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Elaine Fantham 1933-2016

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Published Date

July 12, 2016


Elaine Fantham, Giger Professor of Latin Emerita, died on July 11 in Toronto at the age of 83.  She came to Princeton from the University of Toronto in 1986 and returned to that city, where her family lived, to make her home after her retirement in 2000.  Before Toronto, she had held positions at Indiana University and at St. Andrews, receiving her B. Litt and MA from Oxford in 1957 and her Ph.D from Liverpool in 1965.

Elaine seemed to have had at her instant command everything that could be known about any aspect of Latin literature or Roman life, and an inexhaustible energy for translating that knowledge into scholarship that was as engaging and original as it was authoritative.  From her early work on Plautus, she re-drew the map of Latin studies.  The renewed interest in Senecan tragedy, Lucan, and Ovid’s Fasti in particular owes much to the guidance and inspiration provided by her commentaries.  She was a pioneer both as a scholar of Roman women and as a woman scholar at times and places where women were scarcely represented in our field.  Her articles on aspects of the representation and realities of women at Rome remain fundamental for all work on this subject, and many students had their first introduction to the lived experience of Roman women through the chapters she wrote for Women in the Classical World: Image and Text (Oxford 1994).

Forthright and wonderfully entertaining, Elaine became a popular commentator about all things classical for National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition, and memorably used that context in 2003 to challenge the wisdom (or highlight the folly) of American military engagement in Iraq (

Elaine never stopped learning or teaching, producing no fewer than seven monographs and commentaries just since her retirement.  She continued to offer graduate courses at Toronto until 2008.  During her time at Princeton, her presence brought us many students who have gone on to become leaders in the field.  She possessed a fierce devotion to these students and took great pride in their many successes.  Her love of scholarship was matched by the enjoyment she took in the many friends, on literally every inhabited continent, with whom she shared it.  My colleagues at Princeton extend our deepest condolences to these friends and to her children and grandchildren.  For those interested in learning more about Elaine’s career, further details will be found at her website (  As more information becomes available about memorial arrangements, we will communicate it here.

Among her many services to the university, Elaine served as Chair of Classics from 1989-93, as Director of Graduate Studies from 1996-98, and as Director of the Program in the Ancient World during the same period.  She was President of the American Philological Society in 2004, having held the office of Vice-President of the Classical Association of Canada from 1982-84. Read more.