20 December 2005

Shackleton Bailey, R.I.P.

December 19, 2005


Gloria Negri, Globe Staff

Professor David Roy Shackleton Bailey, whose name in scholarly circles is closely associated with that of the Roman philosopher and orator Marcus Tullius Cicero, died Nov. 28 of Alzheimer's disease at Heartland Health Care Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. He was 87. He had lived in Ann Arbor since retiring from Harvard in 1988.

"Shakleton Bailey was a prodigious scholar, a towering figure in textual criticism and the editing of Latin literature, and a brilliant student of Roman Republican history, prosopography and society," Richard F. Thomas, chairman of the Department of Classics at Harvard, said in a statement.

Prosopography is a study that identifies and draws relationships between characters or people within a specific historical, social, or literary context.

Dr. Shackleton Bailey, who did not hyphenate his surnames and was often called, "Shack," was also a well-known cat lover. In 1965, he dedicated Volume 1 of his edited "Cicero's Letters to Atticus" to his cat, Donum, which is Latin for gift. The dedication read, "Donum Donorum," or gift of gifts.

Sometimes, friends said, Dr. Shackleton Bailey got along better with cats than with people. But he was discriminating.

"As everywhere," Thomas said, "he applied judgment as he believed did the cats who particularly took to him."

Kristine Zvirbulis, Dr. Shackleton Bailey's wife, said Donum was among three of his favorite felines. After Donum came a cat named Max, his "evening cat," who sat on his lap and knew when to jump down at the professor's bedtime. His "day cat," who spent the time in his study with him, was Poppaea, named for Nero's wife.

"Shack was a kind of gentle curmudgeon with a wicked sense of humor," his wife said.

Thomas described him as, "quirky, difficult, cultured in profound and complex ways, endowed with a rare and keen sense of humor, now cutting, now playful, a critic of human foibles and a man whose dedication to logic, reason, judgment, and the primacy of intelligence made those in his presence careful of their thoughts and words."

However, social events were generally not Dr. Shackleton Bailey's forte. "He did love manhattans and martinis until the very end," his wife said. But he was adverse to small talk. "He once told me he went to a dinner party that was so boring he spent the time removing cat hairs from his suit."

Zeph Stewart, a retired Harvard classics professor, recalled a party that he and his wife hosted, partly for Dr. Shackleton Bailey when he arrived at Harvard. He "stared at his shoes" the whole evening and on the way out thanked a woman who was not the hostess. "My wife thought the party a disaster," Stewart said. "But the next day, a woman who had attended phoned and told her she had "never seen Shackleton so animated."

While Dr. Shackleton Bailey might have seemed the absent-minded professor on social occasions, he was far from that in his field. "Scholars, students, and the general educated reader will continue to be indebted to Shackleton Bailey, particularly for his work on Cicero's letters, our best evidence for the twilight years of the Roman Republic," Thomas said. He was "brilliant at representing the idiom" of Cicero. He edited or critiqued more than 50 volumes and wrote more than 200 articles and reviews.

Dr. Shackleton Bailey, who never used his first or middle names, was born in England. He attended Lancaster Royal Grammar School, where his father, a mathematician, was headmaster. He read classics at Gonville and Caius College at Cambridge, where he earned his bachelor's degree.

He lived through the Blitz in London during World War ll while working with military intelligence, either decoding or developing codes, according to Raymond Detter of Ann Arbor, a longtime friend. Once, when Detter asked Dr. Shackleton Bailey what it was like to live through the Blitz, he replied, "It was easier to get into the restaurants."

After the war, Dr. Shackleton Bailey was for 20 years Cambridge University Reader in Ancient Tibetan. Then, he returned to the classics as a fellow of Jesus College in Cambridge and later of Gonville and Caius College, where he was also bursar. In 1967, he married Hilary Amis, the former wife of author Kingsley Amis, and moved to Ann Arbor where he taught at the University of Michigan.

There, Dr. Shackleton Bailey was known not only for his scholarship but for his eccentricities, Detter said.

"He would stand on his head in the corner and sing the German song, `Horst Wessel.' "

He became professor of Latin at Harvard in 1975. He was a doctor of literature of Cambridge University and the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University of Dublin.

When Dr. Shackleton Bailey retired and returned to Ann Arbor in 1988, he became an adjunct professor at the University of Michigan. In 1994, after his first marriage ended in divorce, he married Kristine Zvirbulis, who shared his love for cats.

Dr. Shackleton Bailey remained a legend even after retiring, Thomas said. After his illness was diagnosed, he continued to work on his editing through last summer, he said.

He never lost his distinguished English accent, nor his quirky habits, said Detter, who often dined with Dr. Shackleton Bailey.

"Shack was not the most gregarious person in the world," he said. "He was a bit of a miser, and when he was out walking, his head was always down looking for money. He would put what he found in jars at home. He would also steam off stamps that hadn't been postmarked and use them again."

He was an avid poker player, but never minded losing at the game.

Dr. Shackleton Bailey was a fellow of the British Academy, a member of the American Philosophical Society, an honorary member of the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, and a recipient of the British Academy's Kenyon Medal for Classical Studies.

In spite of all the honors bestowed for his scholarship, Detter said, Dr. Shackleton Bailey was "never pretentious."

A memorial service will be held in late February at his Ann Arbor home.