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Charles L. Babcock, a Memoir

Charles Babcock
Photo: courtesy Corey Brennan

A tribute to Charles Luther Babcock by Katherine A. Geffcken, FAAR 1955

The tribute I have written here to the late Charles Babcock, who died on 7 December 2012, is more a memoir than an obituary. I wish to give some sense of this colleague, as we knew him, especially as we knew him in Rome. At the end I list his appointments and achievements.

Charles Babcock was deeply devoted to organizations and institutions that encouraged study of antiquity in the original setting.  The city of Rome and Latium in particular were dear to him.  A great teacher and guide, he thoroughly enjoyed explaining sites to colleagues and students. Always sensitive to the needs and interests of his audience, he knew ways to convey his vast knowledge of Roman history, Augustan literature, and epigraphy. Whether touring the Roman Forum with him or learning how to read inscriptions in the cortile of the American Academy, his listeners quickly recognized a master lecturer.

Among the organizations he served, the Vergilian Society received his attention especially from 1967 to 1976. He was trustee, (1967-70), vice-president (1971-75), and president (1975-76). He continued to support the Society by suggesting its programs and membership to young classicists.

Charles was a great promoter of the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome from its beginning. He became professor-in-charge at the “Centro” (1974-75), then chair of the Managing Committee of the ICCS (1975-82). These were formative years in the development the Centro’s City Course, a curricular process Charles guided carefully.  In the opinion of the longtime administrator of the ICCS, the late Benedetta Beria, Charles took first place among the many professors-in-charge and Managing Committee chairs she worked with.

But Charles’s deepest and longest Roman allegiance focused on the American Academy in Rome. He first came to the Academy in early fall of 1953 when he arrived as both an Academy and Fulbright Fellow and with the renewal of his Fulbright grant he stayed on for a second year. Thereafter he began serving the Academy in numerous posts: president of the Classical Society of the AAR (1957), director of the summer session (1966), trustee representing the Advisory Council to the School of Classical Studies  (1981-83), chair of the Friends of the Library (1985-86), Resident in Classics and Archaeology (1986), Mellon Professor-in-Charge of the Classical School (1988-89), and chair of the Advisory Council (1991-94). He also returned to the Academy at other times as a visiting scholar (for instance 1965, 1971, 1972, 1990, and 1996).

As in all he undertook, Charles commitment when present as the Academy was total. His interests in others, their personalities and goals, was evident in countless, thoughtful ways. The best of listeners and a gifted diplomat, he dealt skillfully with both demanding administrators and inexperienced Fellows who did not know where to start. He was a teacher of teachers. 

I vividly remember his sitting in the cortile in summer 1966 engaged in a leisurely conversation with his Summer Session assistant Hugh Allen. Relaxed as the moment was, Charles was actually guiding Hugh in how to teach on a site. And once he knew you, Charles did not forget; you were soon recruited for some responsibility in the various organizations he supported. I at least found myself doing things I never anticipated. He shared this talent for enlisting people, a form of careful planning, with our great, late friend and colleague Helen North.

Charles’s long interest in epigraphy (his dissertation advisor at the University of California/Berkeley was the epigrapher Arthur Gordon) served the Academy well, especially when he joined the team to publish the Academy’s archaeological Study Collection. This project, organized by Ili Nagy, FAAR 1986, RAAR 2009 and Larissa Bonfante, was underway by 1989 and in 2013 was finally nearing completion.

Charles took on responsibility for the approximately 200 inscriptions, many of them lining the walls of the Academy cortile. His work involved not only recording, measuring, and dating but also learning as much as possible about donors and provenance. Indeed, he came for his last visit to Rome in 1996 to record final details and search for lost or misplaced pieces. 

During that stay he conducted a memorable tour of the inscriptions in the cortile for the Academy Summer Session. We remember vividly his comments about his favorite piece, a small sepulchral inscription for the quasillaria Phryne, an Africana who died at 17. 

His full catalog will appear in a series edited by recent Mellon Professor Corey Brennan, and his chapter in the “Highlights” of the Study Collection will be published by the University of Michigan Press. 

At The Ohio State University, his home institution, Charles, together with his colleague Stephen Tracy, founded a center for epigraphical research. The scope was later broadened to include paleography. Thus, he took a valiant step to provide, in America, a fundamental resource for these two basic fields in the classics.

Besides his publications in epigraphy, Charles’s research focused on Roman history especially Tacitus, on broad aspects of the humanities, and most of all on Horace. Altogether he published seven papers on Horace. The Epodes especially intrigued him.

Charles was anything but narrow in his interests. He loved the ancient monuments, but he also greatly enjoyed touring Roman churches. For a non-Catholic he knew an immense amount the hierarchy of the Roman church. Those who were fortunate to accompany him on a Sunday giro of interesting churches would hear him say at the end, “That was a fine day! And all of it free!”

And then there was his love of music, especially grand opera and also Gilbert and Sullivan (he knew lots of the latter by heart). I recall his organizing an expedition to hear the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company when they were performing in some obscure theater near the Vatican.

Charles was an impressive man, described affectionately and memorably one day when Michael Putnam came silently up behind him and in a stage whisper said most dramatically, “Dig-ni-tas!” —drawing out each syllable emphatically.

I personally knew Charles before I met him because, in 1953-54, my fellow Bryn Mawr graduate student Mary Taylor also that year a Fulbright at the Academy, began mentioning him in her letters to me. Before her year concluded they were engaged, marrying in summer 1955. They have been justifiably proud of their three children, Robert, Jennie, and Jonathan. Indeed, in 1996 Jonathan joined his father in Rome, where he could see directly his father’s love of the city.  

The following summarizes some basic facts about Charles:

Born May 26, 1924, Whittier, California
Died December 7, 2012, Columbus, Ohio
1941-43 University of California/Berkeley, student.
1943-47 US Army, 2nd lieutenant to captain; Bronze Star medal for “heroic achievement,” at Neumarket, Germany, April 20, 1945.  
1947-53 University of California/Berkeley (1949:BA, 1949:MA, 1953: Ph.D. in Classics). Phi Beta Kappa.
1953-1955 Fellow of the American Academy in Rome
1955-57 Cornell University, Instructor. 
1957-66 University of Pennsylvania, Assistant Professor to Associate Professor.
Assistant Dean; Acting Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Member of the team to Shiraz, Iran on organizing curriculum (1965).
1966-92 The Ohio State University, Professor of Classics, Chair, 1966. First dean of the College of Humanities, Chair of Classics.
1987 Resident of the American Academy in Rome
1992 As Professor Emeritus—various fundraising post for Ohio State.

Other posts and activities

1972 (spring) McKinley Scholar, Timken Foundation: Malone, Mount Union, and Walsh College
1968-72 Director, American Philological Society
1970-74 CAMWS (The Classical Association of the Middle West and South) Executive Committee
1976-77 CAMWS President Elect
1977-78 CAMWS President
1982 CAMWS OVATIO award
1993 (spring) Hope College, Scholar in Residence

Sources:
Centennial Directory of the American Academy in Rome, ed. B.G. Kohl (New York/Rome 1995), pp. 14-15
David Hahm, “In memoriam:  Charles L. Babcock, (1924-2012),” APA Blog (February 29, 2013).   

And with thanks for help and information to Mary Babcock, FAAR, AFAAR 1953.

Katherine A. Geffcken