Classics Professor Daniel Levine reflects on his Wunderkammer in Kimpel Hall
By Daniel Levine
Photos by Russell Cothren
Last week during “Greek Hour,” one of my students looked at my bookshelf and abruptly said, “Are those boxer shorts with the Grinch’s face on them?” After a pause, I said, “Yes, they are. They’re right next to my two copies of Quomodo Invidiosulus Nomine Grinchus Christi Natalem Abrogaverit (How the Grinch Stole Christmas).” A friend brought me the book and the shorts as a Chanukah present 11 years ago. How do I remember? I don’t. Luckily, there is an inscription in the book that records the giver and the date. I offered the shorts to my student as a gift, but he declined: they were much too large for him.
I have a big corner office. I never measured it until today, and I did so by pacing it off. Kimpel Hall 502 is approximately 4 by 7 large paces. It has narrow floor-to-ceiling windows on the north and west, and bookshelves on all four sides. I never counted my collection, which has books from my teen years. To several of these older volumes I attached book plates that my mother gave me. This one is from the inside cover of The Son of Tarzan, 1917.
When I think about the book plates and the Grinch boxers, I realize how many of the things in my office are gifts from others. My grandfather Sheldon Haas Blank was a scholar and offered me many of his books. I have his 12-volume set of The Golden Bough, and his Hebrew Bible, with his initials embossed on the cover. The cover has an inscription by my father, who evidently gave the book to his father-in-law. He quotes Proverbs 19:18: “To Daddy. Chastise your son,/For there is still hope. – Joseph”
I have a German comic book version of Ovid’s Metamorphoses with Latin captions, books on Greek and Roman archaeology, and studies of Judaism from ancient to modern times. There are works on ancient Mesopotamia, and dictionaries in many languages. I have desk calendars from each of the 37 years I have used this office. I have Archie and Spiderman comics in Modern Greek.
Then there are pictures: family, friends, students, mentors, colleagues and even a politician. There are little statues: replicas of Greek Cycladic, Classical, geometric art, and a 2nd-century Roman terra cotta caricature of a pedagogue from Germany. There are empty bottles of Aphrodite ouzo and Hercules wine, and large cans that once held “Hermes Olive Oil” and “Pompeiian Olive Oil.” On a bookshelf is an empty box of ET TU CAESAR (a Caesar salad mix).
Student work decorates my office, too. There is a putty-on-cardboard map of Greece, two ceramic jars with inscribed lines from the Iliad, a replica steel sword, a facsimile Mycenaean boar’s tusk helmet, a hoplite helmet made of duct tape, and a student-made red-figure oenochoe (wine pitcher) portraying Achilles pursuing Hector.
Most of the furniture in my office is old wood, which I like very much.
On the highest shelves are boxes and boxes of correspondence from friends and family. We used to write a lot on paper.