- A Tribute to Ted Blodgett
Packrat that I am, I still have the notes from the two graduate seminars I took with Ted Blodgett when I began my PhD in Comparative Literature in Edmonton in 1969. I have previously written about my professors at that time and in that place. That I didn't mention Ted in "Edmonton Is Fun, After All" was less an oversight than a reflection of the fact that Ted was still kicking then. There was no need for an in memoriam. In fact, given the outsized presence of the man, both in person and in my intellectual life, it would have been hard for me to imagine one. Now, of course, we have had to.
I just wrote "intellectual," but there was a strong personal element to my relationship with Ted too. Those were very different, less puritanical and bean-counting times. Much learning and teaching went on outside the classroom, just as Plato imagined it.
I owe Ted almost everything I know about Latin and medieval literature, in particular Virgil, Catullus, Ovid, Propertius, and even Ausonius, whose poem on the vineyards of the Mosel, Mosella, Ted demonstrated dans le texte was a worthy successor to Ovid, at least the latter's secondary works, Tristia. That was the level of nuanced literary rank, taste, and judgement to which he held in those years. Yet when I think of Ted now, I recall first and foremost the fun-yes, the flat-out fun-we had outside of class as well. He had what he called a dacha about an hour west of Edmonton near the Pembina River. I remember spending weekends out there helping him with roofing, and once roasting a suckling pig for an unruly crowd of invitees. All this was accompanied with and fuelled by beer and wine and heady talk about literature.
I had been in Edmonton just a few weeks when Ted helped organize a weekend conference, Poet and Critic/Poète et critique. This was in the autumn of 1969. The attendees, including a number of prominent personae in what was then the emerging [End Page 531] field of CanLit, were invited to after-conference events at his home in St. Albert (where, incidentally, he was known to fly the Québec fleur-de-lys when provoked). At that point in time, Ted still thought of himself as a scholar of classical and medieval literature. But he was already avidly writing poetry and had understood that you practically had to have your union card as a critic of CanLit in order to practice Canadian poetry. Would it be churlish to suggest that Ted's Canadian career as poet and poetry critic was a loss to classical and medieval studies? That is certainly how it appeared to me at times, so strongly had the seminars I took with him a half century ago as a novice grad student imposed themselves in my mind.
Now that I have had this occasion to unearth my class notes, written in a hand I no longer recognize but which is more legible than my present one, I'll be spending time with them. It is impossible to begin recapitulating them within these narrow confines, so let me distill two key points.
First, Ted insisted that we read all texts in the original Latin (or German or Italian or Provençal), at least to the point of being able to point out by line number in the Loeb or whatever Latin edition of the passage on which we were commenting. This meant either taking a crash course in the grammar and vocabulary of any language on the curriculum, or making better whatever prior knowledge we had of them. My own Latin was woefully inadequate to such a task, at least initially. Yet the fact of the matter is that, unless you try to do what Ted asked of us, you will always know less than if not. This is the essence of comparatism as he understood and taught it.
It follows that, thanks to Ted, I read Virgil's Eclogues in Latin, tediously perhaps, but with what eventual delight! Ovid's Ars amatoria sprang to...