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 the Pulitzer website:

The 2012 Pulitzer Prize Winners

General Nonfiction

For a distinguished and appropriately documented book of nonfiction by an American author that is not eligible for consideration in any other category, Ten thousand dollars ($10,000).

Awarded to "The Swerve: How the World Became Modern," by Stephen Greenblatt (W.W. Norton and Company), a provocative book arguing that an obscure work of philosophy, discovered nearly 600 years ago, changed the course of history by anticipating the science and sensibilities of today.

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Tue, 04/17/2012 - 1:36am by Information Architect.

Instructions for the submission of individual abstracts to the APA Program Committee for review at its meeting in June will be posted here by April 17.  The deadline for submission of individual abstracts will be May 16, 2012, at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Tue, 04/10/2012 - 2:51pm by Adam Blistein.

From the JournalStar.com:

Tom Winter finished a lecture on passive and past-tense Latin verbs on Thursday, pulled his skateboard from the desk and rolled into a cool spring afternoon.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln classics and religious studies professor became an Internet sensation Wednesday when a photo of him skateboarding across campus became the top item on the social news website Reddit.com. The photo inspired dozens of memes -- photos with humorous text superimposed.

"Nine pages of memes and a site I never knew about before yesterday," Winter said. "It's a pretty good photo."

By Thursday afternoon, the photo had gotten more than 756,000 views on Imgur.com, the Internet image hosting site on which it originally appeared, and 1,300 comments on Reddit.com. Users of Imgur.com wrote mock captions for the image, which features a skateboarding Winter, arms out and holding a briefcase.

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Fri, 04/06/2012 - 1:22pm by Information Architect.

In September 2009, the Vice President for Professional Matters, Professor James May, received from a member of the APA, Professor Jenny S. Clay, a complaint that her work and that of others had been plagiarized by Mr. Stephen Evans in his doctoral dissertation, Hymn and Epic: A Study of their Interplay in Homer and the Homeric hymns, which was published by the University of Turku in Finland as volume 244 of the Humaniora series of the Annales Universitatis Turkuensis in 2001.

The APA Statement on Ethics provides that:

The most fundamental ethical obligation of any scholar is to give full and proper credit to all sources involved in research, whether these sources be the published work of other scholars or the unpublished work of students or colleagues. Material taken verbatim from another person’s published or unpublished work must be explicitly identified with reference to its author. Borrowed ideas or data, even if not directly quoted, must be explicitly acknowledged. Revised reprints and translations of earlier work should be identified as such.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Tue, 03/27/2012 - 9:33pm by Adam Blistein.

The Classical Reception Studies Network was formed in early 2004 as a collaboration between six universities with research specialisms in various aspects of Classical Reception Studies. The aims of the Network include the promotion of rigorous debate about all aspects of classical reception studies and the development of seminars and workshops to encourage the exchange of expertise and growth of collaborative projects (including the supervision of graduate students). Data is being collected on the research and teaching currently undertaken in Classical departments in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Collection of information about classical reception studies in other Arts and Humanities departments will follow and it is intended to extend the survey to international contacts. Data collected to date is now available as a searchable online database. The web site also provides links to research and teaching resources.

View full article. | Posted in Websites and Resources on Thu, 03/22/2012 - 3:20pm by .

From The Telegraph online:

After 244 years, the printed version of the Encyclopaedia Britannica has died a death, killed off by Google and Wikipedia. It’s sad to say goodbye to any venerable institution that’s lasted almost a quarter of a millennium but, still, the writing’s been on the wall for the encyclopaedia for several years now. And now the writing’s on the screen only – the great general knowledge reference work will live on in a digital format.

The idea of printing a sort of omnium gatherum – a collection of everything of any interest – seems ludicrous these days, as well as impossible, when the job is done so much better by a tiny laptop, thinner than a single volume of Britannica. What chance then for two new mammoth publications, out this week – the fourth edition of the Oxford Classical Dictionary (OCD), 1,680 pages long, costing £100; and the second edition of the Oxford Latin Dictionary, with 2,344 pages, going for £275.

View full article. | Posted in Book Reviews on Mon, 03/19/2012 - 12:34pm by Information Architect.

Dear fellow APA members,

Hadrian's Villa, the UNESCO World Heritage Site near Tivoli, is at risk. The City of Rome is under orders from the EU to close its biggest garbage dump at a place called Malagrotta. Since fall of 2011 the government has been looking for a new site to replace Malagrotta. Unbelievable as it may sound, the locality chosen is Corcolle, which is located at the doorstep of Hadrian's Villa.

As might be expected, the recommendation to use Corcolle has encountered stiff opposition. The City of Tivoli, the Ministry of Culture, and the Province of Rome have all gone on record with objections. Many civic groups and Italian citizens have also protested this irresponsible scheme. On February 26, 2012, an international petition was launched on the iPetitions website. In just over two weeks, we have collected more than 3,300 signatures. A list of cultural leaders and professors of classics, archaeology, and cultural heritage who have already signed can be seen on the website.

I write to urge all APA members to sign the petition now, before it is too late. Join people from all walks of life and from all four corners of the earth who have banded together to protest this unconscionable plan.

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Sun, 03/18/2012 - 1:21am by Information Architect.

Jeffrey Beneker recently received a Distinguished Teaching Award at the University of Wisconsin. Read about it in the University of Wisconsin-Madison News.

View full article. | Posted in Member News on Wed, 03/14/2012 - 1:32pm by .

The APA is a member of the National Humanities Alliance (NHA), a consortium of organizations concerned about funding and policies that affect the humanities in the United States.   The NHA has sent us the following message about a "Dear Colleague" letter being circulated in the U. S. House of Representatives urging appropriators there to support President Obama's request for a slight increase in the Endowment's budget for the next fiscal year.  If possible, please get in touch with your Representative by this Friday, March 16 to urge him or her to support this funding for the NEH.

Adam D. Blistein
Executive Director

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View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 03/12/2012 - 5:37pm by Adam Blistein.

Our tireless Gateway Campaign Committee is leading the APA down the home stretch as we approach our July 31st deadline for completing our NEH Challenge Grant match.  Nearly 1,000 APA members and others devoted to classical antiquity have contributed to the Gateway Campaign to date.  We have a total of $2.2 million and the Endowment for Classics Research and Teaching has become a reality.  We need another $400,000 if we are to keep every NEH dollar in the Endowment working to provide sophisticated and accessible tools for Classics scholars, develop future generations of inspired and diverse Classics teachers, and make high quality information about Classics available to the largest possible audience both inside and outside the scholarly community.  Visit the Campaign News section of the APA web site for the most up-to-date information and learn how you can help us to fill our Campaign amphora.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Fri, 03/09/2012 - 6:23pm by Adam Blistein.

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