There are many ways to interpret the life and work of Eleanor Winsor Leach (1937-2018), a classics professor at Indiana University. I see her as a character in a modernist novel by Hermann Broch, not The Death of Virgil but The Death of a Virgil Scholar.
She was one of my professors.
In Bloomington, Indiana, where we all ran 10Ks and drank pints at Nick’s, I was a graduate student in classics. I was there to read as much poetry as possible, so I took Ellie’s Horace seminar. There was Ellie, an alumna of Bryn Mawr and Yale, teaching in the heart of Indiana, sitting with a group of silent graduate students, most from the Midwest and South. Ellie’s manners were impeccable, but she did not yet understand the culture. Very few of us–dare I say none of us?–participated in the scholarly chats about Horace. Once I spoke to fill a silence, and was teased about it. “Well, could you have done better?” I learned to be silent, but I vigorously translated in class and parsed grammar and syntax.
Ellie was a kind soul. She invited us to a dinner party (maybe more than one) at her house in the country. It was a rickety one-story house, reminiscent of a converted chicken coop, and furnished with dusty books and old furniture, perhaps antiques. She wanted us to feel at home, not just in her house but in the small classics department. When I received a high pass on the Ph.D. Latin exam, she congratulated me warmly.
She was still teaching at the age of 80.
Ave atque vale, Ellie. (“Hail and farewell”–Catullus 101)