In Memoriam: Jerry Clack

(Republished from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

In a career that lasted over 70 years, Jerry Clack wore many different hats.

From a youthful stint at the Swedish Legation in Washington and four years with UNESCO to public relations and accounting positions with AAA, Coca-Cola and the American Heart Association, he went on to assume directorship of Allegheny County’s chapter of The March of Dimes in 1953. His 15-year tenure with March of Dimes saw the development of two anti-polio vaccines, that of Jonas Salk at University of Pittsburgh and the oral vaccine of Albert Sabin.

Mr. Clack died Monday at Shadyside Hospital due to heart failure.

The son of Mildred Taylor Van Dyke of Pittsburgh and Christopher Thrower Clack of Boydton, Virginia, Mr. Clack was born in New York City on July 22, 1926. Because his father was a foreign representative of the Pittsburgh-based Blaw-Knox Company, he spent his early years in Europe, mostly in London and Dusseldorf. After his father’s death, he returned with his mother to Pittsburgh, attending the Fulton School and Peabody High School.

Upon gaining admission to Princeton University, where he received an undergraduate degree in Classics in 1946, he pursued graduate work at the University of Pittsburgh, earning a Ph.D. in Classics in 1962. In 1968, Mr. Clack was appointed Professor of Classic Languages at Duquesne University, chairing the Classics Department from 1973-75 and again from 1980-83. Referring to his Latin class at Duquesne, one student posted on ratemyprofessors.com: “Take him, he makes his classes short and funny.”

Mr. Clack’s sense of humor endeared him to his friends and family. “He was one of those people with a wicked sense of humor, sometimes a little black,” said Mark Mazur, a mathematics professor at Duquesne University and close friend of Mr. Clack’s. “He was very clever, plays on words and so forth. That was his trademark.”

Matthew Santirocco, former dean of New York University’s College of Arts and Sciences, wrote of Mr. Clack that he demonstrated “that classicists can still uphold standards of civility in scholarly discourse” and that “the luxury of scholarship and the joy of teaching carry with them the responsibility of serving the profession and the larger community.”

He also published widely in this field. In addition to scholarly articles, he produced four textbooks on the subject of Hellenistic poetry and epigrams. He won numerous awards for his scholarly research, but his first love was opera – first and foremost the operas of Wagner and Richard Strauss. He made annual visits to the Wagner Festival in Bayreuth, Germany, called himself an opera fanatic and prided himself on a record collection that included at least one version of every opera available on CD, tape or DVD.

After his retirement from Duquesne in 2011, Mr. Clack pursued his lifelong interest in opera by becoming a board member of what is now Pittsburgh Festival Opera, this city’s smaller but highly active opera company. Eventually elected chairman of the board, Mr. Clack created and underwrote an annual Richard Strauss festival, that began with a revival of “Ariadne auf Naxos” in 2014. The Strauss Festival has produced local premieres of neglected or unfamiliar works by his favorite composer every year since.

“As chairman of the board meetings, he would open the meetings not with a tedious discussion of the budget or programming but by giving us a little lecture on some arcane portion of the operatic repertoire,” said Jonathan Eaton, artistic director of Pittsburgh Festival Opera. “Some might look at him and think of him as an eccentric, but he wasn’t. He was very passionate, and he wasn’t afraid of his passions.”

In 2017, Mr. Clack put up money for a matching grant that would fund a revival of Festival Opera’s mini-version of Wagner’s “Ring” Cycle, created for the company by British composer Jonathan Dove 10 years earlier. This revival began in 2018 with “Der Ring des Nibelungen” and will continue with one opera each summer and culminating with the entire four-opera cycle in 2021.

“He was an unusual man,” said Mildred Miller Posvar, 94, co-founder of Festival Opera and a former Metropolitan Opera star. “He was wonderful, with his dry wit and his lectures at the board meetings. It’s a great loss.”

Mr. Clack was also an ardent political activist for liberal causes that included among others, Citizens for Global Solution, and the Pennsylvania Chapter of the ACLU. He is survived by his husband, Julian Gil, who lives in Shadyside.

Mr. Clack wished that his epitaph be a farewell used by actors in Roman comedies:

Nunc, spectatores, valete et nobis clare plaudite. “Now, spectators, fare you well, and give us loud applause.”

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(Photo: "Candle" by Shawn Carpenter, licensed under CC BY 2.0)   

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Recently, the SCS has focused attention on the importance on the variety of career paths pursued by those earning a Classics PhD. The Society has held a Career Networking event in 2018 and 2019 at its annual meeting, and will publish this summer a graduate student of edition of "Careers for Classicists", which will provide advice about seeking jobs inside and outside the academy. In recognition of the variety of types of employment open to Classics PhDs and in response to a request by an ad hoc group on graduate student issues, a precursor to the current Graduate Student Committee, the Career Planning and Development Committee has developed the following statement on the importance and value of many different careers. This statement has been endorsed by the SCS Board of Directors.   

Statement on Career Paths for those earning the PhD in Classical Studies

View full article. | Posted in Public Statements on Tue, 06/25/2019 - 9:20am by Erik Shell.

The Society for Classical Studies is proud to announce an upgrade to our Precollegiate Membership category.

In addition to enjoying all their current benefits, Precollegiate members will now enjoy full member benefits. These benefits include voting in SCS elections, serving on SCS boards and committees, and the opportunity to submit abstracts for the AIA/SCS annual meeting.

The annual dues for this membership will be $38 as of September 2019. Membership can be completed by joining online at scs.press.jhu.edu/membership.

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(Photo: "_DSC7061" by rhodesj, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Tue, 06/25/2019 - 9:01am by Erik Shell.

The twenty-second biennial New College Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Studies will take place 12–14 March 2020 in Sarasota, Florida. The program committee invites 250-word abstracts of proposed twenty-minute papers on topics in European and Mediterranean history, literature, art, music and religion from the fourth to the seventeenth centuries. Interdisciplinary work is particularly appropriate to the conference’s broad historical and disciplinary scope. Planned sessions are also welcome. The deadline for all abstracts is 15 September 2019; please see the submission guidelines on the conference website.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 06/24/2019 - 10:02am by Erik Shell.

The Presence of Plotinus: The Self, Contemplation, and Spiritual Exercise in the Enneads

Poznań, Poland, 9th-10th June 2020

An international conference organized by the Scientific Committee on Ancient Culture of the Polish Academy of Sciences
and
the Department of Classical Studies of  Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań

Invited speakers:

Sara Ahbel-Rappe (University of Michigan)

John Bussanich (University of New Mexico)

Martin Laird (Villanova University)

Christian Tornau (Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg)

The subject

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Fri, 06/21/2019 - 9:21am by Erik Shell.

(Written by David T. West)

Grace Starry West (1946-2019)

Grace Starry West, 72, died of complications from lung cancer on Sunday, May 19 at her home. She was a member of the SCS since 1973, Chair of the Local Arrangements Committee in 1999, and trustee of the Vergilian Society from 1986-1989. Her name will be especially familiar to Vergilians on account of her groundbreaking UCLA dissertation on “Women in Vergil’s Aeneid” (1975), and to students and colleagues from the University of Dallas, where she helped Classics grow into an outstanding program with three tenured faculty members and a steady flow of majors. As John F. Miller, Professor of Classics at the University of Virginia, recently observed: “Her work on Virgilian women was pioneering; her leadership at Dallas admirable.”

View full article. | Posted in In Memoriam on Fri, 06/21/2019 - 9:12am by Erik Shell.

'Addressing the Divide' is a new series of columns that looks at the ways in which the modern field of Classics was constructed and then explores ways to identify, modify, or simply abolish the lines between fields in order to embrace broader ideas of what Classics was, is, and could be. This month, we look at the divide between classical archaeology and philology by speaking with archaeologists Sheira Cohen, Eric Kansa, Kristina Killgrove, James Newhard, and Alison Rittershaus

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 06/21/2019 - 7:55am by Sarah E. Bond.

The American Academy in Berlin invites applications for its residential fellowships for the academic year 2020/21.

The Academy seeks to enrich transatlantic dialogue in the arts, humanities, and public policy through the development and communication of projects of the highest scholarly merit. Past recipients include anthropologists, art historians, literary scholars, philosophers, historians, musicologists, journalists, writers of fiction and nonfiction, filmmakers, sociologists, legal scholars, economists, and public policy experts.

Approximately twenty Berlin Prizes are conferred annually. Fellowships are typically awarded for an academic semester, but shorter stays of six to eight weeks are also possible. Benefits include round-trip airfare, partial board, a $5,000 monthly stipend, and accommodations at the Academy’s lakeside Hans Arnhold Center, in the Wannsee district of Berlin. 

For 2020/21, the Academy will also award three specially designated fellowships: two Andrew W. Mellon Fellowships in the Humanities, for work that demonstrates an interest in the topics of migration and social integration, race in comparative perspective, or exile and return. In addition, in memory of its founder, the Academy will name a Richard C. Holbrooke Fellow for a project that looks at diplomatic approaches to resolving major global issues, from armed conflicts to environmental challenges to the impact of new technologies.

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Fri, 06/14/2019 - 10:00am by Erik Shell.

Congratulations to Davina C. Lopez (Eckerd College) and Pamela Zinn (Texas Tech) for their 2019 ACLS Development Grants!

You can read the full list of 2019 recipients on the ACLS website.

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(Photo: "library" by Viva Vivanista, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Thu, 06/13/2019 - 10:21am by Erik Shell.
The Sphinx of Naxos. Archaeological Museum of Delphi. Picture by Yoandy Cabrera

This month, we spotlight the graduate research of Dr. Yoandy Cabrera Ortega, who recently defended his dissertation on the portrayal of human emotions in ancient Greek myths and in modern literature from Spain and Latin America. 

My dissertation was an interdisciplinary one, intertwining different approaches and fields such as classical reception, queer studies, affect theory, and Hispanic studies.

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 06/13/2019 - 8:46am by Yoandy Cabrera Ortega.

Can a computer understand the hendecasyllables of Catullus, the declamations of Seneca, or the letters of Pliny? Not yet, and maybe never in any conventional sense of this word. No one has succeeded so far in teaching a computer to comprehend language – that is, to reason about, generate, act upon and, importantly, communicate intentions through symbolic speech – let alone to appreciate texts written in a dead language with a sophisticated literary tradition. (Embodied cognitive science claims, in fact, that without a human body no computer can ever hope to achieve human understanding). But it is possible to represent the meanings of the Latin language in a way that can be manipulated and analysed by computers. The idea of training machines in these meanings forms the basis for the field of natural language understanding, which is a specialized kind of natural language processing (NLP) focused on modelling linguistic semantics.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 06/07/2019 - 6:48am by William M. Short.

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