- In Memoriam
Diskin Clay, who died in Durham, North Carolina, on June 9, 2014, spent most of his career in the CAAS region, at Haverford College, the Johns Hopkins University, Vassar College, and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Joseph Russo, Clay’s colleague at Haverford College, delivered the following words at his funeral and has graciously agreed to share them with readers of Classical World.—The Editors
DISKIN CLAY: A PERSONAL NOTE
It should be a poem, not a piece in prose, to memorialize my dear friend, my colleague, Diskin Clay. Those who knew him well will understand this. He saw himself as a poet, a scholar-poet to be sure, and it is his love of Dante, of Seferis and Cavafy, and of putting his own thoughts into verse, that will stay with many of us, along with his brilliant contributions to Greek philosophy and literature: books and essays on Plato, Lucretius and Epicurus, Diogenes of Oenoanda, Marcus Aurelius, Archilochus and his hero cult, Greek tragedy, the Louvre Partheneion, and his eloquent defense of deduke men a selanna as genuine Sappho against the dry strictures of Lobel and Page.
Diskin Clay and I joined Haverford College’s Department of Classics together by happy coincidence in 1970, and he and his wife Jenny instantly became close friends of ours. My wife Sally and I traveled to Paris with them, and Diskin led me all the way to Lille to meet Jean Bollack, with whom he was having a lively exchange over pre-Socratic texts. At Haverford together from 1970 to 1976 we shared Greek poetry, drama, and philosophy, and faculty volleyball; we went together to the APA and other meetings; he urged me to learn Modern Greek so I could enjoy the volume of Sikelianos he gave me together with a large Kazantzkis Odyssey (the latter I have given up on; the former I am now learning to read). Diskin, Jenny, Sally, and I shared many an evening over a fine meal and good wine and long storytelling, often Diskin’s hilarious accounts of incidents in his younger years that cast him as a wild character (some were embellished, no doubt; but who could say at what point life should not pass into art?). A hint of the potential for transgression always lingered in Diskin. A good part of his irresistible charm came from an originality reaching toward abandon, held in check by an obligation to good form. Diskin seemed to blend those contradictory impulses into a natural personal style. [End Page 561]
After Diskin left Haverford for the Johns Hopkins University and its Francis White Chair of Greek, we stayed in contact. I was happy to be invited to teach seminars there in Homer and Greek Lyric, and to continue our ongoing conversations. He eventually moved on to a professorship at CUNY and finally a chair at Duke University. His prodigious talents made him one of the most desirable classicists for appointment to our best universities, and his warm and engaging manner, his deep playfulness and humor, his creative unconventionality, naturally drew colleagues and students to him.
I saw and heard much less of him in recent years, and learned through the occasional phone call that his health was in decline. I keep a very fond memory of the last extended time we had together, when happy coincidence brought us both to Wooster College, Ohio, as the team invited from the APA Campus Advisory Service to evaluate the Classics Department (which was doing an excellent job). Again we shared a good dinner and bottle of French red wine as we caught up on personal and family news. Once he was installed at Duke, we talked about either of us visiting the other, but no firm plans ever emerged. We contented ourselves with the occasional mailing of a book or essay we had written and the birthday phone talk. How sad—and inevitable in human affairs—that we never know how little time we have left to enjoy our most meaningful friendships. I miss the imaginary visits I might have had with him, at CUNY or at Duke, or those he might...