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Published by e-mail by the Classical
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|Contents of CCB/BCEA 7.3.3 (2000 12 06)||CCB Archive
Obituary (Desmond John Conacher)
From: Martin J. Cropp, University
Desmond John Conacher
Desmond Conacher, who died on October 23rd aged 81, was one of the leading classical scholars of his generation in Canada and widely known for his work on Greek tragedy. He was greatly valued as a teacher, colleague and friend to many.
Desmond was born on December 27th 1918 in Kingston, Ontario, son of William Morison Conacher, Professor of French at Queenís University, and Madeline Conacher (née Cashel). His elder brother James B. Conacher became, like Desmond, a professor at the University of Toronto and was a distinguished historian of 19th-century Canada. Desmond studied at Queenís (B.A. in Classics, 1941), then at the University of Chicago where his Ph.D. thesis on Pleasure in Pre-Socratic Philosophy was supervised by Benedict Einarson. He taught at Dalhousie University (1946-47) and the University of Saskatchewan (1947-58) before joining the Classics Department at Trinity College, Toronto, where he remained until his formal retirement in 1984 and for the active and productive years which followed it. He was Head of the Trinity College Department of Classics from 1966 to 1972, and of the Universityís intercollegiate Department of Classics from 1972 to 1975.
A series of articles in the 1950s and 1960s led to the book Euripidean Drama: Myth, Theme and Structure (1967), which made him widely known as an interpreter of tragic texts. In this ambitious study of all the surviving plays he departed from historical and developmental approaches to Euripidesí work and offered an analysis along formal and generic lines, seeking (in the words of his Preface) ìto relate the varied and often novel structures and techniques of Euripidean drama to the varied and often novel themes which the dramatist has chosen to expound.î The book was followed by several more articles on aspects of thematic and dramatic coherence in Greek tragic texts, and by the work on Aeschylus which led to the literary studies on Prometheus Bound (1980) and the Oresteia (1987), written as concise interpretative guides to these texts for students of classics, literature and drama. His work on Euripides and Aeschylus was completed by an interpretative commentary on Euripidesí Alcestis (1988), Aeschylus: the Earlier Plays and Related Studies (1996, including chapters on Aeschylean imagery and the Aeschylean chorus) and Euripides and the Sophists (1998) in which he returned to his early philosophical interests and offered a sketch of some Euripidean dramatic themes which reflect contemporary intellectual developments. Both Greek ragedy and topics in modern literature and criticism are represented in his numerous other publications.
Besides his work at the University of Toronto Desmond Conacher gave distinguished service to classical studies, especially through the Classical Association of Canada (whose Honorary Presidency he occupied gracefully in recent years), the journal Phoenix (where he published many of his book-reviews), the American Philological Association (Board of Directors, 1976-78, and Goodwin Award of Merit Committee, 1981-84), and the Canadian Federation for the Humanities (Board of Directors, 1981-84). Personal visits, two CAC-sponsored lecture-tours, and frequent attendance at the CACís annual meetings brought him friends in classical departments throughout Canada. He maintained close ties with the departments at his alma mater Queenís and at Trent University, where he had assisted in the departmentís formation in the mid-1960s. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1976, held visiting professorships at Stanford, Princeton, Texas, and Canterbury, NZ, and received honorary doctorates at Dalhousie (D.Litt., 1992), Victoria (LL.D., 1993), Queenís (LL.D., 1995), and Saskatchewan (D.Litt., 1997). The volume of essays Greek Tragedy and its Legacy was published in his honour in 1986.
Desmondís kindness, humanity and good humour earned him a special place in the affections of those whom he worked with, taught, advised, and in numerous ways supported and encouraged. Not given to self-importance, he had a healthy disrespect for the more pretentious aspects of professional scholarship and was famous for the wryly self-deflating stories which he loved to tell in an enhanced auto-biographical style. A few of these are recalled in the brief address which his friend Kildare Dobbs delivered at Desmondís memorial service on October 31st and published in the Lives Lived column of the Globe and Mail (Nov. 21, 2000). A classic example in his own words is the hilarious account of the genesis of Euripidean Drama published in the Toronto magazine Saturday Night (vol. 83.11, Nov. 1968, 48-50).
Any recollection of Desmond Conacher would be sorely incomplete without the inclusion of his wife Mary. To be favoured with Desmondís friendship was to be favoured with Maryís also, and those of us who had that good fortune know how very much she contributed to his life and happiness. They were married in 1952 and had two children, Susan and Hugh.
Next regular issue 2000 12 15
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