Werner Jaeger

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Werner Jaeger, lithograph by Max Liebermann (1915)

Werner Wilhelm Jaeger (born July 30, 1888 in Lobberich , † October 19, 1961 in Cambridge , Massachusetts) was one of the leading classical philologists of the twentieth century. He held traditional chairs in his subject in Basel, Kiel and Berlin. Many of his works have been translated into foreign languages. He founded scientific journals and associations, some of which still exist today. He was the main exponent of Third Humanism and emigrated to the USA because of his distanced attitude towards National Socialism. There he became the first director of the Institute for Classical Studies at Harvard University . He has received numerous honors for his scientific achievements. In his main work Paideia he idealized the Greek concept of education as the foundation of Western culture.

life and work

Origin and education

Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, the mentor

Werner Jaeger was the only child of Karl August Jaeger and his wife Helene Birschel. The parental home was influenced by Protestants. His father had taken over a small printing company from grandfather August Jaeger, in which business cards, letterheads and the like were made. After four years of elementary school, Werner Jaeger attended the Catholic high school for boys in Lobberich . In 1902 he switched to the Kempener Gymnasium Thomaeum . One of the interlocutors who became important for Jaeger's development during his youth was Louis Birschel, the well-read maternal grandfather. At the age of sixteen Jaeger was already reading Wilamowitz's Greek Reader and his edition of Euripides' Heracles with an introduction and commentary. Looking back, he characterized his school days:

"However, I always tried to recognize the spiritual in its connection with the reality of Greek history, in this the original existential motive of my life continued to work."

- Werner Jaeger, Scripta minora

In 1907, the year Louis Birschel died, he passed the Abitur with a brilliant certificate. In the same year he began studying philosophy and classical philology in Marburg , but after just one semester he moved to Berlin. In 1909 his father died. In 1911 he received his doctorate in Berlin under the guidance of Hermann Diels with a thesis on Aristotle . For the first time in more than 40 years, his faculty awarded the grade summa cum laude . Jaeger challenged the view that Aristotle's metaphysics was a unified treatise. Rather, it is a collection of lectures that Aristotle gave at different times and in which the development of his thinking can be seen. In doing so, Jaeger established that the breaks and contradictions in Aristotle's philosophy are inherent in it and cannot be overcome hermeneutically. Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff became Jaeger's mentor. He regularly took part in the informal evenings at Wilamowitz, to which he invited gifted students. A real friendship developed between them, as evidenced by the correspondence between 1911 and 1928. In 1913 Jaeger completed his habilitation in Berlin with a work on Nemesius von Emesa , after having previously studied manuscripts in Italy. During the following World War, Jaeger was not called up for health reasons and, unlike many of his peers, was able to devote himself to his usual work.

Teaching and research

On March 28, 1914, Jaeger married Theodora Dammholz, who came from a wealthy family. The 26-year-old was called to Basel in 1914 to the chair that Friedrich Nietzsche once held. In the following year Werner Jaeger was appointed full professor to succeed Siegfried Sudhaus in Kiel . In 1921 he succeeded his mentor Wilamowitz-Moellendorff at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Berlin , where he taught for 16 years. He now held the most prestigious ancient philology chair in the world. There, Wolfgang Schadewaldt was one of his students, who described Jaeger's charismatic effect:

“Incredibly youthful, he stood down there at the desk of the large, overcrowded room rising towards the back, modest and at the same time extremely sovereign, modulating the balanced sentences of his manuscript in a soft, pleasant voice, letting the skeptical, amiable gaze slide over the rows of listeners , a young man of knowledge, a young wise man - an apparition of spiritual grace that is difficult to describe, but from which spoke the withdrawn power of firm conviction and a captivating, completely unhappy, deeply fulfilling enthusiasm. "

- Wolfgang Schadewaldt, commemorative speech for Werner Jaeger

From October 1924, Jaeger was a member of the Notgemeinschaft der Deutschen Wissenschaft , the predecessor of today's German Research Foundation, as a specialist in Greek studies . Also in 1924 Jaeger was elected to the Prussian Academy of Sciences . During these years numerous text editions, treatises and monographs such as Aristotle were produced. Foundation of a history of its development (1923, translated into English, Spanish and French). This work dominated interpretation like the historical criticism of Aristotle for more than half a century. This was followed by Plato's position in the development of Greek education (1928) and his main work Paideia . The Formation of the Greek Man (1934–1947, translated into English, Spanish and Italian). The three-volume Paideia paints an idealizing picture of the Greek intellectual world from Homer to Plato to Demosthenes . Werner Jaeger always saw the concern for antiquity in its value for mastering the present. His scientific life's work is characterized by the fact that thought is never viewed in isolation from action, but should always have an impact on practice. He also had a strong sense of the spiritual continuities inherent in all historical changes.

Commitment to humanistic education

The Berlin University

Werner Jaeger had witnessed the November Revolution of 1918/19 in Kiel as an eyewitness. In the mood of crisis after the lost First World War , he saw a violent shaking of tradition. He turned against a “rationalistic emptying and flattening of life”, “the prevalence of materialism”, “alienation from culture” and “destruction of spiritual individuality”. In addition, he saw the humanistic grammar school with its old-language tradition threatened by reform efforts and advocated its preservation. Jaeger founded the Society for Ancient Culture in 1924 and the magazine Die Antike (1924–1944) in 1925 , with which the scientific knowledge of ancient culture should be made fruitful for contemporary intellectual life. As a direct successor to his predecessor Wilamowitz, he published the series New Philological Studies (1926–1937). Together with Emil Kroymann , he founded the German Classical Philology Association in Berlin in 1925 . Also in 1925 he founded the review magazine Gnomon for all of classical antiquity, the editing of which was taken over by his student Richard Harder . Jaeger and his colleagues gave numerous lectures in universities and at meetings in support of the humanistic grammar school. At the time, Jaeger was living with his family in the Berlin suburb of Steglitz at Kaiser-Wilhelm-Straße 11. The upper-class house, ironically referred to by Wilamowitz as a castle, had high rooms and attic rooms on the upper floor. It was surrounded by a garden of roses and trees. Like his mentor, Jaeger invited colleagues and students to their homes. After divorcing his first wife, Jaeger married Ruth Heinitz on December 29, 1931. She was a student and soon after bore him a daughter. Wilamowitz had disapproved of the divorce while still on his deathbed. Ruth's father Dr. Georg Heinitz was of Jewish faith and, as the founding director, was the long-time director of the Mosseschen Bildungsanstalt for boys and girls in Wilmersdorf, her brother was Ernst Heinitz .

National Socialism and Emigration

Ernst Krieck, opponent and Nazi educator

During the time of National Socialism , Jaeger was distant from this, and overall he was rather apolitical. In July 1933, he presented his educational policy views to the Prussian Minister of Education, Bernhard Rust . The attempt to gain influence on National Socialist educational policy with new guiding principles for the Classical Philologists Association failed. A violent controversy followed with the National Socialist educator Ernst Krieck . Jaeger was seen by the National Socialists as a representative of an intellectualist model that seemed too intellectual and too little vital. The humanistic personality ideal could not be reconciled with the submissive and militarized masculinity type. Jaeger wanted to preserve an endangered civilizational tradition. It became apparent that the Third Humanism had no future under the dictatorship. In 1934 Jaeger read as a " Sather Professor " at the University of California at Berkeley. In 1936 he was dismissed from the Prussian state service at his own request. The official letter of thanks dated November 12, 1936 was signed by Hitler and Göring. In the same year he emigrated to the USA. The Jewish origin of his second wife Ruth made the emigration of the married couple Jaeger and his four children Otto, Heidi, Erhard and Therese necessary.


Werner Jaeger first taught at the University of Chicago and from 1939 at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as the first director of the Institute for Classical Studies. A professorship was set up especially for him, without being tied to an institute, with little teaching commitment or administrative obligations. The newly founded Institute for Classical Studies was dedicated to the study of patristics . There he organized the complete edition of the church father Gregory of Nyssa with a staff of employees. He viewed his doctrine of God as the culmination of the merging of Christian and Platonic thought. Jaeger edited the three-volume English translation of the Paideia , published the critical Oxford edition of Aristotle's Metaphysika (1957) and two volumes of his own Scripta minora (1960) and authored the monographs The Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers (1948) and Early Christianity and Greek Paideia (1957). His lecture on the Paideia, which Jaeger regularly repeated as part of the general education program at Harvard, was very popular. On the wall of his office at Harvard were portraits of old Wilamowitz and Adolf von Harnacks . The family lived in a spacious house with a park-like garden in Watertown, a suburb of Boston. Jaeger taught beyond his retirement until he was 72 years old and died on October 19, 1961 after a fall in his home. His estate is in the Houghton Library at Harvard University. Richard Harder, Hans Joachim Mette , Wolfgang Schadewaldt and Viktor Pöschl were among his students who worked in Germany . In America, Jaeger influenced his younger Harvard colleague John Houston Finley Jr. and Gilbert Highet , who translated all three volumes of Paideia into English. Both helped popularize classical studies in the United States. Ruth Jaeger died on May 18, 1992 in Watertown, she had obtained a Degree of Master of Art in Teaching from Harvard University and taught at the Milton Academie Girls School for almost 30 years.

Paideia and Third Humanism

Eduard Spranger, the humanist friend

The name Third Humanism - after Renaissance humanism and neo-humanism - comes from the Berlin philosopher Eduard Spranger . Jaeger was friends with him. From 1921 on they worked together for the ancient languages ​​and a philosophy of education . Jaeger visited Spranger in Tübingen after the Second World War and exchanged letters with him. Spranger supported Jaeger's concept of Paideia. For Jaeger, the term Paideia was synonymous with Greek education. It is not a mere epitome of abstract ideas, but rather Greek history itself in the concrete reality of the fate experienced. The Greeks viewed things "organically". You saw the individual as part of a whole . Only then were they able to create the term “nature”, with which the interest in the laws that work in things themselves was connected. The norms for the personal guidance of the soul and for the building of the community arise from the insight into the laws of the human being. The highest work of art to be created is man. The human being stands above everything as an idea. The educational content of antiquity should be made fruitful for the present. The future of young people should be guaranteed through truth, education, values ​​and a central perspective - Jaeger speaks of a “total picture”. The formation of the human being is irrevocably bound to the community. The human being should be educated to his true form, namely the actual human existence as a universally valid and obligatory image of the species.

“Our German word education describes the essence of education most clearly in the Greek, Platonic sense. It contains in itself the relation to the artistically formative, plastic as well as to the normative image that the artist has in mind, the 'Idea' or the 'Typos'. Wherever this idea reappears in history, it is a legacy of the Greeks [...] "

- Werner Jaeger, Paideia

Culture par excellence has its origin in Greece. The Greeks passed on all their intellectual creation as inheritance to the other peoples of antiquity. For Jaeger, humanism begins with the adoption of Greek culture in the Roman Empire. The Greek idea of ​​education was then continued in Christianity in an independent way, which attaches infinite value to the individual human soul. The structure of resumption is constitutive for every manifestation of humanism. Western history becomes a series of renewals of the Greek idea of ​​education. The Greek world of values ​​is designed as a system of meaningful, educational forces in the history of Europe. Jaegers Paideia is a historicization of the human world of values ​​and a humanization of European history. This generalized view of Jaeger on ancient Greece is controversial and is criticized as idealization:

“Conversely, from Plato, an appearance falls back on all of early Greek culture; Greek culture is platonized to a certain extent and thus humanized in the sense of Paideia. Only this retrospective Platonization enables the - scientifically often not harmless - generalization of the "Greek man", who did not exist as reality, but solely as an idea of ​​humanism. "

- Horst Rüdiger, The Third Humanism

Honors and memberships


  • Studies on the genesis of the metaphysics of Aristotle , Berlin 1912 ( online ).
  • Nemesios of Emesa. Source research on Neoplatonism and its beginnings with Poseidonios , Berlin 1914 ( online ).
  • Aristotle. Foundation of a history of its development , Berlin 1923 ( online ).
  • The education of political people and the ancient world , In: Volk im Werden , Volume 1, Issue 3, 1933, pp. 43–49.
  • Paideia. The formation of the Greek man , 3 vol., Berlin 1934–1947.
  • Humanistic speeches and lectures , Berlin 1937, 2nd edition Berlin 1960.
  • Diocles of Karystos , Berlin 1938.
  • Demosthenes , Berlin 1939.
  • The theology of the early Greek thinkers , Stuttgart 1953.
  • Aristotelis Metaphysica , Critical Edition, Oxford 1957.
  • Early Christianity and Greek Education , Berlin 1963.
  • Scripta Minora , 2 vols., Rome 1969.
  • Humanism and Theology , Heidelberg 1960.
  • Gregorii Nysseni Opera , Critical Edition, et al., Leiden 1960ff.
  • Gregory of Nyssa's teaching on the Holy Spirit , Leiden 1966.
  • Five Essays , Montreal 1966 (with bibliography).


Web links

Commons : Werner Jaeger  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Director of a spinning mill in Dillingen an der Donau, he opened the lithographic establishment in Lobberich for his own entertainment in retirement.
  2. Manfred Meis, Werner Jaeger and Lobberich , in: Manfred Meis u. a. (Ed.), Werner Jaeger, Nettetal 2009, p. 14.
  3. Werner Jaeger, Scripta minora , Vol. 1, Rome 1960, SX
  4. Manfred Meis, Werner Jaeger and Lobberich , in: Manfred Meis u. a. (Ed.), Werner Jaeger, Nettetal 2009, p. 23.
  5. Based on the dissertation from 1911: Werner Jaeger, Studies on the History of the Origin of the Metaphysics of Aristotle , 1912.
  6. Gregory Schalliol, Art. Jaeger, Werner (Wilhelm) , in: Walter Killy, Literaturlexikon , Vol. 6, Bertelsmann, Gütersloh 1990, p. 66 f.
  7. a b Calder, Werner Jaeger , in: Michael Erbe (Ed.), Berlinische Lebensbilder. Humanities scholar, p. 349.
  8. Werner Jaeger, Nemesius von Emesa. Source research on Neoplatonism and its beginnings with Poseidonios , 1914.
  9. Eckart Mensching : Nugae zur Philologie-Geschichte II University Library of the Technical University, Publications Department 1989, ISBN 3-7983-1265-6 , p. 61.
  10. Calder, Werner Jaeger , in: Michael Erbe (Ed.), Berlinische Lebensbilder. Humanities scholar, p. 335.
  11. Wolfgang Schadewaldt, commemorative speech for Werner Jaeger , 1963, p. 5.
  12. Eckart Mensching: . Nugae philology-history IV About U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, W. Kranz, W. Jaeger and others. University Library of the Technical University, Publications Department 1991, ISBN 3-7983-1393-8 .
  13. Wolfgang Schadewaldt, commemorative speech for Werner Jaeger , 1963, p. 13.
  14. ^ Werner Jaeger, Humanist speeches and lectures , 2nd ed. 1960, pp. 103-105 and p. 164.
  15. Die Antike 1 (1925), p. 1.
  16. Today Schmidt-Ott-Straße.
  17. "When she [Note: Jaeger's first wife Theodora] brought the news of the divorce from Prof. Jaeger, my father [Note: Wilamowitz] said: Until then, I had defended him against everyone else, now I can see he's a scoundrel. ”Quoted from Calder, Werner Jaeger , in: Michael Erbe (Ed.), Berlinische Lebensbilder. Humanities scholar, p. 360.
  18. See Calder, Werner Jaeger , in: Michael Erbe (Ed.), Berlinische Lebensbilder. Humanities scholar, p. 353.
  19. See Werner Jaeger, The education of political people in antiquity , in: Volk im Werden 1 (1933), p. 43ff. This article is partly interpreted as a self-alignment of Jaeger; compare also: Werner Jaeger and the Attic democracy. In: Beat Näf : From Pericles to Hitler? Athenian democracy and ancient German history up to 1945. Peter Lang, Bonn 1986, ISBN 3-261-03595-1 , pp. 187–191.
  20. See Ernst Krieck, Third Humanism? , In: Volk im Werden 1.3 (1933), pp. 70–71.
  21. ^ Klaus-Gunther Wesseling:  JAEGER, Werner Wilhelm. In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Volume 18, Bautz, Herzberg 2001, ISBN 3-88309-086-7 , Sp. 717-749.
  22. Gregorii Nysseni Opera , Berlin and Leiden 1921-1969
  23. Calder, Werner Jaeger , in: Michael Erbe (Ed.), Berlinische Lebensbilder. Humanities scholar, p. 351.
  24. Calder, Werner Jaeger , in: Michael Erbe (Ed.), Berlinische Lebensbilder. Humanities scholar, p. 361.
  25. Eduard Spranger, The Current State of the Humanities and Schools , 1922.
  26. Werner Jaeger, Talent and Study , p. 280; Eduard Spranger , Spirit of Education , in: ders., Gesammelte Schriften I, pp. 20–69.
  27. Werner Jaeger, Paideia , Vol. I, p. 12f.
  28. ^ Werner Jaeger, Humanist Speeches and Lectures , Berlin 1960; the same, Paideia , Berlin 1933 to 1947.
  29. Wolfgang Schadewaldt, Hellas and Hesperien . Collected writings on antiquity and modern literature, Volume 2, Stuttgart 1970, p. 718.
  30. Horst Rüdiger, The Third Humanism , p. 211; Paul Richard Blum, Art. Humanism , in: Enzyklopädie Philosophie, Meiner 1999, p. 568, speaks of a now corrected, idealized picture of ancient training practice.
  31. ^ Members of the American Academy. Listed by election year, 1900-1949 ( PDF ). Retrieved September 24, 2015
  32. Member History: Werner W. Jaeger. American Philosophical Society, accessed October 11, 2018 .
  33. See on the memberships, medals and honorary doctorates Ward W. Briggs u. a. (Ed.), Biographical dictionary of North American classicists , Greenwood, Westport 1994, pp. 306 ff.