Werner Wilhelm Jaeger (July 30, 1888 – October 9, 1961) was a classicist of the 20th century.
Jaeger was born in Lobberich, Rhenish Prussia. He attended school at Lobberich and at the Gymnasium Thomaeum in Kempen. Jaeger studied at the University of Marburg and University of Berlin. He received a Ph.D. from the latter in 1911 for a dissertation on the Metaphysics of Aristotle. His habilitation was on Nemesios of Emesa (1914). Only 26 years old, Jaeger was called to a professorship with chair at the University of Basel in Switzerland. One year later he moved to a similar position at Kiel, and in 1921 he returned to Berlin. Jaeger remained in Berlin until 1936 when he emigrated to the United States because he was unhappy with the rise of National Socialism. Jaeger expressed his veiled disapproval with Humanistische Reden und Vortraege (1937) and his book on Demosthenes (1938) based on his Sather lecture from 1934. Jaeger's messages were fully understood in German university circles; the ardent Nazi followers sharply attacked Jaeger.
In the United States, Jaeger worked as a full professor at the University of Chicago from 1936 to 1939, at which time he moved to Harvard University to continue his edition of the Church father Gregory of Nyssa on which he had started before World War I. Jaeger remained in Cambridge, Massachusetts, until his death. The Canadian philosopher James Doull was among his students at Harvard.
Jaeger wrote two dissertations, one in Latin and one in German, on Aristotle's Metaphysics. Jaeger's edition of the Metaphysics was printed in 1957. Only two years after editing Gregory of Nyssa's Contra Eunomium (1921, 1960), Jaeger became famous with his groundbreaking study on Aristotle in 1923 which largely remained undisputed until the 1960s. Jaeger founded two journals: Die Antike (1925–1944) and the influential review journal Gnomon (since 1925). Jaeger was the editor of the church father Gregory of Nyssa, Gregorii Nysseni Opera, editing Gregory's major work Contra Eunomium (1921, 1960). This edition is a major scholarly achievement and the philological foundation of the current studies on the Cappadocian Fathers.
Jaeger is perhaps best known for his multivolume work Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture, an extensive consideration of both the earliest practices and later philosophical reflections on the cultural nature of education in Ancient Greece, which he hoped would restore a decadent early 20th century Europe to the values of its Hellenic origins. Jaeger's last lecture, Early Christianity and Greek Paideia (1961) is a very impressive summary of his life's work covering nearly one thousand years of Greek philology, philosophy and theology from Homer, the Presocratic philosophers, Plato up to and including several Church Fathers. The Papers of Werner Jaeger are housed at the Houghton Library (Harvard University).
Interpretation of Plato and Aristotle
Jaeger's position concerning the history of the interpretation of Plato and Aristotle has been summarized effectively by Harold Cherniss of Johns Hopkins University. The history of the interpretation of Plato and Aristotle has largely followed the outline of those who subscribe to the position that (a) Aristotle was sympathetic to the reception of Plato's early Dialogues and writings, that (b) Aristotle was sympathetic to the reception of Plato's later dialogues and writings, and (c) various combinations and variations of these two positions. For Cherniss's reading of Jaeger, Cherniss stated that, "Werner Jaeger, in whose eyes Plato's philosophy was the 'matter' out of which the newer and higher form of Aristotle's thought proceeded by a gradual but steady and undeviating development (Aristotles, p. 11), pronounced the 'old controversy,' whether or not Aristotle understood Plato, to be 'absolut verstandnislos.' Yet this did not prevent Leisegang from reasserting that Aristotle's own pattern of thinking was incompatible with a proper understanding of Plato." Therein Cherniss believed Jaeger to be contrary to Leisegang, and Leisegang was unsympathetic to compatibility between Plato and Aristotle in both (a) and (b) above.
- Emendationum Aristotelearum specimen (1911)
- Studien zur Enstehungsgeschichte der Metaphysik des Aristoteles (1911)
- Nemesios von Emesa. Quellenforschung zum Neuplatonismus und seinen Anfaengen bei Poseidonios (1914)
- Gregorii Nysseni Opera, vol. I-X (since 1921, latest 2009)
- Aristoteles: Grundlegung einer Geschichte seiner Entwicklung (1923; English trans. by Richard Robinson (1902-1996) as Aristotle: Fundamentals of the History of His Development, 1934)
- Platons Stellung im Aufbau der griechischen Bildung (1928)
- Paideia; die Formung des griechischen Menschen, 3 vols. (German, 1933–1947; trans. by Gilbert Highet as Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture, 1939–1944)
- Humanistische Reden und Vortraege (1937)
- Demosthenes (Sather Classical Lecture), 1934, 1938 trans. by Edward Schouten Robinson; German edition 1939)
- Humanism and Theology, 1943
- The Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers (Gifford Lectures) 1936, translated by Edward Schouten Robinson,1947; 1953 German edition
- Two rediscovered works of ancient Christian literature: Gregory of Nyssa and Macarius,1954
- Aristotelis Metaphysica, 1957
- Scripta Minora, 2 vol., 1960
- Early Christianity and Greek Paideia 1961
- Gregor von Nyssa's Lehre vom Heiligen Geist, 1966
- Cherniss, Harold (1962). Aristotle's Criticism of Plato and the Academy," Russell and Russell, Inc., p. xi.