In Memoriam: Mark Owen Lee

(Written and provided by Ward Briggs)

Lee, Mark Owen (1930-2019)

Fr. M. Owen Lee (as he preferred to be called) was a beloved fixture at the University of Toronto, where he spent nearly 30 years of his life, and a perceptive critic of Latin poetry. He is, however, best remembered by the sophisticated public as a longtime panelist on the Texaco Opera Quiz, where he answered questions with remarkable alacrity (he was often the first to raise his hand to answer) and with a seemingly fathomless depth of knowledge about opera.

Fr. Lee was born in Detroit on May 28, 1930, and was trained in Latin from an early age at Catholic Central High School. After graduation in 1948 he entered St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto, a college founded by the Congregation of St. Basil and affiliated with the Catholic Church. He was greatly influenced by his Latin professor, Donald Oakley Robson (1905-76), who taught at Toronto from 1947 to 1975. In 1951 Lee joined the Congregation and upon receiving both his M.A. in Classics and his Bachelor of Sacred Theology in 1957, he was ordained. In 1960 he became the first person granted a Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia, writing his dissertation on “The Myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in Western Literature.”  In that same year he began his career teaching in Basilian Catholic universities by returning to St. Michael’s as a lecturer in Classics. There he wrote some pieces derived from his dissertation, but also an interesting study, “Illustrative Elisions in Catullus,” for TAPA in 1962. His favorite authors in the classroom were Catullus and Horace, whose images and influences he traced out to the fascination of his students and the enlightenment of readers of Arion, CP, and AJP. One article showed that although Horace only quotes Catullus once, he shows in Odes 1.5 and 1.22 a distaste for his predecessor. His work of this period at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, TX (1963-72), culminated in Word, Sound and Image in the Odes of Horace (1969).

The Metropolitan Opera in New York began radio broadcasts of its performances in 1931. Nearly ten years later, the 11-year-old M. Owen Lee heard a broadcast of Tannhäuser and became a lifelong fan of opera, and of Richard Wagner in particular. To fill time during the two performance       intervals, the sponsor, Texaco, offered commentary on the opera by a learned authority during the first interval and during the second interval the “Opera Quiz,” in which a panel of three experts answered questions sent in by listeners. Fr. Lee had begun writing commentary on operas for Opera News and other outlets in the late 1960s and beginning in 1974 he provided some commentaries for broadcast as well. The response to his commentary on Parsifal (“Grand Illusions”) was so strong that he began to look for points of comparison between epic and opera. 

In 1983 he was contacted by the Metropolitan Opera to appear on its Opera Quiz. Perhaps fittingly for a Virgil scholar, he was asked also to give a commentary on Les Troyens, an all-star production (Placido Domingo as Aeneas and Jessye Norman as Cassandra) that opened the Met’s centenary season. Fr. Lee became one of the most popular and recognizable panelists on the Quiz and continued to appear, traveling from Toronto to New York at his own expense, until March 2006. Ultimately he wrote more pages on opera than he did on classics, including the 1999 Larkin-Stuart Lectures at Trinity College, Toronto, on Wagner plus audio books on operas such as Die Zauberflöte (1990) and Orfeo ed Euridice (2006).

At St. Thomas, he began to study the work of Carl Jung (1875-1961) which shaped his approach to Virgil (and Wagner). Lee’s devotion to Jung’s theories released the personal in him and each of his succeeding books begins and ends on autobiographical notes. After a stint at Loyola University in Chicago (1972-5), he returned to his alma mater and published Fathers and Sons in Vergil’s Aeneid (1979), whose centerpiece is the meeting of Aeneas and Anchises in Book 6. The father represents Jung’s Wise Old Man, a view to which Lee would return. He described Death and Rebirth in Virgil’s Arcadia (1989) as “not a book for scholars [but] the reader who wants both an introduction to the Eclogues and an interpretation of them.” After general chapters on each poem, he concludes the book with a personal account of his response to the poems. His approach to the Georgics is much the same: in Virgil as Orpheus: A Study of the Georgics (1996) he takes the reader through each book and concludes with Jungian analysis: Virgil, like Orpheus, is the master of music; Eurydice is the anima, Proteus the Wise Old Man, the dismemberment of Orpheus a Jungian rebirth.

Lee was not yet done with Virgil. He was honored to give the Robson Lectures, endowed by his late teacher, an opportunity for reflection on his own influences (Robson and Gertrude Smith) and career as well as a challenge to set down the conclusions of a lifetime of study of ancient poetry and opera. Lee showed how four epic works displayed Jungian archetypes: The number of women portrayed in the Odyssey marks it as an archetype of the anima, the female spirit in the world. He returned to the meeting of Anchises and Aeneas, “the heart of the poem,” in his eyes, sparking memories of the death of Lee’s father, another Wise Old Man. Parsifal combines both the anima (Kundry), the Wise Old Man (Gurnemanz), and the Shadow (Amfortas). Goethe’s Faust begins with a dream in which Lee is the Homunculus of Faust II leading Faust and Mephistopheles to the Classical Walpurgisnacht, with its horrors from ancient mythology. Lee interprets his dream as referring to his time as a student under Robson. The Jungian archetypes are again labelled: Faust is the Wise Old Man, Mephistopheles is the Shadow, and Gretchen and Helen are the anima. He concludes that all heroes are flawed at the start, then they contend with the world, discover their true purpose and serve as role models for their civilizations.

This was Fr. Lee’s farewell to writing on classical literature. Over the next two decades he published ten books, all on opera (plus one on film). The title, Wagner and the Wonder of Art (2007), embodies the passionate quest Fr. Lee himself pursued ever since that Texaco broadcast 66 years earlier.

Fr. Lee died on July 25, 2019, in Scarborough, Ontario.  For further information and a full bibliography, see https://dbcs.rutgers.edu/all-scholars/9313-lee-mark-owen

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

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Here are a few important deadlines coming up at the end of this month:

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View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Fri, 09/20/2019 - 8:32am by Erik Shell.

Of the slew of Disney’s new live-action remakes, perhaps the most anticipated release was this summer’s The Lion King, directed by Jon Favreau. After all, the original 1994 version was arguably the crown jewel of the ‘Disney Renaissance’, enjoying massive commercial and critical success (followed by a highly successful Broadway production). More importantly - at least for those like me who grew up in the 90’s - it was a cultural touchstone, a perennial source of references, parodies, and praise.

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 09/19/2019 - 10:00pm by Colin MacCormack.

Please join us for the 37th Classical Association of New England Summer Institute On the theme “The Empire and the Individual”

July 13-18, 2020 / Brown University, Providence, RI
graduate credit available

The organizers of the CANE Summer Institute invite you to join us for a weeklong examination of peoples and cultures that comprised the Classical Greek and Roman worlds. We will consider what it meant to be (but) an individual amid the greater whole of an empire and what that can tell us about living in today’s world.

Whether you are a high school or college teacher of Latin and/or Greek, History, English, the Arts, or other related disciplines, an undergraduate or graduate student, or a devoted lifelong learner, you will enjoy a thoughtful and enriching experience that includes a wide variety of mini-courses, lectures, workshops, reading groups, and special events while also offering many opportunities for conversation and collegial interaction among participants

This summer’s 5-day mini-courses include:

He Longed for the Desert: Turning Your Back on Rome  John Higgins, Smith College

Romans and Italians: Empire-Making before the Social War Sailakshmi Ramgopal, Columbia University

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Thu, 09/19/2019 - 9:24am by Erik Shell.

Making Classics Public

A panel with Prof. Sarah Bond (University of Iowa) and Dr. Donna Zuckerberg (Editor-in-Chief, Eidolon)

Moderated by Prof. Marianne Hopman (Northwestern University)

Friday October 18
3:30-5:00 PM | Kresge 1515

Northwestern University,1880 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL 60208 

Part of #ClassicsNow: The Urgency of Re-Imagining Antiquity series

Making Classics Public is co-sponsored by the Society for Classical Studies

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(Photo from Northwestern University, used with permission)

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Thu, 09/19/2019 - 8:38am by Erik Shell.
The Society for Ancient Studies (SAS)—an interdisciplinary graduate student organization at New York University —is hosting its second-annual one-day undergraduate conference on the ancient world on Friday, February 7th, 2020 in Manhattan. This conference, organized and moderated by graduate students for talented undergraduates in New York and surrounding states, will offer participants the opportunity to present their scholarship in the engaged professional setting of an academic conference.

Participants will be expected to present a 15-minute paper to a forum of their undergraduate peers, graduate students, and NYU faculty. Submissions may be a condensed version, or a particularly strong chapter, of an undergraduate thesis, an exceptional course paper, or an independent research project. We welcome work informed by any and all theories and methodologies, and encourage submission from students working in any discipline (e.g. Classical Philology, Anthropology, Archaeology, History, etc.) or geo-temporal focus (e.g. Mediterranean and Atlantic Studies; Egyptology; Pre-Columbian, Near East, and East Asian Civilizations).

Food will be provided to all participants, and any audio-visual necessities will be arranged. Some local travel reimbursements will also be available.

ABSTRACT DEADLINE: Friday, November 22nd, 2019

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 09/17/2019 - 10:03am by Erik Shell.

The Classical Association of Ghana

2nd International Classics Conference in Ghana (ICCG)
8th to 11th October 2020

University of Ghana, Legon, Ghana

Theme: Global Classics and Africa: Past, Present, and Future

The late 1950s and early 1960s ushered in a period when many African countries were gaining political independence. Immediately, there was an agenda to unite African nations, and a policy of Africanization began to gain ground. In the area of education, this Africanization process was vigorously pursued. In Ghana the Institute of African Studies was established, and an Encyclopaedia Africana project, originally conceived by W. E. B. DuBois, was revived. In Nigeria, new universities were established to counter the colonial-based education that was present at the University of Ibadan, and in some East African countries there were fears that foreign university teachers would not be able to further the Africanization of university education.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 09/16/2019 - 1:52pm by Erik Shell.

Honor and Shame in Classical Antiquity

Thirteenth Annual Graduate Conference in Classics
Friday, March 20, 2020
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Keynote Speaker: Margaret Graver, Dartmouth College

Virtue, Cicero argues, seeks no other reward for its labors and dangers beyond that of praise and glory. From the earliest days of the ancient Mediterranean, the pursuit of honor and avoidance of shame have shaped societies’ value systems. Achilles wages war according to a strict honor code, while Hesiod’s personified goddess, Shame, is the last to depart the earth as a rebuke of humanity’s wickedness. Far from belonging to the static code of an aristocratic warrior class, as was once understood, honor and shame are increasingly seen as part of a complex and polyvalent ethical system. They manifest themselves not only in the heroic self-assertion of ancient epic but also in a variety of other arenas, such as, for example, philosophical treatises, gender relations and sexual mores, the lives of enslaved peoples, Athenian law and politics, the performance of Roman state identity, and religious belief.  Thus they are pervasive throughout literature, thought, and society in the ancient world.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 09/16/2019 - 9:57am by Erik Shell.

High school Latin programs (along with Classics programs at the college or university level) are in perpetual peril, and keeping any program alive contributes to the ongoing effort to keep our field afloat and relevant, while also continuing to provide students with all of the benefits that we know that Latin offers. Monmouth College’s Classics Department spearheaded a successful, broad-based effort to resist the proposed elimination of the thriving Latin program at Monmouth-Roseville (IL) High School (MRHS) in Spring 2019.

This reflection is meant as a case study for understanding and then addressing the issue of threatened Latin programs across the country. I will lay out the factors and steps that led to the initial decision to drop the program, those that we discovered were critical in the eventual success of the resistance effort, and roles that a college or university Classics programs can play to retain their comrade programs, which cultivate many eventual Classics students and majors. 


Figure 1: Monmouth-Roseville High School in Monmouth, IL. Photo Credit: Robert Holschuh Simmons.

Background on the situation at Monmouth-Roseville 

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 09/12/2019 - 8:49pm by Robert Holschuh Simmons.

Sailing with the Gods: Religion and Maritime Mobility in the Ancient World

           Sponsored by: The Society for Ancient Mediterranean Religions

           Location: Grand Hotel Excelsior, Floriana, Malta

           Dates: June 17-21, 2020

           Ritual practices dedicated to maritime success appear across a wide span of human cultural history, from the Mediterranean to the North Sea, Southeast Asia across the Pacific to the west coast of the Americas. Culturally-constructed seafaring rituals could be seen as spiritual or superstitious, and respond to the combination of risk and profit endemic in even short voyages by water. Maritime religion infuses all water-borne contact across cultural boundaries; the crafts of those who build rafts, canoes, and sailing vessels; navigational skills which may reach back to ancestors who have faded into cultural legend; and myriad mnemonic and naming strategies extending to littoral markers and celestial patterns. Mythic and ritual responses are accordingly complex, ranging from apotropaia to the divine authorization of civic structures, shipboard shrines and functional epithets which could link divinities, heroes and nearly-deified rulers to the control of the waves and winds.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 09/09/2019 - 2:33pm by Erik Shell.

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