Otto Höfler

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Otto Höfler
Otto Höfler.jpg
Born(1901-05-10)10 May 1901
Died25 August 1987(1987-08-25) (aged 86)
Vienna, Austria
Academic background
Alma mater
ThesisAltnordische Lehnwortstudien (1926)
Academic advisors
InfluencesGeorges Dumézil
Academic work
Doctoral students
Notable students
Main interests

Otto Eduard Gotfried Ernst Höfler (10 May 1901 – 25 August 1987) was an Austrian philologist who specialized in Germanic studies. A student of Rudolf Much, Höfler was Professor and Chair of German Language and Old German Literature at the University of Vienna. Höfler was also a Nazi from 1922 and a member of the SS Ahnenerbe before the Second World War. Höfler was a close friend of Georges Dumézil and Stig Wikander, with whom he worked closely on developing studies on Indo-European society. He tutored a significant number of future prominent scholars at Vienna, and was the author of works on early Germanic culture. Julia Zernack [de] refers to him as "perhaps most famous and probably most controversial representative" of the "Vienna School" of Germanic studies founded by Much.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Otto Höfler was born in Vienna on 10 May 1901 to a highly educated upper middle class family. His father, Alois Höfler, was Professor of Philosophy and Pedagogy at the University of Vienna. Alois was a passionate admirer of Richard Wagner, and the author of a book on the Germanic god Odin. Otto's mother, Auguste Dornhöffer, was from Bayreuth and also a Wagner admirer.[2]

Höfler studied German and Nordic philology at the University of Vienna from 1920 to 1921 under Rudolf Much. Höfler joined the Wiener Akademischer Verein der Germanisten, a völkisch group of German academics in 1921. He joined the Austrian Nazi Party in 1922 after hearing Hitler speak in Vienna.[3]

He subsequently continued his studies in Nordic philology at the universities of Lund, Kiel (under Andreas Heusler), Marburg and Basel. He completed his PhD at the University of Vienna in 1926 with the dissertation Altnordische Lehnwortstudien, which examined loanwords in Old Norse.[2]


From 1928 to 1934, Höfler was a lecturer in German at Uppsala University.[2] At Uppsala, Höfler befriended the fellow philologists Stig Wikander and Georges Dumézil, who would remain lifelong friends and intellectual collaborators.[4] He completed his habilitation at the University of Vienna in 1931 with the dissertation Kultische Geheimbünde der Germanen, which examined secret societies of the early Germanic peoples.[2] It had a major influence on the future research of Wikander and Dumézil, who would later examine similar societies among Indo-Iranians and Indo-Europeans.[4]

From 1935 he lectured at the University of Kiel. In that same year he became a member of the selection committee for the Reichsberufswettkampf, an organization associated with the SS.[5] From 1938, Höfler was Professor and Chair of Germanic Philology and Ethnology at the University of Munich.[2] Also in 1938, he became a leader of the SS Ahnenerbe, an organization he had joined in 1937,[5] and which was partially responsible for him receiving his position in Munich.[6] His research centered on early Germanic culture, particularly early Germanic religion and literature. Höflers Deutsche Heldensage (1941), which examined Medieval German literature, was highly influential, and republished in 1961. Höfler argued in favor of cultural continuity between modern Germans and early Germanic peoples.[2]

Höfler was fired from the University of Munich in 1945, and was subsequently prohibited from teaching. In 1950, he received a license to teach Scandinavian studies. In 1954, Höfler was appointed Associate Professor of Nordic Philology and Germanic Antiquity at the University of Munich. Although nominally Associate Professor, Höfler was for all practical purposes a full Professor during this time. Among his notable students at Munich were Heinrich Beck and Otto Gschwantler.[7]

In 1957, Höfler was appointed Professor and Chair of German Language and Old German Literature at the University of Vienna.[2] Gschwantler accompanied him as an assistant, and would eventually become a full professor. A talented and highly popular teacher, Höfler taught and supervised a generation of very influential scholars at Vienna, including Helmut Birkhan, Hermann Reichert, Peter Wiesinger, Erika Kartschoke, Edith Marold, Klaus Düwel, Waltraud Hunke and Wolfgang Lange. A group of Höfler's most dedicated students, which included Gschwantler, Birkhan, Wiesinger and Kartschoke, were affectionately known as the Drachenrunde. Highly sociable, Höfler played an important role at the university as a host of seminaries and parties at his vineyard, and arranged memorable excursions to Ravenna and other places, which were attended by his students and fellow professors and friends, such as Richard Wolfram and Eberhard Kranzmayer [de].[7][8][9]


Höfler retired from teaching 1971, but continued to teach and research.[2] After his retirement, Höfler worked on refining his earlier theories, and authored extensive studies on Dietrich von Bern and Siegfried, the two most important characters in Medieval German literature. He argued that Siegfried was derived from the Germanic chieftain Arminius, who defeated the Roman army in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD.[2]

Death and legacy[edit]

Höfler died in Vienna on 25 August 1987.[2] Höfler's scholarship and legacy are controversial.[1] Höfler had a major influence on Georges Dumézil's trifunctional hypothesis of Indo-European society. He worked closely with Dumézil and scholars such as Stig Wikander, Émile Benveniste and Jan de Vries on developing study on Indo-European mythology, and has been credited with having significantly contributed to reviving the field of comparative mythology.[4] According to Price, though Höfler's early career was shaped by the political changes of the times, the actual content of his works were of high quality and not tainted by political bias.[10] Rowe says that though criticized by some, Höfler's key theories has never been refuted.[11] Price argues Höfler's research has continued to be of great relevance up to the present day.[10]

On the other hand, Julia Zernack [de] argues that Höfler’s work is "an example of the self-subjugation of Germanic scholarship to völkisch-nationalistic and National Socialistic ideologies."[12] Jan Hirschbiegel argues that Höfler's work served less to uncover new academic knowledge than to create an ideological foundation for the Nazi state,[13] that Höfler's cultic group of Odin's warriors was meant as spiritual predecessor of the Nazi "death cult" and its "death symbolism",[14] and that Höfler never distanced himself from the völkisch elements of his earlier work.[15] Wolfgang Behringer and Klaus von See similarly point to his Kultische Geheimbünde der Germanen as, in Behringer's words, a "sensationalist apology for the SS".[16]

Selected works[edit]

Otto Höfler lecturing his predecessor Dietrich Kralik and students during an excursion to the Mausoleum of Theodoric in Ravenna, Italy
Otto Höfler congratulating the family of his student Otto Gschwantler as Gschwantler is awarded the Sub auspiciis Praesidentis by President Adolf Schärf for outstanding scholarship
  • Kultische Geheimbünde der Germanen, 1934
  • Das germanische Kontinuitätsproblem, 1937
  • Die politische Leistung der Völkerwanderungszeit, 1937
  • Friedrich Gundolf und das Judentum in der Literaturwissenschaft, 1940
  • Deutsche Heldensage, 1941
  • Germanisches Sakralkönigtum, 1952
  • Balders Bestattung und die nordischen Felszeichnungen, 1952
  • Zur Diskussion über den Rökstein, 1954
  • Das Opfer im Semnonenhain und die Edda, 1952
  • Goethes Homunculus, 1963
  • Verwandlungskulte, Volkssagen und Mythen, 1973
  • Theoderich der Große und sein Bild in der Sage, 1975
  • Siegfried, Arminius und der Nibelungenhort, 1978
  • Kleine Schriften, 1992

See also[edit]

Sketch of Otto Höfler playing the flute like Orpheus


  1. ^ a b Zernack 2018, p. 534.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Beck 2000, p. 30-34.
  3. ^ Hirschbiegel 1992, p. 182.
  4. ^ a b c Lincoln 1999, pp. 125–126.
  5. ^ a b Hirschbiegel 1992, p. 183.
  6. ^ Hirschbiegel 1992, p. 184.
  7. ^ a b Birkhan 2016.
  8. ^ Birkhan & Gschwantler 1968.
  9. ^ Birkhan 1976.
  10. ^ a b Price 2019, pp. 151–155." [Höfler's] Kultische Geheimbunde der Germanen... is in many ways a work of brilliance... The direction of Höfler’s research was deliberate in the political climate of the times, but its actual content is generally free from such bias and is indeed of serious quality. Höfler’s work is still very relevant today..."
  11. ^ Rowe 2005, p. 3459. "His argument for the existence of a cult group of warriors linked with Óðinn has found objections but no real refutation."
  12. ^ Zernack 2018, p. 537.
  13. ^ Hirschbiegel 1992, p. 197.
  14. ^ Hirschbiegel 1992, p. 187.
  15. ^ Hirschbiegel 1992, p. 190.
  16. ^ Behringer 1998, p. 284. "aufsehenerrengende Apologie der SS"


Further reading[edit]

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