Donald Kagan is the NEH's Jefferson Lecturer for the year and as such, has a pile of web material suddenly online devoted to him. The obvious starting place is NEH's 'fansite' for Kagan, which has biographical information etc. (with one of the better welcome pages I've seen for this sort of thing). Then we can turn to Humanities Magazine, which has a couple of items ... first is an interview with Kagan (done by NEH Chairman Bruce Cole). It's rather lengthy and has numerous items which could be excerpted as teases, but this one should suffice for now:

Cole: What led you to your interest in the Greeks, in particular, of all the possibilities there?

Kagan: As I read about them, more and more I became struck by certain aspects that were central to their culture. When I try to explain it to people, I use the term "the tragic spirit." The Greeks, unlike most people, were very well aware of two things at the same time. One is that human beings are capable of truly great things--by "great" they meant great good things and great terrible things. They accepted that. At the same time, human beings were not divine. They were mortal, and they were capable, as I say, of terrible things as well as good.

Most civilizations have coped with the problem of death by diminishing it or denying it. Either they say, well, yes, we die, but it's not important because we're not important. The other is to deny mortality, and to say, no, we can be immortal in certain circumstances.

The Greeks really had no sense of immortality. At the same time, they maintained a sense of the importance of human beings and the great beauty of life. In other words, they faced the fact that death would come, and it was terrible, but the fact that death would come did not mean that what we did while we were alive was unimportant. That attracted me enormously.

Another more-biographical piece in the same issue is written by Barry Strauss, which includes, inter alia:

Kagan has certainly left a mark on us. Among Yale graduate students who worked with him in my day alone, half a dozen or more of us earn our living as university professors of ancient history or classics, and half a dozen others are professional historians of Germany, Italy, Russia, or the United States. But our numbers also include a top executive of one of the nation's leading charitable organizations and the American ambassador to one of the world's largest Muslim states. If we were to add Yale undergraduates who wrote a senior thesis with Kagan in that era, we would find, among others, an archaeologist, a historian of the modern European military, a U.S. attorney, and an urbanologist. Following Kagan's footsteps as an all-rounder, two of those who have not pursued careers in ancient history have nonetheless published well-regarded scholarly books about ancient Greece. Two of the professors double as rowing coaches. And this, of course, is to say nothing of Kagan's students from the 1960s, when he taught at Cornell, or at Yale from 1980 until today.

The whole issue is accessible, of course ....