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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August, 2020

Below is a list of the most recent NEH grantees and their Classically-themed projects. The NEH helps fund a number of SCS initiatives, and their support affects the field of Classics at a national and local level.

Grantees

  • Eleni Hasaki (University of Arizona) and Diane Harris Cline (George Washington University) - "Social Networks of Athenian Potters: Networks, Tradition and Innovation in Communities of Artists"
  • Rega Wood (Indiana University, Bloomington) - "Richard Rufus Project"
  • Matthew Panciera (Gustavus Adolphus College) - "Digital Ancient Rome"
  • Noah Heringman (University of Missouri, Columbia) - "Vetusta Monumenta: Ancient Monuments, a Digital Edition"
  • Alexander Jones (New York University) - "The ANcient Sciences in Cross-Cultural Perspective"
  • Rachel Kousser (CUNY Research Foundation, Graduate School and University Center) - "The Last Years of Alexander the Great (330-323 BCE)"
  • Michael Satlow (Brown University) - "Seeking the Gods: The Spiritual Landscape of Late Antiquity"
  • Pramit Chaudhuri (University of Texas, Austin) - "Computational Tools for Diachronic and Cross-cultural Study of Literature: Multilingual Stylometry and Phylogenetic Profiling"
  • Jessica Powers (San Antonio Museum of Art) - "Art, Nature, and Myth in Ancient Rome"

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View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Thu, 09/10/2020 - 8:57am by Erik Shell.

American Philosophical Society, RESEARCH PROGRAMS
Information and application instructions for all of the Society's programs can be accessed at our website, http://www.amphilsoc.org. Click on the "Grants" tab at the top of the homepage.

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Thu, 09/10/2020 - 8:48am by Erik Shell.

Preliminary CfP: Edited Volume on “Cicero in Greece, Greece in Cicero”

Submissions are invited for an edited volume on “Cicero in Greece, 
Greece in Cicero”.

In 2021 it will be 2100 years since Cicero’s trip to Greece in 79 BCE, 
which was a significant factor in moulding him as an orator, 
philosopher and politician. This provides the opportunity to put 
together new and unpublished material on Cicero’s presence in Greece 
literally, namely for the years he spent in nowadays Modern Greek 
territory, including his aforementioned travel in 79/78 BCE and the 
period of his exile in 58/57 BCE, and metaphorically, that is the 
reception of Cicero in Late Roman, Byzantine, Post-Byzantine, Early 
Modern, and Modern Greece through translations, studies, imitations, 
etc. It is also an opportunity to approach from a new point of view 
the presence of Greece in Cicero, namely how the Greek world, people, 
language, civilisation, history, philosophy, politics and political 
theory, religion, geography, etc. appear in his work.

Abstracts for proposed submissions are invited on any of the 
aforementioned topics. Diverse, interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary 
and other approaches to the material are welcome and encouraged. Early 
career researchers are also encouraged to apply.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Thu, 09/10/2020 - 8:46am by Erik Shell.

Call for Participants
Veteran Politics and Memory: A Global Perspective

Department of History, University of Warwick
16th and 17th April 2021

From the fields of Gettysburg to the beaches of Normandy, the participation and presence of former soldiers has been an integral part of the memorial culture of many conflicts. As survivors of war, veterans are often portrayed a group imbued with a unique knowledge whose experiences should not be forgotten. Yet while public commemorations have sought to establish consensus about the meaning of the past, veterans’ memories have also been a source of conflict and contestation, engaged in struggles over rights, recognition, and the authority to remember the past and speak for the future.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Thu, 09/10/2020 - 8:35am by Erik Shell.

Congratulations to the three winners of the 2020 Charles J. Goodwin Award of Merit. The award recognizes outstanding achievement in classical scholarship. You can read the full award citations by clicking on the names of the winners below:

Paul J. Kosmin

Kelly Shannon-Henderson

Steven D. Smith

Paul J. Kosmin, Time and its Adversaries in the Seleucid Empire (Harvard University Press, 2018)

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Wed, 09/09/2020 - 12:02pm by Helen Cullyer.

Unattainable wishes for the present or past may be entirely reasonable.

– Smyth’s Greek Grammar, “Wishes” §2156.5

Picture the heroine in the sand, wind-lashed and desperate, cursing the hero who left her behind. She’s Medea, she’s Ariadne, she’s Dido. Each of the three make a similar wish:

 

If only that ship had never reached my shores

If only that ship had never sailed

If only that ship had never even been built.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 09/07/2020 - 10:40am by Hilary Lehmann.

Call for Application and Nominations for Editor of TAPA (2022-2025)

The current TAPA Editor Andromache Karanika will end her term of service with volume 151 (2021). Therefore, we are now opening a search for the next TAPA Editor, to cover volumes 152-155 (2022-2025), and inviting applications and nominations for the position.

TAPA is the only journal published by the Society for Classical Studies. Though founded as a philological journal, TAPA is now expected to reflect a broad spectrum of topics, sub-fields, and theoretical and methodological approaches within Greek and Roman Studies.

Qualifications:

The Editor must be a member in good standing of the SCS.

Candidates should have some experience and understanding of the journal publication process, but prior journal editing experience is not necessary.

Responsibilities:

View full article. | Posted in General Announcements on Tue, 09/01/2020 - 12:00pm by Erik Shell.

The Classics program at Austin Peay State University is pleased to invite submissions for the fifth volume of Philomathes: An Online Journal of Undergraduate Research in Classics.  This refereed on-line journal publishes original research projects carried out by undergraduate students in any area of Classics.  Submissions are welcome from current undergraduates and those who have recently completed their undergraduate education (within one year of graduation).  The deadline for submissions for the next issue is Monday, November 16, 2020 with an online publication date scheduled for May 2020. 

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 09/01/2020 - 7:48am by Erik Shell.

The Classics Everywhere initiative, launched by the SCS in 2019, supports projects that seek to engage communities worldwide with the study of Greek and Roman antiquity in new and meaningful ways.

How can we continue to encourage engagement with the ancient world as many transition to an online existence? Three Classics Everywhere projects have found creative and innovative ways to continue their work through the obstacles the COVID-19 pandemic has produced: a feminist adaptation of the Odyssey in the form of a chamber opera; an after-school Latin program in New York City’s Morningside Heights; and the launch of a new site and social media campaign aimed to inspire passion for ancient studies.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 08/31/2020 - 4:07pm by .

America and the Classical Past: Trends in Greco-Roman Reception

September 11, 2020, 11 am to 5:30 pm EST

 

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Thu, 08/20/2020 - 5:19pm by Erik Shell.

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