(A longer version of the following memoir, by Helen North, Centennial Professor of Classics Emerita, Swarthmore College, was commissioned for a forthcoming volume of the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. This version was lightly edited and abridged by Ralph M. Rosen. Sadly, Professor North herself died on January, 21, 2012. Shortly before her death she had given her permission for this obituary to be abridged and published in the APA Newsletter. Special thanks to Julia Gaisser for facilitating the process, and to the American Philosophical Society for permission to print the text that follows).
‘I invented Martin Ostwald.’ With this modest claim I opened the meeting in the Lang Music Building at Swarthmore College convened to honor Martin on his retirement in 1992 after serving on the faculty since 1958. Then, realizing that some in the audience did not recognize the use of the Latin verb invenire in the sense in which it is applied to St. Helena, when she is referred to as the Inventor (i.e., ‘Finder’) of the True Cross, I explained that I had first ‘found’ Martin in the papyrus room of the Columbia University Library early in the fall of 1954. I was Visiting Professor at Barnard and Columbia that year, and I often reflect upon the divine providence that sent me to Barnard that year and enabled me to meet Martin, talk with him occasionally about the courses in Ancient History that we were both teaching, and absorb the belief common to all my students that the best teacher in the Columbia Classics Department was Martin Ostwald. Long before that year was over I had resolved to recruit him to fill the opening that I knew would occur at Swarthmore in a few years. I can see him now looking up from his papyrus, bowing politely to his new temporary colleague and then returning to his research. In my memory this picture will never fade.
When Martin, then aged 32, was thus settled into a peaceful academic life of teaching and research, he had already survived the horror of the Nazi persecution of the Jews, escape from Germany to England, imprisonment in a concentration camp in Canada, and the long process of securing an education that would lead to a brilliant career as a classical scholar. He rarely spoke to his colleagues of his early life, but an interview conducted by Nora Monroe of the American Philosophical Society on July 7, 2009 has supplied many details which I am grateful to be permitted to record. Martin was born on January 15, 1922 in Dortmund, Westphalia, Germany. He came of a family long established in Westphalia, the only Jewish family in a small village, Sichtigvor, which he visited frequently during the lifetime of his grandmother, who lived in a house bought by his great grandfather in 1839. His father, Max, a prominent lawyer, was a lover of the classics, and Martin was enrolled in the local gymnasium, where he studied from 1932 to1938, beginning Latin at 10 and Greek at 13. His experience reading the Iliad when he was 14 determined his future vocation, but his immediate expectations were abruptly destroyed on Kristallnacht, in November 1938,. when Nazis raided the Ostwald apartment in Dortmund, destroyed furniture and anything else of value, and on the next day arrested Max Ostwald and his two sons. All three were ultimately sent to a concentration camp, Dachsenhausen at Oranienburg near Berlin, but thanks to the efforts of their mother, Hedwig Strauss Ostwald, who had registered both her sons for the Kindertransport, the boys, aged 16 and 15, were able to escape to the Netherlands and then to England. They never saw their parents again. Their mother died at Auchswitz, their father at Teresin.
In the Festschrift, Nomodeiktes: Greek Studies in Honor of Martin Ostwald, the editors, Ralph M. Rosen and Joseph Farrell, record the last words of Max Ostwald to his sons in the camp, two lines from the Iliad (6.448-49), which in the translation of Richmond Lattimore read: ‘There will come a day when sacred Ilion shall perish / And Priam, and the people of Priam of the strong ash spear.’ As the editors observe, ‘The impression that his father's words must have made on the young man in that time and in that place lies beyond our power to comment upon adequately’ (p.xii). Such must be the reaction of anyone who visualizes that scene.
Once they reached England, Martin and Ernest were taken care of by a refugee committee in London, which placed them in various camps and hostels. When war broke out, they managed, with the help of aunts, who had meanwhile arrived in England, to find jobs as apprentice waiters in hotels in Bournemouth. Martin tried to join the British army, but was rejected as an enemy alien. Instead, he was interned in May, 1940 and after Dunkirk was shipped to Canada, where he spent two and a half years in refugee camps, with the status ‘Prisoner of War, Class 11.’
What Martin achieved in this situation was characteristic of his lifelong determination to focus on the future, not the past. The most urgent immediate need was to finish his secondary education and prepare for university. To that end, he helped found a high school, of which he was assistant principal (although he had not himself graduated). He taught Latin and English literature with the help of a dictionary and a history of English literature, which enabled him to keep ahead of his students, as he prepared them to pass examinations administered by McGill University. Meanwhile he himself passed his junior and senior matriculations, being, as he later commented, both a teacher and a candidate. In other ways too the camps provided a lively intellectual life with lectures by inmates who had already been engaged in distinguished professional lives, musical performances, and plays, such as Androcles and the Lion, which Martin remembered as a comment on their internment, because it ridiculed the military. Another inmate destined to become a distinguished classicist was Thomas Rosenmeyer, who became a lifelong friend (d. 2007), and like Martin, also served as President of the American Philological Association (1989). Martin and some of his fellow internees received notable help in the next stage of their education from Jewish organizations in Canada. A Jewish fraternity at the University of Toronto gave him bed and breakfast in the fraternity house and paid his expenses (about $125 a semester). It was necessary for him to join the Canadian Officer Training Corps and drill in uniform, but at last all the obstacles were overcome and he received the B.A. with honors in Classics at University College Toronto in 1946.
Lore Weinberg came into Martin’s life when he continued his studies at the University of Chicago (1946-1948), to which he was attracted by the recently established Committee on Social Thought, because, as he said later, after four years of the straight and narrow path of classics ‘I also wanted some more elbow room.’ He also was attracted by Lore, whom he met through his brother Ernest in England. She too was a German refugee, who had been educated in a Quaker school in England and was now studying at the University of Chicago to become a psychiatric social worker, a profession that she followed for many years thereafter. They were married on Dec. 27, 1948 and ever after Lore became so much a part of Martin's life and personality that students, in the letters they wrote to him upon his retirement, often commented on her contribution to his role as their teacher. Martin also had a strong interest in psychoanalysis at this time, one of the reasons for his choice of Chicago for further study. He wanted to psychoanalyze Greek myths and wrote a thesis on the Orestes myth in Greek tragedy, for which he received an M.A in 1948. He then found that he was ‘yearning back for more classics’ and with a fellowship to study at Columbia he and Lore moved to New York. A major attraction of the Columbia classics department at that time was the presence of two German classicists of an earlier generation, Kurt von Fritz and Ernst Kapp, who became his mentors. Martin’s interests began to shift toward ancient history, and his PhD. dissertation, suggested by von Fritz, was entitled ‘The Unwritten Laws and the Ancestral Constitution of Ancient Athens,’—never published, but full of promise for Martin’s future research. Before he received the doctorate from Columbia in 1952, he had already begun teaching, first at Columbia, then for a year at Wesleyan, then back at Columbia until 1958, when he received the invitation to move to Swarthmore.
Such a move held several attractions. By this time Martin and Lore had two sons, for whom growing up in the Swarthmore environment held obvious advantages. For Martin the location of the College within easy reach of the libraries available in Philadelphia, New York, Princeton, and Washington was tempting. The College itself had two unique advantages: the famous honors program established in 1922 by President Frank Aydelotte and the unusually generous leave system, which rewarded the heavy teaching load with the opportunity for leave every fourth year. The Classics Department (one of whose early graduates, Helen Magill, class of 1873, was the first woman in the United States to receive the Ph.D. in Classics) had been equipped by President Aydelotte with a distinguished pair of professors, the Rhodes Scholar Lucius Rogers Shero, who presided over the Greek program, and Ethel Brewster, a Latinist who had also studied abroad in England and Italy. Both had been chosen by Aydelotte for their ability to develop the Honors Program.
Martin’s continued thirst for the opportunity to teach graduate students and explore more advanced aspects of Greek history was satisfied in an ideal way that helped to keep him at Swarthmore (ever my primary concern as Chairman). He accepted a part-time tenured appointment at the University of Pennsylvania, where he joined the graduate group in 1968 released by Swarthmore for one third of his time—and thereafter taught a different aspect of Greek history at an advanced level each semester. This arrangement owed much to his old friend from the University of Chicago, then provost at Penn, Michael Jameson. Thus, as Martin himself admitted, he enjoyed the best of both worlds, undergraduate and graduate teaching under different, but ideal circumstances, until he retired from both Swarthmore and Penn in 1992.
At Swarthmore Martin taught Greek language, literature and history, and his seminars on Greek tragedy were particularly famous. Former students still recall the time he spent the entire four hours of a seminar discussing the first few lines of theAgamemnon. His own favorite course was Beginning Greek. His varied experiences ranging from the German gymnasium through the English model of honors program at Toronto to the American graduate programs at Chicago and Columbia prepared him (as Rosen and Farrell noted) to appeal to every type of serious student at Swarthmore. Reading the letters—love-letters—from former students at the time of his retirement, one is struck not only by the universal admiration for his infinite knowledge of his subject (and his amazing ability to quote Homer at random), but by repeated expressions of gratitude for his kindness and patience. He never neglected or looked down on a beginner. I was not surprised when I read these letters to learn that students often referred to him as ‘Papa.’
It was not for nothing, however, that Martin made it a condition of his acceptance of the invitations from Swarthmore and Penn that he should not be expected to serve as department chairman, except at Swarthmore during my absences on leave. His own leaves every fourth year were spent in a variety of places, depending on his current research and often on invitations from welcoming institutions. Thus he spent 1961-1962 as a Fulbright Fellow at the American School at Athens, another year at the American Academy in Rome, and he became a familiar figure at Balliol, where he was a Visiting Fellow in 1970-1971 and often returned to Oxford and his many friends there. Even more numerous were the visits to the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton (1974-1975, 1981-1982, 1990-1991). In 1991 he was also at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris as Directeur d’Études. Awards came to him from the ACLS, the NEH, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Kenan Fellowship, as well as the Fulbright. Lore entered fully into his delight and interest in Greece, Rome, Oxford, Paris, and the other places they visited. Her expert knowledge of photography and her capacity as an art historian added much to the value of their travels. She became a welcome volunteer at the Ashmolean Museum when they were in Oxford, and I well remember what each contributed to the Swarthmore Alumni Colleges Abroad on the occasions when they accompanied groups to the Mediterranean. If Martin’s recitation of passages from Greek tragedy in the theater at Epidaurus is unforgettable, so is Lore’s gift for bringing to bear her experience as a psychiatric social worker to promote the harmony of passengers on our cruise ship.
Martin’s leaves were enviably productive. No attempt need be made here to list the results. They are fully recorded—books, articles, reviews—up to 1990 in the Festschrift Nomodeiktes, while later publications are listed in Language and History in Ancient Greek Culture (2009), which Martin himself selected for republication after his retirement. Some idea of the consistency of his interests may however emerge from a brief comment. Martin’s Columbia dissertation led to a series of studies of the Athenian constitution, including Nomos and the Beginning of the Athenian Democracy (1969) and culminating in his magnum opus, From Popular Sovereignty to the Sovereignty of Law (1986), which was honored with the Goodwin Award of Merit of the American Philological Association in 1990.
Both Plato and Aristotle occupied his attention persistently over the years. When Swarthmore celebrated the 2400th birthday of Plato in 1974 with a series of lectures by four of the most distinguished Platonists in the country, Martin delighted his students by returning from leave to discuss Plato on Law and Nature (Interpretations of Plato: A Swarthmore Symposium, 1977). It was the only occasion I can remember when we had to move to a larger auditorium at the last moment. His most famous contribution to the study of Aristotle was probably his translation of the Nicomachean Ethics (1962) which has never been surpassed or outmoded (my “cash cow,” he called it one evening recently, when we were reading the Politics and he was explicating the vocabulary to a small group of his colleagues.)
Some idea of the volume of Martin’s publications emerges from the fact that his bibliographies list contributions to over twenty journals in a variety of languages, in addition to the Cambridge Ancient History for which he served as the only American editor from 1976 to 1992. Nor did he shirk the duties involved in supporting local and national professional organizations. He completed the cursus honorum of the American Philological Association by serving as President in 1987. After his retirement from Swarthmore and Penn in 1992, Martin and Lore for several years spent a month every winter in Jerusalem, near their son Mordecai (Mark), and Martin often commuted to Tel Aviv, where he taught a seminar, publishing the outcome in Scripta Classica Israelica.
In 1991 Martin was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and in 1993 to the American Philosophical Society, on whose Council he was serving when he died. He and Lore never missed a meeting of the APS until the last year of their lives. Honorary degrees came his way. One from the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) brought only pleasure, but an invitation from the new University of Dortmund caused profound soul-searching on the part of Martin and Lore. He called it the most difficult decision he ever had to make in his life. Long ago he had sworn never to set foot in Germany again because of the death of his parents, but in fact he had since then broken his resolution and taken Lore and the boys on different occasions. He now wrote to Dortmund and asked for the reason behind the invitation and received a disarmingly frank reply. This recently founded University, ‘as modern as it comes’ with no Greek Department, wished to expand its offerings in the humanities and having considered a short list of possible recipients decided that he, having been born in Dortmund, was the best choice. Martin yielded, with the proviso that he be given an opportunity to talk to young people about his experiences, and this he did. He was moved by the number of people from the Ostwald village who came to honor him on this occasion. His family had long since become a source of pride to the villagers, who on the seventieth anniversary of Kristallnacht in 2008 dedicated a bronze plaque at the house that had for so long been theirs and was still known as the ‘Jews’ House,’ the only one in the village.
Lore’s declining health put an end to their travels together, but they continued to live a life rich in friendship and especially enjoyment of musical events in Swarthmore and Philadelphia. There was no decline in Martin ‘s scholarly productivity, as his list of publications after 1992 testifies. Then on September 20, 2009 Lore suffered a disastrous fall in their house, which required hospitalization from which she never returned home. During the months that followed Martin dedicated his whole life to her care. His friends watched aghast as his own health declined, until he was convinced that a cardiac operation offered his best hope. The night before he entered the hospital he told me with his usual invincible courage that if the operation succeeded he would be able to take care of Lore for the rest of her life, and (he smiled) he would be able to resume the weekly Greek reading with some of his colleagues that had been one of the joys of his life - and ours.
How to sum up his legacy? For the world of classical studies there can be no doubt: through both his teaching and his publications he made a mark that will outlast his own generation and many yet to come. For those who knew him personally he will always be remembered as a gentleman of unfailing grace and benevolence. To see him walking across campus to his carrel in McCabe Library—wearing the beret that was his trademark—was to feel instantaneously that all was right with the world of scholarship.