North American Scholar

OLDFATHER, William Abbott

  • Image
  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1880-10-23
  • Born City: Urumiah
  • Born State/Country: Persia
  • Parents: Jeremiah M. & Felicia Narcissa Rice O., Presbyterian missionaries.
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 1945-05-27
  • Death City: Homer Park
  • Death State/Country: IL
  • Married: Margaret Agnes Giboney, 22 Sept. 1902.
  • Education:

    A.B. Hanover Coll. (IN), 1899; LL.D., 1933; A.B. Harvard, 1901; A.M., 1902; Ph.D. Munich, 1908.

  • Professional Experience:

    Instr. class. Northwestern, 1903-6 & 1908; registr. coll. lib. arts, 1904-6; asst. prof. Lat., 1908-9; asso. prof, to prof, class. U. Illinois, 1909-45; head of dept., 1926-45; chair div. langs. & lit., 1935-42; Sather prof., 1933-4; pres. APA, 1937-8.

  • Dissertation:

    "Lokrika: sagengeschichtliche Untersuchungen" (Munich, 1908); printed (Tubingen, 1908) and Philologus 67 (1908) 412-72.

  • Publications:

    The Defeat of Varus and the Frontier Policy of Augustus, with H. V. Canter (Urbana, 1915); Index Verborum Quae in Senecae Fabulis necnon in Octavia praetexta reperiuntur, ed. with A. S. Pease & H. V. Canter (Urbana, 1918); Ysopet-Avionnet: The Latin and French Texts, ed. with K. McKenzie (Urbana, 1919); Aeneas Tacticus, Asclepiodotus, Onasander, trans. & ed. with members of the Illinois Greek Club, LCL (Cambridge & London, 1923); Epictetus (trans.), LCL, 2 vols. (Cambridge & London, 1926-8); "Lokris," RE 13 (1926) 1135-288; Contributions toward a Bibliography of Epictetus (Urbana, 1927; suppl. vol. 1952); "Lokroi," RE 13 (1927) 1289-363; S. Pufendorf, Elementorum Jurisprudentiae Universalis (trans.) (Oxford, 1931; repr. New York, 1964); Leonhard Euler's Elastic Curves (De Curvis Elasticis), trans. & ed. with C. A. Ellis & D. M. Brown (Bruges, 1933); Samuel Freiherr von Pufendorf, De Jure Naturae et Gentium libri octo, trans, with Charles Henry Oldfather, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1934); Index Apuleianus, ed. with H. V. Canter, B. E. Perry, et al. (Middletown, CT, 1934); Index Verborum Ciceronis Epistularum, ed. with H. V. Canter, K. M. Abbott, et al. (Middletown, CT, 1938); "Terence's Phormio and Adelphi," (trans.) in Latin Literature in Translation, ed. K. Guinagh et al. (New York & London, 1942); Father John Frank Cherf et al., Studies in the Text Tradition of St. Jerome's Vitae Patrum, ed. with others (Urbana, 1943); Index Verborum in Ciceronis Rhetorica, ed. with H. V. Canter & K. M. Abbott (Urbana, 1964).Festschrift: Classical Studies in Honor of William Abbott Oldfather, ed. Kenneth Abbott et al. (Urbana, 1943).

  • Notes:

    When American scholarship moved away from its German heritage after World War I, Oldfather adhered to and promoted German methods in historic and linguistic scholarship and encouraged cooperative scholarly endeavor in a system that lacked "Academies." He thus helped to professionalize American classical studies and to gain recognition for them in Europe.Oldfather saw classics primarily as the study of historical and cultural, rather than linguistic and literary, phenomena. His studies on Lokris and his Sather lectures on "The Decline of Culture within the Roman Empire" were in the German tradition of an all-embracing Altertumswissenschaft. He published over 250 books, articles, notes, and necrologies and some 500 RE articles. His textual studies on Avianus, the Greek tacticians, and Jerome's saints' lives probably surpassed in scope and rigor all previous American textual criticism. The indices verborum that he directed remain standard. In these projects Oldfather promoted the principle of scholarly collaboration. His students, colleagues, and assistants came to be known as the "Oldfather school." He was prominent in national organizations to promote research, and he gained American support and participation for the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae and the RE.A dynamic, even overwhelming teacher, Oldfather left his mark on a generation of classicists at Illinois and elsewhere. Students in his popular classical civilization course on ancient sports were expected to participate in track and field events on the main university quadrangle. His indefatigable energy, broad and deep learning, and constant support decisively shaped the lives of his 46 doctoral students. An eager athlete and out-doorsman, Oldfather drowned while on a canoeing excursion with his graduate students, leaving many major scholarly projects incomplete.

  • Sources:

    Michael Armstrong, "William Abbott Oldfather 1880-1945," CO 70 (1992) 92-3; idem, "A German Scholar and Socialist in America: The Career of William Abbott Oldfather," CJ 88 (1992-3); John Buckler, "William Abbott Oldfather" in Classical Scholarship: A Biographical Encyclopedia ed. Ward W. Briggs & William M. Calder III (New York & London, 1990), 346-52; W. M. Calder, III, "Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff to William Abbott Oldfather: Three Unpublished Letters," C/72 (1976-77) 115-27; idem, "Nuda Veritas: William,Abbott Oldfather on Classics at Columbia," ICS 18 (1993); Lloyd W. Daly, DAB Suppl. 3:571-2; C. A. Forbes, C7 41 (1945-6) 8-11; S.N. Griffiths, "Doctoral Dissertations Completed at the University of Illinois under William Abbott Oldfather," CJ 74 (1978-9) 149-53; NatCAB 35:494-5; Richmond Lat-timore, "Memories of a Scholar (W.A.O. 1880-1945)," CJ 57 (1961-2) 271-2; G. E. Mylonas, AJA 50 (1946) 172; A. S. Pease, TAPA 76 (1945) xxiv-xxvi; WhAm 2:404.

  • Author: Michael Armstrong