Werner Jaeger

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Werner Jaeger. Lithography by Max Liebermann (1915)

Werner Wilhelm Jaeger (30 July 1888 – 19 October 1961) was a German-American classicist.


Werner Wilhelm Jaeger was born in Lobberich, Rhenish Prussia in the German Empire. He attended school in 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 in 1914. At only 26 years old, Jaeger was called to the professorial chair in Greek at the University of Basel in Switzerland once held by Friedrich Nietzsche. One year later, he moved to a similar position at Kiel, and in 1921 he returned to Berlin, succeeding to Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff. Jaeger remained in Berlin until 1936.

That year, he emigrated to the United States because he was unhappy with the rise of Nazism. Jaeger expressed his veiled disapproval in 1937 with Humanistische Reden und Vortraege (Humanist Talks and Lectures), and his book Demosthenes (1938) based on his Sather lecture from 1934. Jaeger's messages were fully understood in German university circles, with Nazi academics sharply attacking him.

In 1944, he was elected as a member to the American Philosophical Society.[1]

In the United States, Jaeger worked as a full professor at the University of Chicago from 1936 to 1939. He then 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 would remain in Cambridge, Massachusetts, until his death.

The American classicist Robert Renehan and Canadian philosophers James Doull and Robert Crouse were among his students at Harvard.

Scholarly work[edit]

Both during his time in Germany and in America, Jaeger produced many widely respected works. To begin with, Jaeger actually wrote two versions of his dissertation, 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 1923 groundbreaking study on Aristotle, Aristoteles: Grundlegung einer Geschichte seiner Entwicklung, which was translated into English in 1934 as Aristotle: Fundamentals of the History of His Development. His theories largely remained undisputed until the 1960s. Jaeger founded two journals in 1925: Die Antike (1925–1944) and the influential review journal Gnomon (extant). Jaeger was the editor of the works of 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) was a comprehensive summary of his life's work covering nearly one thousand years of Greek philology, philosophy and theology from Homer, the Pre-Socratic philosophers and Plato to the Church Fathers. The Papers of Werner Jaeger are housed at the Houghton Library (Harvard University).

Interpretation of Plato and Aristotle[edit]

Jaeger's position concerning the history of the interpretation of Plato and Aristotle has been summarized effectively by Harold Cherniss of Johns Hopkins University. In general, 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. Cherniss' reading of Jaeger states, "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 (Aristoteles, p. 11), pronounced the 'old controversy,' [which was] whether or not Aristotle understood Plato, to be 'absolut verständnislos.' (absolutely uncomprehending [of Aristotle]). Yet this did not prevent Leisegang from reasserting that Aristotle's own pattern of thinking was incompatible with a proper understanding of Plato."[2] 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.[clarification needed]

Jaeger argued that the "fructifying power of the Zoroastrian concepts is suggested by the fact that in the fifth century the Greeks of the mainland were apparently more than a century behind the times in comparison with the enlightened cosmological thought of the Ionians." According to him, it was "the edge of Asia—that is, the westernmost provinces of the Achaemenian Empire—which was the birthplace of Greek philosophy."


  • 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, (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 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 Nyssas Lehre vom Heiligen Geist, 1966


  1. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved 2021-05-03.
  2. ^ Cherniss, Harold (1962). Aristotle's Criticism of Plato and the Academy, Russell and Russell, Inc., p. xi.

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