North American Scholar

OATES, Whitney Jennings

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  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1904-03-26
  • Born City: Evanston
  • Born State/Country: IL
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 1973-10-14
  • Death City: Sarasota
  • Death State/Country: FL
  • Married: Virginia Hill, 1 Sept. 1927.
  • Education:

    A.B. Princeton, 1926; A.M. 1927; Ph.D., 1931; L.H.D. Rockford Coll., 1961; Brown, 1961; D. Litt. Middlebury Coll. 1964; L.H.D. Washington & Lee U., 1967.

  • Professional Experience:

    Instr. to prof, class. Princeton, 1927-70; chair dept. class. 1945-61; chair special prog, hum., 1945-60; chair Counc. Hum., 1953-70; Rockefeller post-war fell., 1948; Andrew Fleming West prof, class., 1949-62; Avalon prof, hum., 1962-70; dir. & treas. ACLS, 1956-70; sr. fell. Center for Hellenic Studies, 1961-70; founding mem. Nat. Comm. on the Humanities, 1963-5; senator Phi Beta Kappa & Pres. United Chapters, 1964-70.

  • Dissertation:

    "The Influence of Simonides of Ceos upon Horace" (Princeton, 1932); printed (New York, 1971).

  • Publications:

    "The Population of Rome," CP 29 (1934) 101-16; "Horace and the Doctrine of the Mean," Studies Capps, 260-7; The Complete Greek Drama, ed. with E. G. O'Neill, Jr., 2 vols. (New York, 1938); "The Ideal States of Plato and Aristotle," The Greek Political Experience (Princeton, 1941) 187-212; The Stoic and Epicurean Philosophers (New York, 1940; 1957); Greek Literature in Translation, ed. with C. T. Murphy (New York, 1944); Greek and Roman Classics in Translation, ed. with C. T. Murphy and K. Guinagh (New York & London, 1946); Basic Writings of Saint Augustine, 2 vols. (New York, 1948; repr. Grand Rapids, MI, 1980); Seven Famous Greek Plays, ed. with E. G. O'Neill, Jr. (New York, 1950); From Sophocles to Picasso: The Present-Day Vitality of the Classical Tradition (Bloomington, 1962); Aristotle and the Problem of Virtue (Princeton, 1963); Plato's View of Art (New York, 1972).

  • Notes:

    Whitney Jennings Oates, known to almost all who knew him as “Mike,” was a classicist in the great, broad tradition of humanistic learning as relevant to life and to action, rather than in the German wissenschaftlich mold. As a young faculty member at Princeton he was among those who gathered regularly around Paul Elmer More in the afternoons at Princeton's Baltimore Dairy Lunch for coffee and discussion. For the remainder of his life, his teaching, scholarship, and public activities were all strongly influenced by More's "neo-Humanism" and (eventual) Christian Platonism. That moral drive in Mike Oates found expression in many ways, but he once encapsulated it this way: "In the light of the fact that the world is full of sin, sickness, and sorrow, it seems to me that the scholar must be inspired by the desire to serve the public good in the broadest and deepest sense. . . . By the public good I mean the good of all men."On the Princeton campus, Mike Oates was a perennial "favorite lecturer and preceptor" in polls conducted by the senior class. An invigorating teacher of Greco-Roman literature and thought, he took an active interest in his students whether at the undergraduate or graduate level. His bibliography testifies to his simultaneous activity as a serious scholar and also to his strong interest in extending to a wide reading public seminal ideas and writings of the classical era.Alongside his gifts as teacher and scholar, Mike Oates possessed a quite remarkable talent for translating important ideas into institutional and operational forms. It was he who in 1945 both conceived and organized the Woodrow Wilson Fellowships that by 1971 had helped usher some 18,000 young men and women to graduate study as a preparation for college teaching. Earlier, in the late 1930s, he was one of the generators of Princeton's Special Program in the Humanities which provided undergraduates with the opportunity of an interdisciplinary major—a rare phenomenon at the time. In the early 1950s he was similarly a driving force in the creation of Princeton's Council on the Humanities, which he was then to chair until retirement. Along the way he was also instrumental, working with Gregory Vlastos, in establishing Princeton's Program in Classical Philosophy, which did much to invigorate the field nationally. Meanwhile on the national scene he had become a leading spokesman for classical learning and the humanities. He was a founding member of the National Commission on the Humanities and a principal draftsman of its report that provided such a lift to the arts and the humanities nationwide in the subsequent years. As he often recognized, strong underpinning in all these activities was his continuing engagement as a classicist in the literature and thought of Greece and Rome.

  • Sources:

    NYTimes (16 Oct. 1973) 3; WhAm 6:307.

  • Author: Robert F. Goheen