North American Scholar
PORTER, Howard Newton
B.A. Yale, 1938; Ph.D., 1942; study at Cambridge, 1938-9.
- Professional Experience:
Instr. class. Yale, 1945-49; research instr., 1949-50; asst. prof. 1950-6; Ictr. 1959-60; asso. prof, to prof, class. Columbia, 1956-78.
"The Hesiodic Hexameter" (Yale, 1942).
"Hesiod and Aratus," TAPA 77 (1946) 158-70; "A Bacchic Graffito from the Dolichenum at Dura," AJP 69 (1948) 27-41; "Repetition in the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite," AJP 70 (1949) 249-72; "The Early Greek Hexameter," YCS 12 (1951) 3-63; Introduction to Homer The Odyssey, trans. G. L. Palmer, ed. & rev. Porter (New York, 1962), 1-20.
Yale from the start was the center of Porter's life. He was a descendant of Jonathan Edwards and Noah Porter, president of Yale from 1871 to 1886. His family had gone to Yale for generations. He continued the tradition and did brilliantly. He graduated from the college Phi Beta Kappa. There followed a year's fellowship in Cambridge at the King's College of Sir John Sheppard. He then took a doctorate at Yale in the record time of two years. He had married Martha, the daughter of his Yale teacher, A. M. Harmon, editor of the Loeb Lucian, and in 1950 inherited his considerable library. He returned to England in 1942-5 and was on the team at Bletchley with A. D. Knox that broke Enigma. For his service he received the Bronze Star and the Medal of the British Empire.The revised dissertation was published in YCS. It is notable that at the Yale of Rostovtzeff, godfather of his eldest son, he was decisively influenced by a brilliant instructor doomed to die young. Eugene O'Neill, Jr., only six years older than he, turned Porter's attention to the early hexameter. Hermann Frankel, for whom Porter conceived a lifelong admiration, read the whole dissertation critically and caused Porter to revise the published version, although he retained his fundamental disagreement with Frankel. His thesis that the cola of the hexameter are units of rhythm rather than, as Frankel argued, of sense has exerted lasting influence: see G. S. Kirk, The Iliad: A Commentary Vol. I: Books I-IV (Cambridge, Eng., 1985), 19. Porter's exemplary editio princeps of the Dura graffito, edited at the request of C. Bradford Welles, revealed remarkable control of a wide secondary literature and a firm grasp of difficult metrical Greek. His papers on the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite and on Aratus' indebtedness to Hesiodic metric are regularly cited by all those competent to judge them.The crippling trauma of his life was Yale's unexpected denial of tenure to him in 1956. The reasons are no longer discernible. He never recovered. He never fulfilled the brilliant promise of his youthful articles. Columbia was in every sense a deuteros plous. Except for two short popular essays he never published anything further. His lectures, free-form and wide ranging, conducted with a piece of chalk in his hand which he rarely used, stimulated many to the study of Greek poetry and metrics. He remained in the shadow of Moses Hadas and Gilbert Highet. Three doctoral students whose dissertations he directed went on to productive careers: Anne Lebeck (Aeschylus), Seth Schein (Aeschylus & Sophocles), and Jacob Stern (Bacchylides). Upon retirement he gave his library away and devoted his remaining life to gardening. Porter at Yale made a lasting contribution. The pity is that he had the ability to do so much more but because of Yale did not.
NYTimes (11 Mar. 1993) D23; Michael Porter; personal knowledge; Yale archives.
- Author: William M. Calder III