In Memoriam

Rudolf Anthes

By: David O'Connor

Originally Published in 1985

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anthos_rudolfDr. Rudolf Anthes died peacefully on January 5th, 1985. in West Berlin: he was 89 years old. Dr. Anthes was Curator Emeritus of the Egyptian Section. University Museum. and Professor Emer­itus in Egyptology of the Department of Oriental Studies, University of Penn­sylvania.

Rudolf Anthes ar­rived in the United States on September 5th, 1950. He was met at the airport in New York by Henry Fischer, a graduate student from the University of Penn­sylvania who had been sent to escort the distinguished scholar to Philadel­phia. Fischer was to be Anthes’ stu­dent and later a friend and colleague but, he recalls, this first contact some­what unnerving. Anthes seemed very German indeed, and of the old school. Having lost the sight of one eye in the First World War, he wore a monocle. and he also had a goatee.’ However, as the photographs seen here show, Anthes soon adopted a more American appearance and, although he was indeed a serious and formal person, revealed a warm personality that won him many friends in the Museum and elsewhere in the Uni­versity. From 1951 to 1963 he was Curator of the Museum’s Egyptian Section and Professor of Egyptology in the Department of Oriental Studies, and oversaw the research of Henry Fischer and Alan Schulman, the recipients of the first two Ph.D.s in Egyptology ever awarded by the University of Pennsylvania.

As for that slightly forbidding goatee, it was a small sign of a strong character that had been severely tested during the eleven years preced­ing Anthes’ arriv­al in Philadelphia. Fischer ‘learned that the beard was in­tended to show his fellow Berliners that he was indeed of the old school, and not pro-Nazi’; and it was not merely a token symbol. By 1939 Anthes had been for several years Acting Director of the Egyp­tian Museum in Ber­lin, one of the world’s greatest collections of ancient Egyptian art and archaeol­ogy, and was a well-known scholar. But he was also opposed to any form of totalitarian government, and he was ousted from the Museum as anti-Nazi in 1939, accused and fined. He continued to work at the Museum from 1941 to 1943 but subsequently was compelled to serve as a low-grade cus­toms official in Czechoslovakia from 1943 to 1945. In the terrible days following the collapse of Nazi Ger­mamy, Anthes was also imprisoned for several months by the Russians in 1945.

Subsequently, Anthes was re-ap­pointed Director of the Egyptian Museum, located in what had be­come East Berlin, and held that post until 1950. Given his beliefs, how­ever, he was not sympathetic to the political regime of the German Democratic Republic, and he was happy to accept the invitation of Froelich Rainey and Ephraim Speiser to join the University of Pennsylvania. Anthes enjoyed his sears in the United States and se­riously considered becoming a cit­izen. Unfortunately, this was a pe­riod when distinguished Americans were being denied passports to travel abroad because of their polit­ical beliefs. This reminded Anthes uncomfortably of repression he had encountered elsewhere, and he de­cided to retain his German citizen­ship. In 1963 he was thus able to retire to West Berlin where he con­tinued to live an active and produc­tive life, although one saddened by the death of his wife Agatha, whom he had married in 1947 and who predeceased him.

The University Museum and the Oriental Studies Department were indeed fortunate to have secured Anthes’ services, for he was one of the outstanding Egyptologists of this century. Born in Hamburg in 1896, Anthes had served in the German army from 1914 to 1918 and then dedicated himself first to theological and later to Egyptological studies, receiving his Ph.D. in 1923. Ger­many was then, as it is now, a leading center for Egyptological re­search and training, hut Andres was particularly fortunate in studying under Adolf Erman, one of the greatest of Egyptologists. Erman’s approach to ancient Egypt was ex­traordinarily comprehensive, cov­ering history, religion, literature, and daily life, and although Anthes himself was to prove particularly in­terested in Egyptian religion, as a scholar and museum curator he too showed an ability to draw upon all aspects of Egyptian culture that probably owed much to Erman ‘s in­fluence.

Anthes’ subsequent career ex­posed him to all major facets of Egyptological research, so that his already excellent scholarly abilities were continually being enriched by new experiences. After receiving his degree, he spent seven years as an Assistant on the staff of the Berlin Dictionary of Ancient Egyptian, a multi-volumed reference work based on a minute analysis of all types of Egyptian texts that is still the fundamental resource for all se­rious philological study of Egyptian material. Given this experience, it is not surprising that Anthes was an excellent philologist, deeply familiar with the complex literary data on ancient Egypt; but his knowledge went far beyond that. From 1927 to 1929 he was an Assistant at the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo, and so had the opportunity of experiencing at first hand the unique Egyptian environment that so powerfully shaped the ancient culture, and of becoming familiar with the archaeological sites. Later, in 1931-32 and 1932-33, he partic­ipated in the excavations of Uvo Hölscher for the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago at Med­inet Halm, the exceptionally well preserved mortuary temple of pharaoh Ramesses III near Luxor.

Much of Anthes’ career, however, combined teaching and curatorial responsibilities, a tradition with which we are very familiar at The University Museum. Anthes be­came an Assistant at the Egyptian Museum in Berlin in 1929 and served there for 21 years, rising eventually as noted above to the po­sition of Director, while from 1931 to 1937 he lectured in Egyptology at the University of Halle, and later taught Egyptology at Berlin Univer­sity from 1945 to 1950. He was therefore well equipped to take up similar dual responsibilities at the University of Pennsylvania, where he re-installed some of the Mu­seum’s exhibits on Egyptian art and archaeology, encouraged his stu­dents to carry out research on major unpublished Museum excavations at Dendereh and Memphis, and maintained a significant teaching schedule. Anthes by no means con­fined his activities to the Museum, and he became especially familiar to his distinguished colleagues in the Department of Oriental Studies through his enthusiastic participa­tion in a graduate seminar “Inter­connections of the Ancient Orient.” This course was maintained for some years and was a source of great intellectual stimulation and pleasure to faculty and students alike.

Anthes in Egypt, 1957.

Derk Bodde, Emeritus Professor of Chinese in the Oriental Studies Department, has described Anthes’ participation in the seminar. “When Professor Anthes came to Penn.” Bodde writes, he had not “ever had much previous experience in lec­turing or even extensively speaking in English. This meant that his par­ticipation in the seminar was by no means easy, the more so because . . . he was the one who always had to start with Egypt in the fall at each meeting, one faculty member made a presentation which was the subject of discussion. “Sometimes, too, an atmosphere of rivalry could be detected between proponents of Egypt and of Mesopotamia . . . with regard to the chronological priority and cultural originality of their re­spective civilizations. Yet despite these obstacles, Anthes always suc­ceeded in presenting his topic lu­cidly, convincingly and with un­failing good humor.”

Like other curators, Anthes also undertook excavations in Egypt on behalf of The University Museum, picking one of the most important but archaeolog­ically most challenging sites, the an­cient royal city of Memphis near Giza. This vast wasteland, devas­tated in part by farmers, who re­moved the nitrogeneous soil to put on the fields as a kind of fertilizer, and in part by earlier, sometimes unsystematic excavations, intruded upon by modern villages and fields and saturated close to the surface by a high watertable, had housed royal palaces and great temples since the Old Kingdom (from about the 26th century B.C.) and Anthes typically chose it from a sense of responsibility. “It is the ruins in the culti­vated land and those monuments which are already uncovered that we have to look to first of all,” he wrote. During the course of two seasons’ work (1955, 1956), Anthes excavated a small temple of pharaoh Ramesses II as well as other structures and recovered many items of great archaeological interest. Prior to this, he had bad little direct experience of excavation (at Medinet Habu he had concentrated on re­cording the artifacts discovered), and he candidly admitted to some mistakes of technique and interpre­tation in the first season, but his correspondence and publications reveal that Anthes’ powerful scholarly mind was rapidly grasping the archaeological techniques necessary to solve the major archaeological and historical problems of Memphis. “Only a coordinated system of horizontal and vertical cuts is adequate for the understanding of a site which has accumulated under changing living conditions in contrast to the consistent activity of wind and sand in the desert” he observed; and he was keen to continue work at the site. Circumstances beyond Anthes control prevented this, but he pub­lished two volumes on Mit Rahineh (the modern name of the site) that presented the results in detail accompanied by a characteristically-learned and perceptive commentary.

These volumes were but two of a series of important hooks and articles that spanned Anthes’ long career (and lie was still publishing up to the year of his death). Anthes’ writing covered many aspects of Egyptian language, culture, and history and included studies in German of’ the historically impor­tant rock inscriptions from the alabaster quarries of Hatnub in Middle Egypt, of the wisdom literature of ancient Egypt. and of masterworks of Egyptian art. To the general public in the English-speaking world he is best known through his contribution to the hook Mythologies of the Ancient World edited by Samuel Noah Kramer’ Emeritus Curator in the Babylonian Section of The University Museum. In this popular book, a product of the in­terconnections seminar mentioned above, Anthes discussed Egyptian mythology with his usual lucidity and perceptiveness. and with an originality that continues to be of value to specialized scholars as Anthes and Kramer were very good friends, who lunched together every week. In view of the persecution that had only recently been inflicted upon the European Jews by Nazi Germany, this friendship between an Americium Jew and a liberal German had a special significance for both of them.

Rudolf Anthes was passionately engaged with his subject—ancient Egypt and its study by modern scholars—throughout his long life. This is evident in his exciting scholarship and, inure poignantly, in other contexts. In 1952 he pub­lished a brief account of what must have been for him a harrowing experience, the dissolution of the great collection of the Berlin Egyptian Museum, a collection that went back to 1823 and that had been built up and studied by great scholars such as Richard Lepsius and Erman, both of whom served as Di­rectors. Many of the famous pieces of Egyptian art familiar to the inter­ested public were housed in this Museum, such as the colored bust of Neferteti (wife of the ‘heretic’ pharaoh Akhenaten), about which Anthes published a book. By 1945 when fighting was about to engulf Berlin itself, most of the Museum’s contents 124.000 items) had been removed to several hopefully sale refuges. This process was completed by April of that year in May the Museum itself was destroyed. Anthes was involved in the dispersal, and in the melancholy task of trying to recover the thousands of statues, coffins, stelae, and other items once the fighting had ceased.

Some storage areas he found bombed, and had to carry out what he called ‘sorrowful’ excavations to recover the surviving fragments: others were empty, the contents having been removed (many to the Soviet Union by occupying forms later to be returned to East Germany) or plundered—in one case, a bronze figure of the eat goddess Bastet lying in the rubbish was the sole remainder of some 10 large crates of antiquities. Much—including the head of Neferteti—survived, but the famous collection never recovered its integrity, being divided between East and West Germany according to the accidents of recovery. Having described these events with calm objectivity, Anthes in his concluding paragraph re­vealed their emotional impact on him. The Berlin Egyptian Museum, he writes, was a ‘living creature,’ a collection it had taken him 21 years to learn to understand, building on the experience of his predecessor and long-time director. Heinrich Schiffer, who had served it for over 50 years. This creature had now suf­fered greatly, but much survived; it must be re-united. The mutilation of a living creature can be over­come, but splitting it up is to con­demn it to death.

In the event this reassembling was not to happen, but Anthes’ humanity, like his scholarship, sur­vived these difficult years. We can be proud that he was for so long part of this Museum and the University even as we regret his passing. Per­haps we should close with another glimpse of his engaging character. When Henry Fischer received his degree in 1955. Anthes, with his characteristic formality, told Fischer that henceforth he could call Anthes “Ru,” while Anthes would call him “Henry,”  since they were now col­leagues. Much earlier, however,  Anthes had already revealed the generous nature underneath his formal politeness. Shortly after first meeting his new student in 1950. Anthes had given Fischer a book in­scribed “Docens discens disceudi docendi”—we teach, and learn from each other.

Cite This Article

O'Connor, David. "In Memoriam." Expedition Magazine 27, no. 1 (March, 1985): -. Accessed February 23, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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