Dancing in his Heart—my Father and Greek Culture

Professor Alexander Nazaryan, http://proof.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/30/the-tipsy-hero/, blogs in the New York Times about  Greek language, culture, literature, and philosophy. http://proof.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/30/the-tipsy-hero/ As I read his rich and erudite post, I thought of my father, Floyd Doud Shafer, who as a young man from rural Indiana attended Hanover College back in the 1930’s where he studied Classical languages, Greek and Latin. All of his adult life, well up past 85, he carried around small cards with Greek and Latin verb declensions or lists of adverb and adjective forms or vocabulary lists, which he studied diligently. If I needed a Latin phrase translated, I sent a letter, to which he gladly responded. Sadly, for him, and me, when I attempted Latin as a high school freshman, I hated it. I don’t think he ever forgave me.

At age 86, diagnosed with his final illness, he held my hand and asked me, “How does a philosopher come to die?” Since he had been an ordained Presbyterian minister for over six decades, I was startled momentarily by his question, until I thought about his life-long study of Greek philosophy, philosophers, and language. When the end came, he turned to his greatest love—Greek philosophy. How I wish he had been allowed the Greek tradition of sharing wine with friends. Instead, raised in a Calvinistic home, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calvini, with a mother who was a devout member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WCTU, the pleasure of a draft of beer or a glass of wine with friends, came into his life later, in his middle years.

Mostly, though, I thought about my father’s love of literature, language, and Classical cultures, especially Greece and Rome, and how he passed that love of language and literature along to me and especially to his oldest grandson Jim, now a scholar of Tibetan and Sanskrit, and other Asian languages and cultures. Interestingly, the Doud in my father’s name came from his mother’s family, the Douds being early Puritan emigrants, arriving in the Colony of Connecticut about 1636. Their dour outlook was carried to the Midwest by my father’s grandfather Davis Rogers Doud in 1848 when he pioneered in Illinois with his family. Maybe dour is an unfair term; they were serious and somber, and devout Christians.

My father was a wonderful preacher and writer, filling his sermons and articles with the history of the Reformation, quotes from Shakespeare, and his vast knowledge of the Greek and Roman civilizations and cultures. Well, of course, there was the Christian aspect, too. But, even as a child, I realized his Christianity was broad; he saw the Universe as God’s creation and could not abide the Fundamentalist version of Christianity. His family, founders of the Seventh Day Baptist Church on one line and strong Mennonites on another, with lines of Brethren, along with the Presbyterians, has a fascinating religious history. He carried that with him, impoverished child of the rural Midwestern Depression, studying first at Hanover College, then the Louisville Presbyterian Seminary, and the Union Seminary in NYC. Through all those years of rather grim Christianity, his love of the Greeks and their culture danced in his heart. And, at the end, he chose to die with their philosophy as his guide.

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