North American Scholar

ARROWSMITH, William Ayres

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  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1924-04-13
  • Born City: Orange
  • Born State/Country: NJ
  • Parents: Walter Weed & Dorothy Ayres A.
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 1992-02-20
  • Death City: Brookline
  • Death State/Country: MA
  • Married: Jean Reiser, 10 Jan. 1945.
  • Education:

    B.A. Princeton, 1947; Ph.D. 1954; B.A. Oxford (Queen's Coll.) (Rhodes Scholar), 1951; M.A., 1958; LL.D. Loyola U., 1968; L.H.D., St. Michael's Coll. (Burlington, VT), 1968; D.Litt, Westminster Coll. (Fulton, MO), 1969; Dartmouth, 1970; Dickinson Coll., 1971; Lebanon Valley Coll., 1973; D.L.H. U. Detroit, 1973; Grand Valley State Coll., 1973; Syracuse U., 1982; Carnegie-Mellon U., 1974; Daniel Webster Coll. (Nashua, NH), 1989.

  • Professional Experience:

    Instr. class. Princeton, 1951-3; instr. class. & hum. Wesleyan U. (Middletown, CT), 1953-4; asst. prof, class. & hum. U. California, Riverside, 1954-6; vis. prof. U. Texas., Austin, 1958-9; prof, class., 1959-70; chair dept., 1964-6; univ. prof, arts & lett., 1965-70; prof, class., univ. prof. Boston U., 1971-76, 1986-92; vis. Henry McCormick prof. dram. lit. Sch. Drama Yale U., 1976-7; prof, writing seminars & class. Johns Hopkins, 1977-81; presdl. prof. Georgetown U. (Washington, DC), 1981; David B. Kriser prof. hum. NYU, 1983-4; Robert W. Woodruff prof, class. & comp. lit. Emory U., 1982-6; educ. cons. Ford Found., 1970-1; cons. Leadership Tng. Inst., Office of Edn., 1970-1; vis. prof. hum. MIT, spring 1971; lectr. Folger Shakespeare Lib., 1981; fell. Center Advanced Studies, Wesleyan U., 1967; Battelle Meml. Inst. (Seattle, WA), 1968; founding ed. Chimera, 1942-4; Hudson Rev., 1948-60; Arion, 1962-76; adv. ed. Tulane Drama Rev., 1960-7; Delos, 1987-92; exec. comm. National Translation Ctr., 1965-70; mem. fac, mem. bd. Nat. Humanities Faculty, 1972-4; mem. Acad. Lit. Studies, 1975; Internat. Council on Future of the Univ.; Guggenheim fell., 1957-8; fell. AAR, 1956-7; Rockefeller fell, in hum., 1980-1; award for lit. Am Acad. & Nat. Inst. Arts & Letters, 1978; Landon Translation Prize, 1986; Shestack Poetry prize, 1987; Internat. Montale prize, 1990.

  • Dissertation:

    "The Conversion of Herakles: An Essay in Euripidean Tragic Structure" (Princeton, 1955)

  • Publications:

    "The Shame of the Graduate Schools," Harper's Magazine 232 (Mar. 1966) 51-9. Translations: Petronius, The Satyricon (Ann Arbor, 1959); Euripides, The Bacchae, Cyclops, Heracles, Orestes and Hecuba (Chicago, 1960); Aristophanes, The Birds (Ann Arbor, 1961; repr. New York, 1970); The Clouds (Ann Arbor, 1962; repr. New York, 1970), The Craft and Context of Translation, with R. Shattuck (Austin, TX, 1962); Cesare Pavese, Dialogues with Leucb, with D. S. Carne-Ross (Ann Arbor, 1965); Euripides, Alcestis (New York, 1974); idem, Hard Labor (New York, 1976); M. Antonioni, That Bowling Alley on the Tiber (New York, 1986); E. Montale, The Storm and Other Things (New York, 1985); idem, The Occasions, (New York, 1987).Editor: The Image of Italy (Austin, TX, 1961); Five Modern Italian Novellas (New York, 1964); gen. ed. with Herbert A. Golder, The Greek Tragedy in New Translation, 33 vols. (New York, 1973-92); gen. ed., F. Nietzsche, Unmodern Observations (New Haven, 1990).

  • Notes:

    William Arrowsmith was, as Lawrence Durrell once described him, "that rare animal, a creative translator—there is only one born in each generation usually who can transplant his original blood, bone, and sinew." He was that indeed and a great deal more. While arguably the most gifted poetic translator of his generation—whose translations of Greek drama set a new standard for our engagement with these works in a living poetic and dramatic idiom and whose translations from the Italian poet Pavese influenced a whole generation of younger poets—Arrowsmith was also a brilliant critic of literature, education, and culture alike. Always a maverick, he lived a self-imposed Nietzschean exile from the profession. He was proud of never joining the APA or publishing in any classical journal other than the one he founded to reform the profession, Arion. One of the earliest advocates of New Criticism in classical studies, Arrowsmith devoted his life to promoting classics as a fundamentally literary and humanistic discipline, and his fame, consequently, reached far beyond the field. Professional classicists were not the only targets of his fiery and combative spirit. He began his auspicious career with an attack upon the sterility of graduate education in America, "The Shame of the Graduate Schools," an essay calling for major educational reform. The essay made him the "enemy of graduate deans all over America," as he loved to boast, landed him in Life magazine as one of America's 100 most promising young men (alongside the likes of Robert Kennedy and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.), and won him the privilege of delivering the keynote address to the American Council on Education.Arrowsmith was a unique presence in classical studies and American letters. His essays on classical authors and introductions to translations opened authors such as Euripides and Petronius to fresh literary appreciation. The translations themselves recreated the originals in a living English and therefore helped bring the classics to life for an entire generation of readers. In the classroom Arrowsmith had few peers. In his lectures, particularly at the University of Texas, where as chairman he transformed the department and founded the journal Arion, he revealed himself a galvanic presence, filling the auditoriums with more than four hundred students to hear him speak on Greek tragedy, and revealed a gift for teaching which he carried across the nation, through his many distinguished posts and guest lectureships (in English, comparative literature, theater studies, and film studies, as well as classics). His range of subjects was so broad as to range from American Indians to the films of Michelangelo Antonioni.He was the kind of man who changed every life he touched, and his students speak of him with adoration. He did not suffer fools, hypocrites, or any show of pretension (as his friends can attest) and always let those he disagreed with know, in no uncertain terms, just where he stood. He had a genius for polemic and was at his best when embattled. He invested a kind of psychic and intellectual energy in his correspondence, even in letters to his enemies, that most scholars do not summon for their critical prose. His inability to be disengaged, where matters of art and humanity were concerned, was as much his virtue as his vice. Take away my devils, he once told me, and you'd lose my angels too. "Teaching and humanities," he wrote, "is a way of being or it is nothing at all."

  • Sources:

    "A Vision of Madness," Time 88 (28 Oct. 1966) 60; NYTimes (22 Feb. 1992) 1:10; WhWh 1990-1:109.

  • Author: Herbert A. Golder