North American Scholar

OTIS, Brooks

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  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1908-06-10
  • Born City: Boston
  • Born State/Country: MA
  • Parents: Edward, a physician, & Marion Faxon O.
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 1977-07-26
  • Death City: Chapel Hill
  • Death State/Country: NC
  • Married: Christine Battle Cheney, 22 May 1937.
  • Education:

    A.B. Harvard, 1929; M.A., 1930; Ph.D., 1935; D.H.D. Heidelberg Coll., 1973; D.Litt. Hobart Coll., 1977.

  • Professional Experience:

    Instr. class, langs. Earlham Coll., 1930-32; ed. The New Frontier, 1933-5; asst. prof, class. & lctr. sociology Hobart Coll., 1935-39; Hobart prof. class., 1939-57; prof.-in-res. American U. (Beirut, Lebanon), 1957-8; prof. class. & dept. head Stanford, 1958-63; Olive Palmer prof, hum., 1964-70; Paddison prof. Lat. U. North Carolina, 1970-7; Guggenheim fell., 1952-3; 1973-4; Fulbright fell., 1953-4; 1964, Smith-Mundt fell., 1957-8; Goodwin Award, 1966.

  • Dissertation:

    "De Lactantii qui dicitur narrationibus Ovidianis" (Harvard, 1935)

  • Publications:

    "The Argumenta of the So-called Lactantius," HSCP 47 (1936) 131-63; "Ovid and the Augustans," TAPA 69 (1938) 188-229; "Fortunatus et ille. The Two Meanings of Nature in Virgil," TAPA 71 (1940) xlix; "Horace and the Elegists," TAPA 76 (1945) 177-90; "The Communists and the Labor Theory of Value," American Economic Review 35, 1 (1945) 134-37; "Callimachus and the Epic," TAPA 11 (1946) 320-1; "The New Curriculum: A Review and Assessment" Hobart Bulletin 1950; History and Christianity: I. The Problem; II. The Answer (Faculty Papers of the National Council, Protestant Episcopal Church, 1953-54); "Mythos and Logos," The Christian Scholar 38 (1955) 219-31; "Cappadocian Thought as a Coherent System, DOP 12 (1958) 95-124; "Three Problems of Aeneid 6," TAPA 90 (1959) 165-79; "The Unity of the Seven Against Thebes" GRBS 3 (1960) 153-74; "The Throne and the Mountain. An Essay on St. Gregory Nazianzus," CJ 56 (1961) 146-65; "Nicene Orthodoxy and Fourth-Century Mysticism," Actes du XIIe Con-gres International d'√Čtudes Byzantines (1961) II, 475-84; Virgil: A Study in Civilized Poetry (Oxford, 1963; repr. 1966, 1967); "Propertius' Single Book," HSCP 70 (1965) 1-44; "Introduction" in The Aeneid, trans. F. O. Copley (Indianapolis, 1965); Ovid as an Epic Poet (Cambridge, Eng., 1966; 2d ed., 1970); "Virgil and Clio. A Consideration of Virgil's Relation to History," Phoenix 20 (1966) 59-75; "The Odyssean Aeneid and the Iliadic Aeneid," in Virgil. A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Steele Com-mager (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1966) 89-106; "The Uniqueness of Latin Literature," Arion 6 (1967) 185-206; "Housman and Horace," Pacific Coast Philology 2 (1967) 5-24; "Ovids Liebesdichtungen und die Augusteische Zeit," trans. Ruth von Albrecht, in Ovid, ed. M. von Albrecht & E. Zinn (Darmstadt, 1968), 233-54; "A Reading of the Cleopatra Ode," Arethusa 1 (1968) 48-61; "The Originality of the Aeneid," in Virgil, ed. D. R. Dudley (London, 1969) 27-66; "The Relevance of Horace," Arion 9 (1970) 145-74; "The Eclogues: A Reconsideration in the Light of Klingner's Book," in H. Bardon & R. Ver-diere, Vergiliana. Recherches sur Virgile (Leiden, 1971), 246-59; "A New Study of the Georgics," Phoenix 26 (1972) 40-62; "Virgilian Narrative in the Light of its Precursors and Successors," SPh 53 (1976) 1-28; "Gregory of Nyssa and the Cappadocian Conception of Time," Studia Patristica 14 (1976) 327-57; Cosmos and Tragedy, ed. E. Christian Kopff (Chapel Hill, 1981).

  • Notes:

    Brooks Otis was the leading Virgilian critic of his generation, an eminent authority on Latin poetry in general, and a well-respected scholar in fields as seemingly diverse as Greek tragedy and the Church fathers. Born to an old New England family that included James Otis, Phillips Brooks, John Adams, and Frances Perkins, as well as his classicist uncle, A. S. Pease, he developed a scholarly liberalism that appeared first in the pages of a journal of thought he founded with fellow-student Reuben Brower, The New Frontier, whose title is said to have caught the ear of another Harvard student of the time, John F. Kennedy. When a young Jewish Communist colleague at Hobart was dismissed by the board of trustees without the consultation of the faculty, the faculty went on record considering this an intolerable violation of academic freedom and threatened mass resignations. Of the entire faculty, Otis alone of the tenured faculty resigned his post on principle, though he had no job on the horizon and a young family.Early in his career, he began a massive study of the epic in Latin literature addressing the role of myth in the developing Roman world. From this he drew the work by which he is chiefly remembered, Virgil: A Study in Civilized Poetry, which won the Goodwin Award, and Ovid as an Epic Poet. An accomplished literary critic, he employed the method of a scientific scholar always conversant with the philological, historical, and cultural contexts of his subject. His personal commitment to his political ideology and his Christianity led him to deal with Virgil's political and philosophical beliefs in a way that subsequent post-Vietnam American Virgilians have not. He devoted himself with equal zeal to the study of time in the Cappadocian fathers, with particular attention to Gregory of Nyssa. At the time of his death he was at work on another large project called "The Transcendence of Tragedy," of which the posthumous work on Aeschylus (Cosmos and Tragedy) was a part. Common to all his work is the implicit belief that literature is inseparable from the civilization that produced it and must be studied with the fullest knowledge of all aspects of that civilization to discover the ethical meaning of history. He gave keen and eloquent articulation to the essential differences between the pagan and the Christian, the ancient and the modern, many of which he found most keenly evident in the Church fathers.

  • Sources:

    WhAm 7:439.

  • Author: Ward W. Briggs, Jr.