Academic journal article Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society

John H. D'arms

Academic journal article Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society

John H. D'arms

Article excerpt

27 NOVEMBER I934 * 22 JANUARY 2002

I FIRST MET JOHN D'ARMS over coffee in a second-floor café on Broad Street in Oxford when we were both students. That must have been in 1957 and was the first of many cups of coffee, glasses of wine, meals, meetings, conference calls, and conspiracies over the years. Since that time in Oxford we were rarely in the same place for very long, but our courses kept intersecting. He did his Ph.D. in Roman studies at Harvard while I did mine in Greek things at his alma mater, Princeton, but we were both classicists, and often met at professional meetings. I started teaching at Michigan, but left for Princeton just before he joined the faculty there. When John served as a trustee of Princeton, he used to visit us at home, often carrying a bottle of wine, and we would chat. We talked a lot, by phone and at meetings, especially after I moved to the National Humanities Center (where he was once again a trustee - and a very good one!), and even more so when he became president of the ACLS. We were co-workers on many humanities matters, and friendly rivals on others.

And so life went on, as if forever. Then in September 2001 I phoned him just to catch up. He told me everything had gone wonderfully in Rome; he had made good progress on what I called his "decadence" book, the project he described as "Food and Drink in Roman Society." Rome had been wonderful, except that he had had a fall and hurt his hip. "Oh John," I said, detecting a worried tone in his voice, "I stumble all the time; it was probably just too much tennis the day before." No, it was something more serious. He was having some tests done. And then, it seems just an instant later, he was gone.

Ours had been a friendship of inadvertence, something that had grown up over the years without either of us thinking about it very much. I had no idea how close we had become or how much I would miss him.

Many of his accomplishments are well known. But I have to say something about him as a scholar, because scholar he was, at the core and to the last. When he came to New York he continued his teaching and research while carrying on his demanding work at the American Council of Learned Societies. When I telephoned him at ACLS, I was often told that he was at his office at Columbia, and when I reached him there we often talked first about his teaching and scholarly projects. I know how much discipline such devotion to scholarship requires, and I finished those conversations feeling stimulated by his ideas but humbled as I compared my own meager efforts to his.

Scholarship was not something he did to please the chair of his department, to win a raise from a grudging dean, or for the glory of it. It was in his bones to keep on learning and keep on sharing what he learned with his students. I cannot do better in summing up his achievement as a classical scholar than to quote another Roman historian, Corey Brennan: "Early on his innovative contributions to the history and archaeology of the Roman Bay of Naples - which impressively illustrated the possibilities of the emerging field of ancient 'regional' studies - won for him an international reputation and a broad network of contacts in Italy. That reputation was further solidified in the early eighties by major publications on the social dimensions of Roman commerce. One research interest that seems particularly prescient is his work (starting in the mid-eighties) on the history of the Roman communal meal, for there John D'Arms' contributions have sparked no end of subsequent inquiry."

His scholarly productivity, I might add, continued right to the end, and included the editing of hitherto unpublished Roman inscriptions, work demanding a high level of technical skill, and more wide-ranging interpretive studies such as his essay "Performing Culture: Roman Spectacle and the Banquets of the Powerful" in a volume entitled The Art of Ancient Spectacle. Here one can see very clearly the persistent transdisciplinarity of his work, his mastery of the disciplines of archaeology and epigraphy, and his ability to relate them to literature, social history, and the history of art. …

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