Victor Bers

Professor of Classics

Victor Bers, A.B. The University of Chicago, Ph.D. Harvard University, faculty member at Yale since 1972: You have awed your colleagues and students with your intricate knowledge of Greek and kept us all on our toes with inimitable wit in several languages, ancient and modern. We will miss your ability to pierce through absurd and tedious business with laugh-out-loud aperçus.

Your early academic distinction was recognized with the award of a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, which took you to New College, Oxford for a second B.A. and made you a shrewd observer of anglici mores. Your subsequent career has been defined by astute and exacting scholarship, applied to the interpretation of ancient Greek syntax, Greek prose style, the language of Greek tragedy, and ancient Athenian law. In addition to your many books, your articles on various aspects of Athenian law remain staples of research and teaching several decades after their initial publication, even as you continue to publish in this field.

While your scholarly acumen has awed us, countless students and colleagues have benefited from your uncommon kindness, and you have shown great generosity in welcoming students from all over the world to the department and to your home. You invariably take an interest in students’ backgrounds, listen to their stories, and remember them. In your retirement you take with you a living archive of many personal histories.

Your kindness toward many colleagues has been shared with the wider Yale-New Haven community. We single out your participation in the Yale-New Haven Yiddish Reading Circle, which you joined in the 1980s and continue to support and sustain, giving participants rides to the weekly meetings. As the child of Holocaust survivors, your active propagation of Yiddish, your first language, is part of your commitment to remembering the past as an intellectual and political imperative.

Throughout your time at Yale, you have been a staunch defender of faculty governance, and a keen observer and commentator on politics, informed in equal parts by your expert knowledge of Athenian democracy, your ancestral ties to the Jewish Bund in Latvia, and your father’s human rights activism.

When visiting scholars ask in hushed voices, “Is that Victor Bers?” we smile inwardly at their reverential tones and think of the irreverent humor for which you are well known by all who have worked and studied with you. In an age of galloping self-promotion in academia, you have remained resolutely modest and impatient of conceit (we imagine you may let slip a grimace or two as you read this tribute). A peerless scholar of Greek among your contemporaries, honored as a teacher and mentor, your friends hope that in retirement you will continue to edify and sustain us with your erudition and humor.

Tribute by Penelope Laurans