Christian Tobias Damm

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Christian Tobias Damm (9 January 1699 – 27 May 1778) was a renowned German Classical philologist, and the less than orthodox theologian who was rector (1730) and prorector (1742) of the Köllnische Gymnasium, the oldest in Berlin, but prematurely pensioned off in 1766, in the wake of scandalized accusations of trends towards Socianian doctrines in some of his work, to his lasting bitterness.[1]


Damm was born in Geithain, Electorate of Saxony. He studied at Halle.[2] and was the author of a herculean[3] etymological dictionary of those words of ancient Greek represented in his concordances of both Homer and Pindar,[4] both of whom he had translated, and a Compendium historiae fabulosae or Handbuch der Mythologie der Griechen und Römer, that applied euhemerist interpretations of Greek mythology in the Christian and Enlightenment traditions; the work remained standard through the 19th century. His essay on the Epistle of James was published in Berlin, 1747. His prose translation of Homer (1769 and 1777),[5] competing with verse translations by Bürger and Stolberg (for the Deutsches Museum), raised the witty obituary in the Bibiothek der schönen Wissenschaften: "Homer, Greek poet, dead in Berlin!"[6] As a philologist, he urged that, on rational grounds, the letter h be dropped from German orthography in cases in which it appeared in final position in a word,[7] as "an unfounded practice that appears barbaric in the eyes of foreigners and thus insulting to our nation",[8] for which Johann Georg Hamann, friend of Kant and teacher of Herder, took him to task,[9] defending the h on human terms, as speaking "with a human voice"; purging language of such irrationalities, the proto-Romantic Herder asserted, was an "assault on the colour, beauty, texture, character, virility, history, and even spirituality of language", as Graeme Garrard has expressed it, in one of the first shots of the Counter-Enlightenment.[10]

Damm was a teacher (in 1735) and later a correspondent of Johann Joachim Winckelmann and a friend of Moses Mendelssohn, who called him "the Greek oracle of Speestadt".

He died in Berlin, aged 79.


  1. Alexander Hay Japp, German Life and Literature in a Series of Biographical Studies, 1880:525f.
  2. Japp 1880:525.
  3. "opus Herculei laborum; in quo utinam Pindarica seorsum ab Homericis vulgâsset!", Heyn, Praefatio ad Pind. Carm., the epigraph of Henry Huntingford's edition, Dammii Lexicon Pindaricum (London, 1814).
  4. Damm, Novem lexicon Graecum etymologicum et reale, cui pro basi substratae sunt concordantiae et elucidationes homericae et Pindaricae (Berlin, 1765); the Lexicon was among those consulted for John Jones's Tyro's Greek and English Lexicon: or a compendium in English of the celebrated lexicons of Damm, Sturze, Schleusner, Schweighæuser... (2nd ed., London, 1825).
  5. Damm, Des Homerus Werke aus dem Griechischen neu übersezt und mit einigen Anmerkungen erlaütert
  6. "Homer, ein griechischen Dichter, in Berlin getödtet!"; noted in Jane V. Curran, "Wieland's Revival of Horace", International Journal of the Classical Tradition, 3.2 (Fall 1996:171-184) p. 175.
  7. John Betz, "After Enlightenment: the post-secular vision of J.G. Hamann"
  8. Damm, Betrachtungen über die Religion (Berlin, 1773:233), quoted in Sheehan 1998:35.
  9. Jonathan Sheehan, "Enlightenment Details: Theology, Natural History, and the Letter h", Representations (Winter, 1998:29-56) p. 35;
  10. Garrard, Counter-Enlightenments: from the eighteenth century to the present, "First shots", 2006:34.