B.A., U. of Toronto, 1953; M.A., 1957; STB, St. Michael’s College, U. of Toronto, 1957; Ph.D. U. of British Columbia, 1960.
Lctr. St. Michael’s College, U. of Toronto, 1960-3; asst. prof. 1963-8; asso. prof. U. of St. Thomas (Houston, TX) 1968-70; prof. 1970-2; asso. prof., Loyola U. Chicago, 1972-5; asso. prof. 1975-9; prof. Classics, U. of Toronto, 1979-95.
“The Myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in Western Literature” (U. of British Columbia, 1961).
“Orpheus and Eurydice. Some Modern Versions,” CJ 56 (1961) 307-13; “Illustrative Elisions in Catullus,” TAPA 93 (1962) 144-53; “Horace, Odes I,11. The Lady Whose Name was Leu,” Arion 3 (1964) 117-24; “Mystic Orpheus. Another Note on the Three-Figure Reliefs,” Hesperia 33 (1964) 401-4; “Virgil as Orpheus,” Orpheus 11 (1964) 9-18; “Horace, Carm. I, 23. Simile and Metaphor,” CP 60 (1965) 185-6; “Horace, Odes I, 38. Thirst for Life,”AJP 86 (1965) 278-81; “Horace, Odes I, 4. A Sonic Cycle,” CQ 15 (1965) 286-8; “Orpheus and Eurydice. Myth, Legend, Folklore,” C&M 26 (1965) 402-12; Word, Sound and Image in the Odes of Horace (Ann Arbor: U. of Michigan Press, 1969). REVS: CW 63 (1969) 93-94 Benario | CF 24 (1970) 262-4 McIntyre | G&R 17 (1970) 106 Sewter | Phoenix 24 (1970) 279-80 Smith | CR 21 (1971) 53-55 Clarke | CP 66 (1971) 120-1 Henry | AJP 93 (1972) 501-2 Babcock | CJ 66 (1971) 184-7 Hunt; Top Ten: A Personal Approach to the Movies (New York: Vantage, 1973); “Grand Illusion,” Opera News 38, 24 (April 1974) 14-15; Fathers and Sons in Virgil's Aeneid. Tum genitor natum (Albany: State U. of New York Press, 1979). REVS: CJ 76 (1980) 178-9 Boughner | G&R 28 (1981) 96-7 DuQuesnay | Phoenix 35 (Spring 1981) 97-8 Johnson | Manuscripta 25 (1981) 54 Finch | Phoenix 35 (1981) 97-8 Jackson | Vergilius 26 (1980) 77-9 McKay; “Everything is Full of Gods. A Discussion of Horace's Imagery,” Arion 9 (1970) 246-63; “Catullus in the Odes of Horace,” Ramus 4 (1975) 33-48; “Per nubila lunam. The Moon in Virgil's Aeneid,” Vergilius 34 (1988) 9-14; “Achilles and Hector as Hegelian Heroes,” EMC 30 (1981) 97-103; “The Sons of Iasus and the End of the Aeneid,” Augustan Age 1 (1981-2) 13-16; “Horace, Odes 1.25: The Wind and the River,” Augustan Age 4 (1985) 39-44; Death and Rebirth in Virgil's Arcadia (Albany: State U. of New York Press, 1989). REVS: LEC LX (1992) 94 Wankenne | Latomus 51 (1992) 188-91 Deremetz | G&R 37 (1990) 235-7 Fowler | Vergilius 36 (1990) 145 Clay | Phoenix 46 (1992) 92-94 Smith; Hurry Up, Please, It’s Time (Durham, NC: Duke U. Press, 1989); Wagner’s Ring: Turning the Sky Road (New York: Summit Books, 1990); “Seven Suffering Heroines and Seven Surrogate Sons,” in The Two Worlds of the Poet: New Perspectives on Vergil, ed. Robert Wilhelm & Howard Jones (Detroit: Wayne State U. Press, 1992) 82-92; First Intermissions: Twenty-One Great Operas Explored, Explained, and Brought to Life from the Met (New York & Oxford: Oxford U. Press, 1995); Virgil as Orpheus: a Study of the Georgics (Albany, NY: State U. of New York Press, 1996) REVS: Gymnasium 105:4 (1998) 349-350 Erren | CO 74:4 (1997) 159 Heath | Cuadernos de Filología Clásica. Estudios Latinos 14 (1998) 333-337 Herreros Tabernero | EMC 40.3 (1996) 451-3 McKay | Vergilius 43 (1997) 127-31 Putnam; The Olive-Tree Bed and Other Quests (Toronto & Buffalo: U. of Toronto Press, 1997). REVS: Phoenix 52 (1998) 153-5 Blodgett | IJCT 7:1 (2001) 91-3 Buller | Latomus 59.3 (2000) 684-6 Newman; A Season of Opera: From Orpheus to Ariadne (Toronto & Buffalo: U. of Toronto Press, 1998); Wagner: The Terrible Man and His Truthful Art, 1998 Larkin-Stuart Lectures (Toronto & Buffalo: U. of Toronto Press, 1999); The Operagoers Guide: One Hundred Stories and Commentaries (Portland, OR: Amadeus Press, 2001); Athena Sings: Wagner and the Greeks (Toronto: U. of Toronto Press, 2003); A Book of Hours: Music, Literature and Life: A Memoir (London & New York: Continuum Press, 2004); The Great Instrumental Works (Pompton Plains, NJ: Amadeus Press, 2005); The Great Instrumental Works (Pompton Plains, NJ: Amadeus Press, 2006); Wagner and the Wonder of Art: An Introduction to Die Meistersinger (Toronto: U. of Toronto Press, 2007); The Best Films of Our Years (Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2007); Father Lee’s Opera Quiz Book (Toronto: U. of Toronto Press, 2016).
Fr. M. Owen Lee (as he preferred to be called) grew up in Detroit where he was trained in Latin from an early age at Catholic Central High School. After graduation in 1948 he entered St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto, a college founded by the Congregation of St. Basil and affiliated with the Catholic Church. He was greatly influenced by his Latin professor, Donald Oakley Robson (1905-76), who taught at Toronto from 1947 to 1975. In 1951 Lee joined the Congregation and upon receiving both his M.A. in Classics and his Bachelor of Sacred Theology in 1957, he was ordained. In 1960 he became the first person granted a Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia and in that year began his career teaching in Catholic universities by returning to St. Michael’s as lecturer in Classics. There he wrote on authors he taught in his classrooms, Catullus and Horace, tracing out images and influences characteristic of much writing on Latin poetry in that decade. One article showed that although Horace only quotes Catullus once, he shows in Odes 1.5 and 1.22 a distaste for his predecessor. This period culminated in Word, Sound and Image in the Odes of Horace.
The Metropolitan Opera in New York began radio broadcasts of its performances in 1931. Nearly ten years later, the 11-year-old M. Owen Lee heard a broadcast of Tannhäuser and became a lifelong fan of opera and Richard Wagner in particular. To fill time during the two intervals, the sponsor, Texaco, offered commentary on the opera by a learned authority during the first interval and during the second interval the “Opera Quiz,” in which a panel of three experts answered questions sent in by listeners. Fr. Lee had begun writing commentary on operas for Opera News and other outlets in the late 1960s and beginning in 1974 he provided some commentaries for broadcast as well. The response to his commentary on Parsifal (“Grand Illusions”) was so strong that he began to look for points of comparison between epic and opera.
In 1983 he was contacted by the Metropolitan Opera to appear on its Opera Quiz. Perhaps fittingly for a Virgil scholar, he was asked also to give a commentary on Les Troyennes, an all-star production (Placido Domingo as Aeneas and Jessye Norman as Cassandra) being performed to open the Met’s 100th season. He became one of the most popular and recognizable panelists on the Quiz and was continued to appear, traveling from Toronto to New York at his own expense until March 2006. He wrote more pages on opera than he did on classics, including audio books on operas such as Die Zauberflöte (1990) and Orfeo ed Euridice (2006) and the 1999 Larkin-Stuart Lectures at Trinity College, Toronto, on Wagner.
He found the best way to synthesize the essence of both opera and epic was in the archetypes established by Carl Jung (1875-1961). He found in the Aeneid’s moon, for instance, a symbol of the anima, or eternal feminine that animates life. After a stint at the Basilian University of St. Thomas he moved to Loyola University in Chicago in which city he encountered the other great influence on his classical life, the great expert on Greek law, Gertrude Smith. Four years after his return to his alma mater, he published Fathers and Sons in Vergil’s Aeneid, whose centerpiece is the meeting of Aeneas and Anchises in Book 6, in which the father represents Jung’s Wise Old Man, a view Lee returned to in his Robson Lectures, The Olive-Tree Bed and Other Quests. Endowed by Lee’s late teacher, the lectures gave their author an opportunity for reflection on his teachers and career as well as an opportunity to set down the conclusions of a lifetime of study of epic and opera.
Lee subjected four works to Jungian analysis: The number of women portrayed in the Odyssey marks it as an archetype of the anima, the female spirit in the world. The meeting of Anchises and Aeneas in Book 6 of the Aeneid, which Lee calls the “heart of the poem,” sparks memories of the death of Lee’s father and again serves as the archetype of the Wise Old Man. Parsifal combines both the anima (Kundry), the Wise Old Man (Gurnemanz), and the Shadow (Amfortas). Lee’s analysis of Goethe’s Faust begins with a dream in which Lee is the Homunculus of Faust II, leading Faust and Mephistopheles to the Classical Walpurgisnacht, with its horrors from ancient mythology. Lee interprets his dream as referring to his time as a student under Robson. The Jungian archetypes are again labelled: Faust is the Wise Old Man, Mephistopheles is the Shadow, and Gretchen and Helen are the anima. All heroes are flawed at the start, he concludes, then they contend with the world, discover their true purpose, and ultimately, like Fr. Lee, serve as role models for their readers.
DAS 10 3:158; NYTimes (28 July 2019) 21.