North American Scholar

SEGAL, Erich Wolf

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  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1937-06-16
  • Born City: Brooklyn
  • Born State/Country: NY
  • Parents: Samuel Michael & Cynthia Shapiro S.
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 2010-01-17
  • Death City: London
  • Death State/Country: England
  • Married: Karen Marianne James, June 10 1975
  • Education:

    A.B. Harvard, 1958; A.M. 1959; Ph.D. 1965

  • Professional Experience:

    Teaching Fellow, humanities, Harvard, 1959-63; vis lectr Yale, 1964-5; asst. prof. 1965-8; asso. prof. classics & comp lit., 1968-73; vis. prof. classical philology U. Munich, Germany, 1973; vis. prof. classics, Princeton, 1974-5; Tel Aviv U., spring 1976; vis. prof. comp lit. Dartmouth, fall 1976-80; vis. fellow Wolfson Coll., Oxford, 1978, 1979, 1980; adj. prof. class. Yale, 1981-8; hon. research fell., UCL, 1983- supernumerary fell., Wolfson Coll., Oxford, 1986-99; hon. fellow Wolfson Coll., London, 1999-2010; member executive committee, National Advisory Council, Peace Corps, 1970; jury member, Cannes Film Festival 1971; National Book Award (arts & letters) 1971; lectr. Comp. Lit. Assn., 1971; Am. Philosophical Assn., 1971; German Classical Assn., 1974; Boston Psychoanalytic Inst. 1974; 1st Nazionale del Dramma Antico, Sicily, 1975; Brit. Classical Assn., 1977; William Kelley Prentice Memorial Lecturer, Princeton, 1981; Inaugural Andrea Rosenthal Memorial Lecture, Brown, 1992; Co-recipient (with Mother Theresa & Peter Ustinov) Premio San Valentin di Terni award, 1989; Guggenheim fell., 1968; recipient Presidential Commendation for service to peace Corps, 1971; Humboldt Stiftung Award, West Germany, 1973; Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France) 1998

  • Dissertation:

    “Roman Holiday Humor: The Plays of Plautus as Festival Comedy” (Harvard, 1965).

  • Publications:

    [Classical:] The Braggart Soldier. A Comedy in Two Acts by Plautus (trans.) (New York, 1965) REV: CW LIX 1965-1966 90 Hanson; Roman Laughter: The Comedy of Plautus (Cambridge, 1968; rev. ed., Oxford, 1987) REV: CW LXII 1968 140 Hough | TLS LXVIII 1969 408 | G&RXVI 1969 233-234 Sewter | Latomus XXVIII 1969 218-219 Collart | Phoenix XXIV 1970 182-184 Collinge | AJPh XCI 1970 370-372 Richardson | CJ LXV 1970 234-236 Halporn | CR XX 1970 333-335 Gatwick | CPh LXVI 1971 62-64 O'Neil | LF XCIV 1971 245-246 Stehlíková; Humanitas XXI-XXII 1969-1970 461-462 da Costa Ramalho; Euripides. A Collection of Critical Essays, (ed.) (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1968) REVS: Phoenix XXIII 1969 328 Stanley-Porter | Vichiana N.S. I 1972 197-198 Catalini; Yellow Submarine (screenplay) 1968;  Plautus: Three Comedies, (1969; repr. 1985); “The Menaechmi. Roman Comedy of Errors,” YCS 21 (1969) 77-93; “The Night They Auctioned off the Roman Empire,” Horizon 3(1970) 36-39; The Games (screenplay) (1970); R.P.M. (screenplay) (1970); Love Story (screenplay) (1970); Love Story (novel) (New York: Harper & Row, 1970; many reprints); Jennifer on My Mind (screenplay) (1971); “The φύσις of Comedy,” HSCP 77 (1973) 137-78; “Laughter in the House,” Horizon 15 (1973) 90-93; “The Etymologies of Comedy,” GRBS 14 (1973) 75-81; Fairy Tale (novel) (New York: Harper & Row, 1973); “The Purpose of the Trinummus,” AJP95 (1974) 252-264; “Perché Amphitruo?,” Dioniso 46 (1975) 247-267; “Die Geburt der Komödie, III,” Acta Philologica Aenipontana, III, ed. R. von Muth (Innsbruck, 1976) 64-65; “O Tempora, O Mos Maiorum,” The Conflict of Generations in Ancient Greece and Rome, ed. S. Bertman (Amsterdam, 1976) 135-142; “Euripidean Comedy,” PCA 74 (1977) 33-34; Oliver's Story (novel) (1977); Three Comedies. The Braggart Soldier, The Brothers Menaechmus, The Haunted House (trans.) (New York, 1978) REVS: G&R XXVI 1979 199 Woodman; (with C. Moulton) “Contortor legum. The Hero of the Phormio,” RhM 121 (1978) 276-288; Oliver's Story (screenplay) (1978); A Change of Seasons (screenplay) (1980); Man, Woman, and Child(novel) (New York: Harper & Row, 1980); “Scholarship on Plautus, 1965-1976,” CW 74 (1981) 353-433; Oxford Readings in Greek Tragedy (ed.) (Oxford, 1983); Greek Tragedy. Modern Essays in Criticism (ed.) (New York, 1983) REVS: G&R XXXI 1984 208-209 Silk | DUJ XLVI 1984 95-97 Jenkinson; Man, Woman, and Child (screenplay) (1983); Caesar Augustus. Seven Aspects (ed. with F. Millar) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984) REVS: TLS LXXXIII 1984 950 Wiseman | Gnomon LVII 1985 480-483 Kienast | JRS LXXV 1985 245-250 Wallace-Hadrill | History LXX 1985 101-102 Rawson | B LXII 1986 49 Weigel | CW LXXIX 1986 287-288 Penella | Helmantica XXXVII 1986 417 Orosio |REL LXIII 1985 356-358 André | RFIC CXIII 1985 351-359 Pani | Latomus XLVI 1987 662-663 Richard | RPh LXI 1987 161-162 Chastagnol | AC LVII 1988 523 Poucet | AAHG XLI 1988 196-199 Dobesch; The Class (New York: Harper & Row, 1985); Doctors (novel) (New York: Harper & Row, 1988); Doctors (screenplay) (1988); “Is the Captivi Plautine? II,” Studi di filologia classica in onore di Giusto Monaco, II : Letteratura latina dall'età arcaica all'età augustea (Palermo, 1991) 553-568; Acts of Faith (novel) (New York: Harper & Row, 1992); Acts of Faith(screenplay) (1992); “‘The Comic Catastrophe’: An Essay on Euripidean Comedy,” Stage Directions: Essays in Ancient Drama in Honour of E. W. Handley, ed. Alan Griffiths (London, 1995) 46-55; Plautus, Four Comedies: The Braggart Soldier; The Brothers Menaechmus; The Haunted House; The Pot of Gold (trans.) World's Classics (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 1996); Oxford Readings in Aristophanes (ed.) (Oxford & New York, 1996) REVS: BMCRev 1997 8 (3): 277-280 Olson ; LEC 1998 66 (1-2): 158 Delaunois; TLS 1997 N° 4898: 10 Griffiths; Emerita 1998 66 (2): 408-410 Adrados ; Synthesis 1997 4: 178-185 Fernández; Only Love (novel) (New York: Harper & Row, 1997); “Ovid’s Meleager and the Greeks: Trials of Gender, HSCP 99 (1999) 301-340; Oxford Readings in Menander, Plautus, and Terence (ed.) (Oxford & New York, 2001) REVS: BMCRev 2002 (12) Kruschwitz; CO 2002-2003 80 (2): 94 Franko; CR 2003 N. S. 53 (1): 253 Ireland; JRS 2003 93: 356-357 May; CB 2003 79 (1): 130-134 Dutsch; Hermathena 2003 N° 175: 100-102 Christenson; The Death of Comedy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001). REVS: AJP 2002 123 (4): 641-644 Reckford ; BMCR 2002 (2): Franko ; JHS 2002 122: 175-177 Sharrock ; NECJ 2002 29 (1): 42-44 Rosivach; AC 2003 72 : 340-341 Van Langenhoven; Scholia 2003 N. S. 12: 134-140 Smit; CJ 2003-2004 99 (4): 453-455 Hubbard; IJCT 2002-2003 9 (3): 407-412 Konstan; Arctos 2006 40: 228 Solin.

  • Notes:

    It was impossible not to know that Erich Segal was in the room, even when he managed to remain silent. As a student at Harvard, he radiated an energy and enthusiasm that instantly distinguished him from the apprehensive graduate students sitting near him in the classroom. He was passionate about what he was reading and writing; he couldn’t wait to tell his reticent classmates what he was thinking or doing. There was no doubt that he would become a great teacher, which at that point was what he wanted to do.

    And indeed it was his teaching that made him instantly famous at Yale. The Yale Daily Newswent so far as to report that Segal did for Latin what Christ had done for Lazarus.  But he had too much energy and ambition to be able to be satisfied for very long with the deliberate pace and endemic pettiness of academe. A committed marathon runner (he ran every Boston Marathon from 1955 to 1975), he preferred to work at his own frantic speed, and to use his versatile talent and energy to speak to audiences beyond the bounds of the academy. The class poet and Latin Salutatorian of his undergraduate class, he displayed his theatrical instincts as a graduate student in 1961 his Homeric take-off “Sing, Muse,” originally written for performance at Leverett House, was produced off-Broadway. On the basis of this success he was asked to write the screenplay for Yellow Submarine, a Beatles cartoon feature. He then wrote a screenplay called “Love Story” which his agent persuaded him to convert into a novel.

    The novel told the story of how a Harvard Boston Brahmin fell in love with a Radcliffe woman from an Italian family in Providence, though as one astute reviewer observed, it might be even better understood as the tale of a romance between a well-heeled German Jewish boy and a girl from a working-class Eastern European Jewish background. Love Story was an enormous bestseller and the subsequent film was the number one box-office attraction of 1970. Segal ultimately produced ten screenplays and nine novels. His wildly successful popular writing brought him both celebrity and the wherewithal to live grandly and the opportunity to treat his friends with an extraordinary generosity. But even while he was writing his best-selling novels and movie scripts, he never lost his enthusiasm for the study of the ancient world, and continued to write reviews and books about the texts he had loved so much as a student.

    Segal was a popular television guest in the 19970s and 1980s (once caught in a crossfire on theDick Cavett Show between John Simon and Little Richard). His experience as a runner enabled him to serve as color commentator for ABC Sports’ coverage of the 1972 and 1976 Olympics telecasts, although he used his onscreen celebrity to promote the classics only occasionally. Yet perhaps it is the readers of Greek tragedy who are best able to understand the brutal irony of why he, of all people, should have had to fight a 30-year losing battle against Parkinson’s Disease. 

  • Sources:

    NYTimes (19 January 2010); Linda C. Pelzer, Erich Segal: A Critical Companion (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997).

  • Author: Mary Lefkowitz