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.

“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 SCS is pleased to announce the appointment of Patrice Rankine and Sasha-Mae Eccleston as guest editors of a future issue of TAPA with the theme of race, racism, and Classics. A detailed call for papers will be issued in early 2020, and a timetable for submissions will be provided. This themed issue is likely to appear as TAPA 153:1 in spring 2023.

View full article. | Posted in Websites and Resources on Sun, 12/29/2019 - 7:32pm by Helen Cullyer.

SCS is pleased to be able to offer professional learning units (PLUs) to K-12 teachers in the District of Columbia who attend the AIA-SCS Annual Meeting from January 2-5 at the Marriott Marquis, Washington DC. Forms for PLUs will be available at the SCS booth in the exhibit hall.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Sun, 12/29/2019 - 7:12pm by Helen Cullyer.

It might seem that Plato and Xenophon have little in common with heavy metal bands; however, they do share an admiration for those warlords of Laconia: the Spartans. In a word, each expressed a degree of laconophilia. What drew ancient philosophers and heavy metal bands alike to Sparta may be a feeling of disenchantment with their respective mainstreams. Socrates’ pupils were no doubt disillusioned with Athenian democracy following his execution in 399 BCE, and the Spartan alternative arguably inspired in Plato’s Republic and Xenophon’s Constitution of the Spartans was a type of escapist fantasy.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 12/27/2019 - 5:55am by Jeremy J. Swist.

The SCS Board is delighted to announce a new prize, which will be awarded for the first time in 2020. The Gruen Prize honors Erich S. Gruen, Gladys Rehard Wood Professor of History and Classics Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley.  It will be an essay prize for the best graduate student research on multiculturalism in the ancient Mediterranean, and submissions about any aspect of race, ethnicity, or cultural exchange will be considered. 

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Mon, 12/23/2019 - 9:53am by Helen Cullyer.

The 2020 Annual Meeting is less than two weeks away.  Registration numbers continue to be strong, but we are still lagging behind with the reservations at the Renaissance hotel.  We understand that some attendees will opt to stay with local friends or find a less-expensive accommodation, but we rely on hotel reservations to secure the meeting space each year.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Sat, 12/21/2019 - 7:03am by Helen Cullyer.

In November of 1897, a review of an English poetry collection titled The Flower of  the Mind was published in literary journal The Academy. In his review of Alice Meynell’s anthology of the great English poems, publisher Grant Richards ruminated on the difficulties, worth, and effects of anthologies as a genre:

Anthologies, these latter years, come thick as Vallombrosa…For the making of an anthology is not merely the prettiest of literary amusements, it is also a delicate and fine mode of criticism. To select is to judge; tacitly, but no less deliberately. Admission or exclusion becomes the last word of a patient investigation, in the course of which, tests for genius are devised, and many an established reputation fails to sustain the ordeal. A history of anthologies would be a curious chronicle of the slow but inevitable determination of greatness.

The invention of literary anthologies, canonical readings, and sourcebooks goes back to antiquity and debates over their construction are perhaps just as archaic. Within the history of western education, the genre is a result of ancient and then medieval teachers and religious figures who privileged the teaching of texts from Homer, Virgil, or Augustine for generations.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 12/20/2019 - 8:12am by Sarah E. Bond.

Special tours for AIA / SCS: January 2, 2020, 3:00-5:00 pm
Woven Interiors: Furnishing Early Medieval Egypt and Cotsen Textile Traces Study Center
The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum
701 21st Street, NW, Washington, D.C.

Woven Interiors (closing on Jan. 5), co-organized by The Textile Museum and Dumbarton Oaks, presents 45 exceptional interior textiles from the villas, palaces, churches, mosques, and humble homes of late antique and early medieval Egypt (300–1000). Join us for curator-led tours of the exhibition and for a preview of The Cotsen Textile Traces Study Center. Tours will rotate throughout the 2 hour period, so we hope you can join us as your schedules permit. Museum/tour admission free with conference badge or proof of AIA/SCS membership.

The GWUM-TM is located just 1.4 miles from the Marriott Marquis. In addition to walking or taking a taxi/Uber, visitors can use the Metro: from the Mt. Vernon Sq. Station, take the Yellow/Green Metro toward Branch Ave./Huntington, exit at the third stop at L’Enfant Plaza; transfer to Blue/Orange/Silver toward Franconia/Springfield/Vienna/Wiehle-Reston, and exit at the sixth stop at Foggy Bottom-GWU stop; the Museum is just 0.4 miles walk, two blocks east and one block south between H and G Sts. on 21st St. NW. 

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 12/19/2019 - 12:06pm by Erik Shell.

Latin Lexicography Summer School: 20–24 July, 2020

          The Thesaurus Linguae Latinae Institute invites applications for its annual Latin Lexicography Summer School, which will take place in Munich from July 20 to 24, 2020. We welcome participation by researchers at any stage in their career whose work engages rigorously and critically with Latin vocabulary, whether in specific texts or across the entire corpus of ancient Latin. In addition to philology, relevant disciplines include intellectual history, epigraphy, linguistics, literary and textual criticism, medieval and Renaissance studies, philosophy, and theology. This year Prof. Wolfgang de Melo will be present as the scholar in residence.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Wed, 12/18/2019 - 2:38pm by Erik Shell.

The Fourteenth International Conference of the Taiwan Association of Classical, Medieval and Renaissance Studies (TACMRS)

23-24 October 2020
National Taiwan University

Call for Papers

Food: Sacrificial, Spiritual, and Secular

Food, whether secular or spiritual, physical or metaphysical, human or nonhuman, has been an important issue throughout the history of this planet. Human history is a long story of appetitive contest with nature and the environment, while consumption is an empowering practice that involves struggle and sacrifice. The matter of food may illuminate or complicate histories of labor, leisure, science, production, ethical considerations, religious discourse and practices, and environmental concerns.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Wed, 12/18/2019 - 8:55am by Erik Shell.

Eos: Africana Receptions of Ancient Greece and Rome is excited to invite you to a panel, reception, and showcase at the upcoming SCS Annual Meeting in Washington, DC on the subject of "Black Classicisms in the Visual Arts." We will gather at 5:30pm on Friday, January 3, at 

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Tue, 12/17/2019 - 12:11pm by Erik Shell.

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