d.m. Trevor Hodge

From the Globe and Mail (who seem rather late with this):

As a classics scholar, A. Trevor Hodge had a negative approach to scientific enquiry: He specialized in things that were no longer there. He examined the wooden roofs in Greek temples, for example, decipherable only through cuts in stone where beams once fit.

He studied ancient Roman aqueducts in France, Germany, Spain, North Africa, Turkey and Israel.

Even the famous shield signal said to have been used to warn Greeks of a Persian invasion at the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. met with his critical eye.

“It was an ambiguous statement by Herodotus, suggesting they flashed a shield, like a primitive heliograph,” said Terry Robinson, Hodge’s colleague. But Hodge debunked this theory, calling it an optical impossibility, while standing on the crest of a hill at Carleton University in Ottawa, with Robinson holding the shield.

“Trevor was sui generis, like unto himself alone,” Robinson said. “He was lively and entrepreneurial, never slow to promote his highly original lines of research. Always ready to laugh and find a quirky angle for any situation.”

John Oleson, a former student of Hodge’s who teaches classical archeology in Victoria, commented on his mentor’s lively imagination and sense of humour. “He even hid small, erudite jokes in the detailed indices to his books.”

Hodge edited compilations of essays and wrote Ancient Greek France, The Woodwork Of Greek Roofs and Roman Aqueducts and Water Supply.

Trevor Hodge died peacefully at his Ottawa home on Feb. 16 at the age of 81.

He was born in Belfast on July 30, 1930. His father, Alfred Hodge, worked as a mechanic using skills he learned as an ambulance driver during the First World War. His mother, Agnes, stayed at home tending to their bright son.

As a young train buff, he’d climb the footplate of steam locomotives to hitch a ride and check the schedule by counting telegraph poles with a stopwatch as they whizzed by. At the other end of his life he wrote a murder mystery set on a British train. With this book, he poked good-hearted fun at Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, filling in gaps in her knowledge of railway operations.

After graduating from the Royal Belfast Academical Institution in 1947, he won a scholarship to Cambridge, graduating in 1955 with a PhD in classical archeology. He had spent at year in Athens at the British School of Archeology, with the Parthenon as his research lab, and another year studying in Rome.

During the next few years he had temporary teaching assignments at Stanford, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania. In 1960, he was offered a permanent teaching position in the newly established Classics Department at Carleton University in Ottawa, where he remained for 35 years.

With his thick Ulster accent, dramatic gestures – like leaping on the desk to strike a pose – and colourful bow ties, Hodge was a familiar presence on campus. One student recalled an early lecture where, with a coy smile, he taught the class to say “go to hell” in ancient Greek. Later, he insisted they memorize the name Bucephalus, Alexander the Great’s horse.

In 1965, he married Colette Fabre, a young nurse visiting Ottawa from Paris. In no time he added French to the other languages in which he was fluent: English, Italian, Latin and Greek.

The most popular course he taught was Ancient Science and Technology. Engineering students flocked to these classes, keen to fire a catapult, construct a trireme (a Hellenistic-era warship), or test the bite of a double-bitted axe. After a while, Carlton complained there was simply not enough room to store props for these projects.

Hodge sometimes left the lecture hall to expand his audience and popularize his teachings. He wrote docudramas for CBC Radio’s Court of Ideas. Using live actors, he and co-host Lister Sinclair aired dramatized testimonials with historic figures appealing the verdict of history. Nero, for example, was charged with mass murder, genocide, matricide, bad singing, bad violin playing, arson and cheating in Olympic games. Before the verdict was decided, however, Nero set the CBC on fire.

Other episodes had Cleopatra challenging Augustus Caesar, Pontius Pilate banging heads with St. Mark and the Greek poet Sappho stunning the world with her love poetry from the island of Lesbos.

In 1986, he won the Actra Ottawa Award for best radio documentary writer. The winning episode was Searching for Atlantis.

Hodge was also known for his letters to the editor in the Ottawa Citizen and The Globe and Mail. More than 100 such letters appeared in print beginning in 1979 and continuing until a month before his death. These letters were sometimes cranky, sometimes witty, and nearly always well crafted.

Here’s a classic Hodge, recently published in The Globe and Mail regarding Occupy Toronto: “I note that when Canadians occupy a square in Toronto that is anarchy, and when Egyptians occupy a square in Cairo that is democracy.”

He liked to provide readers with a stiff challenge to think. “His technique was to look at some controversy that was going on or generate some controversy and then approach it from his own angle,” said Robinson.

He quibbled with Canadian nationalists over the legend of the Avro Arrow and what he believed to be the myth of its potential greatness.

Calling former prime minister John Diefenbaker a hero for cancelling the project in 1958, he pointed out that the Arrow was a warplane that might have been used in the Vietnam War. “Vietnamese villages napalmed by Canadian Arrows?” he wrote. “Is that something we would want to boast about?”

In 1997, Hodge retired from Carleton to become a professor emeritus and distinguished research professor. When he wasn’t writing letters, he was working on his murder mystery, which was set on the London-Manchester railway line in the 1950s with a know-it-all, but charming, railwayman cum detective.

He also lectured aboard cruise ships, including on a world educational cruise in 2000 and several Caribbean junkets. He kept his bow ties nicely pressed for formal nights with Colette and the captain. For professor Hodge, life was forever a lark.

“Darling, you’ve gone to sleep with your glasses on!” Colette would admonish. “Yes,” he’d respond, “So that I can see my dreams better.”

Hodge leaves his wife, his daughters Anne, Christine and Claire and granddaughters Gabrielle, Morganne and Maya.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s