A.B., Harvard (summa cum laude), 1940; M.A., 1941; Junior Fellow, Society of Fellows, 1942, 1946-8; Ph.D., 1949; fell., AAR.
9th Photo intelligence Detachment, 7th Air Force; U.S. Army Air Force, 1942-5; promoted to Captain, 1945; U.S. Army Reserve, 1946-50; instr. classics, Harvard, 1949-51; res. Asso., v.p., dir., Harbridge House, Inc., 1951-65; pres. 1969-71; Asst. Secretary of the Army for Installations and Logistics, 1965-9; dep. Under Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1971-2; asst. sec., 1972-3; under sec., 1973-6.
“Ennius and Roman Tragedy” (Harvard, 1949); reprinted, Monographs in Classical Studies, (Salem, NH: Arno, 1981).
“Discolor Aura: Reflections on the Golden Bough,” AJP 74 (1953) 260-80; “Angle of Repose,” (poem), New Yorker 44,20 (6 July 1968) 58; “In the Tunnel: St. Andrew’s Castle,” (poem), The Atlantic 232,4 (October 1973) 111; Euripides Children of Heracles, trans. with Henry Taylor, Greek Tragedy in New Translations (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981); Roman Epistle. Poems Dublin, NH: W.L. Bauhan, 1984).
In his short career as a classicist, Brooks, known to his friends as “Rab,” published a seminal article on the Golden Bough in Aeneid 6. “Discolor aura” interprets Aeneas as an ambiguous, if not failed, hero. In Brooks’s view, the Aeneid is “an attack on the part of the indeterminate, the various and fallible nature of man, upon the necessities both of history and of fate. The attack begins by assuming conquest; it ends by implying defeat and destruction….Neither the hero nor the poet ever comes to terms with the ends which are so easily postulated and so desperately sought throughout the poem.” The view preceded and opposed the mature interpretations of post-World War II critics like Karl Büchner, Friedrich Klingner, and Brooks Otis, who believed that Virgil supported Augustus and that his hero eventually becomes confident of his purpose. Brooks showed that Virgil’s text presented a hero in conflict between her personal and public missions and that the poem itself was a meditation on human fallibility–views that greatly influenced his students and subsequent generations of what is accurately or inaccurately called the “Harvard School.”
Born in India, Brooks was sent at the age of seven by his Scottish mother to the Dalhousie Castle School in Edinburgh (1928-34) where, by 14 he had, in addition to his weekly compositions in Greek and Latin, begun his lifelong interest in Latin poetry by reading great chunks of Virgil, Horace, and Ovid, and his interest in the theater by reading Aeschylus and Euripides (along with Xenophon and Plato). His enthusiasm for the theater was maintained after his family removed to America. At the Roxbury Latin School (1934-6), where he excelled in his studies, Brooks acted in and directed plays. When he arrived at Harvard, he joined the Classical Players, acting in The Birds in Greek in 1936. After the war, Brooks returned to his work at the Society of Fellows, did a year’s work in Rome and returned to finish his doctorate. He directed Miles Gloriosus in 1949 and Pseudolus in 1950 and played numerous leading roles during his association with the Poet’s Theater in Cambridge (1950-1965), while also keeping the Classical Players going. Kenneth Reckford relates that in the 1956 production of Oedipus at Colonus, Brooks took over from the student who was to play the lead and learned the entire part in Greek in two days.
Hired by Harvard after the completion of his doctorate, Brooks began work on his article on the Golden Bough. Oddly, the article appeared in 1953, two years after Harvard had let him go. In 1951 Brooks had joined Harbridge House, a management consulting and research firm, founded the previous year by three Harvard Business School grads, including Paul Ignatius, who would become president of the Washington Post and Secretary of the Navy (1967-9). Perhaps because of his relationship with Ignatius, Brooks was named Asst. Secretary for Installations and Logistics by President Lyndon Johnson as the war in Vietnam grew. His patriotism led him to serve his country in an unpopular war and is native abilities led him to bring new efficiencies to inventory management and systems analysis. He also established the School of Logistics in Petersburg, VA.
He returned for a two-year stint as president of Harbridge House before finding what Reckford called "the perfect job for him:" "For the first time, his many talents were combined and appreciated: his administrative skill, his practical sense, his passion for scholarship, his intellectual curiosity, his enjoyment of people, and his flair for teaching.” His love of ancient drama produced an introduction to Henry Taylor's translation of the Heracleidae and his experience at the Smithsonian led to a preliminary study of the Museum at Alexandria. A collection of his field wrought poems appeared after his premature death.
WhWAm 7 (1977-81) 6; Who’s Who in Government 2 (1975-6) 74; WhAm, (1976-7) 400; NYTimes (12 April 1976) 32; K.J. Reckford, foreword to R.A. Brooks, Ennius and Roman Tragedy (New York: Arno Press 1981 1-14.
AUTHORKenneth J. Reckford