Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

Famous scholars from Kiel:

Felix Jacoby

Historian, Professor of Classical Philology in Kiel from 1907 to 1935.

Felix Jacoby (19th March 1876 – 10th November 1959) held one of the two chairs in Classical Philology in the Philological Department of the "Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel" from 1907 to 1935 and was also director of the faculty during this period. He was the successor to the Hellenist Paul Wendland (1864-1915). It was not least in his long Kiel period that Felix Jacoby wrote the work which has made him immortal in classical studies and which later earned him the epithet of "the most learned man in Europe" from one of his Oxford colleagues (Robert Dundas): "Die Fragmente der Griechischen Historiker" (FGrHist), a collection of fragments – i.e. quotations in later authors – of the works of the Greek historians of antiquity which are partially or wholly lost. It is almost unimaginable today that a single scholar could undertake such a monumental task alone (running to 17 volumes) and it is not surprising that the work is now being continued as an international co-operation project (based not least on Jacoby's papers). In addition to this collection Felix Jacoby published a wide range of monographs and articles in both Kiel and Oxford – where he was forced to flee in 1939 (see below) – including articles for the "Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft" (RE). Among his other work two outstanding examples are "Atthis" (1949), a work on local Athenian historiography after Herodotus and the article "Herodot" for the RE. Jacoby also edited a book on Hesiod and wrote numerous articles on Greek literature and Latin poetry.

Jacoby was born in Magdeburg of Jewish parentage and attended the grammar school at the former monastery of Our Blessed Ladies in Magdeburg, one of the leading humanist schools in northern Germany, from 1885 onwards and took his Abitur (university entrance qualification) there in 1894. Jacoby was baptised a Protestant in St John's Church in Magdeburg as an eleven year-old schoolboy and his confirmation followed in 1891. He began his studies of classical philology in Freiburg in 1894, but as his university records attest, he followed an unusually broad course of study. As well as lectures in his own subject he also attended lectures on medieval German literature, Sanskrit, Gothic and modern German history. One semester later Jacoby transferred to the University of Munich, where he maintained his interdisciplinary interests, and finally in 1896 to Berlin, which was then the mecca of German classical philology due to Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff and Hermann Diels; in December 1900 he received his doctorate of philosophy under Hermann Diels with a thesis entitled "De Apollodori Atheniensis chronicis". In 1901 Felix Jacoby married Margarethe Johanne von der Leyen, who throughout her life was her husband's most important assistant in publishing his academic works. The couple had two sons, Hans and Georg. Jacoby became an assistant lecturer at the University of Breslau in the winter semester of 1903/04 and qualified as a lecturer one year later with a paper on the "Marmor Parium", a Hellenistic chronicle from the island of Paros which is preserved in fragments. Jacoby dedicated this study to Wilamowitz and later edited it as FGrHist 239. From Breslau Jacoby was then appointed, as already mentioned, to a chair in Kiel, due not least to Wilamowitz' influence, as whose pupil Jacoby saw himself throughout his life. Jacoby remained in Kiel until stepping down from teaching duties at the university in the spring of 1935 and turned down a prestigious appointment in Hamburg in 1927. Jacoby lived in Kitzeberg, on the other side of the Kiel fjord, and usually took the ferry to get to the university. When the weather was bad or he was prevented from carrying out his teaching duties due to unpostponable work, he would ring up his assistant Marie Wünsch and say: "Das Schiffchen fährt heute nicht" (The ship isn't sailing today). This "unreliable" navicula chiloniensis was immortalised in the title of his Festschrift in 1956.

Although he was initially not completely opposed to the National Socialist seizure of power, after the introduction of the measures against "non-Aryan" civil servants Jacoby petitioned to be released from his official duties. His official request remains intriguing and commands respect even today:

"My sole concern is whether the community in work and spirit which has existed between my students and myself until now and is in my view the precondition for meaningful and effective teaching can be maintained. In the liberal arts and, I believe, particularly in classical studies, it is impossible to separate "education" and "instruction" and for non-Aryan teachers to restrict themselves, as is now being demanded, to the transmission of knowledge or introductions to academic methodology. Even if lessons such as these were possible, they would be meaningless, because they would be devoid of the central element of classical studies, the formation of character through contact with the spirit of the great authors of antiquity, and would thereby become a superficial activity in a way that not just the best but actually the great majority of students would decisively reject. My students have not made any requests of this kind of me; on the contrary, my feeling is that the bonds between them and myself have if anything become closer in the last two semesters than was already the case. But however strong the personal ties to a non-Aryan lecturer may be for particular individuals at the moment, in my view there will inevitably be an insurmountable conflict between such personal ties and the fundamental political ideas of the new order. Simply to wait until this conflict has manifested itself and caused definite damage to education does not seem sensible to me in the light of the speed with which our youth which has been brought up under modern conditions is maturing. However, above all a decision to wait and see is at odds with the fact that my students are already being forced today by the attitudes and activities of the main student body into an inner conflict between personal loyalties and political views, which must either make meaningful i.e. educationally effective lessons impossible or else exposes the individual students to risks to which their own teacher should in my opinion not expose them."1

Jacoby's request was granted with effect from 1st April 1935. From this time onwards he lived with his son Hans in Finkenkrug near Berlin. He was personally affected by the pogrom in November 1938 and thereafter attempted to immigrate to Great Britain. Fortunately he was successful in the spring of 1939, thanks to the intervention of numerous colleagues and institutions. The two most important supporters of the immigration (and therefore rescue) of Jacoby were the famous British philologist Robert Wade-Gary and Jacoby's former Kiel colleague Eduard Fraenkel, who had himself lost his chair in Freiburg several years earlier. The Jacobys arrived in Oxford in April 1939 and were granted British citizenship in 1948. Shortly before his return to Germany, which only became possible after the approval of his pension as a professor emeritus in 1956, he was conferred with the honorary doctorate by the University of Oxford. Kiel University honoured him with a Festschrift and appointed him an honorary senator of the university, although without really undertaking any serious critical reflection on the behaviour of the alma mater in the Third Reich. Jacoby's wife died shortly after their return to Berlin on 21st March 1956. Felix Jacoby died three years later, on 10th November 1959.

Felix Jacoby exerted considerable influence on classical studies in his alma mater in Kiel and inspired many outstanding students to move to Kiel at least temporarily. His joint lectures and seminars with Eduard Fraenkel at the end of the 1920's or with the philosopher Julius Staenzel as well as his extensive and sometimes non-academic contacts with the student body – including the staging of the play "Zukunfts-Philologie" (Philology of the future) – left a lasting impression on his pupils. However, he was not particularly interested in theoretical discussions within his subject, as arose in the historicism dispute in the 1920's; in this respect he has been described as "the most traditional of Wilamowitz' great Berlin students" (W.M. Calder). Jacoby was interested in suggestions for specific improvements in the organisation of studies and was driven by practice, not theory. In this respect Felix Jacoby was a representative of a German scholarly tradition with its roots in the Wilhemine 19th century: "largely unpolitical and disciplined in their academic work, sharp in their judgements and devoted to the support of their students"3. As far as interaction with his colleagues in Kiel or in his field is concerned, on the one hand he had some close friendships, but on the other an equal number of decided sometimes even polemic judgments. Diplomacy was not Jacoby's métier, "instead he preferred frank criticism, which for his part was usually meant constructively"4.

After Jacoby had already announced his intention to publish the fragments of the Greek historians in a programmatic speech in Berlin in 1908, he published a detailed text one year later in which he outlined the development of Greek historiography and set out the programme of work which he later kept to in the main. The principle underlying the selection and the sequence of the books were the historical development of historiography and the category of the works (I. Genealogy and Mythography; II. Universal and Contemporary History. Chronography; III. Ethnography and Horography; IV. Antiquarian History and Biography; V. Geography; VI. Unknown Authors. Theory of Historiography). The first volume of his collection (FGrHist No. 1-63) was published in 1923; the most important authors contained in it were the historian Hecataeus of Miletus (1) and the logographer Hellanicus of Lesbos (4). The texts, divided into 'T(estimonia)', i.e. references in later authors to the edited authors themselves and 'F(ragmente)', based on the model of the fragments of the Pre-Socratics by Jacoby's teacher Diehl, all contain an apparatus criticus. This first volume already exhibits Jacoby's method of printing the fragments quoted by more than one author side-by-side synoptically. The second part of the monumental work was published between 1926 and 1930. When the National Socialists banned him from publishing and even prohibited "non-Aryans" from visiting public libraries, so making work on the fragments impossible, this evidently persuaded Jacoby that he had to leave Germany. How fundamental his work was seen to be for classical studies is demonstrated by a letter from the Dean and Governing Body of Christ Church, Oxford, who informed Jacoby that they wanted "to enable you to continue your important work on the fragments of the Greek historians as soon as possible here in Oxford where conditions seem to be particularly favourable for carrying on such an undertaking"5. In financially far from ideal circumstances Felix Jacoby continued to work on the fragments in Oxford, where he was only rarely seen outside his college or his house in St Margaret's Road. The impression Jacoby made on his surroundings is indicated by a remark by the philologist Mortimer Chambers; "Jacoby was a man of immense inner strength, short of stature but a dynamo, and as determined as any Prussian general (a type that many people saw in him)."6 In his Oxford period Jacoby also produced the "massive crowning stone of the whole structure"7, his commentary on Atthidography (Athenian local history) in a two-volume supplement to FGrHist IIIb – "What a book!" was the simple assessment of the famous English historian A.W. Gomme.8

The Fragments are Jacoby's life's work; nothing will ever surpass them in the field of research on ancient historiography. Unfortunately Jacoby's contributions on other philological and literary-historical themes outside of this monumental work are all too often forgotten, for example his studies on the Roman elegiac poets. Jacoby is said to have remarked on this: "Why do these people in Oxford think I'm a historian?"

The great pupil of Wilamowitz and Diels, the friend of Eduard Norden and Julius Stenzel, Jacoby once wrote to the children of one of his friends in Kiel: "Hardly a day goes by when I do not talk to them [Wilamowitz and Stenzel] and everyone else (...) vanishes completely into the background; because these two are (not were) the only people who can give me new inner stimulation every time."

Prof. Josef Wiesehöfer

First published in: Christiana Albertina, Forschungen und Berichte aus der
Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel, Ausgabe 61

The most important works of Felix Jacoby

Archive Material and Literature


1  Zit. nach Wittram, S. 105f.
2  This happenend recently in the Dissertation of A. Wittram.
3  Wittram S. 157.
4  Wittram S. 155.
5  Chambers, Felix Jacoby, S. 208.
6  Chambers, The Genesis of Jacoby's Atthis, »Owls to Athens«,
    Essays on Classical Subjects, ed. E. M. Craik, Oxford 1990, S. 389
7  Chambers, Felix Jacoby, S. 208
8  Ebd.

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