A memorial service and reception for family and close friends will be held Sunday, June 4, 2023, at 3:00 pm at the family's home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Department of Classical Studies will host a Remembrance of Ludwig Koenen in early October 2023. 

Ludwig Koenen, Herbert C. Youtie Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Papyrology at the University of Michigan, died on May 9, 2023. He was a scholar of exceptional importance in papyrology and Greek literature and religion, a tireless and generous editor, advisor, and teacher, and a model of service to his department and his discipline.


Ludwig Koenen

1931 - 2023

Born in Cologne 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. After earning his Ph.D. from the University of Cologne in 1957, he became an 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. After his habilitation in 1969, he became a professor at the University of Cologne in 1971. In 1975 Ludwig joined the U-M as Associate Professor and taught there until his retirement in 2000.

Ludwig undertook many initiatives for the University of Michigan 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 Michigan 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 the 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 student’s work could be intimidating, although his warning “I have a problem with your dissertation” often turned out to refer to an error in the second paragraph on page 145. 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, however, is astonishing, including 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 zur Altertumskunde.

He received many honors: at Michigan, Herbert C. Youtie Collegiate Professor of Papyrology and Distinguished University Professor; 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 1985–1994, he promoted a departmental culture of inclusion and mutual respect.

The hospitality of Ludwig and Margret Koenen 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.”

The Department of Classical Studies will hold a memorial event for Ludwig Koenen on October 7, 2023.