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 Humanities Research Center at Rice University hosts up to three interdisciplinary visiting professors each year. The fellowship term ranges from one semester to one year.  Fellows teach one humanities course, participate in special symposia, and take part in an informal lecture series. Applicants must hold a tenured/tenure-track position and have received the PhD no later than June 2010. Annual salaries are commensurate with rank and length of term. Non-US scholars are especially encouraged to apply.  Applications for 2013-14 due October 29, 2012. See http://hrc.rice.edu for information.

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Tue, 09/11/2012 - 2:10pm by Adam Blistein.

From the Guardian (8/31/2012)

Alarmed by a decline in the use of Latin within the Catholic church, Pope Benedict is planning to set up a Vatican academy to breathe new life into the dead language.

Long used by the Vatican as its lingua franca, Latin is currently promoted by a small team within the office of the Holy See's secretary of state, which runs a Latin poetry competition and puts out a magazine.

But Benedict – a staunch traditionalist – is backing a plan for a new academy which would team up with academics to better "promote the knowledge and speaking of Latin, particularly inside the church," Vatican spokesman Fr Ciro Benedettini said on Friday.

Read more …

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Thu, 09/06/2012 - 8:57pm by Information Architect.

We are happy to announce the publication of a new edition of Careers for Classicists in Today’s World by Kenneth F. Kitchell, Jr. with the assistance of the APA Education Committee.  Careers is copyright 2012 by the American Philological Association (APA) and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License

You are free to copy, distribute, transmit, and adapt the work provided that you attribute the work to the American Philological Association but not in a way that suggests that the APA endorses you or your use of the work and provided that you do not use this work for commercial purposes.  For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. The best way to do this is with a link to this web page.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 09/06/2012 - 1:40pm by Adam Blistein.

A combined APA Newsletter for Winter and Spring 2012 is now available on the APA web site.  In a few weeks it will be mailed to members who requested printed copies of this publication when they paid their dues for 2012. 

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Wed, 09/05/2012 - 6:38pm by Adam Blistein.

The latest issue of Amphora (10.1 Summer 2012) is now available for downloading.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 09/03/2012 - 4:30pm by .

See the APA web site for the schedule of sessions for the upcoming meeting in Seattle as well as information about registration, hotels, air travel discounts, and local attractions.  Please be sure to read a message from Program Chair Joe Farrell encouraging you to attend what promises to be a very exciting meeting in a very appealing city.  We encourage companies and organizations with publications, equipment, and services of interest to classicists and archaeologists to participate in the exhibit show for the joint annual meeting.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Fri, 08/24/2012 - 7:16pm by Adam Blistein.

Members are invited to serve as volunteers at the 144th Annual Meeting of the Association in Seattle, WA this coming January.  Assignments include assistance in the Registration Area, monitoring session rooms, and supporting the Placement Service.  Interested members should contact Heather Gasda in the Association Office by October 1, 2012.  The Chair of the Local Arrangements Committee will develop a schedule of volunteer activity in late Fall.

In exchange for eight hours of service (either in one continuous or in two 4-hour assignments), volunteers receive a waiver of their annual meeting registration fees.  It is not necessary to be an APA member to volunteer.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Fri, 08/17/2012 - 7:36pm by Adam Blistein.

The August 2012 issue of Positions has been posted on the APA web site.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 08/16/2012 - 3:22pm by Adam Blistein.

In April I briefed members on behalf of the Board about the funding threat to the German office of L'Année and promised to update members when we had further news (http://apaclassics.org/index.php/apa_blog/apa_blog_entry/3325/). I am delighted to pass along the following letter of 11 August 2012 from SIBC President Margarethe Billerbeck:

Jeff Henderson

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Dear Friends and Colleagues,

It is with great pleasure that I can inform you that the German Arbeitsstelle of L’Année Philologique can continue after the end of the current year. Professor Martin Hose has successfully negotiated the transfer of the present Arbeitsstelle from Heidelberg to the University of Munich which is prepared to finance and house the new équipe. This will include a full-time collaborator, a part-time collaborator as well as two assistants (‘Hilfskräfte’). The present guarantee is for three years with the possibility of renewal. At a time when public finances are severely strained this is an excellent outcome of what seemed an almost hopeless situation. We will have an occasion to express our sincere gratitude to Professor Hose for his untiring effort to convince the authorities of his University to accept this charge when he joins us at the Annual Meeting of the SIBC in Paris in November.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 08/13/2012 - 6:11pm by Adam Blistein.

In August all APA members in good standing for 2012 will receive instructions for voting in the 2012 election from Vote-Now, the firm we have retained to conduct this election.  Members for whom we have a valid e-mail address will receive their instructions via e-mail; all others will receive instructions via first-class mail.  Regardless of the method of notification, all members will once again have the option to vote online or to use a paper ballot.  The deadline for receipt of paper ballots will be the close of business on Friday, September 28, 2012.  Online balloting will close at 3:00 a.m. Eastern time on Monday, October 1, 2012

The online ballot will contain links to the biographical sketches and election statements of individual candidates.  In addition, several documents relevant to the election are posted here:

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Fri, 08/10/2012 - 1:52pm by Adam Blistein.

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