Bryn Mawr Classical Review 03.05.02


William M. Calder III (ed.), Werner Jaeger Reconsidered. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1992. Illinois Classical Studies, Supplement 3. Pp. xii, 325. ISBN 1-55540-729-3 $44.95.


Reviewed by Charles Rowan Beye, City University of New York.

Many readers of Classical Scholarship: A Biographical Encyclopedia were startled to encounter Calder's unusually condemnatory -- or so it seemed to many -- biography of Werner Jaeger in which he was presented as a charmer, if not a toady, whose luminous career failed to secure the man a splendid posterity. The present volume contains the published papers of a conference at the University of Illinois in April 1990 called, as Calder establishes in the introduction, to consider Jaeger's career in the light of his present-day obscurity. The Oldfather Conference of which these are the proceedings of the second was established by Calder to examine aspects of the scholarship and reception of antiquity. The results of the first were provocative and lively and the second continues that tradition. We are thus much in Calder's debt. (He promises one in the future on gay scholars and the influence of their sexual orientation on their scholarly work which ought to be especially lively, although he will no doubt confine himself to the dead.) The papers presented here individually offer much to reflect upon, especially for an American confronting the dilemmas of the profession in America. They offer a perspective on Werner Jaeger certainly, although not necessarily the definitive portrait of the man, of his times, or of his work. The facts presented in the essays, in fact, allow for quite another take on Werner Jaeger than the one suggested throughout this volume.

The papers are presented in the alphabetical order of their author's names with the exception of Ernst Badian's late arrival. Calder opens with an account of how Jaeger was called to Berlin to succeed Wilamowitz in 1921. He makes copious use of letters to draw the portrait of a young man jockeying for a position which he wanted to make as agreeable as possible. Mortimer Chamber re-reads the Thucydides chapter in Paideia. Partly he means to test it against contemporary notions of historical reconstruction, but the more interesting exercise is in weighing the implications of Jaeger's use of the term Führer to describe Pericles. Judith P. Hallett accounts for Jaeger's initial participation in the activities of the American Philological Association and his subsequent failure or disinclination (take your pick) to do so by describing the political maneuvering set off by the nomination of Jaeger in 1942 as candidate for Second Vice-President. Charles H. Kahn argues that Jaeger's monolithic presentation of Plato's thought, so unlike his conception of the multi-layered and growing direction of Aristotle's thinking, is, although not the vogue among today's Platonists, essentially correct. Paul T. Keyser attempts to demonstrate that Jaeger's account of early Christianity is shorn of its Judaic, mystical, and Gnostic aspects in order to isolate and confirm an absolute continuity between classical Greek antiquity and Christian thought. Alessandra Bertini Malgarini writes about the circumstances of the European refugee intellectuals arriving in America in the late thirties and situates Jaeger in this group. Beat Näf puts Paideia into the context of German thought and culture from the years of WW I through the Weimar Republic and into National Socialism. While demonstrating that Jaeger's thinking represents more the mainstream of conservative ideology than any particular affinity with the tenets of the Nazi party, Näf also shows how Jaeger, in order to maintain a favorable disposition toward the study of Greek and Latin in the schools, seems to have made in his public addresses an accomodation (Anpassung) with Nazi ideology. Robert Renehan comments on how Jaeger used the epoch-making interpretation of the layering of Aristotle's thought in his 1923 Aristoteles for his valuable (and to Renehan in a real sense an editio maior) 1957 OCT text of the Metaphysics in which Jaeger identifies additions to Aristotle's thinking in presumably subsequent versions of the lectures by a special set of brackets in the text. E. A. Schmidt edits the extant correspondence between Jaeger and Rudolph Borchardt, which is an illuminating illustration of Jaeger's relationship with a poet and thinker, a humanist, if one may use this vague term, rather than a classicist, and one whose conservative ideas were very attractive to the scholar. Eckhart Schütrumpf reviews Jaeger's demonstration of the organic growth and development of Aristotle's thought and discusses the degree to which it continues to achieve contemporary acceptance. Heinrich von Staden disputes Jaeger's thesis that Diocles of Carystus was a student and follower of Aristotle with a massive demonstration of the inadequacy and sometimes falsity of Jaegerian statistics. Donald O. White shows how Jaeger's conception of 'The Third Humanism' derives from conservative factions of the Weimar Republic. Ernst Badian ends the volume with an essay in which he demonstrates Jaeger's cavalier use of historical fact in constructing an entirely sympathetic portrait of Demosthenes, how the English translator sometimes misunderstands the German text, and how the later German edition of these Sather Lectures reveals some changes of emphasis and interpretation.

The essays present a wide range of information (although this reviewer cannot forgive Calder for offhandedly mentioning where Jaeger's "most embarrassing misprint" is to be found without telling us what it is -- the 1918 issues of the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung are not that easy to come by) which I have not the space nor at times the competence to discuss in detail. Apart from Chambers' discussion of Jaeger's Thucydides which is exceptionally bland because it does not seem to have been written from any point of view (the fact that Jaeger calls Pericles Führer goes nowhere), there is something to learn from them all. Von Staden has done some magisterial philological excavation in dismissing Jaeger's claims for Diocles, and Badian's masterful deployment of dates and facts makes the reader wonder, along with him, just what Jaeger was using for sources. Both essays make clear that Jaeger proceeded from a conception and made the facts fit it and ignored those that did not. That the authors of these essays can demonstrate the inadequacy of Jaeger's method and results in these two instances does not, however, satisfy the announced aims of the conference. One would like to know how Jaeger's Diokles von Karystos and his Demosthenes are received by the scholarly audience at large nowadays some fifty years after their introduction. (Only Schütrumpf really addresses this issue.) The Diokles, as an example of determined Quellenforschungen, when, as it seems, the sources are not to be known, represents an approach little in vogue nowadays when it becomes increasingly clear that we must accept the fact of our very limited knowledge and stop reconstructing. Most of all one misses an essay on Jaeger at Harvard. Calder describes the beginning of Jaeger's years at Berlin; the reader may supplement this with what Jaeger and Friederich Solmsen have elsewhere written about the entire fifteen year period (Five Essays, GRBS 30 [1989]). One wonders what Jaeger thought of Harvard's Finley, Hammond, Dow, Nock, and Havelock to name the more obvious candidates for prima donna assoluta during the Jaeger years.

If one misses Harvard in these pages, one does perhaps get a surfeit of Calder, who of course organized the conference (for which we should, indeed, be grateful since he more than anyone else nowadays is asking the profession to examine itself by looking into its antecedents), but who also seems to have been at the ready to offer advice and suggestions to the participants as we can see by their liberal thanks sprinkled through the notes. It seems, however, to this reader a bit too much of a hovering presence when Keyser accepts (p.90) a character-damaging (and entirely gratuitous) interpretation of Jaeger's change of opinion over time which Calder has suggested to him. In many respects it is unfortunate that Calder's essay must come first, since, if read first, it may well provide a subtext for all the rest. It contains what seems to this reader a good deal of gratuitously negative reconstruction of Jaeger's motives and behavior. To mention (2-3) that Jaeger had an early patroness, that when he married "Now she was replaced," and then to note that the patroness was never again mentioned (as though we were privy to every letter and conversation Jaeger had) seems to be encouraging malicious inference. Calder insists that in negotiating over who would be his colleague in Berlin "He could not bear a rival and needed a colleague whom he could bully ..." (p.11). In noting (p.22) that Jaeger had no student friends Calder continues "The reason is simple. Jaeger was too selfish to have friends." One might say that it is the interpretation that is simple. Calder continues: "Wilamowitz he flattered, feared, and respected." Perhaps Calder's extensive work on Wilamowitz blinds him to the possibility that Wilamowitz was a pompous bully whose star complex made him difficult to be around. Jaeger seems like a far more sympathetic person. Calder remarks that Jaeger preferred spending time with women and misleadingly quotes from Paideia the remark that beauty is the arete of women, which is obviously meant by Jaeger as Homer's counterpart to the masculine arete of courage. The statement is, in any case, only the introduction to several paragraphs (pp. 22-24) defining women's cultural value in far more complex terms. As Calder has noted elsewhere, Jaeger spent time with the women students at Harvard. Since it is nowadays so often remarked that straight white males are by virtue of their acculturated claim to superiority often unusually unimaginative, repressed, and awkward in relationships, perhaps Jaeger was simply far ahead of his time in choosing not to spend time with them. He was looking for something else as we can see from the correspondence with Borchardt, who was forever trying to impress Jaeger with his scholarly talents while Jaeger was seeking out and admiring the poet in the man. Calder's attitude seems to have colored the interpretation of more than one participant at the conference; I think particularly of von Staden or again of the Badian aside (p. 294) "Jaeger was always fond of rhetorical effects." Such comments are too easily dismissive or condescending. White, on the other hand, insists upon giving Jaeger the benefit of the doubt ("... I prefer to let charity prevail ..." p.268n) when assessing his sympathies with the philosophy of National Socialism, as does Näf.

The copious German introduced in the essays is untranslated. There are as well two essays entirely in that language -- those of Näf and Schütrumpf. Since the latter holds a position at an American university one would assume that he could write in English. It strikes this reader that it is a little late in the day in America to publish essays in German. This volume will be of great value to a very wide range of students and colleagues well beyond classics or German studies, and it is the height of pretension to assume that they all can read academic German (a language all of its own for which I should like to thank Richard Deppe in assisting me in my understanding of it here), or any German, for that matter, easily. English is the common language of the world nowadays. When classicists so often insist that their discipline is somehow truly international it then behooves them to write up their material in the one contemporary international language as editors of the honestly international scientific journals try to do.

Much is made of the great change from the dynamic celebrity of the Berlin years to the retiring professor of Harvard. There seems to be so many reasons for this, more than the conference participants are willing to consider. Jaeger was about fifty when he got here, a difficult time for a man to start over and make for himself the kind of role he had in Germany, especially when his first book had made him, as Renehan notes, a 'star' in his youth. Hallett notices that he immediately became involved in the APA and then just as rapidly disengaged himself. She imagines Jaeger sustaining a kind of hurt at having been removed from the running for office in 1942. We know from Solmsen's essay that Jaeger had experience of and played a part in a very different kind of professional organization in Germany, one devoted to the pedagogical problems of teaching classics on both school and university level. He was acutely concerned with the problem of promoting classics as the humanistisches Gymnasium declined in importance in Germany. His one and only address at the APA (later published as "Classical Philology and Humanism" [TAPA 67]) was devoted to warning his new American colleagues against excessive philological interests and encouraging a kind of misty spiritual engagement with the discipline (What precisely do such notions as "... [history] is a repository in which abiding values are constantly accumulating" or "It is a lasting law of the human spirit that whenever one of its fundamental values seems to have lost meaning and significance, it must be traced back to its origins for reassessment" really mean especially when taken together?) Relentless pedantry was normal practice in American classical studies in those days. As Jaeger says in the same paper "... America, perhaps more than any other country, has inclined to the modern German type of classical study." Hallett's essay suggests that the APA was then in the hands of just as self-important and self-serving, banal officers as at any other time. One can imagine that Jaeger was discouraged to discover how shallow and pedantic the organization's members were, how little they cared about the teaching of classics in the schools -- the fundamental element, as he recognized, for any healthy classics profession -- and that he despaired of the entire enterprise and retired to his study at home. One might note that his conservative politics, his not being Jewish, his isolation in academic Cambridge away from the intellectual milieu of leftist refugee Jews gathered in New York and Los Angeles in a country of so great a size that encompassing it mentally is difficult even for the native may have daunted him in his attempts to set himself up for a role of national leadership. Malgarini cites (p. 120) a Rosenmeyer observation that after time in this country Jaeger ceased to talk of the "state" in his writings. One might argue that he lost his country and never came to terms with living in America, or conversely, he recognized as de Tocqueville had before him that Americans in their relentless individuality guaranteed by their Constitution have no real sense of a Staatsideal. Harvard, in any case, is so much taken up with itself that anyone there would be hard pressed to notice that he or she was in America (cf. the old joke: "The President is in Washington today talking with Mr. Coolidge"). Malgarini quotes (p. 122) a Jewish refugee intellectual who takes a job in Alabama in order to become American. Perhaps most important, as his wife, Ruth, has written (cf. her essay in Germans in Boston), Jaeger was a "loner" by nature.

Jaeger, I imagine, passed his whole life struggling to conceptualize and teach the permanent value in klassische Altertumswissenschaft during years in which it seemed as though civilization itself were dying. He was a humanist. It is instructive to read his letters to the poet, essayist, and would-be scholarly classicist Rudolf Borchardt. Many of the letters have to do with Borchardt's translation of Pindar. Jaeger is enthusiastic, declaring that only a poet can finally understand another poet, that Pindaric studies will benefit immensely from a poet's criticism and interpretation. In his autobiographical note (published in Five Essays) Jaeger does a little Quellenforschungen on his own psyche, finally noting that he is a synthesis of his grandparents' spirituality and his parents' rationality. Of course, autobiography is finally no more than making a mythology of self. Yet with this observation Jaeger identifies his ideal antiquity, that is to say, the high refinement of rationality to be found in the masterpieces literature, philosophy, and art made transcendent and without context. Jaeger claimed, as Keyser notes (p.74) that Plato's metaphysics and idea of the Good was a new religion. From this distillation of the antique world Jaeger spent his life building the ongoing development of Christianity.

From another perspective, Jaeger's parents' rationality went into his Wortphilologie whereas his grandparents' religious orientation inspired his search for the transcendent and ideal. As Renehan points out, Jaeger had a masterful control of the Greek language and of the various styles in which it was written, and even as a very young man made emendations which seemed at first to be brilliant guess-work and were later verified as correct readings. As this reviewer can testify, Jaeger was able to quote from memory great swatches of Greek from a very wide assortment of texts. Thus, one is not surprised that he misquotes Plato (noticed by Keyser, p. 100) -- just as Plato himself misquoted his predecessors -- especially given his idealizing tendencies. Alongside his mastery of Wortphilologie was his admiration of the poet Borchardt and his indifference to painstaking reconstruction of historical detail and sometimes cavalier treatment of fact. More than once Jaeger's indifference to the politics of his time is noted. True enough, he does not relate antiquity to modern times in any specific way (for which he is praised by Dow in his history of the Sathers [noticed here on p. 115] "... remarkable ... for lack of cheap modern allusion." Dow, however, seems to ignore or is ignorant of the historical failings of the work brought out by Badian). In Paideia Jaeger ignores the historical context as much as Badian has shown him doing in the Demosthenes. The two tendencies are again revealed in the difference between his work on Aristotle, in which he emphasizes historical growth and change, and his portrait of Plato in Paideia, where he argues that the dialogues, their settings, and the speakers present a unified philosophy as though the individual texts were so many chapters in a largish novel of ideas.

In another sense, however, Jaeger was deeply political. His agenda for classical studies is to provide his beleagured Germany with an antidote first to rampant industrialism, to the emergent nouveaux-riches, then to all the ills that he perceived as emerging from the Weimar Republic. Näf's essay gives a good account of the German reaction to Paideia. Näf describes how Jaeger's ideas about the study of Greek culture as an antidote to a culture in decline long preceded the rise of National Socialism. Jaeger, he declares, makes a distinction between what he labels historicism, on the one hand, which is a study of the whole of antiquity in all of its material ramifications, and what he labels philology, on the other, which is more particularly concerned with values. It seems an odd distinction, but one sees what he means. Jaeger was arguing for something that altogether transcends time and place and as such transcends the Germany of the 1920s or the 1930s. It is like a universal religion and, as Näf notices, the Nazis, who were passionately nationalistic, did not like something that was not only universal, but, as Jaeger insisted elsewhere, not really German at all. Certainly Jaeger believed in a kind of racial purity, believed in the manipulation of the masses through education, believed in elitism, and as Näf says, believed in a monumental past. Jaeger's simplistic interpretation of Christian persecution by pagans as being the inevitable high minded opposition of a great cultural tradition (noted by Keyser [p. 100]) is just as naive and just as insidious in its implication as Pope John Paul II's accepting the rightful inevitability of Christian violent opposition to gays. But it is hardly pre-meditated malice. One is reminded of A. Raubitschek's delightful designation of a Nazi teacher of his, quoted by Calder (p.5n): "He was ... an aesthetic [Nazi], that means he liked to look at the clean-cut Storm troopers marching, in contrast to the dirty and disreputable communists and socialists." Jaeger held beliefs that are congenial to Nazi thinking, but it is naive in the extreme to imagine that they are the exclusive property of National Socialism. The times were perilous, the future unforseeable; such a situation encourages people to seek forms of control (look at the rise of religious fundamentalism in North America, South American, and the Near East today). A reviewer of Borchardt's December 1930 lecture on Pindar (the subject of very enthusiastic letters from Jaeger, who was on the platform himself of the Gesellschaft für Antike Kultur, quoted by Schmidt [p.180]) remarks that in this speech "there appeared dark and threatening parallels with our own time in which in the ever widening mudstream of the masses the last vestiges of an aristocratic-ethnic German [völkisch-adligen] culture threaten to sink."

Critics note that Jaeger continued to publish Paideia in Germany during the war years, but it seems to me that this represents both the futile effort of the man to teach his misguided countrymen and his pitiful acknowledgement that he had really no other country in which to be effective. Initially he seems to have thought that the ideal of classical antiquity in which he believed was universal, but perhaps, just as Karen Horney, an Austrian immigrant into this country, came to realize that Freudian theory was culture bound rather than a universal truth, he finally had to confess to his Toto that they were no longer in Germany. How appalled he must have been by the exuberant vulgarity of the American consumer society, polyglot and multicultural, particularly in that period of the late forties until the time of his death, as all the pent-up energies and bank accounts of the working classes inhibited by depression and war exploded in an orgy of shopping. His search for the enduring and transcendent in classical antiquity must have been dealt a formidable setback here in America as his cry from the heart (printed in Five Essays) suggests: "Unless there is a permanent value for human culture in the ancient concept of man, classical scholarship exists in a void. Anyone who does not believe this should come to America and see there what can happen to the development of classical studies." His prescription for this ill: Like the monks in the Middle Ages devote body and soul to teaching. When one considers the absolute and continuing decline in the quality of graduate students in classics in the post-war years, one can see why he made no particular effort to attract them to his side or found a school. Ruth Jaeger records how he preferred the Harvard undergraduates and how he loved to entertain her Milton Academy students in their home. Here finally was the real task for anyone who took paideia seriously.

W.M. McClay in his essay "Weimar in America" (American Scholar 55 [1986] 119-128) has written provocatively of the possibly deleterious effect of the refugee intellectuals and artists on the native talent (e.g., Schoenberg preferred over Copeland, Albers and Hans Hoffman over Eakins and Hopper, Mies over Wright). Did it, he asks (p.120), "reinforce the passive, derivative, and 'archival' mentality that critics from Ralph Waldo Emerson to George Steiner have found to be a telling defect in our national culture?" McClay quotes Lionel Trilling saying "... the American intellectual never so fully expressed his provincialism as in the way he submitted to the influences of Europe." There needs to be more research done on the possibly negative European influence in American classical studies, particularly considering how very many foreigners hold positions of great influence and power today in the American classical establishment. Jaeger himself warned against excessively German methodology in 1936. The extraordinary decline in classical studies from the turn of the century onward has many causes, but surely the discipline was not helped by the excessive pursuit of Wortphilologie that tends to turn any engagement with a text into something between crossword puzzle playing and copy-editing. We are now in the grip of French theory which many decry as equally sterile, and which will not, it seems, attract students. They will reject it because it is not the least bit American, just as finally they rejected Paideia for its German romanticism, its elitism, its idealism, its fundamental conceptual vagueness (Badian quotes Momigliano saying it is a maxim in Italy that "English is an honest language").

When this reviewer was a lad and in the process of losing his Christian faith, he read Paideia and was born again, as it were, into a faith in classical antiquity. And, while he long ago gave up on that equally improbable approach to human existence and finds Paideia unbearably tedious, he will ever be grateful to Werner Jaeger for helping to show him the way to his lifework. Calder quotes Charles Kahn saying that he left the conference pitying Jaeger. But this reviewer prefers to imagine a man who after a long, highly active and celebrated career in Germany found a thoroughly agreeable sanctuary in sterile and alien surroundings seated before the fire, talking to rosy-cheeked youths, rekindling in himself as he passed on to them an idealized, beautiful, and highly spiritual hellenism.