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.

“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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A 2,000-year-old Roman ship in the middle of a plain near the ancient port of Rome has been unearthed by Italian archaeologists. Read more in Discovery News

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Mon, 05/02/2011 - 3:25am by Information Architect.

The American Philological Association seeks to appoint an Editor for Monographs for a term of four years, to begin with the January 2012 meetings in Philadelphia.  We seek a senior scholar with editorial experience and an interest in shaping outstanding work for publication in a distinguished series.  The editor reviews proposals and manuscripts, works with authors to bring manuscripts to final form, and is the Association's contact with the publisher through the process.  While we continue our relationship with Oxford University Press, we particularly seek an editor willing to explore alternate and innovative forms of publication for appropriate scholarly works. Candidates should submit, and nominees will be invited to submit, a current c.v. and a brief statement outlining their interest. Applications and nominations may be submitted in confidence to the Vice President for Publications at provost@georgetown.edu. Consideration of candidates, who must be members of the APA in good standing, will begin on or after June 1, 2011. 

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 04/28/2011 - 7:14pm by .

The Winter 2011 APA Newsletter is now online. A printable pdf version is coming soon.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 04/28/2011 - 1:54am by .

The Penn Libraries have received a major collection of 280 Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts, valued at over $20 million, from long-time benefactors and Library Board members Lawrence J. Schoenberg (C’53, WG’57, PAR’93) and Barbara Brizdle Schoenberg. To promote the use of this and other manuscript collections at Penn, the Libraries will create the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies.

Full press release:
http://www.library.upenn.edu/docs/publications/SchoenbergMssCollection.pdf

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Thu, 04/28/2011 - 1:47am by Information Architect.

"As a rule, digging beneath the surface of modern Rome turns up ancient buildings. Excavations conducted in 2007, just steps from the traffic hub of Piazza Venezia, revealed two Imperial era villas embellished with mosaics, polychrome wall veneers, fountains and frescoes. Dating back to the second and third centuries, these opulent dwellings were abandoned in late antiquity, filled with landfill, and unknowingly used as foundations for the 16th-century Palazzo Valentini, now seat of the Province of Rome’s offices." Read more in the New York Times…

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Sun, 04/24/2011 - 1:41am by Information Architect.

"William F. Wyatt Jr., 78, professor emeritus and former chairman of the department of classics at Brown University, and a prolific contributor to the op-ed page of The Providence Journal, died March 25 in The Miriam Hospital, Providence." Read the full obituary at the Providence Journal Online…

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Sun, 04/10/2011 - 9:58pm by Information Architect.

"THE 9/11 memorial in New York, still being planned, is to be dedicated on the 10th anniversary of the attack. Intended as a place for commemoration, reflection, education and solace, the memorial and museum will serve as a repository for the remains of the victims.

"Some families of the victims have criticized the planned memorial because they are offended by the prospect of sharing the resting place of their loved ones with museum-going strangers. Because the structure will be built seven stories below the spot where the twin towers once stood, visitors will have to venture underground to pay their respects, a prospect that also is not comforting.

"But one feature of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum seems above reproach: a quotation from Virgil’s “Aeneid” that will be inscribed on a wall in front of the victims’ remains."

Read more of Caroline Alexander's essay in The New York Times

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Fri, 04/08/2011 - 7:14pm by Information Architect.

Put together by Pleiades, a collaborative project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities that is mapping ancient sites around the Mediterranean and beyond, the link shows sites throughout Libya.

View full article. | Posted in Websites and Resources on Tue, 04/05/2011 - 1:24am by .

The American Philological Association (APA) will present the following awards at the Plenary Session of its upcoming 142nd Annual Meeting.   The Plenary Session will take place at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, January 8, 2011, in the San Antonio Rivercenter Hotel.  Full citations for these award winners will no longer be read at the Session proper but will be published in mid-December and will also be available as handouts at the Session.

President’s Award (honoring an individual, group, or organization outside of the Classics profession that has made significant contributions to advancing public appreciation and awareness of Classical antiquity)

Garry Wills, Northwestern University (emeritus), for a distinguished career as one of the United States’ most prominent and respected intellectuals and as a voice for the importance of the classical tradition in Western culture.

Charles J. Goodwin Award of Merit (for an outstanding contribution to classical scholarship published by a member of the Association within the preceding three years)

John F. Miller, University of Virginia, Apollo, Augustus, and the Poets (Cambridge University Press)

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 12/06/2010 - 3:54pm by .

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