Jewish Review of Books

A Dashing Medievalist

By Walter Laqueur
Summer 2017

Ernst Kantorowicz: A Life

by Robert E. Lerner

Princeton University Press, 424 pp., $39.95          

In 1922, the Hartwig Kantorowicz firm ran an animated advertisement of “two men having an argument until a bottle of liqueur miraculously appears, golden liquid then flows down their throats: they smile and make up; then a caption appears: ‘Kantorowicz: Famed throughout the world.’” While this has long ceased to be the case, the most accomplished scion of the Jewish family that launched the company, the historian Ernst Kantorowicz, has retained more than a shadow of what was once a towering scholarly reputation. His 1957 classic The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology, which can be described as a fantastically erudite commentary on the saying “the king is dead, long live the king,” is still in print and on the reading lists (if not the bedside tables) of aspiring medievalists. Now, thanks to the appearance of Robert E. Lerner’s massive, deeply researched, and fascinating biography, EKa—as Kantorowicz was known to his friends and is identified throughout the book—is more famous than he has been since his death in 1963. Or at least since Norman Cantor’s cartoonish portrait of him as the ideological “twin” of his friend and fellow medievalist Percy Ernst Schramm, who joined the Nazi Party and spent World War II as the official staff historian of the German High Command.

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