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 deadline has been extended to nominate primary and secondary school Classics teachers for the Awards for Excellence in Teaching at the Precollegiate Level that we present jointly with the American Classical League.  October 11, 2011 is the new deadline for receipt of nomination materials in the APA Office.  Thanks to a gift to the APA's Campaign for Classics by Daniel and Joanna Rose, these awards carry a larger honorarium and include a stipend for the awardee's school to use for the purchase of educational materials.  Full details are available on the APA web site.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 09/26/2011 - 5:34pm by Adam Blistein.

A new programme to revive Latin and Greek in our schools

Peter Jones writes in Spectator.co.uk:

Some 15 years ago, at the behest of the then editor Charles Moore, I wrote a jovial 20-week QED: Learn Latin column for the Daily Telegraph. It attracted a huge following, and I still have four large box-files full of letters from users. The majority of them expressed one of three sentiments: ‘I learned Latin at school x years ago, loved it and am delighted to renew my acquaintance’; ‘I learned Latin at school, hated it, but now realise what I have missed’; and ‘I never learned Latin at school and have always regretted it’.

These responses have stayed with me ever since, but they prompt a question: anecdotal evidence about the value people place on Latin is all very well, but would it be possible to produce something a little more objective? Can we demonstrate unconditionally that, as Gilbert Murray argued to the Classical Association in 1954, our pearls are real?

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Sun, 09/25/2011 - 7:45pm by Information Architect.

From The Daily Texan's letters to the editor:

“Greek studies” is not about to be eliminated either as a field of study or as a major here, as the story titled “Greek studies to be eliminated from UT majors,” which ran in The Daily Texan on Thursday, suggests. The classics department continues to offer a wide range of courses on the languages and cultures of ancient Greece and Rome (classical studies), and UT students will continue to have multiple options for pursuing degrees that include advanced work in the language and culture of ancient Greece.

Yes, the Higher Education Coordinating Board has directed UT to eliminate one of our majors: the bachelor’s in Greek. But students still have four other degree options that require advanced work in ancient Greek language and culture: classics, classical archaeology, ancient history and classical civilization and Latin. The classics major requires advanced work in both Greek and Latin language. The classical archaeology and ancient history majors require advanced work in classical culture and also in either Greek or Latin. Even the bachelor’s in Latin requires advanced work in either Greek or classical culture.

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Sat, 09/24/2011 - 7:56pm by Information Architect.

"UT is the only public university in Texas to offer an undergraduate degree in Greek studies, but students entering the University after the current academic year will no longer be able to declare a major in the program. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board directed UT to eliminate its degree in Greek studies following this academic year. The board has suggested colleges cut certain degree programs with low enrollment in order to ease state-wide budget cuts to education." Read more at The Daily Texan …

For clarification, see Professor Stephen White's letter to the editor of The Daily Texan.

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Sat, 09/24/2011 - 12:43pm by Information Architect.

In support of the Gateway Campaign for Classics in the 21st Century the APA and Boston University will host a benefit on October 6th featuring classically themed readings by four poets.

Boston, Home of the Muses: Classical Translations and Inspirations by Four Eminent Poetswill be held on Thursday, October 6, 2011 at 8 p.m. at the Metcalf Trustee Center at Boston University. The evening will feature readings and a reception with

David Ferry, poet, translator, and recent winner of the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize for lifetime achievement.

George Kalogeris, poet and teacher of English Literature and Classics in Translation at Suffolk University.

Robert Pinsky, former United States Poet Laureate and Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. 

Rosanna Warren, poet and Emma MacLachlan Metcalf Professor of the Humanities at Boston University.

A pre-performance dinner with the poets for top-tier ticket purchasers will be held at the former President’s residence, known as The Castle, one of Boston University’s most elegant buildings.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Fri, 09/23/2011 - 2:50pm by Adam Blistein.

The Packard Humanities Institute has made its database of Classical Latin texts available online at http://latin.packhum.org/index. Click on "Word Search," then click on the symbol next to the "search" button for directions.

View full article. | Posted in Websites and Resources on Wed, 09/21/2011 - 12:50am by .

"Before he became a Professor of literature at Harvard, and way before he wrote his classic Shakespeare biography, Will in The World, Stephen Greenblatt was an I'll-read-anything kind of kid. One day, he was standing in the campus book store, and there, in a bin, selling for ten cents (good price, even in 1961) he noticed a thin, little volume called On the Nature of Things, by a Roman writer named Lucretius. When he opened it, he found a description of how the universe came to be. Because Lucretius lived a couple of generations before the birth of Jesus, Stephen was expecting a tale of how gods, goddesses, earth, air, fire and water and an assortment of miracles created everything we see, but as he turned the pages, he says 'his jaw dropped' and 'his head began to burst open,' because Lucretius' creation story doesn't feel remotely ancient. First of all, it's a radically secular account, ignoring gods, goddesses, heaven, hell, life after death, and intelligent design, but more surprising, its logic is eerily, almost spookily modern." Read more, or listen to the interview at NPR.org.

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Mon, 09/19/2011 - 5:20pm by Information Architect.

"Fragments of ancient, rare manuscripts of Greek classical poetry, Greek philosophy and Judeo-Christian Scriptures are being retrieved from papier-mâché-like mummy wrappings on loan to Baylor University -- all part of an international project that will give undergraduate humanities students rare hands-on research. The project, called the Green Scholars Initiative, eventually will include more than 100 universities, with Baylor University as the primary academic research partner. Professor-mentors will guide students through research and publication of articles about rare and unpublished documents, among them an ancient Egyptian dowry contract on loan to Kent State University and an ancient papyrus of Greek statesman Demosthenes' famed "On the Crown" Speech, said Dr. Jerry Pattengale, initiative director and a Distinguished Senior Fellow with Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion." Read more at baylor.edu …

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Wed, 09/14/2011 - 1:59am by Information Architect.

"New technology developed by Oxford University’s classics department could help reveal the secrets of historical documents. A spin-out firm is commercialising the scanning device, which uses different wavelengths of light to detect faded or erased ink, for analysing manuscripts and archived documents, as well as modern forgeries. ‘The technical leaps we made mean many ancient documents that were previously unreadable can now be scanned and read,’ said Dr Dirk Obbink, head of the research group that developed the scanner."

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Wed, 09/14/2011 - 1:57am by Information Architect.

The Philadelphia Marriott Downtown Hotel will serve as the headquarters hotel for the 143rd Annual Meeting. The Convention Registration area, the Exhibit Hall, all AIA and APA paper sessions, the Placement Service offices, all placement interviews, and most committee meetings, receptions, and special events will be located in Marriott.  The primary guest room block will also be at the Marriott. Some meetings, receptions, and special events will be held at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel, located directly across the street from the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown. Additional guest rooms have been blocked at the Loews as well.  Links to the online registration system and to information about hotel reservations are now posted on the APA web site.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Wed, 09/07/2011 - 3:22pm by Adam Blistein.

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