(tip o’ the pileus to Barbara Saylor Rodgers):
William F. Wyatt Jr., 78, professor emeritus and former chairman of the department of classics at Brown University, and a prolific contributor to the op-ed page of The Providence Journal, died March 25 in The Miriam Hospital, Providence.
Wyatt’s op-ed pieces over the years ranged across an eclectic landscape in which he tilled such fields as the culture of Fall River, road rage, famous wartime phrases, Latin, and the importance of mothers talking to their youngsters.
Addressing the rites of Halloween in a 1997 article, Wyatt discussed “hysteron proteron,” the reversal of the logical order of ideas in a phrase, such as in “I die, I faint, I fail.” Wyatt said the familiar children’s plea, “Trick or treat,” provided another example: “The statement, were it to be well-formed logically, would be: ‘If you do not give me a treat, I shall perform a [possibly unpleasant] trick.’ ”
Also that year, he addressed road rage and advanced the proposition that the phrase’s popularity had to do with its “alliterative quality.” Had the phenomenon carried the moniker “road anger” or “street ire,” he wrote, perhaps, it would not have caught on so universally. He then went on to wonder “why we do not have freeway fury, highway hate, detour disgust [and] turnpike tedium.”
His final contribution came in 2008, several years after his retirement.
“His mind was hard to contain,” his son John Wyatt, of Dover, Mass., said by telephone. “He really took an interest and a curiosity in virtually everything.”
The classics ran in his family. Born in Medford, Mass., he was the son of William F. Wyatt and Natalie (Gifford) Wyatt, both professors of the genre.
Wyatt graduated magna cum laude from Bowdoin College in 1953 and obtained a master’s degree and a doctorate from Harvard University. He served as a teaching assistant at Harvard and Tufts University and became an assistant professor at the University of Washington before joining the Brown faculty in 1967.
Wyatt took over the chairmanship of the department of classics in 1972, a post he held several times. He also served as associate dean of faculty and faculty parliamentarian. He was a visiting professor at the University of Crete in the spring of 1985, and at Clare Hall, a member college of Cambridge University, Cambridge, England, in 1984-85.
He was the author or translator of seven books, including “Anthropology and the Classics,” 1977, and “Teaching the Classics,” 1992. In 1989, he received the Takis Antoniou Prize for best translation of a modern Greek literary work, one of many such honors. In 1997, he won Brown University’s Harriet W. Sheridan Award for distinguished contribution to teaching and learning.
Wyatt led a number of Brown expeditions to Greece and Turkey; could instruct professionals in various forms of Greek, Demotic and Latin; and could work with Sanskrit, Russian and Romance languages.
In addition to his academic duties, Wyatt was founder and president of the Blackstone Park Improvement Association, vice chairman of the Rhode Island Committee for the Humanities, and president of the Narragansett Boat Club. He was president of the Westport Historical Society and head of volunteers at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. John Wyatt said his father transcribed and annotated seamen’s journals from 19th-century whaling voyages that are on display in the museum.
Other survivors include his wife, Sally, and children Nathaniel, of San Francisco, and Lydia, of Minneapolis. A private family burial will be followed by an outdoor reception at 11 a.m., July 30, at 241 River Rd,, Westport.