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July 8, 2002

Classics in past times

Herbert W. Benario is a professor of classics, emeritus.

A very large percentage of Emory’s present faculty and staff has come here in the last two decades, following the momentous Woodruff grant, which enabled the University to begin the transformation from a regional institution to one of national importance.

The number of faculty in the College is now well more than double the number in 1960, when I came to Emory. There are many new departments and programs, and all departments—both young and old—have grown in size.

I suspect that few recent Emory folk have any idea what this institution was like in the “olden” days. Tom English’s sesquicentennial history of Emory and Harvey Young’s brief outline, which appears at the front of the College catalogue, will give a hint, but no department will receive close attention when the focus is always on the larger picture.

Since the mid-1980s, the classics department has grown to include nine full-time faculty, some of whom share their appointments with other departments. During most of my years here, we were three or—occasionally—four in number, with little support from other departments. Yet we taught fair numbers of students and had the great satisfaction of seeing many of them earn doctorates at fine universities and now occupy importance positions in their universities and in the profession.

I can easily recall those youngsters who gained Ph.Ds from Harvard, Oxford, Harvard again, Yale, Cincinnati and Stanford. A senior professor at Harvard told me that one of the students [Emory] sent there was among the two or three best that Harvard had had in his experience. Save for a brief period in the latter 60s and early 70s, when the department offered M.A. and M.A.T. degrees, we could only start our students on their way, and, in retrospect, I think we did a good job.

This, indeed, must have been the mood and educational philosophy of the earliest Emory faculty and their successors. After the founding of Emory College at Oxford in 1836, the faculty consisted entirely—or almost entirely—of Methodist ministers, many of whom taught a variety of subjects. It was not until the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th that the “professionalism” of the faculty began. It is this process I wish to trace in the field of classics.

The first designated classicist in the new Emory College was the Rev. George Lane, who is listed in the first catalogue (1839) as “Andrew Professor of Ancient Languages and Literature.”

He served from 1837 to 1848. Several short-term appointments followed until the College closed from 1862 to 1866 because of war.

In 1868, Josiah Lewis was appointed professor of Greek and J.A.O. Clark as professor of Latin; both served until 1871. Their successors were men who had greater impact upon the institution. Morgan Callaway, professor of Latin from 1871 to 1875, was an enormous success: “In his coming Emory gained one of the truly great teachers of all her years,” wrote H.M. Bullock in his book A History of Emory University.

Bullock also commented on John Doggett, professor of Greek from 1871 to 1877, who “brought consternation to the students by the new and thorough methods which he introduced in teaching Greek.” He may well be called the first “professional” classicist in Emory’s history. He came from the University of Virginia, where he had studied with Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve, who had gotten his doctorate in Germany and is still considered the greatest of American classicists.

There were numbers of other men who served as professors of Latin or Greek before the end of the century. In 1898, Charles Peppler was appointed professor of Greek. He had received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins, under Gildersleeve, and was probably the first professor in the history of the College to hold an earned doctor’s degree. He also was one of the first who was not a minister of the Methodist Church. After his appointment he studied in Berlin, and left Emory in 1912, to join the faculty of the new Trinity College in Durham, N.C., which later became Duke University.

Edward Turner came to Emory as Professor of Latin in 1903, a year after he had received his doctorate in Halle Wittenberg, Germany—the first Emory faculty member to have gained his degree in Germany.

According to W.A. Carlton’s book In Memory of Old Emory, “He had the reputation of being ‘hardboiled.’ But as a matter of fact, he was only justly strict in his grading and had high standards. He was a real scholar.”

Turner retired in 1943, having been one of the few faculty who moved with the College from Oxford to Atlanta. He continued to teach during the years of World War II. He also was very influential in College athletics. His photograph hangs on the wall in the Woodruff P.E. Center in Emory’s Sports Hall of Fame.

Clarence Boyd was professor of Greek from 1913 to 1946. With the return of peace and the influx of many veterans studying on the GI Bill, the Department of Classics was reinvigorated.

Charles Hart, who had been professor of French from 1928 to 1946, became professor of Latin. Robert Scranton, a distinguished Greek archaeologist, came in 1947; three years later, Joseph Conant joined the department, with responsibility for establishing a humanities program. Hart retired in 1960, and was succeeded by the present writer.

Scranton departed in 1961 to accept appointment at the University of Chicago; Conant retired 20 years later. During these decades, there were numerous short-term and temporary appointments, none of which resulted in the granting of tenure.

It was because of classics that Italian returned to the Emory curriculum. In the late 1970s, the department persuaded the dean to authorize a new position in Latin and Italian. Subsequently, the Italian half became a full-time position, and was transferred to the jurisdiction of romance languages, and later became part of the Department of French and Italian.

With the arrival of the 1980s—save mention of my own retirement in 1987—I shall bring my recollections to a close. I shall append only one note.

The major regional classical organization in the United States, the Classical Association of the Middle West and South, which now embraces 31 states and three Canadian provinces, has had three Emory presidents, Turner, me and—for the year 2002–03—Niall Slater. In addition, David Bright, the current department chair, was president while at another institution. Members of the department also play major roles in the activities of the American Philological Association. Our subject is alive and well, both in teaching and scholarship; long may it thrive.