North American Scholar

CAPLAN, Harry

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  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1896-01-07
  • Born City: Hoag's Corners
  • Born State/Country: NY
  • Parents: Jacob & Sarah Tolchin C.
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 1980-11-29
  • Death City: Seattle
  • Death State/Country: WA
  • Education:

    AB Cornell, 1916; AM, 1917; PhD, 1921; Litt D, Wesleyan, 1967; grad scholar arch & comp philol, 1916-7

  • Professional Experience:

    Instr public speaking, Cornell, 1919-23; instr to prof class, 1924-67; chair, class, dept, 1929-46; Goldwin Smith prof, class, langs & lits, 1941-67; vis prof, summers, U Wisconsin, 1925; U Michigan, 1932; Northwestern, 1938; Stanford, 1942, 1948; U Chicago, 1945; Columbia, 1946; fell Center for Advanced Studies, Wesleyan, 1962-63; Mellon vis prof U Pittsburgh, 1967-68; Walker Ames vis prof U Washington, 1968; Ziskind vis prof Brandeis, 1968-69; vis prof U Minnesota, 1969; Stanford, 1969; U Illinois, 1970-71; pres APA, 1954-5; joint editor CSCP; Guggenheim fell, 1928-29; 1956; fell Mediaeval Acad Am, 1957

  • Dissertation:

    “The History of the Jews in the Roman Province of Africa: A Collection of the Sources” (Cornell, 1921).

  • Publications:

    Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola On the Imagination (New Haven & London, 1930); Mediaeval Artes Praedicandi: A Hand-List (Ithaca, 1934); Medieval Artes Praedicandi: A Supplementary Hand-List (Ithaca, 1936); Cicero Rhetorica ad Herennium (trans), LCL (Cambridge & London, 1954); Pulpit Eloquence—English, with H H King (Baton Rouge, 1955); Pulpit Eloquence—German, with H H King (Baton Rouge, 1956); Of Eloquence: Studies in Ancient and Mediaeval Rhetoric, ed Anne King & Helen North (Ithaca, 1970)

  • Notes:

    Harry Caplan dominated the study of classical and mediaeval rhetoric in North America for half a century. He once expressed regret that he had not himself chosen to carry on the tradition of grammatical studies for which the Cornell Classics department was renowned (although one of C. E. Bennett's major interests was worthily perpetuated in Caplan's famous proseminar in Horace). But in fact his research was more decisively influenced by another of his teachers, Lane Cooper, the distinguished comparatist, who had already (in 1913) published a translation of Aristotle's Poetics and was later to translate the Rhetoric, as well as Plato's Gorgias and Phaedrus. Caplan joined the pioneering seminar in classical rhetoric founded in 1920 by Alexander M. Drummond and Everett L. Hunt, which was to shape the teaching of classical rhetoric in America for generations.After Caplan's death a letter, dated 27 March 1919, was found in a drawer of his desk. It contained advice from Bennett (with the concurrence of Durham, Bristol, and E. P. Andrews, professor of archaeology): because of the prejudice against Jews in American universities, Caplan should not “devote himself to the higher walks of learning,” but should address himself to secondary-school teaching. Caplan was not deterred by this doubtless well-meant counsel, and in fact his rapid advancement in his profession seems not to have been impeded by prejudice. His promotion to the rank professor in 1930 at the age of 34 long antedated the influence of refugee scholars, who are thought to have opened the gates for American Jewish classicists. Caplan's remarkable success undoubtedly stemmed from a unique concatenation of personal qualities—a consummate mastery of the arts of teaching, an unmistakable brilliance in scholarship (early recognized by the award of his first Guggenheim Fellowship in 1928-9, a first for Cornell also), most of all a character of rare magnetism, which combined warmth and concern for students and colleagues with an undeviating pursuit of the highest values of liberal education.These qualities were responsible also for his success in preserving and enhancing the Classics Department at Cornell during the years of his chairmanship, in a time of economic depression and then of wartime assaults on the right of classics to survive. Caplan's fame as one of the most inspiring and influential teachers Cornell had ever known was matched by his world-wide reputation as a leader in rhetorical studies. His Rhetorica ad Herennium—treasured no less for its lucid and compendious notes than for the accuracy and elegance of its translation—would alone have been enough to secure his position, but he also produced a wide variety of articles and books on ancient and mediaeval rhetoric, including an invaluable series of booklists of Artes Praedicandi in seven modern languages. His infinite kindness to younger scholars is recalled with particular gratitude, as are the many book reviews in which he tempered incisive criticism with generous encouragement. His students remember his unique blend of scholarly example and personal warmth that defined for them the meaning of humanitas.

  • Sources:

    APA Newsletter (Spring 1981) 4-5; J M, “Harry Caplan '16,” Cornell Alumni News 84 (Feb 1981) 6-7; Editor, “Let us Now Praise ,” Cornell Alumni News 84 (July 1981) 7; F Solmsen, Gnomon 53 (1981) 222-4; WhAm 7:96

  • Author: Helen F. North