Celebrating the Life of Herbert Benario
Imago virtutis: a celebration of Herbert Benario
The Classics Department joins in celebrating the life of Professor Emeritus Herbert Benario, who passed away on February 22, 2022, at age 92. Professor Benario was a mentor, a model, a towering figure in Tacitean studies, and a friend: it is difficult to imagine the department without his stentorian tones, still carrying that New York accent, coming down the hall as he inquires into our research, our courses, our readings and our contributions that day to the wellbeing of the classical enterprise. Herb’s career reflects the discipline and pace of the long distance runner he was. He graduated from City College of New York in 1948, earned his MA from Columbia in 1949, and completed his doctorate at Johns Hopkins in just two years, under the redoubtable Henry Rowell. He then served in the Army in Germany from 1951 to 1953 before returning to Columbia to teach for five more years. After a brief sojourn at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, he arrived at Emory in 1960, where he taught, researched, and served in leadership positions until his retirement in 1987. Herb saw the Classics Department grow from three to nine faculty; he recalled with pride the ‘youngsters’ who went on to PhD programs at Harvard, Oxford, Yale, Cincinnati and Stanford, and took satisfaction in the report from a senior member of the Harvard faculty that one of these students was among the three best he had worked with in his career.
Herb’s career is a model of generosity to the discipline as well as to the university, in his service, his scholarship, and his patronage. He served as president of the Classical Association of the Middle West and South from 1971 to 1972, becoming the second Emory faculty member to occupy the position (preceded by Edward Turner in 1941- 1942). Herb focused his scholarship especially on Tacitus, orator, consul, historian, and one of the greatest prose stylists of the Latin language. Between 1953 and 2008, Herb produced 285 published items, including 125 scholarly reviews, ten monographs, over 100 articles, and a steady flow of invited lectures. Retirement did nothing to slow this productivity. He published sixty works subsequent to his retirement, including five books, made nearly 50 trips to Europe, taught at Brigham Young University and at Emory’s Center for Lifelong Learning. His contributions to the field were recognized with professional awards at every level, beginning with Phi Beta Kappa, through an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship, a Fulbright Scholarship in Passau, and a Heilbrun Emeritus Fellowship in 2001- 2002. Herb’s passion for the life of the mind and the voice of the Romans translated as well into patronage to the institutions of Classical study. Herb and his wife Janice founded the Janice and Herbert Benario Award, administered through the Classical Association of the Middle West and South. This fellowship supports summer travel for classical scholars: recipients have participated in career-changing research at the American School for Classical Studies in Athens, the British School at Athens, the Epigraphische Datenbank in Heidelberg, the Leiden Summer School in Languages and Linguistics, the Ravenna Mosaic School, St. Andrews, University College London, Vergilian Society Tours, the Gennadius Library in Athens, the American Academy in Rome, and participation in Reginald Foster’s summer Latin programs. He also generously endowed an annual lecture at Emory, which brings distinguished international scholars of the ancient world to Emory for a public lecture. This Spring’s event, featuring Harriet Flower of Princeton University, will be the tenth in the series. The Benario family were a vital presence at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome, with Herb and his wife Janice serving as professors in Charge in the academic year 1984-1985, and faculty in 1966-1967; Herb served as well as president of the Vergilian Society from 1980-1982, and as director of that society’s summer programs for eight years.
Herb has left his mark in the runner’s world as well as the scholar’s bookshelf. He began running in the 1940s, won a medal at the Boston marathon in the 1950s, and in the winter of 1969-1970 worked with three other men to create the Peachtree Road Race, now the largest 10K in the world, with 60,000 runners. (Herb used to joke that he was only asked to contribute because he owned two stopwatches). He had a veritable encyclopedia of details of world track competitions in his head, and could discourse at any moment on the details of great races from many decades ago. And he paired this with a boundless love of Jane Austen and of opera, enthusiasms that round out the portrait of a man who approached his work, his physical training, and the cultivation of the arts with the same exuberant energy, discipline, and devotion. The greatest part of that devotion remained, however, his family: his wife Janice, a scholar and an adventurer who shared his great spirit, and his sons Fred and John.
As a department, we offer our grateful tribute for a life well lived, for scholarship as praised as it is abundant, and for the enduring spirit with which Herb shaped the Classics Department. Our thoughts are with his children, Fred and John, and with the many alumni who learned from Herb and saw in him, as we do, a model of the classical virtues.