North American Scholar

HAVELOCK, Eric Alfred

  • Image
  • Date of Birth: 1903-06-03
  • Born City: London
  • Born State/Country: England
  • Parents: Alfred Henry, OBE, & Annie Louise Williams H.
  • Date of Death: 1988-04-04
  • Death City: Poughkeepsie
  • Death State/Country: NY
  • Married: Ellen Parkinson, 1925; Christine Mitchell, 21 Nov. 1962.
  • Education:

    B.A. Cambridge (Emmanuel Coll.), 1926; M.A., 1929.

  • Professional Experience:

    Asst. to asso. prof, class. Acadia U. (Wolfville, NS), 1926-9; asso. prof, class. Victoria Coll., U. Toronto, 1929-47; vis. lctr. Harvard, 1946-7; asso. prof, to prof. Gk. & Lat. Harvard, 1947-63; chair class, dept., 1955-60; actng. chair, 1962; lctr. gen. educ, 1947-63; sr. tutor Leverett House, 1947-50; vis. prof, class. Princeton, 1960, 1961; Sterling prof, class. Yale, 1963-71; chair dept., 1963-8; sr. fell. NEH, 1968-9; Vanier lctr. Ottawa, 1970; Semple lctr., 1970; Raymond prof. SUNY Buffalo, 1971-3; Guggenheim fell., 1941-2, 1943; mem. AAAS; asso. ed., Canadian Forum, 1936-8; co-founder, Phoenix; founder & first pres., Ontario (later Canadian) Class. Assn.; mddailliste, College de France, 1980.

  • Publications:

    (Books and longer articles only): “Virgil's Road to Xanadu” Phoenix 1 (1946-7) no. 1, 3-8; no. 2, 2-7; no. 3, 9-18; The Lyric Genius of Catullus (Oxford, 1939; New York, 1967); The Crucifixion of Intellectual Man Incorporating a Fresh Translation into English Verse of the Prometheus Bound of Aeschylus (Boston, 1950; repr. as Prometheus, Seattle, 1968); The Liberal Temper in Greek Politics (London & New Haven, 1957); A Preface to Plato (Cambridge & Oxford, 1963; Ital. trans. Cultura orale e civilta delta scrittura [Rome, 1973]); The Origins of Western Literacy (Toronto, 1976; French trans. Aux origines de la civilisation ecrite en Occident [Paris, 1981]); The Greek Concept of Justice (Cambridge, 1975; Ital. trans. Dike: La nascita della coscienza [Rome, 1981]); The Literate Revolution in Greece (Princeton, 1983); Harold A. Innis: A Memoir (Toronto, 1983); “The Linguistic Task of the Presocratics,” in Language and Thought in Early Greek Philosophy (Lasalle, IL, 1983), 7-82; The Muse Learns to Write (New Haven, 1986; Ital. trans. La musa impara a scrivere [Rome, 1987]).

  • Notes:

    Following the publication, in 1963, of his most important and influential work, A Preface to Plato, Eric Havelock's name came to be associated increasingly with the “oral hypothesis”—an attempt influenced by, but more radical and comprehensive than, those of Milman Parry and Bruno Snell, to understand and explain Greek literature and thought in the Archaic period as fundamentally conditioned by (1) the absence or limited use of writing and (2) the use of an alphabet rather than ideograms or a syllabary for such forms of written communication as did exist. Sharply criticized by classicists in England and America on first appearance, this view had a seminal influence on studies of rhetoric and communication in both countries, as well as—even more widely—on the European continent.Havelock's bold remapping of early Greek intellectual history was the culmination of a career which spanned three countries and six decades, included the teaching of Latin as well as Greek, of literature as well as philosophy, witnessed a brief venture into (Ontario) politics, and brought prominence as administrator as well as scholar. The 13 years during which he chaired the departments of Harvard and Yale were marked by what may come to be seen in retrospect as a losing or misguided battle to restore to a broadened and modernized classics curriculum something like the central role in humanistic studies which the discipline had traditionally enjoyed; but Havelock's most valuable qualities were, at all events, displayed elsewhere—in an uncanny ability, whether through books and articles or in the classroom, to draw readers' attention away from the clichés of traditional exegesis to a direct reexamination of and coming to terms with the Greek or Latin text before them—often in ways that were so obviously right that students of the next generation tended to take them for granted. Three commonplaces of classical scholarship in the 1960s and 1970s—the natural co-existence of the “learned” and the “intimate” Catullus as parts of a single poetic personality, the anomalous and disturbing position of the Prometheus Bound not only within the Aeschylean corpus but within the corpus of Greek drama as a whole, the crucial role of the fifth-century Sophists as pioneer explorers of an ethics of negotiation and a politics of democratic consensus—all owed their currency in no small part to the influence of books by Havelock that had seemed unconventional or even eccentric when first confronted by readers in the 1940s or 1950s. The “oral hypothesis” was merely the most ambitious and most comprehensive of such efforts to compel rereading and rethinking. Whether or not it enjoys ultimately the unqualified success of the others, its inherent interest is sufficient to make Havelock the one Hellenist of his generation who stands the best chance of having made a basic and enduring contribution to the general repertory of humanistic discourse—a contribution which will be discussed and debated well into the 21st century and beyond.

  • Sources:

    L'Unita (13 May 1988) 19; Jackson P. Hershbell, “Eric Havelocks Beitrage zum Problem von Mündlichkeit und Schriftlichkeit im antiken Griechenland,” Philologus 135 (1991) 31-7; Michel Horn, The League for Social Reconstruction: Intellectual Origins of the Democratic Left in Canada 1930-1942 (Toronto, 1982); Ross Kilpatrick, EMC 33 (1989) 278.

  • Author: Thomas Cole