North American Scholar

FANTHAM, Rosamund Elaine Crosthwaite

  • Image
  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1933-05-25
  • Born City: Liverpool
  • Born State/Country: UK
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 2016-07-11
  • Death City: Toronto
  • Death State/Country: Ont
  • Married: Peter H.H. Fantham, 1958
  • Education:

    B. Litt. (first class) Oxford, 1954; M.A., 1957; Ph.D., Liverpool, 1962.

  • Professional Experience:

    Leverhulme Res. Fell., Liverpool, 1956-8;  Latin tchr., school for girls, St. Andrews, Scotland, 1958-65; lctr. St. Andrews, 1965-6; vis. prof. Indiana U., 1966-8; asst. prof. to asso. prof. Classics, U. Toronto, 1968-78; prof., 1978-86; vis. prof. Ohio State, 1983; Giger Prof. Latin, Princeton, 1986-2000; chair Classics Dept., 1989-93; dir. grad. studies, 1996-8; dir. Prog. Anc. World, 1996-8; edit. comm. Phoenix, 1976-9; vice pres. Classical Association of Canada, 1982-4; hon. pres., 2001-6; vice-pres., pres. Canadian Society for the History of Rhetoric, 1983-6; Award of Merit, 2015; pres. APA, 2003-4; Distinguished Service Award, 2008; Ovatio, CAAS, 2006 (Judith P. Hallett, CW 99,4 (2006) 442).

  • Dissertation:

    "A Commentary on the Curculio of Plautus" (Liverpool, 1962).

  • Notes:

    Elaine Fantham was described accurately in the Toronto Globe & Mail as "the grande dame of Latin scholars with an extraordinary career as a teacher, scholar, global lecturer, mentor and all-purpose entertainer." She said that living through the bombing of her native Aigburth, Liverpool, gave her a special sympathy with Aeneas at the fall of Troy but as she told Scott Simon, on an NPR Saturday morning “Weekend Edition” broadcast where she was a popular guest, her initial attraction to the Classical world came from the depiction of a gloriously beautiful couple speeding past the Acropolis in a chariot in an advertisement for a “brain tonic,” Sanatogen Tonic Wine.

    Shortly after marrying the musical mathematician Peter Fantham, she moved from England to St. Andrews, Edinburgh, then she accompanied him to Indiana University where he had been given a position. They subsequently moved to Toronto, but she maintained a deep love of Cambridge, to which she travelled every summer until the later years of her retirement. She travelled widely and was fluent in Italian, French, and German. After Peter's death in 1992, she sponsored five children from third-world countries, enjoyed Mahler and Berlioz and gave memorable parties each Christmas featuring a “secret Santa.”

    Her Princeton colleagues wrote: “Fantham had an extraordinary command of the whole range of Latin literature, and the variety of her learning was on display in the seventeen books and over one hundred articles and book chapters that she wrote during her long career. She ranged from early Latin comedy in her first book, Comparative Studies in Republican Latin Imagery, to the great writers of the high Roman Empire. Her effortless command of the broad sweep of Latin literature is best seen in her lively and personal survey, Roman Literary Culture from Cicero to Apuleius: characteristically, in a second edition she expanded the time-frame of the book, going back to the beginnings of Latin literature with the comic writer Plautus and going all the way into late antiquity with the learned antiquarian Macrobius.

     “She helped put back on the map important Latin works that had fallen out of the scholarly canon and the university curriculum, especially with her superb commentaries on Senecan tragedy, Lucan’s historical epic, and Ovid’s calendar poem, the Fasti. Perhaps most significantly, in harmony with the heartfelt feminism she brought to Princeton from her early career, she played a leading role in recovering the experiences and perspectives of Classical women from centuries of condescension: above all, her co-authored book Women in the Classical World: Image and Text remains a standard point of reference more than twenty years after its publication in 1994. In her scholarship she was the same Elaine Fantham as she was in person—erudite, zestful, generous, and unpredictably original.

    “But however devoted she was to learning and scholarship, Fantham was no less devoted to teaching and to her students. Since her death more than one former student has spoken of the transformative experience of encountering her in the classroom and recalled her immense learning, lively wit, and extraordinary warmth and generosity: “force of nature” is among the phrases used, and her colleagues at Princeton readily recognize the person in the phrase. No doubt as a consequence of having come to maturity at a time when women, ancient and modern, had a place only on the margins of the field, Fantham devoted special energy to mentoring women in the Classics Department’s graduate program, both serving as a dynamic example and offering canny practical advice on shaping a professional career. Thanks inno small part to her devotion and great good sense, a number of her students, men and women alike, have gone on to be important figures in the field at Columbia, Berkeley, Stanford, and other leading colleges and universities.

    “On retiring from the University Fantham returned to Toronto, to be near her children and grandchildren, but in all other respects the word “retirement” scarcely captures her life after Princeton. If anything, her scholarly momentum only increased over the next fourteen years, furing which she produced the second edition of her survey of Roman literary culture already mentioned, wrote seven new books of literary criticism, biography, translation, and commentary, and took a hand in editing other works, including the Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome, also in seven volumes." 

  • Sources:

    DAS 10.3, 77; John Allemang, Toronto Globe & Mail (7 August 2016); Princeton News (15 July 2016); www.elanefantham.com

  • Author: Ward W. Briggs, Jr.