werner jaeger - classical philology and humanism

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  • American Philological Association

    Classical Philology and HumanismAuthor(s): Werner JaegerSource: Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 67 (1936),pp. 363-374Published by: The Johns Hopkins University PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/283246 .Accessed: 18/03/2014 16:03

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  • Vol. lxvii] Classical Philology and Humanism 363

    XXV.-Classical Philology and Humanism1 WERNER JAEGER


    The disruption of Western civilization which we are witness- ing, with the rise of the doctrine that culture and knowledge are nationalistic possessions, dividing group from group, rather than expressions of kinship binding the heirs of a common heritage into closer union, dismays not only disinterested philosophers and educators, but men of foresight and good will in all walks of life. It is of deep concern to classical scholars, for in the past it has been their primary function to transmit from generation to generation one of the great unifying tradi- tions. This is the heritage, received from the ancient world, of classical humanism. What especially troubles those who like myself still seek to perform this function is a division within our own group which has widened within the last half- century as a result of the application of scientific methods to the study of classical literature and archaeology. Undoubtedly these methods have in a multitude of ways renewed the vitality of our subject, and have increased both our knowledge and understanding of the ancient world. But the extreme con- centration upon them in our day and the narrow specialization which they have produced threaten to obscure and nullify our main service to society, never more needed than today, of keeping alive and developing the universal tradition of humanism. That a reconciliation between the older concep- tion of humanistic studies and the newer type of classical scholarship is possible and is indeed being effected I believe. But a conflict between them in varying degrees of acuteness still exists, which must be resolved if the study of antiquity is to perform its noblest function in the modern world.

    1 I am greatly indebted to Professor G. L. Hendrickson of Yale University for his extraordinary kindness in revising and condensing my article for publication. It owes much of its present form to his generous assistance.

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  • 364 Werner Jaeger [1936

    I recall very vividly how after nine years spent in a classical school of the old type I entered the university, and learned as one of the achievements of scientific scholarship that "humanism" was a pseudo-Greek word of recent origin, and that both the word and its content of meaning were under strict ban from the vocabulary of classical philology. It was a painful shock to the tradition and creed in which I had been brought up, by teachers who had held before me the august ideal of humanism, receiving authority from such venerable names as Humboldt, Winckelmann, and Goethe. At first I saw no chance of bridging the gap between this older tradition of humanism as a cultural ideal, and the exact scientific scholarship which was offered me by my philological and archaeological teachers. I should indeed have been tempted to abandon altogether my classical studies had I not observed that in the best of my teachers, behind the rigidity and a certain bigotry of scientific method, there glowed an ardor which gave to the interpretation of ancient literature warmth and vitality. In them I discerned a conflict between the rigorous philologist and the humanist, in which however the humanist was only admitted apologetically.

    I speak of my own experience because it was typical of the situation in Germany, and it may serve as a point of departure for considering what reconciliation is possible between these conflicting conceptions of classical study. It is a problem which our generation has inherited from its immediate pre- decessors, and I have outlined it in this personal form suspect- ing that my own case is not isolated, but symptomatic of wider concern.

    The antagonism between the newer science of antiquity and the older humanism was perhaps most acute in Germany, which formed the center and starting point of that exact critical scholarship which had revolutionized the humanistic studies of earlier centuries. But German example spread quickly to the whole world and it trained competitors in the same avenues of approach to classical study and involved

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  • Vol. lxvii] Classical Philology and Humanism 365

    them in the same problem. There remained, to be sure, in many countries an unbroken humanistic tradition which could not be entirely overwhelmed by the new scholarship, but broadly speaking its effect was to create an undecided conflict and a feeling of uncertainty about the legitimacy of the one conception of our function or of the other. It would be inter- esting to attempt a characterization of the classical scholarship of the different countries of Europe as modified by the impact of the new critical study of antiquity, but it would take us too far afield. Let it suffice to say that America, perhaps more than any other country, has inclined to the modern German type of classical study, although individual Americans have criticised it sharply.

    Thus, speaking generally, in the university world of the nineteenth century the old humanism had given way more and more to scientific research in classical philology and archae- ology, though not without some resistance. What was the cause of this change? How did it happen that philological study, the child of humanism, had turned against it? The beginnings of this development go back to times when humanism was still dominant. Humanism, which was in its origins the creation of the great Italian poets of the early Renaissance and of the neo-Latin poets and prose writers, competing with the ancients in their own forms and language, had by the end of the sixteenth century narrowed to a sterile erudition. From this later phase of humanism a new anti- quarian and critical study of the ancient world developed, no longer looking to the re-creation of a modern literature on ancient models, but to a comprehensive knowledge of the ancient world. The cardinal point in this development was reached in the second half of the eighteenth century, when for the first time the historical sense awoke in reaction against the rationalism of the age of reason. The German neo- humanism of Winckelmann and Humboldt and Goethe was to be sure in no small degree determined by the abstract rationalism of the earlier time. It sought an absolute ideal

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  • 366 Werner Jaeger [1936

    of man, and found in the Greeks the one revelation of the highest harmony and completeness of human life.

    But the type of classical scholarship which grew up in Germany at the end of the eighteenth and in the early nine- teenth century was animated by a new feeling, a newly awakened historical sense. Its goal was the knowledge of ancient life as a whole. The spiritual values of literature still held their place supreme, but a new element entered into this study, an impulse to understand them not in isolation, but against the background of their time. That meant the recon- struction of the history of their time. Not the old history, which was a mere re-telling of the story as recorded by the ancient historians, but a history put together from sources of every kind-inscriptions, archaeological monuments and re- mains, papyri from the dry sands of Egypt, fragments of lost works of literature salvaged by antiquarian or grammatical lore, nothing in short overlooked which might serve to fill a gap of knowledge and complete the reconstruction of the past. Great provinces which up to that time had owed scant allegiance to general classical scholarship such as Greek philosophy or Roman law-were reclaimed for the classical scholar and compelled to pay their tribute to the central whole.

    In.place of a limited number of classical models, to which the old humanism had paid homage, there was now set up as the goal of study a panorama of historical development extending through centuries. A particular curiosity and in- terest attached to all that was new, to the discovery of facts or materials, literary or archaeological, which were before unknown. The great culminating points of antiquity lost favor in comparison with the early and the late. The example of Mommsen's penetrating studies of Rome kindled the youth- ful Wilamowitz to a similar breadth of view in his studies of the classical