Monday, April 18, 2016

Legendary Teacher: Gilbert Highet

Best teaching advice I ever got: "Never be boring."

Columbia University Alumni Magazine
"When Gilbert Highet entered the classroom, one felt as though the curtain were going up on a Broadway play, with a living legend in the lead. He reminded students (not surprisingly) of a British Army officer— of the kind portrayed by Jack Hawkins in motion pictures—tall, erect, handsome, clean-shaven, and impeccably dressed. He consistently gave his audience a commanding performance, whether he spoke or sang or stood or walked, with a presence comparable to that of Laurence Olivier or John Houseman. With his Scottish-English burr and his riveting, rapid-fire delivery, he dazzled students with his dynamic lectures, brilliant in their organization and brimming with critical insights. The inspired anecdotes, the poignant pauses, and the sudden bursts of laughter formed part of a magnificent, comprehensible structure that gripped the heart and held one spellbound. He loved Vergil and taught the Aeneid (in the original Latin) every year to packed classes; he loved his “darling” Juvenal and the Roman satirists for exposing decadence and corruption. He detested Plato and Julius Caesar—the one, for outlining the principles of dictatorship; the other, for becoming the accomplished dictator who crushed the life out of the Roman Republic. Imitating a Roman soldier, he brandished a window pole; impersonating Marius at the gates of Rome, he crouched down, then sprang across the floor to battle his great rival Sulla. With his powerful and speculative mind, he gave his students an extraordinary intellectual experience, capped by a showmanship perhaps unparalleled in the American college classroom."

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