Ludwig Bieler

Ludwig Bieler (1906-1981)

Ludwig Josef Georg Bieler was born on 20 October 1906 in Vienna. His parents sent him for his education to the Landstrasser Gymnasium in the city. From 1925 he studied Classics and Comparative Philology at the universities of Vienna, Tübingen and Munich, receiving his doctorate summa cum laude from Vienna in 1929. Later he obtained diplomas in education and librarianship. Between 1930 and 1938 he worked in collaboration with the Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum series published by the Vienna Academy of Letters. In 1935 he became an assistant keeper of manuscripts at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, and later was appointed Privatdozent in Classics at the University. In 1939, just before the outbreak of war, he fled Austria and sought refuge in France. In 1940, with the support of Fr Aubrey Gwynn SJ and some of his colleagues at UCD, Bieler received an appointment as Visiting Lecturer in Palaeography and Early Medieval Latin to the Colleges of the National University of Ireland. He spent a year (1947-48) as an assistant professor of classics at the University of Notre Dame, Ind., USA, but the rest of his academic life was to be passed at UCD, where he was successively Assistant Lecturer and College Lecturer in Classics. In 1960 he was appointed to the newly-created chair of Palaeography and Late Latin. This he occupied up to his retirement. Bieler was general editor of the series of Scriptores Latini Hiberniae, a duty which he took very seriously. He was co-organiser, along with his Classics colleague John O’Meara, of the colloquium held in Dublin (14-18 July 1970) at which the Society for the Promotion of Eriugenian Studies was founded. He died in Dublin in 1981.

From the intensity with which his lecturing and his scholarly publication concentrated upon early Ireland and its Latin and Christian culture, some observers drew the conclusion that Ludwig Bieler faithfully pursued a private determination to place his talents as a philologist and his historical erudition at the service of the nation to which he came as a war-time refugee, and whose academic circles adopted him into their fold.

Selected Publications

     Iohannes Scottus Eriugena− As well as reviewing (in the periodical Latomus, mostly) books and editions bearing upon Scottus Eriugena, Ludwig Bieler made several notable contributions to the study of the Periphyseon and of the Latinity of the Irish Carolingian scholar. (The relevant publications are listed by Mary Brennan in A Guide to Eriugenian Studies/Guide des Etudes Erigéniennes, 1989; see index of names). These are as follows.

     Bieler’s close collaboration with I.P. Sheldon-Williams in the editing of the Periphyseon is recorded in each of the three volumes which appeared in the Scriptores Latini Hiberniae series (i.e. VII, IX and XI) between 1968 and 1981. Bieler set down his experience of collaborating with his co-editor, as well as his assessment of Eriugena editions since Thomas Gale, in ‘Some Recent Work on Eriugena’, in Hermathena 105 (1973) 94-97. He put forward his views on the question of where Eriugena learned Greek in ‘The Island of Scholars’, in Revue du moyen âge latin 8 (1952) 213-31. On the Malmesbury legend concerning Eriugena’s sticky end, Bieler wrote in ‘Vindicta scholarium. Beiträge zur Geschichte eines Motivs’, in Serta philologica Aenipontana, ed. R. Muth, 1982, 383-85 (see Brennan, no 41). He defended his view that Columbanus and Eriugena acquired their classical learning in their native country, in ‘Das Hiberno-Lateinische und seine Erforschung’, in Wiener Studien 88 (N.F. 9), Vienna, 1975, 216-29

     For the the Dublin Colloquium Bieler reserved his ‘Remarks on Eriugena’s original Latin prose’. This appeared in the volume which John O’Meara and he co-edited: The Mind of Eriugena. Papers of a Colloquium: Dublin, 14-18 July 1970, Dublin: Irish University Press, 1973, pp. 140-46 and 157. To the second SPES colloquium he contributed some ‘Observations on Eriugena’s “Commentary on the Gospel of John”: A Second Harvest’, in Jean Scot Érigène et l’histoire de la philosophie, ed. R. Roques, Paris, 1977, 235-42.

     Hiberno-Latin Studies and Early Irish Culture− Latin philology, and in particular the study of Hiberno-Latin, was Bieler’s predominant interest, as the titles of his books and editions amply illustrate. His editions were models of accuracy. Many scholarly notes of his found their way into the reprint of Kenney’s Sources: J.F. Kenney, The Sources for the Early History of Ireland. An Introduction and Guide. I. Ecclesiastical. New York, 1929; reprint New York, 1966, with addenda and corrigenda by L. Bieler (Shannon, Ireland, 1968); reprint, Dublin 1979. The following is a selection from Bieler’s output of books. Four Latin Lives of St Patrick. Colgan’s Vita Secunda, Quarta, Tertia & Quinta, published in 1971 by the Institute of Advanced Studies (Dublin), as no. VIII in the series of Scriptores Latini Hiberniae.

  1. Bieler. Studies on the Life and Legend of St Patrick. Ed. Richard Sharpe, Variorum, Aldershot/Brookfield Vermont, 1986, 342pp. [Eleven articles in English, eight in German].

Ireland and the Culture of Early Medieval Europe. Variorum 1987. 322pp. [22 papers].

An exception to the rule that Bieler’s publications reflected specialized philological themes was his presentation of Early Christian Ireland: Ireland, Harbinger of the Middle Ages, Oxford University Press, 1963, in-4to viii+148pp. Being handsomely produced in large format, with 18 pasted-in colour illustrations of artifacts, this work attained considerable popularity.

Concerning Ludwig Bieler not much has been published of any note. A short article on him (by Aidan Breen) is to appear in the forthcoming Dictionary of Irish Biography which is being prepared under the auspices of the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin.

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