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Thursday, August 21, 2014

DEATH | Sept. 10–David Grene, Classicist, Friend of Willem van Stockum

Prof. David Grene,
farmer and Greek scholar.
This day in 2002 died David Grene in Chicago, one day short of the first anniversary of 9/11. He was 89.

Grene would have been 100 years old last year. He was born in Dublin on April 13, 1913 and earned his M.A. degree in 1936 at Trinity College, Dublin.

Grene had previously befriended Dutchman Willem J. van Stockum at St. Andrew's College, a preparatory school in Dublin, and thereby became a friend also of Willem's Trinity roommate, my father, New York City-born Ervin R. ("Spike") Marlin.

The van Stockum bookstore, The
Hague. Photo by JT Marlin, c. 2006.
(Willem was named after a van Stockum ancestor, son of well-known publisher, art and book auctioneer, Wilhemus Petrus vS, who is the first buyer of van Gogh art to appear in the van Gogh Letters. That Willem J. van Stockum was a young friend of Vincent van Gogh even before he married a van Gogh relative, Carolien. In 1873-74 letters, when Carolien suffered a serious illness, Vincent expressed great sympathy and he wished Willem a happy August 8 birthday. Vincent's cousin and correspondent Theo van Gogh worked for W.P. van Stockum's corner-bookstore and publisher on the central square of The Hague.)

Grene adopted the United States as his own country as soon as finished his degree at Trinity in 1936. He was a professor of classics at the University of Chicago from 1937 until his death. He co-founded the Committee on Social Thought in 1941, teaching with people like Saul Bellow, Marc Chagall and T. S. Eliot, until his death. The University of Chicago's Committee web site says:
[Key leaders were] the historian John U. Nef, the economist Frank Knight, the anthropologist Robert Redfield, and Robert M. Hutchins, then President of The University. Their premises were... that students should learn ... by acquainting themselves with a select number of classic ancient and modern texts in an inter-disciplinary atmosphere, and should only then concentrate on a specific dissertation topic. Over the years, temporary and permanent members of the Committee have included Hannah Arendt, Saul Bellow, Allan Bloom, John Coetzee, Mircea Eliade, T.S. Eliot, François Furet, David Grene, Friederich Hayek, Leszek Kolakowski, Edward Levi, Paul Ricoeur, Charles Rosen, Harold Rosenberg, Edward Shils, Mark Strand, Karl J. Weintraub.
Grene was co-editor with Richmond A. Lattimore of the acclaimed Chicago series on the Ancient Greek Tragedies, having early on become well known for his accessible translations of Herodotus' History; Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes; Sophocles' Oedipus the King, Electra, and Philoctetes; and Euripides' Hippolytus. His memoir,  Of Farming and Classics was published posthumously (Chicago, 2006).

Grene's obituary in The New York Times notes that the writer Saul Bellow suggested Grene must have been "on a first-name basis with Sophocles and Aristophanes". It adds:
Mr. Grene's two residences reflected his seemingly separate lives: for more than 50 years, he spent half his year on a working farm (he did the work) in Ireland and the other half teaching at the University of Chicago's Committee on Social Thought...
Grene said he was attracted to Herodotus by his shrewd advice on farming.

April 9, 2008. My nephew Chris Oakley with jig-punk singer
Gregory Grene in NYC. We spoke about Spike Marlin's letter
about Pic Gwynne, September 25, 1942. Photo by JT Marlin.
Grene is the father of Gregory Grene, lead singer and accordionist for the Irish jig-punk band The Prodigals - "one of the world's greatest Celtic bands".

Gregory and his twin brother Andrew (who in 2008 was a peacekeeping strategist with the UN in Haiti) are the sons of David and his second wife Ethel, a doctor who translated  some poetry from the Dutch and also assembled David Grene's memoirs.

By his first wife, Marjorie Glicksman, a well-known Heidegger scholar, David Grene had two children, Nicky (Professor of English Literature at Trinity College, Dublin) and Ruth, a scientist at Virginia Tech.

Wedding photo, Spike Marlin and Hilda van Stockum with Pic Gwynne next
to Hilda. She and Willem vS were then planning to marry. Photo by Willem?
Gregory shares our interest in Willem van Stockum and Pic Gwynne, who was the love of van Stockum's life. They did not marry, a story told quite accurately in Robert Wack's time-travel novel, Time Bomber which was published by Boissevain Books this year.

Spike Marlin wrote in his letter to my Mom on September 25, 1942 that he had met Pic on Dublin's Grafton Street and spoke to her briefly, finding her to have become "schoolmarmish". This is the same impression that Gregory had from his father - that a light went out in the lives of both Pic and Willem when they did not get her father's blessing on Willem's proposal of marriage in about 1933 (Pic Gwynne was at the wedding of Hilda and Spike in 1932 - see photo).  Willem's disappointment in love seems to have contributed to his volunteering for the air force in WWII and his death as a bomber pilot in the week of D-Day, 1944.

On February 18, 2008, my wife Alice Tepper Marlin and I had a wonderful and nostalgic dinner with Gregory and Smitha, with their lovely daughter Andi on hand for the beginning of the evening. David Grene apparently spoke with Gregory many times during his life, with feeling, about Willem van Stockum and especially about Willem's disappointment in not marrying Pic Gwynn, the daughter of the Provost of Trinity College, Dublin. Willem's own great-great uncle (i.e., the uncle of Emily Boissevain) had also served as Provost of Trinity. But Provost Gwynn apparently did not favor the marriage and - since Willem and Pic chose not to follow the example of his great-grandparents, and elope - that was the end of it. David said that Willem never got over the disappointment. (See references to Pic in Willem's Letters, December 6, 1934 and January 26, 2005). It was after the shock of having to say goodbye to Pic that David Grene and Willem went together on an extended tour of Spain, perhaps in 1933 or 1934, before Willem went to join his sister in North America.

Gregory Grene found me through the Internet, because I had posted the previously cited transcribed letters of Willem van Stockum. They letters mention David Grene a few times, including in an invented story of a robbery.