Enno Littmann’s work on inscriptions from Ethiopia   2 comments

As vol. 4 of the Deutsche Aksum-Expedition appeared Enno Littmann’s Sabaische, Griechische und Altabessinische Inschriften (Berlin, 1913). Despite the book’s age and importance, I found no copy online, so, thanks to HMML staff, it’s now available at archive.org.

The frontispiece to The Library of Enno Littmann

Enno Littmann was one of the outstanding scholars of the Semitic languages, those of Ethiopia in particular, in the first half of the twentieth century. (The German Wikipedia article is not very long, and the English one is almost nothing more than a list of a few publications.) Edward Ullendorff, in his obituary for Littmann published in Africa, Oct 1958, p. 364 (and reprinted in his From the Bible to Enrico Cerulli, p. 194), concluded “Among the greatest éthiopisants of the present century, Guidi, Praetorius, Conti Rossini, Marcel Cohen, Cerulli, Enno Littmann’s name occupies a most honored place.” Littmann himself wrote an autobiographical sketch (“An meinem Grabe zu verlesen”), and it is published at the beginning of the catalog of his library: The Library of Enno Littmann, 1875-1958 (Leiden, 1959), with an introduction by his student, Maria Höfner. In addition, pp. 52-57 of Ernst Hammerschmidt’s excellent little book Äthiopistik an deutschen Universitäten (Wiesbaden, 1968) discuss Littmann’s activities and contributions. Incidentally, I have before referred to a brief book inscription by Littmann among HMML’s holdings.

There is a much more recent book that collects early Ethiopian inscriptions (E. Bernard, A. Drewes, and R. Schneider, Recueil des inscriptions de l’Éthiopie des périodes pré-axoumites et axoumites [Paris, 1991]), which is unfortunately not plentifully available, but in any case, Littmann’s work is not to be dismissed. He was an expert philologist and his judgement is always worth consideration. In his presentation of the inscriptions, there are black-and-white photographs, line drawings, transcription into a usual printed type — a presentation in Hebrew letters is included for the South Arabian inscriptions, and the Old Ethiopic material is given in both the South Arabian script and in (now vocalized) Fidäl —, German translation, and commentary. The book is beautifully typeset, something we see too little of these days! Anyone working on the history of Ethiopia in antiquity and late antiquity and anyone likewise interested in epigraphy generally or in the languages used in Ethiopia will find Littmann’s book, now almost a century old, still a worthwhile volume.

From HMML's shelves

From HMML’s shelves

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2 responses to “Enno Littmann’s work on inscriptions from Ethiopia

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  1. Fantastic, thanks for sharing that link!

  2. to my mind, Littmann’s greatest publication to my mind was the monumental Deutsche Aksum-Expedition… I devoured these volumes while living in Eritrea (then part of Ethiopia) & participating in excavations at Matara, Yeha, & Aksum, all first explored by the German expedition decades earlier… I have posted a couple of articles about those sites on my blog…

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