North American Scholar

TAVENNER, Eugene

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  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1878-12-30
  • Born City: Parkersburg
  • Born State/Country: WV
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 1963-10-11
  • Death City: Boothbay Harbor
  • Death State/Country: ME
  • Married: Lillian Lee Smith, 7 August 1906 (d. 1927); Anne Hildegarde Wulfing Morris, 26 Jan. 1929.
  • Education:

    A.B. Columbia, 1901; A.M., 1902; Ph.D., 1915.

  • Professional Experience:

    Prof. Lat. George Peabody College for Teachers (Nashville), 1904-11; prof. Lat. & dean Middle Tennessee St. Normal Sch. (Murfreesboro), 1911-9; prof. Lat. Washington U. (St. Louis), 1919-47; dept. chair, 1925-47; ed. CJ, 1935-45; pres. CAMWS, 1945-6.

  • Dissertation:

    "Studies in Magic from Latin Literature" (Columbia, 1916); printed (New York, 1916).

  • Publications:

    (selected): "Iynx and Rhombus," TAPA 64 (1933) 109-27; "Editorial: The Editorship," CJ 31 (1935-6) 1-2; and a series of others until the final one, "Editorial: The Editor Retires," CJ 40 (1944-5) 513-4; "Fire in Ancient Love-Magic," in Studies in Honor of Frederick W. Shipley, Washington University Studies, New Series. Language and Literature, No. 14 (St. Louis, 1942) 14-37; "Roman Religion with Especial Relation to Vergil," CJ 40 (1944-5) 198-220; Letters of Gustavus Wülfing (ed.) (Fulton, MO, 1944).

  • Notes:

    Eugene Tavenner devoted his career to the teaching of the classical languages, to the study of ancient magic, and to editorial and administrative works, but his most enduring achievement was to persuade John Max Wülfing (1859-1929) to leave by will his very large cabinet of ancient coins to Washington University in St. Louis. In the early decades of this century the St. Louis Numismatic Society flourished in a period when a modest number of classical coins could be acquired by the average collector at reasonable cost. At its meetings Tavenner and Wülfing, a prosperous merchant and a dominant figure of the Society, became good friends, and their cordial relationship was sealed when Tavenner, then a widower, married Wülfing's daughter in Wülfing's hospital room two days before his death. For the next two decades Tavenner and his colleague Thomas S. Duncan studied and organized the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine sections of the Wülfing bequest and used the coins as study aids in their courses. Today this cabinet is considered equal to those of Harvard and Yale, and was published in a number of volumes by the present writer in the series Ancient Coins in North American Collections for the American Numismatic Society. Tavenner's analytical skills appear in his study of the archaeological and literary evidence concerning the terms iynx and rhombus in Theocritus, Idyll 2, the famous Pharmakeutria. He concludes that the rhombus is a top, finished on its upper surface as a four-spoked wheel to which might be attached a live or dead iynx, a bird of the woodpecker family known as the wryneck and an obvious sexual symbol. The whole was made to spin in order to attract a desired lover by magic. On the basis of this study he sees the iynx of Theocritus 2.1.17 and the rhombus of 2.1.30 as essentially identical (but cf. A. S. F. Gow, Theocritus [Cambridge, Eng., 1950] II: 41, 1. 17; 44,1. 30; and pi. V, nos. 2-3).

  • Sources:

    Washington U. archives.

  • Author: Kevin Herbert