There was nothing quite like the sight of Professor Philip N. Lockhart riding his bicycle down the middle of the Academic Quad most Fall and Spring mornings, wearing his suit and skinny tie, and flashing a big warm smile for all his students also rushing to morning Latin class. More than thirty years after having first seen it, it’s indelible and his story wonderfully told, that is, mirabile dictu.
My remembrance can only begin to describe the impact of a teacher who deeply cared about his students’ educations as well as their lives after Graduation, and how it continues to this day. As a Latin Major and Ancient Greek Minor, Class of 1981, my ablatives are still almost always absolute. I may practice international law and teach law as adjunct faculty, but my world is never far from the Classics, Lockhart-style. How to teach with the same energy and enthusiasm that I first learned long ago at Barnard Center, now East College? I may teach about contemporary issues, but often find a classical allusion or historical example which more clearly illustrates the point. After all, as he taught us, there are no new issues; only recycled ones which were first addressed in Classical Antiquity. And, using that term, we were also taught that, by seeing things through Roman and Greek eyes, we ought to look back even further to the Egyptians, Jews, and, yes, Professor, the Etruscans (that mysterious people lost to history) and Indo-Europeans (whose digamma we still use and pronounce as “W”).
But, if learning Classics was the only legacy that Professor Lockhart left us, few of us would remember him. He taught us all much more and used Classics and its “lessons” as a guide by which to live one’s life. So, let’s not forget his teaching about the god Janus, the god who looks forward and backward at the same time, whom the Romans depicted on their coinage and as the name of the first month of our calendar, in reminding us that we all must understand the past and future as one continuous event. Let’s recall his insistence that Epic poetry is not only epic because of the characters and themes but because it was sung and performed so that “Arma virumque cano,…” was a public spectacle and a part of the Roman national and religious consciousness. How about all good dactylic hexameter ends with “Shave and haircut, two bits!”? Finally, I recall his personal advice to remember that “[t]he mills of the gods grind slowly and they grind exceedingly fine” (Sextus Empiricus, not Longfellow), a meaningful piece of classical thought which is particularly helpful for impatient students to remember.
Professor Lockhart taught many things, such as teaching requires one to know the subject intimately, love your students and feed their need for education, and have joy in all that you do and are, whether in your family, work, or religion. These were his keys to living a full, abundant, and meaningful life and one in which he succeeded admirably.
Finally, I recall having shared aspects of my Jewish religious experience with Professor Lockhart, including inviting him to attend my wedding. I would tell him often about Jewish life and observance and took particular pride in inviting him to Passover meals at the HUB and sharing Matzah with him. The Babylonian Talmud, a set of Rabbinical Jewish legal and ethical writings compiled from 200 – 500 CE, teaches in a book called Bava Metzia, Chapter 2, Mishnah 11 about the Rabbis’ resolution of a legal question: If someone finds property lost by one’s father and also property lost by one’s teacher, to whom should that individual first return the property? That is, does the individual owe the primary duty to return the property to the father or to the teacher? Of course, these Rabbis knew the question that they were asking: who merits more respect, a parent or a teacher? They resolve the question by providing an ethical and religious teaching which speaks to the Lockhart commitment to teach his students not only knowledge and facts but how to live one’s life with meaning:
The obligation to return the property to his teacher takes precedence, since his father brought him into this world, but his teacher, because it was he who taught him wisdom, brings him into the life of the World to come, that is, Heaven. Similarly, if his father and his teacher were carrying a burden, he relieves that of his teacher, and then relieves that of his father. If his father and his teacher were in captivity, he ransoms his teacher, and then ransoms his father.
Professor Lockhart will be missed and remembered for all of his timeless work.