North American Scholar

MCDERMOTT, William Coffman

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  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1907-08-31
  • Born City: Connellsville
  • Born State/Country: PA
  • Parents: Cornelius Herbert & Nellie Coffman M.
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 1982-03-25
  • Death City: Philadelphia
  • Death State/Country: PA
  • Married: Virginia O. Montgomery, 26 Aug. 1932; Marian H. Campbell, 27 Feb. 1963.
  • Education:

    A.B. Dickinson Coll., 1928; Litt. D., 1978; A.M. Johns Hopkins, 1930; Ph.D., 1934.

  • Professional Experience:

    Instr. Lat. Allegheny Coll., 1930-3; asst. prof. Lat. Lehigh, 1935-9; mem. fac. class, stud. U. Pennsylvania, 1939-56; prof. Lat., 1956-75.

  • Dissertation:

    "The Ape in Classical Art and Literature" (Johns Hopkins, 1934); publ. as "The Ape in Greek Literature," TAPA 66 (1935) 165-76; "The Ape in Roman Literature," TAPA 67 (1936) 148-67; The Ape in Antiquity (Baltimore, 1938)

  • Publications:

    "Varro Murena," TAPA 72 (1941) 255-65; "Elissa," TAPA 74 (1943) 205-14; The Historia Francorum of Gregory of Tours (trans.) (Philadelphia, 1948); "An Inscription from Messad," AJP 69 (1948) 315-6; "Vetitus tile, ille noster index," TAPA 80 (1949) 351-67; Virgil's Works: Introduction, Modern Library (New York, 1950); Readings in the History of the Ancient World, with Wallace E. Caldwell (New York, 1951, 1970); "Comments on Suetonius and Lucan," Studies Robinson, 2:678-85; Monks, Bishops and Pagans: Christian Culture in Gaul and Italy, ed. with Edward Peters (Philadelphia, 1975); Roman Portraits: The Flavian-Trajanic Period, with Anne E. Orentcel (Columbia, MO, 1975).

  • Notes:

    William C. McDermott was one of the foremost Ciceronian scholars and teachers of the 20th century. Although he never finished his proposed history of "the Age of Cicero," he did train a network of Ciceronians whose teaching in American institutions from coast to coast carried on the great Roman's traditions when, even among classicists, Latin poetry and Greek literature were more in vogue than Cicero. Most of McDermott's career was spent in Pennsylvania; he was known to observe that he had been connected with the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta chapters of Phi Beta Kappa in that state.After suffering the loss of his father at an early age, he was reared by relatives in Carlisle, PA. He studied at Johns Hopkins with David Robinson and Tenney Frank. At the University of Pennsylvania he wrote his dozens of articles centered on Cicero and in mediaeval Latin and directed 20 or more dissertations of young scholars in these fields. From 1945 to 1949 he helped edit Classical Weekly. He outlived two wives and was survived by a daughter. His intellectual standards, high but humane, were appreciated by his many students who went on to help revive the classics in the latter half of the 20th century.

  • Sources:

    WhWh 1978-9:2160.

    Image credit: Allegheny College Kaldron yearbook 1932

  • Author: Philip N. Lockhart