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Commending the Classics

Thomas Van Nortwick and Nate Greenberg

Nate Greenberg, professor emeritus of classics at Oberlin, had received letters of appreciation from former students before, but nothing like the note from an alumnus last summer announcing a $1.5 million gift to the College: the Nathan A. Greenberg Professorship.

The gift allows for the first endowed chair specifically for the classics department, a curriculum that has been part of the College since its founding in 1833. “I was astonished by the gift,” Greenberg says, “and also very honored.”

Jeff Witmer, acting dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, says certain financial gifts are designated for endowed chairs, which are awarded—along with modest stipends—to faculty members demonstrating intellectual and artistic achievement. The New Oberlin Century campaign raised money for eight professorships; five have since been filled.

The Greenberg professorship was awarded to Thomas Van Nortwick, chair of the classics department. “I can only say that we hope to use the professorship to nurture in classics the deep commitment to learning that Nate fostered and which the gift commemorates,” he says.

Throughout his 42 years at Oberlin, Greenberg has taught each of the classics courses offered; it was during his tenure that classes like Myth and Hero in Greek Epic and Classical Drama in Translation became most popular. The two-time Fulbright winner served as a visiting Fellow at an Oxford college and as associate dean of arts and sciences at Oberlin. He has written articles on Greek philosophy and tragedy, Roman comedy, the history of scholarship, and a 1990 book, The Poetic Theory of Philodemus. Acknowledged by his peers as a pioneer in the use of computers in his field, his knowledge of quantitative analysis of literature is said to have opened up countless possibilities for generations of scholars.

Van Nortwick, who has been teaching at Oberlin since 1974, has published articles on Greek and Latin literature, autobiographical essays, and three books, including Compromising Traditions: The Personal Voice in Classical Scholarship. In 1993, he was one of two professors nationwide to win the American Philological Association’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. His future research centers on two possible book projects: the ideals of masculinity in Greek literature, and the unburied corpse in Greek epic and tragedy as a thematic focus for reflection on the meaning of life.

“As I wrote to our generous donor, I felt very fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate in the grand educational mission of Oberlin College,” says Greenberg.

“It’s clear from his letter that he fondly remembers all of his professors of classics,” he adds. “I was the eldest of the three and thus primus inter pares. The youngest was Thomas [Van Nortwick], also the object of my affection and respect. Now that he is the oldest of those serving in the department, it is wonderfully fitting that he would be named the first Nathan A. Greenberg Professor of Classics.”

What’s Next?
President Nancy Dye and the Department of Politics sponsored a post-election forum November 4, at which several speakers emphasized the need for the Democratic Party to change its political habits in the years between elections. Precincts that are heavily populated by Oberlin students reported a 90 percent lead by John Kerry over President Bush.

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