In Memoriam: Eliot Wirshbo

(Written by Donald Lateiner, acknowledging gratefully the help, research, and energy of the following people in compiling this SCS memorial: Natalie Wirshbo, Greg Bucher, Brad Cook, Kerri Hame, Nick Genovese, Robert Eisner, Page duBois, and June Allison. Rosaria Munson and Joe Patwell also offered observations. E. Marianne Gabel captured the photograph below on the left at Le Trou Normand during the 2016 SCS meetings in San Francisco. Natalie Wirshbo provided the photograph on the right)

ELIOT WIRSHBO. 24 January 1948--19 July 2019.

Parents: Nathan and Peggy Wirshbo.

Education: Hunter College BA 1968, University of Pennsylvania PhD 1976.

Positions: San Diego State University 1977-1979, Ohio State University 1979-82, lecturer (eventually tenured) at University of California San Diego, Department of Literature 1982-2019.

Dissertation: "Attitudes toward the past in Homer and Hesiod," 1976, directed by Martin Ostwald.

Publications: “On mistranslating Vergil Aen. 1.203,” CW 73.3 (1979) 177-178.

“Lesbia, a mock hypocorism?” CPh 75.1 (1980) 70-71.

 "The Mekone Scene in the Theogony: Prometheus as Prankster," GRBS 23.2 (1982) 101-110.

“Can emotions be determined from words?” American Behavioral Scientist 33.3 (1990) 287-96.

"On Critically Looking into Snell's Homer," in Nomodeiktes: Greek Studies in Honor of Martin Ostwald, ed. R. Rosen and J. Farrell (Ann Arbor 1993) 467-77.

“Verbal Behavior in the Iliad,” in Kinesis, The Ancient Depiction of Gesture, Motion, and Emotion, Essays in Honor of Donald Lateiner (2015) 219-34.

Eliot Wirshbo was born in a Brooklyn snowstorm and raised in the Bronx. He came to classics accidentally, by a foreign language requirement, but came to love the subject fiercely. His graduate education was interrupted after one year by the military draft (1969-72). He served with valor as a medic for two years in the US Army in Viet Nam. His teaching style was acerbic and intensely personal. He had mixed emotions about publication and was proud of his minimal scholarly output, a page per year of teaching, as he phrased it. Although he never was granted tenure by his department, and enjoyed no leaves, he enjoyed the functional equivalent of tenure at UC San Diego where he both delighted and infuriated students by his unique teaching style, including jokes and meticulous demands (v. infra). They loved or hated his punctilious demand for accuracy. He put tremendous energy into his teaching, although his superiors often limited his courses to elementary language courses and literature courses in translation.  He loved, however, all the teaching he did. His wife Dr. Chris Norris, also a jazz singer, predeceased him in 1998. He is survived by his daughter Natalie whom he raised as a single parent.

An anonymous student’s view found on the WWW: “I took him for the entire lower division sequence, and now again every quarter for the upper division courses. He’s basically the entire reason why I went from taking Latin to fill a GE to also learning Ancient Greek and majoring in Classical Studies. Any class with him is going to be hard (I adore the guy but his exams are torture), but the upper division courses are extremely fun. We’re doing Ovid this quarter and half the time we just talk about whatever odd tangent he goes off on. Sorry, I absolutely buy into the cult of Wirshbo ....”

Kerri Hame, another former student on beginning Greek and Latin with Wirshbo: “He was present, both in and outside the classroom, to educate and to work with students. Eliot also had such a clever sense of humor that I couldn't help but laugh and learn at the same time. He was a reluctant (his word) mentor, but he showed me how to teach Greek and Latin in an effective and engaging way, and I tried to emulate his model when I became a Classics professor. I am so grateful for the gift of knowing him.”

Greg Bucher, another former student, writes: “I flailed away at Greek twice before passing it [when in graduate school]. One summer Eliot and I met weekly in a (I think) Carl’s Junior restaurant near his house so that we could read (are you ready for this) the Cratylus. That was the etymologizer in evidence, and I just said “whatever” since I needed practice with a good reader. That was perhaps the highest brow thing that was ever done in that restaurant. ... I have always loudly proclaimed, most recently on Facebook, that I would never have gone on to graduate school without his example, his demonstration that an academic could be a regular guy, and his support. We were never close enough that he seemed like a father figure to me, and he was too old to be a brother, but he was certainly, from my point of view, a close friend even when we didn’t see each other much. I expressed to him very fully how much I owed him (to his very embarrassed tut-tutting) as a person when we last saw each other in San Francisco. He, for me, was “that teacher”: the one that made the difference. ...“He would talk endlessly about his own life, especially if the story came back to redound against him. He reveled in the title “grammar nazi”, which some student had leveled at him. His indignation over poor teaching of Language could get him going easily.”

A former colleague tactfully observed: “I fear most of my anecdotes of Eliot wouldn't really fit an obituary for SCS and had little to do with Classics. However, he was a naturally inspiring teacher who captivated the 650 students we typically had in the Mythology course.”

Eliot published little by choice. His philological article on emotions in verbal responses, based on his Viet Nam experiences, reflects his skeptical attitude towards the possibility of understanding other people. His Lesbia article reflects his interest in the philology of sex. He gave a well-received lecture in 2017on the topic of hypallage in Vergil’s Aeneid that he hoped to publish. He allegedly was developing at his death a manuscript on “The History of Dawdling”. I am not sure whether this was a joke or real. He preferred the give and take of dialogue and was a regular member of the UCSD Greek and Latin Philosophy Reading Group. Having read Sardonic Smile in manuscript, he suggested that instead of “downward avoidance behavior,” the author should have written “duck.” He scorned those who published so as not to perish, considering most contributions a waste of the teacher’s time and his or her reader’s effort. At the time of his unexpected and untimely death, he was reading and translating Seneca’s letter with a friend. We shall never see the likes of Eliot Wirshbo, because there never will be a “like.” How many classicists keep a regulation-size pommel horse in their living room? He dubbed himself a “walking oxymoron.”

    

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(Photo: "Candle" by Shawn Carpenter, licensed under CC BY 2.0)   

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Stone relief in which the body of a child lies on a couch, surrounded by people in various gestures of mourning.

In the modern world, we are confronted with questions surrounding gender daily, from pronouns in our email signatures to gender-neutral bathrooms. Our awareness of the limitations of a gender binary and gendered roles continues to grow in an effort to reflect gender identity and expression more accurately. Despite these efforts and realizations about our own society, when discussing the Roman world, we often assume a gender binary that is inflexible and constant. By examining cases from Roman social life in which gender plays a fundamental role, we can see a wider spectra of gender expression that falls outside of the strict male/female binary. The Roman funeral, in particular, provides a special opportunity to consider how, even when roles are gendered, gender can be transgressed.

The transitional apparatus of the Roman funeral allowed and even encouraged performative undermining of norms. The liminality of the funeral space, in which the living ushered the deceased from their world to the world of the dead, provided a unique setting that demanded a break from norms. This included gender norms, and Roman funerals served as spaces in which normative expectations around gender were both reproduced and subverted. At funerals, men and women had specific jobs according to gender, but those roles often fell outside typical gender expression expectations.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 10/25/2021 - 10:30am by .
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As I strolled one day in the old center of Tel Aviv, I entered the house of Haim Nachman Bialik, the Hebrew national poet. An imposing building, it constitutes a manifesto of Jewish art in the early 20th century: the architectural style reprises oriental shapes, alternating arches and square forms; the decoration aims to express a quintessentially Jewish art. As I daydreamed about the poet holding private meetings and public receptions with the foremost representatives of culture and politics of his day, my eye was caught by two decorative tiles. These tiles, located at opposite ends of an arch that leads into the salon, represent two opposite moments of Jewish history: on one hand, a tile reproduces the Judaea capta coin minted by Vespasian after the First Jewish War; on the other, another tile mirrors Vespasian’s coin, proclaiming, in Hebrew letters, “Judaea liberated.”

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 10/22/2021 - 12:13pm by .

Dear members,

We have a number of deadlines that fall prior to mid-November. Please see the following:

October 31: Nominations for the Forum Prize

November 1: Applications for annual meeting participation stipends and childcare / dependent care funding

November 1: Nominations and applications for the K-12 Teaching Excellence Award

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 10/21/2021 - 11:40am by Erik Shell.
A bronze bust of a man with short, wavy hair and a slightly pained expression on his face.

The Seleucid empire has long stood on the fringes of Classical scholarship. Following the conquest of the east by Alexander, the vast, multicultural construction lasted from 312–64 BCE, stretching from modern Turkey south to the Levantine coast and east into Afghanistan. Interdisciplinary by its very nature, Seleucid history straddles the boundaries of academic disciplines, languages, and methodologies, further fragmenting the study of an already fractured power. Recent holistic studies are rare, making the 2014 publication of Paul Kosmin’s comprehensive The Land of the Elephant Kings something of a groundbreaking study. The examination of what Kosmin calls the “territorialization” of the empire—the ideological constructions and experiences that bounded, ordered, and defined the imperial realms—changed the nature of Seleucid studies by intensifying the focus of the recent “spatial turn” in the humanities.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 10/18/2021 - 9:53am by .

(From the Classics Department at Princeton)

View full article. | Posted in In Memoriam on Fri, 10/15/2021 - 9:14am by Erik Shell.
Poster for the play, Plautus's Casina. A minimalist digital design with a blue background; mountain shapes in pink, yellow, and orange; walls with windows in the same colors; and an ancient statue of a woman.

In the Spring of 2021, as her undergraduate UIC Honors College Capstone project, my student Luana Davila adapted and produced a version of Plautus’ Casina in the style of a telenovela. Due to COVID, she was not able to stage the play, but she produced a filmed version in collaboration with theater students at Columbia College in Chicago. For safety reasons, each actor’s scenes were filmed separately, then edited together. Below is an interview with Luana and the play’s director, Amy Gerwert Valdez, a Theater Directing major at Columbia.  [Editor’s note: the transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.]

Krishni Burns: Can we start with a description of your project?

Luana Davila: The project aimed to tie together patriarchal society in ancient Rome and in Latinx cultures (or in the case of this production, Mexico). My play was adapted in such a way that the original storyline was changed as little as possible, proving that its seemingly ridiculous events made for a believable tale in modern Mexico. This was done to show how interconnected the two cultures are, even though they existed thousands of years apart.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 10/11/2021 - 10:33am by Krishni Burns.

The members of the Committee on the C. J. Goodwin Award of Merit are delighted to announce that the 2021 winners of the Goodwin Awards are Aileen R. Das (University of Michigan), Ellen Oliensis (University of California Berkeley), and Andreas Willi (University of Oxford).

Please click on the names below to read the full award citations written by committee members David Konstan and James I. Porter (co-chairs), Harriet Flower, Richard Hunter, and Amy Richlin.

Aileen R. Das

Ellen Oliensis

Andreas Willi

Citation for Aileen R. Das, Galen and the Arabic Reception of Plato’s Timaeus, Cambridge University Press, 2020

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Sun, 10/10/2021 - 6:52pm by Helen Cullyer.
A Greek red-figure cup depicting the disembodied torso of a man, arms outstretched, and women on either side holding the torso

The Ancient Worlds, Modern Communities initiative (AnWoMoCo), launched by the SCS in 2019 as the Classics Everywhere initiative, supports projects that seek to engage broader publics — individuals, groups, and communities — in critical discussion of and creative expression related to the ancient Mediterranean, the global reception of Greek and Roman culture, and the history of teaching and scholarship in the field of classical studies. As part of this initiative, the SCS has funded 111 projects, ranging from school programming to reading groups, prison programs, public talks and conferences, digital projects, and collaborations with artists in theater, opera, music, dance, and the visual arts. The initiative welcomes applications from all over the world. To date, it has funded projects in 25 states and 11 countries, including Canada, U.K., Italy, Greece, Spain, Belgium, Ghana, Puerto Rico, Argentina, and India.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 10/08/2021 - 1:50pm by .
San Francisco

Hotel reservations are now open! 

The Hilton San Francisco Union Square is the official hotel for the 2022 Annual Meeting and will host the exhibit hall, all academic sessions, the opening night reception, and most related events.  The discounted group rate is $169 per night (plus applicable taxes). Additional rooms are available at the Hilton Parc 55 across the street.  A limited number are available for $159 per night (plus applicable taxes) for reservations made by October 31st.  Click on the links below to make your reservations. You can also make a reservation by calling 1-800-HILTONS and using code AIA or SCS to make your reservation. 

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 10/07/2021 - 3:26pm by Erik Shell.

Online Conference: “The Genre of Hymn in Antiquity”

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Wed, 10/06/2021 - 10:00am by Erik Shell.

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