I was born in Iowa City, Iowa the site of the University of Iowa from which I received a Bachelor's Degree in 1952 after finishing the local public high school. My major was in Classics, a choice that six or seven years earlier I would have considered an outlandish joke, having taken four years of Latin in school with an indifference bordering on loathing. Suffering four long years of Caesar, Cicero, and Virgil, ill taught and worse thought out, was nonetheless one of those genteel things that my mother ever conscious of our social position imposed on me. Despite that experience, when I arrived at college as I was shopping for a two hour course to fill a difficult time slot I put myself down--beyond my wildest expectations--for something called “The Love Poems of Catullus and Horace,” attracted to the title not the Latin language in which it would be taught. It was my first experience of that truth which became a nightmare years later when I was a department chairman responsible for enrollments: packaging is everything. The teacher was an energetic charismatic gent-who it was I cannot remember, only his energy-who before too long had me convinced that I had to get serious about my Latin, and furthermore learn Greek. Not only was he compelling, he could give us students maximum individual attention, there not being more than five or seven in the course. This was at a time when the university was still reeling from the aftershock of the invasion of students under the GI Bill, when introductory courses in Sociology met in lecture halls holding a couple thousand, the instructor spoke over a microphone, and tests were multiple choice. By contrast, classics courses with their relatively miniscule enrollments more or less resembled the tutorial system of Oxford or Cambridge.
Once I had enrolled in Beginning Greek I began an intellectual and spiritual love affair with Greek antiquity that was nearly the most passionate of any emotional encounter of my lifetime. The rest of my undergraduate years I gave over to as much Greek as I could manage together with a prudent number of Latin courses since, as my instructors reminded me, a graduate student was expected to know both. Behind that innocent sentence lies a number of surprises. One of them was the very notion of continuing the study of classics beyond the undergraduate program. That in turn came from the surprise that in this provincial university still struggling with the aftermath of the great economic depression and now confronting the invasion of the GI’s there existed this small department with three first rate young scholars and teachers: Gerald Else, Frank Gilliam, and Thomas Rosenmeyer. Almost invariably I was one of two students in the class or the only one-- a kind of seminar therefore--and I had ample opportunity to get to know these teachers well. Else had come a few years earlier to chair the department, still disappointed at having not received tenure at Harvard. He first introduced me to ancient philosophy and in my senior year took me through a year long Jaegerian review more or less of the Zeitgeist by means of a reading of the major texts from Homer through the fifth century. It was Else’s adaptation of the course the Harvard classics department gave its senior majors. Gilliam who had been a student of Michael Rostovtzeff at Yale, gave me an introduction to the professional study of ancient history with a strong concentration on early Roman imperial history. Such was his sensitivity to me as a student that as he gave me what amounted to tutorials in Herodotos, he emphasized the paradigm of hubris and hamartia in the story of Creon and Solon, and again in Thucydides, he managed a wan smile when I was given Cornford’s Thucydides Mythistoricus to read by his colleague Rosenmeyer, and agreeably surrendered as I went about forming my opinion of fifth century BCE historiography from that book. His Roman history course on the other hand brought in enough students to warrant lecturing, and I discovered him to employ his dry wit and strange locutions to bring down the house day after day. He collected first editions of Jane Austen while his scholarship was devoted to the Roman army; that may have had something to do with it. As I listened to him use Tacitean irony to great effect, I was learning how to create a lecture myself. Colleagues of Gilliam in later years when he had gone on to Columbia and then to the Institute for Advanced Research at Princeton, were always amazed as I recounted the hours of laughter in his courses. The most influential in this triumvirate was Rosenmeyer, ten years my senior, raised in Hamburg, educated at Toronto and Harvard, speaking an English accent through which a German base could be discerned--just like all the fascinating and glamorous film stars of the time, Paul Henreid or Marlene Dietrich, for instance. He seemed to me handsome, European, mysterious and foreign, I was completely under his spell if not for the presentation than certainly for his non-stop line by line commentary on the Homeric epics and the tragic dramas we read, always my favorites among the literary productions of antiquity. He most of all made antiquity seem to be an immediate and significant feature of contemporary European thought.
The third surprise was that these gentlemen were actively grooming me as a candidate for graduate study in classics. Of course, it should have been obvious that they would try to recreate themselves in the bright young fellow sitting before them in class. It is perhaps more surprising that I did not seem to react to this, to consider for myself an alternative future. But I was in the process of developing my sexual identity; my friends wanted to talk about bars and assignations, not career prospects. In those days as a rule young people did not talk about careers and the future as they do nowadays. Certainly my widowed mother did not seem disposed to discuss my future; these were matters that men talked over. My father had been a surgeon, and she was content that I became a professional. I applied to Harvard. In those days a word from two former Harvardians who could guarantee my talent was sufficient. The tuition was $700. I received a scholarship for $500. From 1952 until 1955 I was in residence as a graduate student at Harvard University enrolled in the program called Classical Philology. I received a Master of Arts in 1954, and a PhD awarded in February of 1960.
I pretty much hated Harvard and Cambridge, although I certainly have benefited from the cachet of a Harvard PhD, and like it or not I have lived on and off around Harvard Square for nearly fifty years. One indisputable benefit is the privilege granted the alumni of using Widener Library, and, after it was built and until it became too crowded the Blodgett Pool. As for the celebrated Harvard Square it is best to be avoided having become nothing more than a nondescript mall of national chain stores serving the gawking tourists who have just walked through the theme park that is Harvard Yard. After the dynamic teaching I had enjoyed at Iowa, my Harvard classics professors seemed to me for the most part to be simply putting in time in the classroom. The majority acted as though they considered me only minimally intelligent; whether true or no, it did not improve my attitude nor my performance. After the first year the department dropped my scholarship, a not too subtle hint to get lost, but I had no other plan in mind, was stymied by my own timidity, and so surreptitiously got a job--graduate students at Harvard were not supposed to dilute their time with jobs. A job as a night watchman at the warehouse of Jordan Marsh left me free to attend daytime classes and fit some bouts of sleeping in around them, and the faculty was none the wiser. When at the end of the first semester of this desperate scheme I pulled in four A’s in four difficult seminars one of my fellow students let the cat out of the bag to the department chair, Professor Peter Elder. This gentleman immediately arranged money for me so that I could cease my labors. Of my professors I will always remember Henry Joel Cadbury, who taught me New Testament Greek, a gentle old soul who startled us all with sharp admonitions against the reckless, nay ruthless, behavior of Senator McCarthy and his two assistants, David Schine and Roy Cohn. Although I thought I had long since mastered the art of paper writing Arthur Darby Nock's careful and severe correction of my seminar papers was so thoughtful and thoroughgoing that he was the inspiration for my professional writing and research style thereafter. My best experience was the excellent seminar in Lucretius offered by Peter Elder who became my model of superior graduate teaching. He assembled the class in his rooms in Lowell House serving tea and cookies throughout the two hour session, walking amongst us, encouraging us all as any good host would to a spirited conversation only in this instance directed to the text of De Rerum Natura. He had that gift uncommon in straight males but natural it often seems in gays of opening up himself to others and seeking equal emotional honesty. Hence he was adept at getting everyone to speak, intruding himself only to correct ever so discreetly errors of fact or get the discussion back on focus when a misdirected remark got it derailed. From this course I was able to assemble the materials for the article “Lucretius and Progress,” which I wrote for The Classical Journal vol. 58 (1963). The biggest influence of all came through the interaction with my fellow student William M. Calder III, an undergraduate when I met him and already a book collector. A born philologue and scholar (later to become the William Abbott Oldfather Professor of Classics at University of Illinois, Urbana), he was to teach me far more than what I was introduced to formally. The same might be said for the senior undergraduate honors seminars I led as part of my obligation for the fellowship money I received from Harvard. The students were on the whole brilliant and demanding (particularly the late David Wiesen, who went on to a distinguished although short-lived academic career, first at Brandeis, later at University of Southern California), and in one instance the research and instruction in a Euripides honors seminar gave me the substance of what I later published as “Alcestis and her Critics,” Greek Roman and Byzantine Studies vol 2 (1959).
Several years passed between the end of my formal education in the classroom in 1954 and the reception of the degree. The time lag between the end of course work and getting the PhD was not that uncommon in those days since the cohort of students entering directly before me had been the GI’s, already married and with family when they came to school. At this juncture the demands of my personal life more or less took over for a while. I had to get a job to earn money once my fellowships ceased. My wife of five years tragically died of heart disease two weeks before I began my first full time teaching. A crazy courtship ensued in which I married a second time. Two sons were born in rapid succession, in the midst of which I was invited to another university. Through it all I worked up the notes and wrote the dissertation. Offered as part of the requirement for the PhD and defended in the fall of 1959, the dissertation was entitled “The Catalogue as a Device of Composition in Homer's Iliad.” A précis may be found in the pages of the Harvard Studies in Classical Philology for 1962, but the substance of the work is contained in the article “Homeric Battle Narrative and Catalogues” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology vol 68 (1964) as well as “A New Meaning for NAYS in the Catalogue” American Journal of Philology vol 82 (1961).
An informal but vital addition to my education came about in the academic year 1963-64, and all I can say is “God bless Olivia James!” This fine lady had given money to endow an annual fellowship for, as she put it, “travel in Greek lands” for anyone with any interest in visiting them, scholar, musician, poet. Needless to say the classics establishment almost immediately managed to take hold of the direction of this grant and that put paid the prospects of poets, musicians and the like. I was the second holder of the Olivia James Traveling Fellowship, so I parked my family in Rome and spent ten months off and on traveling through lands once inhabited by ancient Greeks. Then it was for the first time that I saw the remains of their civilization in Greece, Asia Minor, the islands of the Aegean, Sicily, and southern Italy (Magna Graecia), as well as its powerful influence not only upon the subsequent Roman culture but also the still later Italian Renaissance. More important for someone educated so narrowly--apart from Frank Gilliam no single one of my teachers undergraduate or graduate ever suggested that any piece of ancient literature existed in place or time-- the travels gave me my first real understanding of antiquity as historical fact, a phenomenon as well unfolding far beyond the confines of fifth century Athens and Rome of the last century BCE and the first century CE.
Still later in 1978-79 I was appointed Visiting Professor at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens where I participated as an observer in all the school field trips which taught me a substantial amount about ancient architecture, building practices, city planning as well as the methods of modern archeology. This knowledge was augmented in the spring of 1998 by a tour of ancient Greek sites in Turkey led by Professor John Camp of the American School, a brilliant teacher and tour leader who led the group over hills and valleys to sites as yet only minimally worked over by archeologists. Apart from serving for this old timer as a kind of outward bound endurance trip it gave me a breathtaking view of rural Turkey in springtime.