North American Scholar

DE LACY, Phillip Howard

  • Image
  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1913-05-04
  • Born City: Seattle
  • Born State/Country: WA
  • Parents: John Byron & Abbie Green De L.
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 2006-06-17
  • Death City: Oak Harbor
  • Death State/Country: WA
  • Married: Estelle Allen, 19 December 1936
  • Education:

    A.B. U. of Washington, 1932, AM, 1933; Ph.D., Princeton, 1936.

  • Professional Experience:

    Instr. classics, Princeton, 1936-38; asst. prof., Stanford, 1938-40; instr. Latin, U. of Chicago, 1940-3; asst. prof., 1943-49; prof. classics, chair of dept., Washington U. (St. Louis), 1949-61; acting dean College of Liberal Arts, 1958; asst. dean, 1959-60; prof classics, Northwestern, 1961-5; vis. prof. classics, Cornell, 1958-9; prof., 1965-7; prof. classical studies, U. of Pennsylvania, 1967-78; chair of dept., 1967-73; Guggenheim fellow, 1960-1; pres. CAMWS, 1963-4; pres. APA, 1966-67; APA del. ACLS, 1971-5; NEH fellow 1975-76;; editor, TAPA, 1949-52; acting editor, CJ, 1955-56 

  • Dissertation:

    "The Problem of Causation in Plato's Philosophy" (Princeton, 1939; see CP 34 (1939) 97-115.

  • Notes:

    De Lacy published his surname both with and without a space. His father, a University of Wisconsin graduate, taught history and English in the Seattle high school system. As a student at the University of Washington he was the very first President's Medalist at his University of Washington commencement. He was awarded the M.A. at the same institution a year later. He wrote his dissertation under Robert M. Scoon (Chair of Princeton’s Philosophy department, 1934-1952), after which began a long and successful career at leading research institutions:   

    De Lacy’s publications included editions and studies of Greek philosophy and medicine. He researched the Hippocratic corpus, Plutarch, and Galen. His studies also investigated Greek and Latin Epicurean philosophy, including Lucretius. He collaborated with the legendarily learned Benedict Einarson, his Chicago friend, to edit, annotate, and translate Plutarch’s Moralia, volumes vii and xiv for the Loeb Classical Library. The latter volume gathers Plutarch’s anti-Epicurean essays. De Lacy’s prose is notably clear, even when he was working on obscure problems in medicine and philosophy. Both were produced with the very particular and fussy Benedict Einarson’s full approval and full collaboration. F.H. Sandbach’s enthusiastic reviews of VII in CR 10 (1960) 214-15, and of XIV, CR 18 (1968), 47-8 counseled, "scholars may be advised to use the Loeb rather than the Teubner for these four works.”

    David Armstrong comments about Phil and Estelle’s On Methods of Inference, 1941: “This was undertaken when the papyrus, P, was inaccessible both because of the Naples Library’s methods and the coming war. They worked from a rather primitive edition by Gomperz, the early O drawings, which Gomperz was dependent on, and their own wits. Gigante, Longo, and Tepedino Guerra at Naples helped them do P, over 35 years later (!), as vol. 1 of La Scuola di Epicuro, so the second edition of 1978 is at last a full account of P, according to microscope readings which showed Phil and Estelle they should have sometimes been far more cynical about [the supplements suggested by Robert] Philippson, as well as many vital corrections in the text, now shorter and better. (Kleve Gnomon 54, 1982, 79-80). A happy story.”

    Galen’s de placitis is a great achievement, as John Scarborough’s review (Isis 71 1980 334-335) makes clear: “De Lacy's text of De placitis is now standard, completely superseding Muller and making the Kuhn edition superfluous."

    Armstrong further observes that Phil’s articles tended to be short and to the point, and the best are still cited in the back of Companions to the Stoics or Epicureans to this day because they started a line of thought that pointed to topics that still have interest in the much more organized world of Hellenistic Philosophy studies that has evolved from the 1980s onwards (e.g., Long and Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers 1987). Phil’s publications pointed to valid, legitimate new topics more in the style of current scholarship. All of them have been gone beyond, sometimes far beyond, but they retain first-man-up-to-this-particular-plate rights even now. They’re also still fun to read because Phil was a determined enthusiast from the first of Epicurus, Lucretius, and Philodemus on a high intellectual plane.

    Vivian Nutton adds: “Phil loved walking on the shore at Barnegat Light, picking up wood for the stove, and was amused to find after a storm that the local fisherman had brought some of the best flotsam and put it by his door, a sure sign that they regarded him as one of their community, unlike the Philadelphia lawyers with weekend cottages – and from his time in Washington state he knew his timber.

    “He thought of himself as a sort of journeyman classicist, editing texts because he thought they would be interesting if made accessible, and working hard on the material left to him by Ben Einarson, his friend and colleague. He came to Galen via the Stoics and Plutarch, and his edition of de placitis Hippocratis et Platonis was in many ways a milestone. He was working in the Dark Ages of Galen, before computers brought material to one’s desk, and when commentaries (and editions) had to depend on one’s own knowledge rather than on computerised summaries. His edition, like his Loebs, is understated; it tells you what you need to know without ostentation. It marked a milestone in making a major Galenic philosophical text available in English for the first time – and was soon used in Cambridge [England] as the basis for a series of seminars run by the ancient philosophers. His interests were in the history of thought, which gave him a different perspective. I [Nutton] continued to write to him, but he seemed to fade away, perhaps deliberately. It took a while even for news of his death to reach me, and I never found a good obit. of him. His sort of scholarship is no longer fashionable, but without it, the classical world would be a lot poorer. He was a humble man, devoted to Estelle, and glad to have done what he could for philosophers of the past.”

    His chief contributions to Classical Studies are both highly specialized texts, commentaries, and translations of poorly known medical texts for scholars and more accessible essays of Plutarch for the educated public (the two Loeb volumes). His Galenic texts and commentaries in the series Corpus Medicorum Graecorum re-established study of that author in philosophy and medical history. Ralph Rosen writes of De Lacy’s achievement: “sound, no frills, practical scholarship on texts that really needed to brought into the light for the first time (at least in the Anglophone world). He was a pivotal, early scholar in the current renaissance of interest in ancient medicine.”

    Anthony and Jennifer Podlecki add from personal experience: “Phil & Estelle were remarkable friends. We felt really lucky to have known them. Phil was Tony's first boss at Northwestern & they really looked after us: entertaining us, being relaxed and friendly, and we were devastated when they left Northwestern to go to Cornell. We all landed in Pennsylvania, we at Penn State & Phil at University of Pennsylvania. We visited them several times in Philadelphia and at their retreat on the Jersey shore. We admired the orderliness of his work arrangements and the meticulousness with which he devoted a good part of each day--he rose very early--to his research. We remember being very much impressed by the scope and range of his library, where the literary authors seemed to be as well represented as the philosophical and scientific. Jacques Jouanna, expert in Hippocratic research, said that (paraphrased) Phil was the outstanding English-speaking scholar working in this field. They were keen gardeners & even made a fine garden out of a yard filled with sand. On a trip west in their early 80's they decided to retire back to the West coast. One of their traditions was to have a strong drink at 5 p.m.—always a “Manhattan”. We used to think they led long & healthy lives because of this. They were joyous people and had many what they called young disciples. We were glad to be included!”

    Daniel Harmon points out that Phillip's brother Allan C. De Lacy was a Professor of Fisheries at the U. of Washington for many years. Another brother, Hugh De Lacy, a well-known Seattle leftist, leader of the Washington Commonwealth Federation, and member of the Seattle City Council, served one term as a member of the US Congress (1944-46). He introduced Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger to the term “hootenanny” when they were touring and singing at union pot-lucks in summer 1941 (Wikipedia and Stewart Hendrickson,, consulted 16 May 2016.

     As a teacher he was generous in class, but he carefully guarded his research time (I enrolled in his small Lucretius course at Cornell in 1966). At Penn, he numbered among his (few) Ph.D. students Bonnie Catto, Douglas Minyard, Ellen O’Donnell, and Eva Thury, three of whom wrote on Lucretius).

    De Lacy’s APA Presidential Lecture of 1967 entitled “The Search for Certainty” circulated privately (non vidi). It would be good to have it published, as David Armstrong noted to me, should someone possess and share a copy.

    Phil, the embodiment of Epicurean ΑΤΑΡΑΞΙΑ wrote about it with Lucretian passion. He was humble in conversation, a shy colleague but always gentle, good humored, and gentle and friendly especially to the young. He supervised several dissertations, among them at Penn on subjects such as John Douglas Minyard’s "Metrical regularity of expression in the De Rerum Natura of Lucretius," 1970, Eva Maria Thury’s "Nature species ratioque: poetic image and philosophical perspective in the De rerum natura of Lucretius," 1976, Ellen O'Donnell’s, "The transferred use of theater terms as a feature of Plutarch's style," 1975, and Bonnie Arden Catto, "The Concept of Nature in the De rerum natura of Lucretius and the Georgics of Vergil: Its Characteristics, Powers, and Effects upon the Earth, Man and Man's Labor," 1981. A friend to many who welcome this SCS opportunity to recollect his fine spirit and many achievements of the scholar, former Editor of TAPhA, and APA President.

  • Sources:

    WhAm 40 (2978-9) 808.

  • Author: Donald Lateiner