschichte von Athen’ (Municipal History of Athens: 1891), and ‘Sieben Karten zur Topographie von Athen nebst erläuterndem Text’ (Seven Maps of Athens: 1886). His life was a busy and eminently distinguished one, as an archæologist, historian, and instructor, and his death in the summer of 1896 was generally lamented by his associates.