Jørgen Meyer

Remarks on The Life of Jørgen Meyer

I would like to thank Henriette for sharing my words with you today: for allowing me to express, in my not always comprehensible idiomatic American English, deep sorrow at Jørgen’s untimely death, and profound thanks for his remarkable life.

As soon as Henriette phoned me at mid-day on Monday, which was Labor Day in the US, to tell me that Jørgen had suddenly departed from our midst, I undertook the painful labor of conveying this sad news, first on email and later on Facebook, to the diversely constituted community of those who loved and cherished, valued and venerated Jørgen: members of my own  family (including my daughter and Jørgen’s god-daughter Vicky and her brother Nick as well as my husband Mark); my friends in the Washington, DC area where Jørgen spent high-octane-quality time each year; and above all our fellow classicists in my country and beyond its borders.

But I welcomed this duty as the very least that I could offer in recompense for the warm, supportive and gratifying friendship that Jørgen and Henriette have extended to me and my family over the past thirty plus years.

Jørgen was an intellectual soulmate who appreciated classical languages and literatures not only for their academic rigor but also for their creative potential, their receptivity to artists as well as scholars. He possessed a fabulous, wry, ironic sense of humor that enabled him to endure and transcend crushing physical challenges. And on every front he qualified as what we of the Jewish persuasion call a true Mensch.

My email referred to Jørgen as a stellar classicist and amazing human being, whose passing leaves a huge gap in many lives and an even larger hole in our hearts. To judge from the numerous responses, and condolences,that I have received, the universe he illuminated has dimmed for us, his star-gazing mourners, in myriad ways.

Professor Mary Louise Gill of Brown University, a distinguished ancient philosopher, wrote me (though we have never actually met) that she “liked and admimred Jørgen enormously and will miss him”, extolling the “splendid paper he wrote for her Blackwell Companion to Ancient Philosophy on Ancient Philosophy and the Doxographical Tradition,” and stating that she was “honored to contribute to his festschrift.” One of her Brown colleagues—- Professor David Konstan, also an ancient philosopher—-lamented the loss of “such a vital man.”

Professor John Duffy, formerly my colleague at the University of Maryland at College Park and now the chair of the Classics Department at   Jørgen’s US alma mater, Harvard University, praised Jørgen’s festschrift as evidence that Jørgen had made such a “positive impression in the US and abroad.”

The current chair of my own department, Professor Hugh Ming Lee, has requested that flowers, or a charitable contribution in Jørgen’s memory, be listed as from “The Department of Classics, University of Maryland, College Park” to recognize Jørgen’s lofty global scholarly stature, and publicize the pride our department members took in having him teach among us over many years.

Younger classicists have been just as quick to hymn Jørgen’s praises, personal and academic. Among them is Ivo Volt of Estonia, who hailed him as “a wonderful man”. My own student Wayne Millan recalls that Jørgen “could make (apparently) simple the most difficult concepts in language” and that he “broke the mold of Stoic virtue.”

Whether I am celebrating or lamenting, I am usually never at a loss for  ancient Greek and Latin quotes that suit the person and the occasion. But not this time.I will stick with the English language, as molded by the very greatest of our wordsmiths, and the parting message of his Horatio to an immortal Danish nobleman, as he bids what the Roman poet Catullus would call my “ave atque vale in perpetuum”: “Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

Judith P Hallett, Professor of Classics, University of Maryland, College ParkJørgen