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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The Greek Ministry of Education is studying a plan to relocate the University of Patras Department of Philology (24 faculty members and highly ranked) to a new university in Kalamata (175 miles away) and blend it with other humanities programs, against the recommendation of a recent external review. The decision will be made on the 15th of this month. Those interested in seeing the petition against this action, which needs a minimum of 454 signatures to be accepted by the Ministry, will find it here:

http://www.change.org/petitions/department-of-philology-university-of-patras-keep-the-department-in-patras-stop-its-relocation

Jeffrey Henderson

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Wed, 12/05/2012 - 8:17pm by Adam Blistein.

The American Philological Association (APA) will present the following awards for 2012 at the Plenary Session of its 144th Annual Meeting in Seattle

Distinguished Service Awards (awarded occasionally for extraordinary service to the profession of classics and the American Philological Association)
Ward W. Briggs, Jr., University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC
David H. Porter, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY
Michael C. J. Putnam, Brown University, Providence, RI

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Tue, 12/04/2012 - 9:21pm by Adam Blistein.

As promised earlier, I have prepared the following summary of over 200 responses to my request for comments about the Board's proposal that we consider changing the name of the Association.  The Board now wishes to move to a public discussion phase that will inform its deliberations going forward.  Our Information Architect Sam Huskey has created a discussion forum so that all with an interest can exchange views and suggest or express preferences for specific names.  The forum can be accessed here after 8:00 p.m. (Eastern time) today (November 30).

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Fri, 11/30/2012 - 5:08pm by Adam Blistein.

The Departments of Classical Studies and Philosophy at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada, are pleased to announce a new two-year M.A. in Ancient Philosophy, now accepting applications for September 2013. This program is aimed primarily at undergraduate students interested in pursuing ancient philosophy at the doctoral level. Western has one of the largest concentrations of faculty in the field, including five specialists in ancient philosophy and an additional four core members with areas of research related to Greek and Roman language and history. This interdisciplinary program is the only M.A. program of its kind in North America and only one of a handful of similar programs in the world.

View full article. | Posted in Degree and Certificate Programs on Wed, 11/28/2012 - 9:07pm by .

James J. O'Donnell of Georgetown University has been appointed Chair of the Board of Directors of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) effective January 1, 2013.  Prof. O'Donnell has served the APA in many capacities including terms as President and as Vice President for Publications.  APA was a founding member of the ACLS in 1919.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Wed, 11/28/2012 - 8:40pm by Adam Blistein.

Over the last few days we have posted a great deal of new information about the upcoming annual meeting in Seattle.  In addition to information about registering for seminars (posted last week), you can now find abstracts of almost all papers to be presented at the meeting as well as information on special events at the meeting.  In the latter document please note especially that the President’s Reception on Saturday afternoon, January 5, will celebrate the successful conclusion of the Gateway Campaign.  The Board of Directors has therefore approved a larger budget for hors d’oeuvres and snacks at this event than has been the custom in recent years.  The Board urges all APA members to attend this celebration.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Tue, 11/27/2012 - 8:25pm by Adam Blistein.

APA Office Hours:  November 2012-January 2013

Following is the schedule for the APA Office through the annual meeting in Seattle.  Our regular hours are 8:45 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.

November 22-25, 2012                                   Office Closed (Thanksgiving Holiday)
December 22-26, 2012                                   Office Closed
December 27-28, 2012                                   Office Open (see Note A)
December 29-30, 2012                                   Office Closed
December 31, 2012                                        Office Open
January 1-8, 2013                                           Office Closed (see Note B)
January 9-11, 2013                                         Office Open (see Note C)
January 12-13, 2013                                       Office Closed
January 14, 2013                                            Normal Office Operations Resume

Note A:  The building where our offices are located at the University of Pennsylvania (220 S. 40th Street) will be locked, and the University will not be delivering mail during this period.  Courier services may be able to make deliveries, but the best ways of communicating with us will be via telephone and e-mail.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Tue, 11/20/2012 - 4:14pm by Adam Blistein.

Four seminars will take place at the annual meeting in Seattle.  Find details of these sessions here along with instructions for requesting seminar papers in advance of the meeting and Program Committee expectations for participants in these sessions.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Tue, 11/20/2012 - 3:41pm by Adam Blistein.

Classics programs in two institutions in the Russian Federation are being threatened with closure.  Click here to sign a petition in support of the Russian State University of the Humanities in Moscow.  Click here to sign a petition in support of the program at St. Petersburg State University.  The latter link opens a page that appears to be completely in Russian, but the English version will appear if you click on an expansion link with a caret pointing down (V)after the first several lines of Russian text.

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Mon, 11/19/2012 - 1:27pm by Adam Blistein.

The Committee on Ancient and Modern Performance invites expressions of interest in directing a staged reading at the 2014 APA meeting in Chicago. CAMP is very proud to sponsor this reading, which has become a tradition. The eleventh annual reading, which will take place at the 2013 APA meeting in Seattle, will be Alcestis, adapted and co-directed by Mark Damen and Mary-Kay Gamel.

Proposals for plays must be accompanied by a firm commitment by a director or a larger creative team who will assume full responsibility for production. Scripts must be complete by the time the statement of interest is submitted, and the proposer must have the legal right to perform the script.

The director is given free rein with regard to the artistic realm of the play, including the scale of the production, though we strongly caution potential directors to be mindful of the extreme limitations imposed by a very short rehearsal period (approximately two days), a short time slot for performance (under two hours), few theatrical resources, and a limited budget. The director is responsible for writing and distributing a call for actors, for planning in advance the type of production to be done, for maintaining contact with a CAMP liaison and the APA regarding performance progress and needs, and of course for directing the show in Chicago.

Statements of interest must address the following issues:

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Fri, 11/16/2012 - 7:13pm by Adam Blistein.

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