Please see Alumni Roster for all Classics alumni.
A Virtual Classics Reunion: May 2020
With Amherst's usual alumni events cancelled on account of the current pandemic, the Classics Department invited its graduates to contribute notes by way of a virtual reunion. We asked them to share recollections of their time at Amherst, to reflect on how their Classics education asserts itself in their post-Amherst life, or to simply trumpet their good news. Enjoy their responses below; it's not too late to send one of your own!
Kingsley Smith '50
I wondered why I have waited to throw out the texts and papers I have been carrying around since 1950—now I know that maybe somebody else cares!
I see the Classics Department is still at Grosvenor. That follows how Reuben Brower began our Greek 1-2 class on a September day in 1946 in Johnson Chapel Room 1: "Gentlemen [we were all gentlemen in those days], Greek has been taught in this room since 1829." I had begun the transition from a student to a scholar.
My last memories of Grosvenor, in spring 1950, were of sessions with Wendell Clausen on my honors paper on "Theocritus and Virgil's Pastoral Poetry," in which I tried to use criteria of "the new criticism" to explain amoebic poetry. I remember that John Moore was not much impressed by it.
Then eight years later, when I was assistant rector at Trinity Church, Towson, a friend enlisted me to reach the course in Greek Lyric and Dramatic Poetry at Goucher College—using Moore's text Iambic, Lyric and Elegiac Poetry, and the Bacchai. It was hard work, with a small class of bright students, all of them young women who learned to intone Euoi, euoi.
Otherwise my classical lore was centered on Biblical studies, teaching and taking many courses. I worked especially on the apocalyptic literature and culture, merging Hellenism and Judaism with a world view "neither Jew nor Greek"—or rather both.
Ross Holloway '56
I was glad to get your email and just want to report that I'm in there pitching, although held back in various ways by the stroke I suffered last summer. It is great to see such life in the department, a far cry from the days when John Moore and Wendell Clausen held forth on the third floor of Converse. Ave atque vale.
Jim White '60
When I was at Amherst, the Classics Department leaders were Wendell Clausen, later at Harvard, and the legendary John Moore. I was also a student in the English department and loved going from one literature to another and then back again. When I got an MA in English at Harvard, my most influential teacher was Rueben Brower (formerly of Amherst), who a was model for someone interested in the relations between these two literatures, and the languages in which they were written.
Jim Rooney '60
I then went to law school. While I was there, I was a section teacher in a basic humanities course at Harvard, entitled “Epic and Drama,” which naturally dealt with many classical texts in translation.
After some time in practice I became a law professor, ultimately at Michigan, interested especially in the relation between law and humanities. Classics was a permanent part of my life as a person and a scholar. In my books there are chapters on the Iliad, Thucydides, Plato’s Gorgias, the Philoctetes, Plato’s Crito, the Odyssey, the Phaedrus, and Athenian tragedy more generally. As for teaching, I think I taught every one of these texts, often several times, in courses on law from the perspective of literature and culture more generally.
For fifteen years in Ann Arbor I met with Gerda Seligson, a retired classics professor, once a week to read Greek. In my retirement, I meet once a week by phone with a colleague at Colorado College, reading Augustine in Latin, and I meet once a week with a colleague here in Ann Arbor to read Greek—at the moment, the Iliad.
I have happy memories of Classics at Amherst, especially in my work on Euripides. I hope you are able to continue to teach the languages!
There is no doubt that the best thing that happened to me at Amherst was having John Moore for a teacher. He was a true Socratic teacher, believing that dialogue, not lecturing was the way. In my senior year, Jim White, Richard Wechsler and I took a weekly seminar with John Moore and Tom Gould. We would meet for a couple of hours up on the third floor of the Converse Library at a round table and discuss whatever text we had before us. Then we would usually adjourn to John Moore's house where the conversation continued while he prepared dinner. The issues brought up in the afternoon were still hovering in the air even as our thoughts turned to whatever was going on around the campus at the time, eventually widening to the world beyond. Wine was drunk. It was a symposium in the original sense of the word. After dinner, often we would be joined by other faculty members, and the ideas and wine would flow into the wee hours. Through it all John Moore would continually circle back to re-examine what we had been discussing in the afternoon, now with input from those who had joined us. His mind kept turning ideas over, considering every angle, every possibility, never settling for a final solution or an easy answer. He was tireless. I, on the other hand, would find my way back to Phi Psi, head reeling with it all. Often, the next morning, slightly the worse for wear, I would encounter John Moore going into Converse, bounding up the stairs, taking them two, three at a time, in his enthusiasm to get back to it.
Donald J. Mastronarde '69
Emeritus Melpomene Professor of Classics
University of California, Berkeley
I am pleased to announce that Release 1 of my open-access online edition of the scholia on Euripides, Orestes
1-500, has been officially launched (on May 1, 2020) at EuripidesScholia.org
William Carter '70
I was Classics AC '70 (and not a passable scholar by any stretch). My brother was Classics AC '63 under John Moore and Peter Marshall (and Rolfe Humphries). I was in good company then with Don Mastronarde '69 (he finished in three years) and Ken Martin '70.
I notice you don’t have the Classics Department’s most famous alumnus listed here—the one and only Ray Teller (of Penn and Teller). Taking a Greek class with Teller was an experience beyond comprehension.
Stephen C. Farrand '77
I've never written in to contribute to Classics alumni news, largely because I've mostly worked as a high school teacher, and that is a line of work I've never been inclined to trumpet to the Amherst community, after giving up on completing a PhD in 1984. But now, largely retired from teaching, I find that I can look back with more perspective. I can't recall a single career conversation with my Amherst mentors in any case, something I do hope has changed since my time.
In the last dozen years or so, I've become very interested in speaking Latin, and have studied with some of the continent's skilled practitioners: Terry Tunberg, Milena Minkova, Alexis Hellmer, Jim Dobreff and a number of others. I think my interest in learning to use Latin actively goes back to my Amherst days and to performing Greek Tragedy in Greek with Rachel Kitzinger in 1976-77. Of course, memorizing reams of Ancient Greek is not the same as acquiring the language (as some language teachers now like to say), but it is a start. In any case, summer Latin immersion programs have completely changed how I understand the language, largely without recourse to English. With real effort over time, I have learned to turn off the internal translator that I developed over many years. And it is Peter Marshall and Rick Griffiths at Amherst who deserve the credit for the quality of that internal translator (with no responsibility for its deficiencies!).
I've also learned to turn this translating machine back on selectively. I'm working on a translation of an American children's book into Latin and an original novella for intermediate readers (the plot is set in the first century BCE and involves historical characters, but the rest is a secret). But on the front burner for now is a Renaissance Latin project: I'm translating the letters of Hubert Languet (1518-1581) to Augustus the Elector of Saxony, the letters' first time in English. Languet was a diplomat, humanist and Huguenot who worked for decades to promote cooperation among the Protestant states in Europe. His letters to Augustus report on events throughout Europe from the 1560's until a month before Languet's death. It's work quite far from my areas of specialization, but I find myself learning a lot about 16th-century Europe and my client for the translation (a Harvard psychiatrist) is aware of my shortcomings.
One other set of Languet's surviving letters are of particular interest. He corresponded with Sir Philip Sydney fairly regularly over 15 years or so and effected introductions to many leading scholars and diplomats all over Europe. There is reason to think that Languet was in love with Sydney during their association. I look forward to spending time with this correspondence as well.
Oh, and I've acquired a plush toy mammoth, who sits on my desk. She needs a mammoth dentist. Her name is Emily for now, but, once the pandemic abates, she will go to a Latin-speaking friend in Stockholm, who recently had a son. He'll have to name her.
Has cura ut valeas ever seemed more timely?
David Mackey '79
I’m a class of 1979 classics major, and studied both Latin and Greek with Professors Griffiths, Kitzinger and Marshall among others. In many of my classes there were only two of us (so you really had to be prepared), and never more than six or seven, usually in a slightly overheated room on the ground floor of Grosvenor. I loved Homer especially, but I also read Greek tragedies with Professor Griffiths and Kitzinger, and had the fun experience of being in the chorus of two productions directed by Professor Kitzinger: the Antigone (on the War Memorial) and the Agamemnon (Merrill rooftop). Professor Griffiths guided me through my thesis project (Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy—I doubled majored in philosophy) but was also a mentor as I weighed classics graduate school over law school (and then six years later classics graduate school over continuing my career as a lawyer—I’m still a lawyer). My classics background gave me lots of reasons to travel to Greece and Italy. I haven’t been for a long time, but plan on spending lots of time there when I retire. I have enjoyed my legal career immensely: from a large law firm to the US Attorney’s Office, to a general counsel position and now back to private practice, all in Boston where I’ve raised four daughters. I’m happy to say that my two youngest—rising high school freshman and senior—are both taking Latin!
I look forward to staying in touch. I visit Grosvenor every time I’m on campus. I’m immensely grateful for the time I spent in that building, with wonderful and challenging professors and classmates. That experience has never left me.
Edward Donahue '86
I am so sorry for the students this year, to have had their year cut off, especially the seniors, thesis writers, athletes, and those away on study abroad. I was so lucky, as I look back, to have gone to Amherst as a Classics major, gotten to go to Rome my junior year, and to have mysteriously completed my thesis senior year—I still don't know how I got it done, but I can thank Professor Sinos!
Anyway, being home due to the pandemic has made me reflect on what a great and rigorous experience we had, and the great people. I haven't used my major so much directly, but I did help teach my brother Latin when he became a priest, and I gave him and his class a guided tour of the sites in Rome. During my free time now, I am taking an online course on the Peloponnesian War. Enjoy, and I hope everything is normal next year for reunion.
Tom Harada '04
After Amherst, I gradually became a full-time software engineer (first at some financial companies in Chicago and the SF peninsula, then at Amazon, also based out of the SF Bay Area).
I did join a weekly Greek reading group in Chicago for a while, and enjoyed keeping up with the joy of translation. These days I’m focused mostly on entrepreneurial pursuits and exploring yet another programming language or paradigm (though I hope to return to translating more in the future). I think my tenacity with "learning and being curious" and "delivering results" was solidified studying Latin and Greek at Amherst in a lot of ways. Jeff Bezos has a company with the Latin motto "Gradatim Ferociter," and despite my wife rolling her eyes over how much I drink the company Kool-Aid, that reminds me of Amherst and pushing oneself step by step to become really excellent. I'm excited for the future Classics students and their different paths.
Ethan Alexander-Davey '04
I have fond memories of the Classics Department at Amherst. Being one of the survivors after the first semester of Greek in my freshman year substantially boosted my self-confidence, though, of course, the Greek language classes never ceased to be challenging. The receptions at the home of Professors Rebecca and Dale Sinos were always enjoyable and much appreciated.
Though I did not become a classicist, I did pursue an academic career in another field. My knowledge of Greek serves me very well when I teach Ancient Political Thought (Plato, Republic and Laws; Xenophon, Socratic Dialogues; Aristotle, Ethics and Politics) every two years at Campbell University. I also hope to do more with the Greeks and Romans in my scholarship. There is a taste of this in my introduction to the edited volume Aristocratic Souls in Democratic Times, Avramenko & Alexander-Davey, eds. (Lexington Books, 2018). I believe the Frost Library has acquired a copy of it at the request of Professor Dale Peterson (I was a Russian as well as a Greek major).
Jeremy Kelley '06
At Amherst, I learned how to analyze systems and their impact on everyone from the plebeian to the ruling class living within their confines. Studying the political, legal, and cultural norms of Roman society was fascinating within the context of American contemporary equivalents (and corresponding deficiencies).
From the moment I left Amherst, I've yet to stop analyzing systems. From starting an ex-criminal offender re-entry program in Boston, to implementing workforce development policy for a consulting firm, to working at a SaaS company focused on realigning education curricula with workforce demand, my career has iterated on identifying the inefficiencies of systems and addressing the impact of the people living within them.
At least that's what I tell people when they ask me how I'm using my degree at a tech company. I'll also be forever grateful to Professor Rossi for going easy on the quiz I handed in the morning after the Red Sox finally beat the Yankees in an ALCS.
Joanna Rifkin '09
In my post-Amherst life as an evolutionary geneticist, I'm always the only one in the room who can explain what species names mean, and I have a solid edge with unfamiliar scientific vocabulary! During graduate school, I turned my language-learning interests toward studying Yiddish for fun. After defending my PhD at Duke in 2017, I moved to Toronto for a postdoc. I thought I'd improve my French after moving to Canada, but if anything, the influence of Anglophone Canadians is making it worse.
Warm wishes to anyone who remembers me from the class of 2009.
Ryan Milov '10
Since graduating as a classics major, I've taught high school literature (summer session) and, by a stroke of good luck, found myself back at Amherst working a part-time-full-time job in the Dean of Students Office. My days outside of work are filled, mostly, with reading and walking and thinking, and music and cooking and conversing. I have tried to grow some plants. Most have died, but the experts (some of whom are hiding behind mantles as "classics professors"!) assure me that learning to make things grow takes time. I am doing what I can to keep Greek and Latin alive in me, and I have begun my study of Hebrew. I have no idea where I am going next, but, most of the time, I am not too concerned.
Tim Clark '12
Since finishing my classics degree at Amherst and my MA in ancient history at Oxford, this spring I finished my PhD in classics at the University of Chicago. I am staying on at UChicago as a humanities teaching fellow. This year, I'll be teaching Latin, a course in translation for first-years on the Iliad, the Odyssey, and Dereck Wallcott's Omeros, and a course in the spring about Athenian and Roman views of the East. I miss Amherst so much and look forward to being back soon!