FEARS, Jesse Rufus

Biographical Information

Born 7 March 1945 in Atlanta to Emory Binford and Hazel Elizabeth Davis F.
Died 6 October 2012, Norman, OK.
Married Charlene Louise Bauer, 6 July 1966


B.A. History and Classics, Emory, 1966; M.A. Harvard, 1967; Ph.D. 1971

Professional Experience

Asst. prof. class. langs. Tulane, 1971-2; asst. prof. hist. Indiana U. (Bloomington) 1972-75; asso. prof. , 1975-80; prof. 1980-86; prof. class. and chair, Boston U., 1986-90; asso. dean Coll. Liberal Arts, 1987-89; Dir. Boston University Humanities Foundation, 1988-90; prof. class., U. of Oklahoma, 1990-2004; dean, College of Arts and Sciences, 1990-92; G.T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty, 1992-2012; David Ross Boyd Professor of Classics, University of Oklahoma, 2004-2012, Dir., Center for the History of Liberty, 1992-2012; Guggenheim fell., 1976; Humboldt Fellow; Dir. Division of Research, National Endowment for the Humanities, 1992-93; asst. dir. AAR Classical Summer School, 1970, 1971; President, Vergilian Society, 2003-4.


“Princeps a Diis Electus: A Study of the Monarchical Theory of Divine Election in the Roman Empire before the Official Adoption of Christianity” (Harvard, 1971).


“Parthi in Q. Curtius Rufus,” Hermes CII (1974) 623-25; “Sulla or Endymion ? A Denarius of L. Aemilius Buca,” AJA LXXVIII (1974) 165; “The Stoic View of the Career and Character of Alexander the Great,” Philologus CXVIII (1974) 113-30; “Cyrus as a Stoic Exemplum of the Just Monarch,” AJP XCV (1974) 265-67; “Nero as the Viceregent of the Gods in Seneca's De Clementia,” Hermes CIII (1975) 486-96; “Sulla or Endymion. A Reconsideration of a Denarius of L. Aemilius Buca,” ANSMusN XX (1975) 29-37; “Pausanias the Assassin of Philip II,” Athenaeum LXIII (1975) 111-135; “The Coinage of Q. Cornificius and Augural Symbolism on Late Republican Denarii,” Historia XXIV (1975) 592-602; “Cumae in the Roman Imperial Age,” Vergilius XXI (1975) 1-21; “Silius Italicus, Cataphracti, and the Date of Q. Curtius Rufus,” CP LXXI (1976) 214-23; “The Solar Monarchy of Nero and the Imperial Panegyric of Q. Curtius Rufus,” Historia 25 (1976) 494-6; Princeps a diis electus. The Divine Election of the Emperor as a Political Concept at Rome, Papers & Monogr. of the Amer. Acad. in Rome XXVI (Rome: Amer. Acad., 1977) REVIEWS: REL LV 1977 538 Ferrary | Erasmus XXX 1978 108-111 Lasserre | Gymnasium LXXXV 1978 379-380 Herz | Augustinianum XVIII 1978 412 di Berardino | SSR II 1978 211-213 Piccaluga | RPh LII 1978 208-210 Richard | LEC XLVI 1978 173 Wankenne | RHR 1978 N° 194 65-70 Turcan | JRH X 1978 200-201 Harris | StudStor XX 1979 221-226 Zaccaria | AC XLVIII 1979 389-390 Wankenne | Gnomon LI 1979 406-407 Millar | RBPh LVII 1979 1048 Malaise | JRS LXIX 1979 168-175 Brunt | CR XXIX 1979 277-279 Price | A&R XXV 1980 94-96 Marasco | RFIC CVII 1979 455-458 Fayer | Mnemosyne XXXIII 1980 458-461 den Boer | Athenaeum LIX 1981 252-254 Pani | AHR LXXXVI 1981 1077 Ferrill | AAHG XXXVI 1983 205-207 Galsterer; “Ὁ δῆμος ὁ Ῥωμαίων, Genius Populi Romani. A Note on the Origin of Dea Roma,” Mnemosyne XXXI (1978) 274-86; “Atlantis and the Minoan Thalasssocracy: A Study in Modern Mythopoeism,” in Atlantis: Fact or Fiction?, ed. E.S. Ramage (Bloomington: Indiana U. Press, 1978) 103-34; “Rome. The Ideology of Imperial Power,” Thought LV (1980) 98-109; “Gottesgnadentum (Gottkönigtum),” RLAC XI Lief. 87-88 (1981) 1103-59; “The Cult of Jupiter and Roman Imperial Ideology,” ANRW II N° 17.1 (1981) 3-141; “The Theology of Victory at Rome. Approaches and Problems,” ANRW II N° 17.2 (1981) 736-826; “The Cult of Virtues and Roman Imperial Ideology,” ANRW II N° 17.2 (1981) 827-948; “Indices to Contributions,” ANRW II N° 17.2 (1981) 1201-55; “Minucius Felix, Octavius XXVI,1,” CP LXXVII (1982): 150-52; Selected Writings of Lord Acton (ed. with introduction) 3 vols. (Indianapolis: Liberty/Classics, 1985-88); “Ruler Worship,” in Civilization of the Ancient Mediterranean, ed. Michael Grant and Rachel Kitzinger (New York: Scribner’s, 1988) 1009-25; “Augustus,” “Dea Dia,” “Emperor’s Cult,” “Selecti,” “Sol Invictus,” Encyclopedia of Religion (New York: Macmillan, 1987); “Herrscherkult,” RLAC XIV Lief. 111/112 (1988) col. 1047-1093; “Optimus Princeps – Sales Generis Humani: The Origins of Christian Political Theology,” in Festschrift J. Straub ed. E. Chrysos (Athens: Pelasgos, 1989) 88-105; “M. Rostovtzeff,” in Classical Scholarship, ed. William M. Calder III and Ward W. Briggs, Jr. (New York: Garland, 1990) 405-18; Aspects of Athenian Democracy, pref. by Fears, Classica et Mediaevalia Dissertationes 11 (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 1990); “The Libertas of Chersonesos,” Colloquenda Pontica 1 (1994) 57-63; “The Libertas of Chersonesos,” Colloquenda Pontica 1(1994) 57-63; “Antiquity: The Example of Rome,” in An Uncertain Legacy: Essays on the Pursuit of Liberty ed. Edward B. McLean (Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 1997) 1-38; “The Lessons of the Roman Empire,” in Preparing America’s Foreign Policy for the 21st Century, eds. David Boren and Edward Perkins (Norman: U. of Oklahoma Press, 1999) 369-72; “Herculanensium Augustalilum Aedes and the Theology of Ruler Cult,” Proceedings of the XVth International Congress of Classical Archaeology, ed. R.F. Docter and E.M. Moormann (Amsterdam: 2000) 166-69; “Atlantology and the Classical Tradition,” IJCT 8 (2002) 394-98; “The Plague under Marcus Aurelius and the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Infectious Disease Clinics of North America 18 (2004) 65-77; “The Urban Vitality of Cumae in the Roman Imperial Era,” Proceedings of the XVIth International Congress of Classical Archaeology ed. A. Brauer (2006); “What the Battle of Marathon Means to Americans,” Perspective (April 2010).


Rufus Fears graduated summa cum laude from Emory University in Classics. At Harvard his dissertation made plain his notion that ideology rather than wealth, power, or birthright was a primary causative force in Roman history. In this period he produced numerous publications on Greek and Roman history in leading American and European journals, followed by three monograph-length articles for ANRW. In 1986 he moved to Boston University as chairman of the department of Classical Studies and was soon appointed associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts (1987-89) and director of the Boston University Humanities Foundation (1988-90). While he continued to write on classical subjects, he also edited a selection of the writings of the English Catholic historian and politician Lord Acton (1834-1902), who thought that the form of government most capable of insuring individual freedom was not a strong central government, but a confederation of individual states. Acton thus sympathized with the South in the Civil War, believing with Plato that centralized government was the prelude to tyranny. Gradually Fears’s interest in liberty overtook his interest in original research in ancient history. In 1990 he moved to his final academic home, the University of Oklahoma, as professor of classics (1990-2004), dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (1990-92), and in 1992 the G.T. and Libby Blankenship Professorship in the History of Liberty, which he held until his death. Following his return from directing the Division of Research at the NEH for a year, he devoted himself more and more to his classroom teaching and the promulgation of his ideas on liberty in recordings of his classroom lectures and his lectures before largely conservative audiences. He said that “The first lesson of history is that we do not learn from it,” but the lessons of his class always came down to the choice citizens make between the efficiency and security of tyranny and the responsibility of the individual in a system based on freedom. His signature course was a two-semester sequence, “Freedom in Greece” and “Freedom in Rome,” which regularly closed at 300 students each and had long waiting lists. His 2007 student Billy Adams recalled Fears acting out battles in class: “He would carry around a broomstick and it would become a spear, pointer, or javelin.” His intention was a kind of moral instruction by which students could shape their lives according to the examples of great leaders from Pericles to his beloved Churchill. Students warmed to his view that “Today we have a tendency to believe that science and technology put us beyond the lessons of history. But we as a society still need to think historically.” Fears believed himself an agent of outreach. He recorded a course of eighteen lectures entitled “The Story of Freedom” and took an active role in the University of Oklahoma’s Life Long Learning Institute, bringing “Freedom and Morality: The Great Books Tradition” to seniors and alumni both in Norman and in Oklahoma City. He recorded 21 lectures for “The Teaching Company,” later called “The Great Courses,” and led tours for alumni on the theme “In the Footsteps of…” visiting Philadelphia, Monticello, and Civil War battlefields as well as sites abroad. David Boren, president of the University of Oklahoma, wrote that Fears was “one of the most gifted teachers in American higher education.” Fears won teaching awards at every institution he served. At Oklahoma he was three times named Professor of the Year and won the medal for Excellence in College and University Teaching from the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence in Teaching. In both his teaching and his later writing Fears eruditely explored conceptions of liberty throughout history.


Sources WhAm 49 (1995) 1135; Sooner Magazine (Winter 2010).
Author Ward Briggs