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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Candidates wishing to use the APA/AIA Placement Service may register at the reduced early rate ($20 for e-mail service) until December 1, 2011.  Candidates must be members of either APA or AIA.  If the new online system does not recognize you as a member, and if you paid your dues recently, you will be permitted to register more quickly if you can forward a verification of your recent payment to Renie Plonski, the Placement Director (info@classicalstudies.org).

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 11/14/2011 - 9:36pm by Adam Blistein.

From Gibbon to "Gladiator," it might seem like we know a lot about Ancient Rome, but our view of this civilization is a skewed one. The Romans lived in one of the most stratified societies in history. Around 1.5% of the population controlled the government, military, economy and religion. Through the writings and possessions they left behind, these rich, upper-class men are also responsible for most of our information about Roman life.

The remaining people – commoners, slaves and others – are largely silent. They could not afford tombstones to record their names, and they were buried with little in the way of fancy pottery or jewellery. Their lives were documented by the elites, but they left few documents of their own.

Now, Kristina Killgrove, an archaeologist from Vanderbilt University, wants to tell their story by sequencing their DNA, and she is raising donations to do it. “Their DNA will tell me where these people, who aren’t in histories, were coming from,” she says. “They were quite literally the 99% of Rome.”

Read more on the Light Years blog at http://lightyears.blogs.cnn.com/2011/11/11/who-were-the-99-of-ancient-rome/

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Mon, 11/14/2011 - 1:16am by Information Architect.

At its meeting in September 2011, the Board of Directors voted to recommend to the members that they change the By-Laws to combine the existing divisions of Publications and Research, effective January 6, 2013.  Members will be asked to vote on this change at the Annual Meeting of Members on January 8, 2012, in Philadelphia.

Current By-Law language with proposed deletions struck through and proposed additions [in brackets].

OFFICERS AND DIRECTORS

13.  The Board of Directors shall consist of the President, President-Elect, six[five] Vice Presidents, two Financial Trustees, six additional Directors, and Immediate Past President.  In addition, the Executive Director shall be a member of the Board of Directors with voice but without vote.  Except as may be provided otherwise by law, any Director or the entire Board of Directors may be removed, with or without cause, by a majority of the members then entitled to vote in an election duly called for that purpose.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 11/10/2011 - 12:45am by Adam Blistein.

Daniel Mendelsohn reviews Stephen Mitchell's new translation of the Iliad in the November 7th edition of The New Yorker. Read an abstract of the review online here.

View full article. | Posted in Book Reviews on Wed, 11/09/2011 - 6:09pm by Information Architect.

It has now been decided that no reduction in staff numbers in Classics at Royal Holloway will take place until the end of the academic year 2013-14.  Moreover if we recruit good numbers of students with AAB or above at A-level for 2012 and our plans to increase our numbers of Master’s students, both for our MA programmes and for our new MRes programmes, are successful, the proposal for a reduction in staff numbers is likely to be reviewed.  Validation of our two new MRes degrees, one in Rhetoric and one in Classical Reception, is in train.  For more details, see the Department’s blog at http://supportclassicsatrhul.wordpress.com and the Departmental website at www.rhul.ac.uk/ClassicsandPhilosophy.
 
We will be very pleased to receive good applications for Master’s and PhD degrees as well as for all our undergraduate programmes for September 2012.
 
Prof. Anne Sheppard
Head of Classics and Philosophy Department
Royal Holloway
University of London
Egham, Surrey  TW20 0EX

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Thu, 11/03/2011 - 1:29pm by Information Architect.

The new Placement Service web site is now available at placement.apaclassics.org.  We appreciate the patience that both candidates and hiring institutions have shown as we develop this new service.  The web site will permit both candidates and institutions to register and to submit scheduling information online and to see their schedules filled out as specific interview times are assigned.  Registered candidates will also be able to see new position listings as soon as texts of those listings are received and reviewed.  Please note that this new web site for registered candidates will only supplement – it will not replace – the traditional monthly listings of new positions that appear on the APA and AIA web sites.  The traditional listings perform a number of valuable functions for the field, but we look forward to giving active job candidates the earliest possible access to new listings. 

Candidates should be aware that we have a considerable backlog of positions already advertised that we need to enter into the new system.  The new job listing web site will therefore probably not be complete and up-to-date until the second week in November.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 10/27/2011 - 1:21pm by Adam Blistein.

"Wrestling announcer Ed Aliverti often spiced up the NCAA Division I wrestling tournament by yelling that wrestling was 'the world's oldest and greatest sport.' Prints sold at wrestling events depict biblical figure Jacob wrestling an angel, and Abraham Lincoln engaged in his own wrestling match before becoming president. The sport has always been proud of the ancient origins of the sport.

"Now, wrestling has proof of its long history, as researchers at Columbia University found an instructional manual on wrestling that dates back to 200 A.D."

Read more at Yahoo Sports…

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Thu, 10/20/2011 - 7:41pm by Information Architect.

Martha Abbott, a Latin teacher with whom many APA members have collaborated, has become Executive Director of the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), a society of over 12,000 language teachers and administrators. 

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Wed, 10/19/2011 - 6:22pm by Adam Blistein.

The Aquila Theatre's Ancient Greeks/Modern Lives project has been invited to perform a staged reading of scenes from ancient Greek literature for members of the administration and Congress at the White House on November 16, 2011. Ancient Greeks/Modern Lives:  Poetry-Drama-Dialogue is a major new national public program by the Aquila Theatre of New York, supported by a prestigious Chairman's Special Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).  The goal of the project is to bring the veteran community and public together around performances of several ancient  works.  This fascinating free public program of staged readings, lectures, reading groups, and workshops is visiting 100 libraries, arts centers, museums, theatres and galleries across America from May 2010 to April 2013.  The APA is participating in this program by helping to recruit and train the scholars who will lead the events before and after Aquila performances.  The staged reading at the White House will include scenes from Aeschylus' Agamemnon, Sophocles' Ajax, Euripides' Herakles, and Homer's Odyssey performed by a combination of actors from Aquila and combat veterans who served in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.  The reading will be followed by a "town-hall" style discussion moderated by APA member, Peter Meineck, Aquila's Artistic Director.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Tue, 10/18/2011 - 6:58pm by Adam Blistein.

We expect the new automated APA-AIA Placement Service registration web site to be available to candidates during the week of October 17.  At that time candidates will need to register for the 2011-2012 Placement Year if they wish to continue to receive Positions for Classicists and Archaeologists, get access to a web site in which new job listings will be posted as soon as their advertisements are approved, and schedule interviews at the upcoming annual meeting.  Candidates must be either an APA member for 2011 or an AIA member in good standing and will need to enter a member number to complete the registration process. 

If you are not yet a member, you can join the APA at

http://apaclassics.org/index.php/membership

or you can join the AIA at

http://www.archaeological.org/membership/join

If you have already joined one of the societies, please visit this web site to obtain an APA member number,

http://apa.press.jhu.edu/cgi-bin/member_number_lookup.cgi

AIA member numbers appear on the membership card and can be obtained from Membership@aia.bu.edu

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Wed, 10/12/2011 - 6:25pm by Adam Blistein.

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