d.m. Trevor Hodge

The Ottawa Citizen does it properly:

Studying ancient Greece and Rome took Trevor Hodge far beyond verbs and nouns. He found himself doing thesis work at the top of the Parthenon.

His thesis at Cambridge University was on the wooden pieces of Greek roofs — long vanished, but identifiable by the cuts in stone where beams had once fitted.

Nervous about heights, he learned to gauge whether the wind was too strong for climbing by first ascending a nearby minaret left by Turkish occupiers. But he still spent a lot of time looking down from an uncomfortable height.

The lessons stuck. Hodge used that grounding to build a career as a professor of classics at Carleton University, specializing in the architecture and technology of the ancient Mediterranean world.

His name also appeared frequently in this newspaper, where he wrote many columns and some letters, often with a humorous twist. When people complained that modern Olympics don’t match the purity of the ancient Greek games, he set them straight on what the ancients were really like.

He was also prominent on radio, especially as a writer and interviewer of CBC’s Ideas series.

Hodge died in Ottawa on Feb. 16 at the age of 81. His funeral was Feb. 22 in Ottawa.

The professor was a mechanic’s son from Northern Ireland, raised and educated in Belfast and then, thanks to a scholarship, at Cambridge. He also studied at the British School of Archaeology in Athens (in 1952) and British School at Rome in the two years after that.

After graduating from Cambridge in 1956, he pursued one of his lifelong passions. Trevor Hodge loved railroads, and worked for three months in a signal box. “He was one of those British railways buffs,” said his wife, Colette. (Later in Canada he found there weren’t enough railways. He used to read the bus timetables as a poor substitute.)

His first jobs were all temporary contracts teaching in the United States, at Stanford and Cornell Universities and the University of Pennsylvania.

Then Carleton called. It had recently established a permanent campus and was setting up a classics department. The staff so far was one person. Hodge took the offer, doubling the department’s size.

In the early years he intended to return to Britain, but kept going at Carleton. “He was always a very happy Canadian,” Colette Hodge said.

Engineers who had to take one arts course flocked to his courses on ancient science and technology. Their essays were a little rough, but they got to build things with a professor who knew how workers with hand tools made buildings that are still standing after 2,000 years.

“They were asked to build models of an ancient piece of machinery, which were very, very fascinating,” his wife recalls. Many built catapults. And the professor took no half-measures; he sometimes assigned them to extract the metal from ore, getting a taste of what ancient engineers had to know.

He was also a skilled draftsman.

In a eulogy, his friend and colleague Terry Robinson remarked that Hodge studied “the phantom factor. Trevor loved to dabble with topics for which the evidence was … no longer present.” The wooden beams from roofs rotted long ago; the aqueducts have mostly gone dry.

But his scholarship brought them back. His books included The Woodwork of Greek Roofs; Roman Aqueducts and Water Supply; and Ancient Greek France, which deal with Greek colonies that predated the Roman Empire.

The aqueduct book examines how Roman waterworks operated, how the aqueducts were planned and built both above and below ground, and where the water travelled after it left the main duct. He dealt with aqueducts in France (the Roman Pont du Gard is the illustration on the cover, drawn by Hodge himself), Italy, Germany, Spain, North Africa, Turkey and Israel.

In retirement, he sometimes took jobs lecturing on cruise ships.

“He was a bit of an actor,” his wife says. If he needed to climb up on a desk and show the students what a Greek statue looked like, he would happily strike the pose.

And he had 120 published columns and letters in the Citizen. His final letter, in October, poked some fun at competing theories of where the Mona Lisa was painted, based on the background hills: “If this is open season on the Mona Lisa may I put forward my own conviction, based on my research, that the background of the Mona Lisa can only be the Gatineau Hills as viewed looking east from Highway 366 between Perkins and Val-des-Monts. The Mona Lisa is thus plainly a Québécoise and I feel sure that her famously enigmatic smile must come from her reflecting on Quebec sovereignty.”

“He delighted in the introduction of unexpected or surprising insights arising out of his own wide-ranging research,” said Terry Robinson. “He loved the dramatic element: in a public lecture on the famous question of the shield signal at the Battle of Marathon (a theory that someone sent a signal by reflecting sunlight), he had the auditorium darkened and then proved scientifically that the generally accepted tradition of a flashing shield signal was optically impossible.”

He leaves his wife; daughters Anne, Christine and Claire; and three grandchildren.

The original article includes a nice photo of ATH posing with a catapult.