Obituary — Ludwig Koenen


Ludwig Koenen, the Herbert C. Youtie Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Papyrology at U-M, died May 9. He was a scholar of exceptional importance in papyrology and Greek literature and religion, a tireless and generous editor, adviser and teacher, and a model of service to his department and his discipline.

Born in Cologne, Germany, in 1931, Ludwig, whose father was a carpenter and a Social Democrat, spent his childhood under Nazism and was imbued with resistance to tyranny and bigotry. He studied classical philology at the University of Cologne and became a papyrologist as a student of Reinhold Merkelbach.

Ludwig Koenen

After earning his Ph.D. from the University of Cologne in 1957, Koenen became archivist of the Cologne papyrus collection while teaching papyrology, epigraphy and paleography. In 1967, he and Merkelbach founded the Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, the most important journal in both papyrology and ancient Mediterranean epigraphy.

He became a professor at the University of Cologne in 1971 and joined U-M in 1975 as an associate professor and taught there until his retirement in 2000.

Koenen undertook many initiatives for the U-M papyrus collection, including working with the library’s conservation department to begin the conservation of the collection. He regularly taught seminars in papyrology, and the first publication of many students was the edition of a Michigan papyrus.

In both teaching and research, he went beyond the technical side of papyrology, seeking to place both documents and literary texts in their historical and cultural contexts.

He taught undergraduate classes on Greek religion and Greek language. He also taught graduate courses on Greek prose composition and Greek poetry, archaic through Hellenistic.

He directed dissertations and served on committees in all these areas. His meticulous attention to students’ work could be intimidating, but students were immensely grateful for his helpfulness and kindness.

Most of the 129 publications listed under his name in L’ Année philologique are papyrological, and he is perhaps most remembered for his work on the Cologne Mani-Codex — which transformed our understanding of this important ancient religion — the Egyptian apocalyptic “Oracle of the Potter,” and the Byzantine documents from Petra that constituted his last major project.

The range of his bibliography included important contributions about the new Archilochus, Menander, Egyptian elements in Tibullus, and many Biblical papyri. At the same time, he devoted endless hours to rigorous and thoughtful editing at ZPE and the monograph series Beiträge zum Altertumskunde.

Koenen received many honors at U-M, including being named Herbert C. Youtie Collegiate Professor of Papyrology, Distinguished University Professor and Henry Russel Lecturer.

He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Philosophical Society, a corresponding fellow of the British Academy, and a corresponding member of the German Archaeological Institute and the Nordrhein-Westfälische Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He served as president of the American Philological Association in 1993. As chair of the Department of Classical Studies from 1985-94, he promoted a departmental culture of inclusion and mutual respect.

The hospitality of Ludwig Koenen and his wife, Margret, was unforgettable. His mistakes in English, passed down in an oral tradition, are recounted with laughter and profound affection. For those who knew him, imagining the world without him is what he might have called “a hillup struggle.”

He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Margret Koenen (Bolder); sons Klaus Koenen of Erftstadt, Germany; Heinrich Koenen of Chardon, Ohio; Marcus Koenen of Brisbane, California; daughter Margarete Koenen of Ann Arbor; and eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. 

The Department of Classical Studies is planning a memorial event for early October 2023.

Submitted by Ruth Scodel


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