North American Scholar
WENDER, Dorothea Margaret Schmidt
A.B. Radcliffe College, 1956; M.A. (English) U. of Minnesota, 1959; Ph.D. Harvard, 1964.
- Professional Experience:
Trinity College (Washington, DC), 1961-1969; Wheaton College, 1970-1993; dir. Continuing ed. program.
“The Last Scenes of the Odyssey: A Defense” (Harvard, 1964).
“Resurrection in the Fourth Georgic,” AJP 90 (1969) 424-36; “Plato: Misogynist, Paedophile, and Feminist,” Arethusa 6 (1973) 75-90; “The Will of the Beast: Sexual Imagery in the Trachiniae,” Ramus 3 (1974) 1-17; “Plain in Diction, Plain in Thought. Some Criteria for Evaluating Translations of the Iliad,” AJP 96 (1975) 239-55; “Letting Go. Imagery and Symbolic Naming in Plato's Lysis,” Ramus 7 (1978) 38-45; “From Hesiod to Homer by Way of Rome,” Ramus 8 (1979) 59-64; Hesiod: Theogony; Works and Days. Theognis: Elegies, trans. with intro. (London & New York: Penguin Books, 1976). REV.: CW LXXI 1977 263 Tarrant; Roman Poetry: From the Republic to the Silver Age, trans. with intro. (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1980); Knight Must Fall (as Theodora Wender) (New York: Morrow/Avon, 1985); Murder Gets a Degree (as Theodora Wender) (New York: Morrow/Avon, 1986); Frankie and the Fawn, with Marcia Polese (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1974); “Aphasic Victim as Investigator,” ArchNeurol (JAMA Neurology) 46 (1989) 91-2.
Born in Ohio, Dory Wender was raised in Rye, NY. An excellent student in all her high-school classes except physical education (valedictorian of the class of 1952), she performed with the school band and participated eagerly in plays, especially lending her already distinctive voice to musicals. She avoided physical exertion in her classes in order to avoid taking showers. Consequently, as she reported later to one of her students, she was made to take 13 supervised showers in one day in order to graduate.
She went on to Radcliffe College, where she graduated magna cum laude and maintained her interest in performing by appearing in several Gilbert and Sullivan comic operettas as Petti Sing in ''The Mikado,'' Inez in ''The Gondoliers,'' and the title role in ''Iolanthe.''
After graduation, while working in a New York publishing house, she entered a contest to give a slogan for Thunderbird wine, an inexpensive product of the Gallo Wineries. Her entry, “No praise, no fame, no wonder word / Can equal Gallo Thunderbird'” won and Dory was given a white Cadillac as a prize. She sold the car and used the money for tuition at the University of Minnesota, where she earned her M.A.
She then returned to Cambridge, met her husband, Paul Wender, in 1961, and appeared as Lady Jane in Gilbert & Sullivan’s Patience. A reviewer for the Harvard Crimson who complained of her constant upstaging of the principals and compared her voice to a “magnificently and artfully employed foghorn.”
After writing her dissertation on Homer, she was attracted to The Georgics, then being restudied following the work of Brooks Otis and L. P. Wilkinson. She argued that farmers, like Aristaeus’s bees participate in the regeneration of the natural world for the immortality of the species.
Following her divorce in 1970, she took a position at Wheaton and began working in earnest in the emerging feminist study of antiquity, contrasting the feminism of Plato with the heterosexual Xenophon who was content with women’s low status. After describing the ill effects of sex on a marriage like that of Heracles and Deijanira in Trachiniae, she then returned to Homer and his contemporary Hesiod, whom she ultimately translated in 1976. A popular teacher, her class on ''Women, Sex and Love in Ancient Greece and Rome'' often drew as many as 90 students. She also directed the school's education program for 'mature students.
Feeling the lack of an available anthology of Latin poetry, she turned to translating selections from the Roman poets for a comprehensive anthology, but in 1979, at the age of 45, she suffered a “cerebrovascular accident,” a stroke that caused no muscular paralysis, but took away most of her English vocabulary and all the Greek and Latin she had been teaching for 20 years, except for some names like Zeus and Caesar. A week after the stroke she was able to walk and within a month could understand speech. Two months later, after recording herself on a borrowed Dictaphone and correcting her errors, she found her English coming back (her daughters, whose names she could not remember, labeled items in her house and corrected her speech), she was told by neurologists that her languages would likely not come back, while speech therapists promised only limited success. After a full year, however, she still could not read or write. When the first copy of Roman Poetry arrived in 1980, she could not read it.
She decided to make a neurological experiment of her recovery, which she subsequently published in a medical journal in 1989. She determined to re-learn Greek and not Latin. Within eight months of daily study and drill she had re-learned enough Greek to teach an introductory course at Wheaton. Two years after the accident she was able to teach advanced Greek courses. It would be three years after the stroke before she could read a complete adult book in English. In 1982 she invited her colleague Eva Stehle to administer a vocabulary test. She recognized 35 of 41 Greek words but only 12 of 41 Latin words. She translated a passage of Plato nearly perfectly but for a passage of Cicero, she got “only a few words right.” In the face of her neurologist’s disbelief, she asked her colleague Keith Dickson to give her a quiz of 10 Greek and 10 Latin words she had previously not recognized. After a week of study of only the Latin words, she identified all of them on the quiz, but none of the Greek. She therefore proved against accepted neurological opinion (“Neurologists are wrong about a lot of things,” she said) that her languages would return spontaneously or not at all and that she could have recovered her Latin as well as her Greek.
Her most dramatic improvement came when, six years after the stroke, she published a mystery, as Theodora Wender, Knight Must Fall, followed by Murder Gets a Degree, set on a college campus. She also co-authored what her daughter Jocelyn called “a feminist’s children’s book,” Frankie and the Fawn.
She continued joyfully to deploy her resonant voice in choirs and chorales for the rest of her life, despite the views of the Crimson reviewer of old.
Tom Long, Boston Globe (2 February 2003) C23; "Local Heroes: Dorothea Wender," New England Monthly Magazine 51,3 (September 1986), 9a.
- Author: Ward W. Briggs, Jr.