Campus & Community

Classicist, Loeb Library trustee Stewart dies at 86

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Distinguished American classicist Zeph Stewart, who was the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities Emeritus at Harvard University, passed away at his home in Watertown, Mass., on Dec. 1 at 86.

Stewart was associated with Harvard for 60 years, beginning with his arrival as a graduate student in classics in 1947. Over the course of his career he was at various times a Junior Fellow of the Society of Fellows, master of Lowell House, professor of Greek and Latin, chairman of the Department of the Classics, trustee of the Loeb Classical Library, director of Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C., and a trustee of the Episcopal chaplaincy at Harvard. In addition, he was president of both the American Philological Association and the Teachers of Classics in New England.

Born on Jan. 1, 1921, in Jackson, Mich., Stewart was the son of a prominent political family and younger brother of Potter Stewart, who later became a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Like his brother before him, Zeph Stewart attended the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn.; he was a member of the class of 1939. In later life, as was typical of him, he served as a trustee of the school and received the 1964 Alumni Award. After Hotchkiss, Stewart went on to Yale, where he graduated with highest honors in classics in December 1942.

In January 1943, Stewart entered the Army, having been recruited for his linguistic skills by Edwin O. Reischauer. He learned Japanese and did two stints of service, first working in the area of military intelligence. During these years (1943–47), spent initially in Washington, D.C., and then in London and Paris, he went from private to captain. He was recalled for active duty during the Korean War (1951–53) as part of a NATO delegation, working on diplomatic liaison, again in London and Paris.

In 1953, Stewart joined the faculty of Harvard’s Department of the Classics as assistant professor of Greek and Latin, and began to pursue his research and publishing work in Latin literature and manuscript studies. His early endeavors were centered on some of the major Latin authors, including Virgil, Horace, and Plautus, and he dealt also with paleographical issues. He had a lifelong interest in Greek philosophy and religion, particularly the transition to Christianity. He edited several volumes in these areas, most notably the “Essays on Religion and the Ancient World of Arthur Darby Nock” (Oxford, 1972).

In each of the many appointments he held, Stewart immediately set about to improve the intellectual, communal, and fiscal aspects of the institution in question. He did so because he cared about the field of classics, about libraries, about teaching and research — and about the well-being of colleagues and students at all levels.

Jeffrey Henderson of Boston University, the present general editor of the Loeb Classical Library, fondly remembers Stewart as “teacher, mentor, and true friend for nearly 40 years.” He recalls the crucial role his mentor played — as executive trustee of the library for over a quarter of a century — in helping to develop a renewal plan in the 1970s to put the Loeb Library on a sound financial footing. “Indispensable,” according to Henderson, “were Zeph’s vision and respect for what the library should be, his keen judgment about the right projects and the right scholars to tackle each one, and his matchless tact and skill at recruiting potential authors, or letting them down gently when they were not right for the job.”

Richard Thomas of Harvard’s Classics Department, who succeeded Stewart as executive trustee of the library, points to the direct and impressive result of this reordering and revitalization, namely, the establishment of the Loeb Classical Library Foundation, which currently provides considerable financial assistance for the research of classicists worldwide.

As master of Lowell House, Stewart greatly emphasized the importance of community. He welcomed the advent of women into the house. He endeavored to modernize the college rules and regulations, and was particularly successful in integrating Harvard faculty into the life of the house.

Stewart became renowned for his administrative skills and financial expertise. Over the years he held eight different appointments in offices and on committees of the American Philological Association (APA). Adam Blistein, the current executive director of the APA, recalls the immediate and dramatic effect of Stewart’s impact as financial trustee of the association. Ward Briggs of the University of South Carolina and a serving financial trustee of the APA credits him largely with radical changes that helped to restore the finances to a robust condition.

Stewart was president of the American Philological Association (1983); a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (vice president 1979–82); and visiting professor at Hamilton College and the University of Colorado. In 2000, he received the Barlow-Beach Award of the Classical Association of New England “for exceptional service to the Classics in New England.”

He is survived by his wife, Diana, with whom he offered cherished hospitality to successive generations of scholars and students, and by two daughters, Sarah and Mary, a son, Christopher, and two grandchildren. 0