Bryn Mawr Classical Review 02.04.18

From the Editor's Disk: Lagniappe

The last two items do not appear in the printed BMCR 2.4 but are editorial notes shipped as lagniappe with the e-version. Comment, response, and notable items for inclusion are always welcome.

Days of Future Passed

The state of the art in Oxford and Dublin, with an obituary notice from the University of Kansas

Two publications from across the sea paint an obscure but interesting picture of contemporary developments. In the more conventional vein, the Trinity Issue, 1991, of Oxford Today: The University Magazine (Oxford's innovation to compete with American alumni rags: a friend comments, '"Oxford Today"? Isn't that an oxymoron?'), has a state of the art piece on 'The Greats Tradition' (illustrated by photographs of the anatomically correct Riace bronzes -- there is a subtle rhetoric emerging according to which anatomical correctness is a sign of cutting-edge scholarship, is there not?). The theme is certainly the compulsory optimism incumbent on alumni rag pieces, but an undertone of worry is unmistakeable. Peter Parsons is quoted entering upon his chair with caution and calls for collaboration (and the perhaps indiscreet query, 'If Shakespeare is thought worth studying, why not Sophocles?' -- Professor Parsons's excellences are unanimously acclaimed, but a less distinguished scholar in the same chair would know that Shakespeare's position in the universities is not quite so unassailable as it once seemed), and Lloyd-Jones is quoted departing his chair with a 'bitter philippic' (both addresses would be interesting to see in print). The article balances the constant numbers of undergraduates (about 550 at any one time over many years) with a decline in academic staff (now around 70 dons, down 25% in Thatcherite days).

On the same day as the Oxford Today arrived, there came to hand the recent Festschrift published in honor of John J. O'Meara, emeritus professor of Latin in University College, Dublin (From Augustine to Eriugena, ed. F.X. Martin and J.A. Richmond [Washington, D.C.: 1991]). The 'Biographical Sketch' (pp. ix-xii) is a story of rise and fall. O'Meara started as a Jesuit trainee with an Oxford D.Phil. who left the seminary to teach Latin at the college most readers know from Joyce's Portrait. Made Professor of Latin in his 30s, he proceeded to revitalize, inspirit, and exalt his subject for a generation of students. 'The enthusiasm and radiant optimism of the young lecturer, his elegant appearance, his confident and impressive delivery, his hints of cosmopolitan savoir faire, his occasional light touches of Oxford flippancy, and the background [viz. provincial Irish] he shared with most of his auditors combined to make him a great success. He was indefatigable in encouraging higher standards of work and in forwarding the careers of his better students in the academic profession. Unweariedly he presided or spoke at many student society meetings. He secured the appointment of new staff in classics, and took care to make these appointments of high quality.... The new professor was a great success.' Those were the 50s; in the 60s, a run at academic politics ended in a thwarted run for president of his college, and he retreated to teach and publish at a great rate, inter alia devoting years to advancing the serious study of Eriugena on an international scale.

So far the story sounds like a happy pre-vision of what many of us hope to accomplish or see accomplished in our own times. But the caution comes at the end. The Festschrift honors a career that ended with retirement in 1984, and the last paragraph runs thus: 'His retirement unfortunately coincided with a period of retrenchment in the College and the continued decline of the study of Greek and Latin in the College and in Ireland generally, though classics in translation courses (introduced under O'Meara's inspiration) flourish in the College. As Latin and Greek are considered in many quarters as at best marginal ... and at worst tainted with elitism and damned by irrelevance, it is difficult to give a hopeful prognosis for the present flourishing condition in his own College of the studies to which John O'Meara devoted himself so unstintingly.'

Obituary: Sesto Prete

In a not-inappropriate elegiac mode, then, we pass on the following notice of the passing of one of our own, supplied by Professor Lynn H. Nelson of the Department of History at the University of Kansas:

I am sad to announce that we have just learned of the death of our colleague, Sesto Prete, Professor Emeritus of Classics of the University of Kansas (1919-1991) Professor Prete was educated at the universities of Bologna and Frankfurt, completing his training under the auspices of Humbolt grants near the close of the Second World War. After some time teaching in Italy and Germany, he was lured to the United States by his good friend Paul Kriststeller. After teaching at Fordham for some time, he came to the University of Kansas and thereafter divided his time between Lawrence, Kansas and his home of Fanno, Italy. He was known as one of the finest palaeographers and textual critics of his generation, and is perhaps most famous for his editing of the works of Ausonius. He was an accomplished Latin poet, and more than once he tactfully advised young and ambitious scholars not to publish certain poems as newly-discovered works of Martial since, in fact, he had written them. A short, burly man with a perfectly bald head and an ever-present smile, he had a gift for organization, founding and editing the journal Res Publica Litterarum for several years before his death and directing an annual international conference at Fanno. He died two weeks ago, much to the regret of his colleagues and friends. Those who knew him will remember that he was a devout Catholic and will perhaps wish to remember him with a mass and in their prayers.