Pieter Jacobus Conradie: An Appreciation

By Claassen, Jo-Marie | Acta Classica, Annual 2008 | Go to article overview

Pieter Jacobus Conradie: An Appreciation


Claassen, Jo-Marie, Acta Classica


Pieter Jacobus Conradie is one of the few Afrikaans-speaking male South African Classicists who came to the discipline because of love for the Classics and not because of a calling to the ministry. That is, he did not discover Greek at university when starting theological studies, but was already inspired at school by his Latin teacher to a life-long love affair with the ancient world. It was during Piet's stint at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands that this love affair found a new direction: Greek mythology as it was told and retold in dramatic form, not only by the ancients, but as it still is today, and even in modern African theatre.

As eldest son of a Dutch Reformed minister, the young Piet Conradie had a varied schooling, as the family moved from manse to manse. He was born in Grahamstown on February 1931, lived in Loxton in the Karoo for a short while, and then the family moved to Rondebosch in the Cape. Piet matriculated at the Nassau High School in Rondebosch, after which he enrolled for a BA at the University of Cape Town. The late Professor J.P.J. Van Rensburg, Conradie's predecessor in the Chair of Greek at the University of Stellenbosch, on occasion told of the concern with which the elder Conradie came to consult him about his son's apparently rather futile choice of career: he wanted to become a 'Classics lecturer'. Young Piet was to prove his father's concern gloriously fruitless, for the brilliant young undergraduate, who moved from the University of Cape Town to Stellenbosch after his first year, passed his BA with Greek and Latin cum laude at the University of Stellenbosch (1950), and went on to graduate studies, ending with a D. Litt. et Phil. from Utrecht (1958).

Piet's other subjects for his first degree were History and Afrikaans, and he also successfully completed third-year Hebrew during the first year of his MA studies, while already teaching a variety of courses in Classics. His teaching career started in 1951, when he took over teaching Latin at beginners' level. In the first years the young 'temporary junior lecturer' had to teach courses in Beginners' Latin and Greek IB (a course designed for the less able Greek students who were obliged to reach a certain sub-minimum of proficiency for the sake of their theological studies). His own stint in Holland was from September 1954 until the beginning of 1958, and on his return, young Piet grew bolder and demanded to be allowed to teach thirdyear Greek (when the unwilling, force-fed theologians had gone their way and only dedicated students remained).

Piet Conradie had 'discovered' Greek tragedy while reading for his dissertation, which was published at Utrecht in 1958 as Herakles en die Griekse Tragedie. His interest had previously been piqued by a production by Fred Engelen and Tine Balder of the Antigone of Anouilh. In Holland part of his prescribed reading was the whole of Thucydides, all of Sophocles, all Aeschylus's works, but 'only five plays of Euripides', he says. Soon after his return Piet Conradie became one of the academics instrumental in instituting Classical Culture as a separate course of studies at Stellenbosch. He considers the success and popularity of the three-year course in Greek drama that remained his particular domain until his retirement in 1994, as his crowning achievement, and it also was his 'greatest love'. It was a joy to him to awaken young minds to the magnificence of the ancient dramas, and to help them to explore, from first to third year, the great Nachlebung that Greek theatre has acquired through the centuries, from Anouilh and Goethe to Hofmannsthal and O'Neill, and more recently, various African playwrights.

Piet has wonderful memories from a long and distinguished teaching career. On being asked to recall some of the funniest incidents, Piet remembers one young lady who always requested a postponement of each assignment and every test, until she was about to go overseas, and had to meet his deadline. …

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