In memoriam William Scovil Anderson, September 16, 1927 - March 22, 2022
The Department received with sorrow the news that William Scovil Anderson (“Bill,” and sometimes “W. S.” to his students) had passed away on the morning of March 22, 2022. An acute and prolific critic of Latin literature, Bill Anderson received BAs from Yale University (1950) and the University of Cambridge (1952) as well as an MA from Cambridge (1952) before taking his PhD in Classics from Yale in 1954 with a dissertation entitled “The Rhetoric of Juvenal.” After tenure of a Rome Prize postdoctoral fellowship at the American Academy in Rome in 1954-55, he taught as an instructor in Classics at Yale from 1955-1960, before accepting a position in the Department of Classics at Berkeley, where he taught until his retirement in 1994 (and often thereafter, as a Professor of the Graduate School); since 1965, he was jointly appointed to the faculties of Classics and Comparative Literature.
During his illustrious career, Bill’s scholarly and professional accomplishments were recognized with honors and positions of responsibility. Invited to deliver the inaugural Robson Lectures at Victoria College, Toronto, in 1987, he also held distinguished visiting professorships at the University of Melbourne, Vassar College, and Florida State University. He was a devoted servant of the Department of Classics, serving as Chair from 1970-73, and of the campus, being recognized upon his retirement in 1994 with a rarely conferred Berkeley Citation. He rendered signal service to his profession as well, having been a member of the editorial board of the journal Vergilius from 1963 to 2009 and having held the position of President of the American Philological Association in 1977.
In his work, Bill was a leader of a generation of scholars who came to ally the traditional resources of philology to the styles of criticism being practiced in the study of literatures in English and other modern languages, with extraordinarily influential effects. It is perhaps no accident that he was drawn first to satire, and particularly to Juvenal. Bill revolutionized the study of Juvenal’s poetry, declaring its blisteringly aggressive and apparently artless speaker to be instead the product of careful rhetorical construction by a cool-headed poet. In a series of articles published in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s—collected in his 1982 volume Essays on Roman Satire—he articulated for readers of the genre the concept of the persona This powerful concept opened the genre up to interpretations that not only resisted simple autobiographical readings, but recognized its literary complexity; for example, his 1960 essay in the American Journal of Philology, “Imagery in the Satires of Horace and Juvenal,” offers incisive analysis of the satirists’ differing approaches to imagery, and does so in part by comparing each one to a contemporary epic poet, thereby illuminating Vergil and Statius, as well as Horace and Juvenal.
As this example makes clear, this groundbreaking work on satire was made possible by Bill’s wide knowledge of and curiosity about Latin (and Greek) literature and his engagement with literary criticism as practiced in other fields. By the mid-1960s he had already published influential articles on Vergil, Lucretius, and Propertius and, while maintaining his varied interests, from the late 1960s on, he published a series of works on Vergil’s Aeneid and Ovid’s Metamorphoses that further enhanced his reputation as one of the most authoritative and wide-ranging scholars of Latin poetry. His 1967 volume, The Art of the Aeneid, used his expertise in fine-grained literary analysis to illuminate both the techniques and themes of the poem in ways that enriched the reading experience of both experts and newcomers. His Teubner edition of Ovid's Metamorphoses (1977) and his pair of student commentaries covering the first ten books of the poem (1972, 1997) have left a lasting imprint on generations of readers. Unlike many commentaries aimed at beginners, those Bill produced engage gladly with interpretative questions and expect even new readers of Latin to become attuned to its expressive possibilities. Greek and Roman New Comedy formed yet another field to which he contributed his unique perspective, through many articles and his 1993 book Barbarian Play: Plautus’s Roman Comedy, based on his Robson Lectures. This book, too, made good use of his trademark gift for explaining the basics to those unfamiliar with the genre while offering insights that affected current scholarly debates.
At the beginning of The Art of the Aeneid (p. 2), Bill announced that it was “the purpose of [that] volume to assist the modern reader of the Aeneid to find underneath the dead form the living poetry of Vergil.” He leaves behind him a scholarly legacy impressive not only for its scale, its range, and the interpretative skill it displays, but for this very determination to find the animating pulse within ancient literature and share that discovery with students, scholars, and interested readers of every kind.
Bill’s contributions to the study of Latin literature constitute one sort of legacy, but his activity as a teacher and as a mentor of research represents another. Over his decades at Berkeley, he was a central figure in the education of generations of undergraduate and graduate students, and he advised the PhD theses of many who have gone on to flourish, inside and outside the academy.
Colleagues and students at Berkeley remember Bill not only as a scholar but as a dedicated and gifted athlete. Having competed in wrestling while at Yale, he was a spirited player of squash and tennis for many years, and frequented the swimming pools on the Berkeley campus; the same spirit of competition animated his enthusiasm for bridge, which he continued to play with colleagues and students after his retirement.
Bill is survived by his wife, Deirdre Anderson, by his daughters Judith, Blythe, Heather, and Meredith, by his son Keith, and by his stepsons, Eric and Wylie.
submitted by Kathleen McCarthy, with contributions by Dylan Sailor
There was a memorial for Bill on Saturday, May 7th at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Berkeley. DAGRS will hold an on-campus event in Bill's memory at 2 PM on Saturday, 17 September 2022 at the Alumni House on the Berkeley campus. Please see this page for directions to Alumni House.