North American Scholar

BLOCH, Herbert

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  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1911-08-18
  • Born City: Berlin
  • Born State/Country: Germany
  • Parents: Ludwig & Alice Gutmann B.
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 2006-09-06
  • Death City: Cambridge
  • Death State/Country: MA
  • Married: Clarissa Coolidge Holland, 23 November 1943-August 1958 (deceased); Ellen Cohen, 25 August 1960
  • Education:

    Dottore in Lettere, U. Rome, 1935; diploma di Perfezionamento, 1937; LL.D., U. Cassino, Italy, 1989.

  • Professional Experience:

    Instr. Greek & Latin, Harvard, 1941; asst. prof., 1942-47; assoc. prof. 1947-53; prof. 1953-73; Pope Prof. Latin Lang. & Lit., 1973-82; with excavation at Ostia, Italy, 1938-39; Member, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, 1953-54; prof.-in-charge, School of Classical Studies, AAR, 1957-59; member, board of Syndics, Harvard University Press, 1961-65; trustee, Loeb Classical Library, 1964-73; Senior Fellow, Society of Fellows, Harvard, 1964-79; Fulbright Award, Italy, 1950-51; Guggenheim, Fellow, 1950-51; fellow, NEH, 1976-77; Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Fellow, Medieval Academy (President of Fellows, 1990-93); director, APA, 1959-64; 1966-70; vice president, 1966-68; president, 1968-69; member, American Philosophical Society.

  • Notes:

    Between 1930 and 1933, Herbert Bloch completed seven semesters at the University of Berlin. Among his teachers were Werner Jaeger, later to be his colleague at Harvard, and the art-historian Gerhardt Rodenwaldt (1886-1945), to whose humanity and brilliant teaching he was later to pay high tribute. Another of his admired teachers was the medievalist Erich Caspar (1879-1935), who seems to have inspired Bloch with an abiding interest in medieval literature and archaeology, and especially in the forgeries of Peter the Deacon, the rogue librarian of Monte Cassino. In 1933, foreseeing the consequences of the National Socialists’ rise to power, Bloch moved to Rome, where he enrolled in La Sapienza, and, having quickly acquired fluent Italian, received his doctorate in 1935 on the religious policy of Commodus, under the direction of Arnaldo Momigliano. His tesi di perfezionamento, published in three long articles between 1936 and 1938 and later as a book, was a path-breaking study of the brick stamps of ancient Rome. This also involved exploring the brick-stamps of Ostia, and led to his appointment as one of the excavation team directed by Guido Calza (1888-1946). Though his participation was cut short by his departure for the US, he continued to be involved in publishing the results after World War II. In January, 1939, rising anti-Semitism in Italy led Bloch to emigrate to the US, where he was to remain stateless until after the war. He was accepted into the first class of Fellows of the newly founded Center for Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks for the year 1940-41, but John H. Finley, Jr., acting Chair of the Department of the Classics at Harvard, asked Bloch to stand in for a senior colleague who had fallen ill, and he delayed his Fellowship until 1941-42. After his return from Washington he continued to teach at Harvard until his retirement in 1982. While at Harvard he taught mainly Latin literature and epigraphy, and directed dissertations in Greek and Latin prose literature (Ctesias, Nepos, Plutarch) as well as in Italian archaeology and medieval studies. In later years his interests turned more and more to the Middle Ages, and his magnum opusMonte Cassino in the Middle Ages, was published in 1986. His last major work, published as late as 1998, was an edition in over three hundred pages of the “Atina dossier,” a group of works that Peter the Deacon wrote to glorify the city of Atina. In some ways Bloch’s medieval interests led him away from what might have been major contributions to classical studies. His interest in Greek historiography made him the natural successor to Felix Jacoby (1876-1959) as editor of the Fragmente der Griechischen Historiker, but he passed the project on to others. Similarly, his brilliant work on the lost Histories of the Roman historian Sallust might have led him to replace the antiquated (1891-93) edition of Bertold Maurenbrecher (1868-1943), but this project too was abandoned. Despite his strongly left-leaning politics, Bloch had a slight otherworldliness (on one occasion, not realizing that clocks had been moved forward for summertime, he arrived at one of his seminars an hour late). This quality, however endearing, did not make him suitable for administration, and he never served as departmental chair at Harvard, despite his decades as a member. His tenure as Executive Trustee of the Loeb Classical Library was not a success. An essay on the Library’s history (G. H. R. Horsley, Buried History 47 (2011) 35-58) says that “by 1973 [the year of Bloch’s retirement from the position] the series was in dire straits, at risk of being closed by HUP.” In manner, Bloch retained an old-fashioned courtesy and a restraint indefinably bordering on sadness, perhaps caused by his early memories of deprivation in World War I Berlin, his forced departure from his native Germany and from Italy, and the loss of his parents in wartime Berlin and of his younger brother at Auschwitz. Because of his wide interests, he never pretended to “own” a subject, and as a supervisor he always allowed his students to pursue their own paths, guiding them with gentle and unfailing interest. Bloch belongs to that great group of European émigrés through whom the turbulence of twentieth-century Europe gave a new impulse to English-speaking scholarship.

  • Sources:

    Jan P. Ziolkowski, APA Newsletter (October 2006) 22-4; WhAm 59 (2005) 422.

  • Author: Christopher P. Jones