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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From John Gruber-Miller:

I am pleased to announce that the latest issue of Teaching Classical Languages, the online journal sponsored by CAMWS, is now available at http://www.tcl.camws.org.  This issue features two articles and a review article.  The first article asks us to consider the broader question of how do we teach, using the metaphor of genre to frame our reflections. And the second article explores how we teach Latin to students whose first language is Spanish and second language is English. Finally, the third article reviews eight new Latin readers published as part of the Bolchazy-Carducci new Latin Readers series.

This issue lets readers take advantage of TCL's electronic publication.  Readers now have the opportunity to download each article to an e-reader so that they can read TCL in the comfort of their home or favorite coffee shop.  And through the advice and hard work of CAMWS webmaster Alex Ward, readers can make comments on the articles and join in a conversation with other readers (and the author) about ideas raised in each article.

In this issue:

View full article. | Posted in Member News on Tue, 09/06/2011 - 1:17am by .

Read the latest information about the APA's Gateway Campaign including updated lists of donations to six "Friends" funds honoring revered teachers in our field. 

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Fri, 08/19/2011 - 7:40pm by Adam Blistein.

Application instructions for this year's Minority Summer Scholarship Application have now been posted.   The application deadline is December 14, 2011.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Wed, 08/17/2011 - 2:24pm by Adam Blistein.

The Loeb Classical Library Foundation will award grants to qualified scholars to support research, publication, and other projects in the area of classical studies during the academic year 2012-2013. Grants will normally range from $1,000 to $35,000 and may occasionally exceed that limit in the case of unusually interesting and promising projects. Three years must elapse after receiving an LCLF grant for sabbatical replacement before applying again for one. From time to time a much larger grant may be available, as funding permits, to support a major project. Applicants must have faculty or faculty emeritus status at the time of application and during the entire time covered by the grant.

Grants may be used for a wide variety of purposes. Examples include publication of research, enhancement of sabbaticals, travel to libraries or collections, dramatic productions, excavation expenses, or cost of research materials. Individual grant requests may be only partially funded. In exceptional circumstances a grant may be extended or renewed. A special selection committee will choose the persons to whom grants are to be awarded and recommend the amount of the grants.  

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Tue, 08/16/2011 - 7:30pm by Adam Blistein.

"This week in the magazine, Stephen Greenblatt explains how Lucretius and his poem 'On the Nature of Things' shaped the modern world. Here Greenblatt reads a passage from John Dryden’s translation of 'On the Nature of Things,' and talks with Blake Eskin about how the poem disappeared for a thousand years, how it was rediscovered, and the clash between Lucretius’ ideas and the Catholic church—and also Greenblatt’s Jewish mother." Read more at http://www.newyorker.com/online/2011/08/08/110808on_audio_greenblatt#ixzz1V1u18qeH

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Sun, 08/14/2011 - 5:33pm by Information Architect.

The forthcoming digital version of the Loeb Classical Library will aim to make the treasures of ancient literature easier to find for non-classicists. Read more at InsideHighered.com.

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Tue, 08/02/2011 - 12:04pm by Information Architect.

The Ancient World Digital Library (AWDL) is an initiative of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University. AWDL will identify, collect, curate, and provide access to the broadest possible range of scholarly materials relevant to the study of the ancient world.

http://dlib.nyu.edu/awdl/

View full article. | Posted in Websites and Resources on Sun, 07/31/2011 - 1:13pm by .

"Excavations in the bowels of an ancient Roman hill have turned up a well-preserved, late 1st century wall mosaic with a figure of Apollo, nude except for a colourful mantle over a shoulder." Read more at The Telegraph online.

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Sat, 07/30/2011 - 9:00pm by Information Architect.

We have extended the deadline to volunteer to stand for election to an APA Office in the Summer of 2012 or to serve on a committee beginning in January 2012.  If you are interested in one of the appointed positions that will be open in 2012 or elected positions for 2013, please complete this form and return it to the APA Office by August 15, 2011.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 07/28/2011 - 1:16pm by Adam Blistein.

The Spring 2011 Newsletter is now posted on the APA web site.   A PDF version will follow in a few weeks, and members who requested copies by mail when they paid their dues for 2011 will receive those by the end of August.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 07/28/2011 - 1:14pm by Adam Blistein.

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