The Temptation of Homo Europaeus

The Temptation of Homo Europaeus. An Intellectual History of Central and Southeastern Europe#

A new edition of the book by Victor Neumann
Scala Publishers#

Prof. Victor Neumann, a member of the History and Archaeology section, is a Romanian historian, political analyst, and professor at the West University in Timișoara.

His research area is in the recent cultural and intellectual histories of Eastern and Central Europe. Since 2013 he has been Director of the Timișoara National Museum of Art.

Prof. Neuman writes in his preface:

Why do we need a new edition of The Temptation of Homo Europaeus: An Intellectual History of Central and South-Eastern Europe? First and foremost, because it is a topical book whose subject deserves to be better known in universities, administrative-political environments and by the European audience at large. Rooted in primary research, this new information and interpretations analyse certain so-called peripheral regions. Insisting upon ‘cultural corridors’ that facilitated the circulation of people, books and ideas among Western and Eastern Europe during the long and difficult transition from medieval to modern, the book proves both the role of temporality and geography for the knowledge of history. The current edition retains the previous structure but brings new illustrations and maps in each chapter, exemplifying the numerous meetings and European cultural similitudes from around 1500 to 1800. The Postscript is also new, a conclusive chapter that boldly conceptualizes the transition from medieval to modern and represents the outcome of years of research and hypotheses that form the foundation of this book.

Why is such an approach important? First, for the thorough, objective knowledge benefitting the whole European Continent. Secondly, because Central and South-Eastern Europe have a fascinating history, their regions having been ruled by three empires – Ottoman, Tsarist and Habsburg – with administrations situated in different historical periods and varying levels of development. Thirdly, during the period between 1500 and 1800 the aforementioned region of Europe was characterized by pluralism and not specificity, by multi- and interculturality and not ethnicity, by ecumenical and cosmopolitan spirit, and not mono-lingualism and religious fundamentalism. During the same period, the area excelled in creativity in many fields, including theology, philosophy, historiography, literature and geography, all resulting from East-West, North-South cultural confluences.

The documentary contributions in The Temptation of Homo Europaeus: An Intellectual History of Central and South-Eastern Europe are accompanied by theoretical evaluations and analyses of the periods of change, religious practices and cultural facts. They examine the schools, intellectuals, works and roots that led to the emancipation of people, discovery and acknowledgement of multi- and intercultural communities and the understanding of Europe as a whole. Describing the peculiarities of a certain area – in this case, Central and South-Eastern Europe – facilitates the discovery of the cultural-civilizational similarities of the Continent. The distinctions among East-West and Centre-Periphery become less relevant as soon as we understand that the diversity of historical legacies from the Renaissance, Humanism and Enlightenment periods led to the genesis of a shared cultural code in Europe.

The erudite scholars of Central and South-Eastern Europe who were writing in Latin, Greek, Slavic, German, Hungarian and Romanian often shared the ideals of Western intellectuals. The notion of Europe created attachment for each of them. The intellectual pursuits of Nicolaus Olahus and Johannes Honterus, Dimitrie Cantemir and Theofil Corydaleu, Dositej Obradović, Samuel von Brukenthal and Ignaz Batthyány, and many others, resounded deeply. I have elaborated on them and evaluated their aspirations regarding the unity of Europe. Theirs are personalities often unknown to Western historiography, but to whom we owe both the elaboration of fundamental works of history, philology, jurisprudence and the establishment of scientific institutions, typographies, libraries, academic foundations and museums. They had been part of the early generations of intellectuals concerned with the structure of society and its institutions on the foundation of research and science. Despite difficulties, these intellectuals often travelled through the ‘cultural corridors’, facilitating the interferences among Eastern and Western Europe.

How do we explain the delayed development of the region? Starting with the nineteenth century, the intellectuals of Central and South-Eastern Europe were enticed by new political ideologies, while their relations with Western Europe received different connotations compared with the previous period. They substituted the historical and political realities of their environments with ethno-cultural myths. Völkischekultur/Volknation/Volksgeist – the identity concepts of the German idealist philosophers of the nineteenth century – have been assumed and adapted by the intellectuals of the region. Through such influences, legacies were erased or distorted, while the multiple cultural code was forgotten. A large number of writers, historians, professors and priests became ideologists, conferring an exaggerated attention to the origins, faith or language of one or the other community. They opposed linguistic and cultural diversity, marginalizing or neglecting the creations of the so-called “inside foreigners”. The nation states of Central and South-Eastern Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were established later than the Western ones, the main criteria being the allegiance to the ethno-culture of the majority. Their structures were not similar to the Western models, with administrative, political and judiciary institutions not resulting from ‘glorious revolutions’. This is one of the explanations supporting the fact that extreme ideologies, inter-community wars and totalitarian regimes (fascist and communist) found here a favourite space of manifestation. In fact, the sinuous intellectual and political route of Central and South-Eastern Europe needs to be reconsidered: on one hand, to understand the similarities on which Europe stood in the pre-modern age and, on the other, in order evaluate and integrate within the continental history the ruptures between the Eastern and Western Europe that occurred during the past two centuries.

The new edition of The Temptation of Homo Europaeus: An Intellectual History of Central and South-Eastern Europe is the result of outstanding collaboration with Neil Titman at Scala Publishing House, London. I offer my most sincere gratitude for their keen interest in this type of interdisciplinary studies and for supporting a book meant to enrich Western historiography through the inclusion of intellectual creations and contributions from Central and South-Eastern Europe.

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