Schiller's Skulls


There's a big Schiller revival going on in Germany; this year marks the 200th anniversary of the great liberal poet-playwright's death. But thanks to a Mitteleuropaeisch Gothic psychodrama, Weimar's celebrations have been "overshadowed by an embarrassing row over whether the skull inside Schiller's coffin is really his," Britain's Guardian reports.

There are two competing candidate skulls. The problem is that in 1805, Friedrich Schiller was buried in a mass grave. In 1826, when Weimar's mayor decided he should dig up the great man's skull, there were 27 of the things grinning back at him. The mayor, a decisive man, pronounced that the biggest one must have belonged to Schiller. In 1901, however, a different generation decided that the mayor had gone about things unscientifically, and the grave was opened again. There were now 63 skulls to consider, and the savants picked a different cranium as the real Schiller skull.

The Nazis reportedly hid Schiller's (or somebody's) skull, but it turned up in 1945. (Or did it?) Enter the communists. In the 1950s, East German authorities re-opened the Schiller tomb, which contains the two skulls as well as an assortment of bones that were probably tossed in at random. Communist authorities decided dialectically that the mayor's original choice was correct, and that the scientifically chosen skull from 1901 belonged to a woman.

Now comes DNA. It turns out that a lock of Schiller's hair has (purportedly) survived! All that needs to be done now is to match it to some skull, preferably one of those in Schiller's sarcophagus. But reports the Guardian, the foundation responsible for the Weimar crypt "refuses to open the coffin."

"Great souls suffer in silence," wrote the Romantic Schiller. Their skulls, too.

Thanks to: ArtsJournal.