Gildersleeve the American classicist

Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve was born in Charleston, South Carolina, in October 1831, the son of the Rev. Benjamin Gildersleeve and the former Emma Louisa Lanneau.1 When he was about fourteen years old, he moved with his family to Richmond, Virginia, and lived there through the Civil War. Gildersleeve went to Baltimore, Maryland, in 1876 as professor of Greek at the Johns Hopkins University, which had just been founded. He died in Baltimore in January 1924. Gildersleeve married Elizabeth Fisher Colston in 1866; they had one son, Raleigh Colston Gildersleeve (1869-1944), who became an architect.

Gildersleeve was educated at Princeton, from which he was graduated in 1849, and Göttingen, where he received a Ph.D. in 1853. He taught at the University of Virginia from 1856 to 1876, when he was invited to join the faculty of Johns Hopkins, Daniel Coit Gilman's new university on the German model.

The most important event of Gildersleeve's life, however, was surely the Civil War. Gildersleeve served in the Confederate Army while continuing to teach at Virginia. He saw combat, and was wounded at Weyer's Cave, Virginia, in September 1864. As he puts it himself,

In that campaign I lost my pocket Homer, I lost my pistol, I lost one of my horses, and finally I came very near to losing my life by a wound which kept me five months on my back.
("Formative Influences," Forum 10 (February 1891), 607-617; reprinted in Briggs 1998, 33-49; quotation p. 48-49.)

Throughout his life Gildersleeve identified himself as a Southerner. In his 1892 essay "The Creed of the Old South," he insists that the most important issue in the war was the sovereign rights of the individual states. "The principle of States' rights was incarnate in the historical life of the Southern people," he says (Briggs 1998 p. 377). Near the end of the essay he explains: "That the cause we fought for and our brothers died for was the cause of civil liberty, and not the cause of human slavery, is a thesis which we feel ourselves bound to maintain whenever our motives are challeged or misunderstood, if only for our children's sake." (p. 388) Perhaps; certainly in the newspaper editorials he wrote for the Richmond Examiner during the war (collected in Briggs 1998), he repeatedly attempted to defend or justify the "peculiar institution."

Once the war was over, Gildersleeve returned to full-time teaching. When Daniel Coit Gilman began recruiting faculty for a new university, he offered Gildersleeve the position of professor of Greek. Gildersleeve became the first member of the faculty of Johns Hopkins, where classes began in the fall of 1876. He remained there until he retired.

Although like most classicists Gildersleeve taught both Greek and Latin, he was primarily a Hellenist. The commentary on Pindar's Olympian and Pythian odes is one of his major works, published by Harper and Brothers in 1885. Apparently it was not very profitable, so there is no companion volume on the Nemean and Isthmian odes. Gildersleeve wrote articles and reviews about Pindar throughought his career; a full bibliography can be found in Briggs 1992

Gildersleeve's Syntax of Classical Greek is his other major contribution to Greek studies. In addition he wrote a Latin grammar, a commentary on the Latin verse satires of Persius, and many articles and reviews. His most lasting legacy may be the journal he founded at Johns Hopkins, the American Journal of Philology (AJP), still considered one of the very best journals in the field.

Gildersleeve edited AJP for forty years, from 1880 to 1919. In the early days "philology" was broadly construed; the first volume includes articles and reviews on Sanskrit, German, French, Indo-European, English, and Frisian, as well as Latin and Greek. This was typical of the field; early issues of Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association show a similarly broad range. By 1936, the journal's self-description read "The American Journal of Philology is open to original communications in all departments of philology, and especially Greek and Latin studies" (AJP 57.1 (1936), inside front cover); very few articles outside Greek or Latin were appearing in its pages. In 1967 the focus narrowed again: "The American Journal of Philology publishes original contributions in the field of Greco-Roman antiquity, especially in the areas of philology, literature, history, and philosophy" (AJP 88.1 (1967), inside front cover). Although Gildersleeve's own contributions to the journal were classical, under his editorship the journal covered all the philological disciplines then studied in the US.

1 This section draws heavily on Ward W. Briggs, Jr., Soldier and Scholar .

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