North American Scholar

ELDER, John Petersen

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  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1913-08-01
  • Born City: Auburn
  • Born State/Country: NY
  • Parents: William Seward & Josephine Hill Petersen E.
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 1985-01-01
  • Death City: Ravello
  • Death State/Country: Italy
  • Education:

    A.B. Williams, 1934; A.M. Harvard, 1935; Sheldon traveling fell., Europe, 1938-39; Ph.D. Harvard, 1940.

  • Professional Experience:

    Instr. to prof. Gk. & Lat. Harvard, 1940-80; Guggenheim fell., Europe, 1948-9; chair, class, dept., 1951-5; dean Grad. Sch. Arts & Sci., 1955-72; vice pres. humanities AAAS, 1961; dir. ACLS, 1968-85; dir. Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard, 1968-85; trustee Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1973-85.

  • Dissertation:

    “De Servii Commentariis Danielinis, ut aiunt, in Aeneidos libros primum et secundum confectis” (Harvard, 1940).

  • Publications:

    “The Art of Catullus' Attis,” TAPA 71 (1940) xxxiii-xxxiv; Servianorum in Vergilii Carmina Commentariorum: Editionis Harvardianae volumen II quod in Aeneidos Libros I et II Explanationes Continet, with E. K. Rand et al. (Lancaster, PA, 1946); “The New Servius,” Speculum 21 (1946) 493-95; “Catullus' Attis,” AJP 68 (1947) 394-403; Notes on Some Conscious and Subconscious Elements in Catullus' Poetry,” HSCP 60 (1951) 101-36; “Horace, C. 1.3,” AJP 73 (1952) 140-58; “Horace Carmen 1.7,” CP 48 (1953) 1-7; “Lucretius 1.1-49,” TAPA 85 (1954) 88-120; “Non iniussa cano: Virgil's Sixth Eclogue” HSCP 65 (1961) 109-25; “Tibullus: Tersus atque Elegans “ in Critical Essays on Roman Literature: Elegy and Lyric, ed. J. P. Sullivan (London, 1962), 65-105; “Horace C. 4.7 and Lucretius 5.731-50,” Studies Ullman 1:113-8; “Catullus I, His Poetic Creed, and Nepos,” HSCP 11 (1966) 143-9; “The ‘Figure of Grammar' in Catullus 51,” in Studies Caplan, 202-9.

  • Notes:

    J. P. Elder was one of the most talented teachers of Latin poetry in the group of outstanding critics of classical literature to emerge in North America after World War II. He began his post-war publishing career in 1946 as co-editor of the first volume to be issued of the new edition of Servius initiated at Harvard by E. K. Rand, and in the immediately subsequent years the majority of his articles and reviews were devoted to points of textual transmission and mediaeval Latin paleography, disciplines that remained his life-long interests.For classicists he will be remembered as an extraordinary teacher in the widest sense, not only as a gifted pedagogue but as the author of a brilliant series of articles on Catullus, Lucretius, Virgil, Horace, and Tibullus, published primarily between 1950 and 1962. With a sympathy to literature both expansive and deep, and with a style that combined eloquence and flair, he taught a new generation of readers to examine his favorite poets afresh. In retrospect it can be seen how his scholarly writing drew on the best aspects of New Criticism—respect for a poem's structure, for example, awareness of verbal ambiguity and of fluctuation of tone, judicious estimation of the power of imagery—and yet was always based on the firmest philological competence and on a keen understanding of the importance of historical positioning in pursuing the search for a poem's originality. This combination of imaginative flair and linguistic acumen was complemented by wit and verve of expression which permeated all he wrote.Three essays in particular have remained reevaluations basic for subsequent scholarship on their respective authors. “Notes on Some Conscious and Subconscious Elements in Catullus' Poetry” sets a new standard for probing the relationship of form, content, and feeling in Catullus' lyric genius; “Lucretius 1.1-49” brilliantly elucidates the importance of the proem of De Rerum Natura as anticipation of both the ideology and the style of the work as a whole; and “Tibullus: Tersus atque Elegans” gave crucial impetus to the renaissance of interest in the quality of that underestimated author which was to gain force over the next decades

  • Sources:

    DAS 1978:135; NYTimes (9 Jan. 1985) II, 6; WhAm 1974-)3.

  • Author: Michael C. J. Putnam