Harvard Classics and the Harvard School
To mere mortals, like an undergraduate classics major from the University of Scranton in 1974, Harvard was big time, the Broadway of American Altertumswissenschaft. Though I had had years of Latin and Greek, thanks to the Jesuits, my application to grad school there got no traction, sad to say. Yet after an M.A. from Fordham and Ph.D. from Berkeley, the door toward stardom opened momentarily, as I was interviewed for a three-year position beginning in 1983, Richard Thomas's position in fact, who was headed off for a short run at the University of Cincinnati before returning to the footlights in Cambridge. There were some two-dozen intimidating altertumswissenschaftliche interviewers in the room, one of them staring at his shoes the entire time, and a terrified Scrantonian. Although I did not get the position, I enjoyed the interview by virtue of surviving it with my ego and self-confidence somehow still intact (I overheard one of them say, "I think he likes us!").
While I missed the opportunity to encounter the Harvard School in person on its home turf, I did get to know Wendell Clausen when he was the Sather Lecturer at Berkeley; his topic was Vergil and the Hellenistic tradition, a perfect combination for me both then and now. [End Page 61] I summoned up the courage to speak with him one day about an idea I was working on. He was very gracious with his time and encouragement. More intriguingly, there was something mysterious in the way he talked about Vergil, as if he knew him personally. As I read the Aeneid in a class, taught by Harvard-trained Charles Murgia (you just can't escape Harvard and Vergil!), I began to hear Wendell's voice in the Vergilian hexameters. Or was it Vergil's? It was hard to tell. Some years later, I reviewed Wendell's commentary on the Eclogues, and again I could hear Vergil speaking both in the poet's verses and in the scholar's notes. The introductions and comments were tinged with the sadness but also the uncertain hope of a society in transition. I discovered therein an exhilarating and ennobling space that lay beyond good and evil, a personal and academic experience that belied the oversimplicity of a seemingly dualistic approach to Vergil. We corresponded over the years, and Wendell's letters continued to be encouraging. He was particularly pleased that I alluded to him in the Alexandrian style by adding an "appendicula" in a paper on Hellenistic imitations of a Hesiodic fragment.
The Harvard School is far from monolithic. For me, among its many enlightening contributions, a most personally gratifying one will always be Wendell Clausen's ability to reveal the variegated tones of Vergil's poetic sensibilities, as he teased out not merely esoteric references or clever imitations, but the diverse emotional responses elicited by the poems—responses that help us to express and embrace our shared uncertainty, and which Wendell clearly felt and articulated with considerable intimacy.