The University community will remember Prof. David Roy Shackleton Bailey for his wealth of knowledge and contributions to the field of Latin literature.
And he will also be remembered for his colorful quirks.
In between translating some of the world’s greatest works of literature, the Greek and Latin professor read aloud to his 12 cats.
He even went as far as to dedicate one of his best-known translations to his cats.
“He loved his cats,” Greek and Latin Prof. Ruth Scodel said.
Bailey died at the age of 87 on Nov. 28.
“As a person he was legendary for a lot of reasons,” Scodel said.
Many call him the best Latinist in the world. Born in Lancaster, England, Bailey earned a doctorate in literature at Cambridge University and taught at Harvard University.
From 1968 to 1975, he taught at the University of Michigan and returned in 1988 to become an adjunct professor in the classics department.
Up until his death, he was still doing what he did best — editing Latin texts and publishing books on Latin translations.
“He was the kind of legendary English eccentric academic that you don’t find very often anymore,” Scodel said. “He knew Latin very well, and he had an amazing feel for the language.”
Bailey is recognized for his published translations of difficult texts, such as Cicero’s letters, which Greek and Latin Prof. H.D. Cameron calls a “masterpiece.”
He won the British Academy’s Kenyon Medal for Classical Studies, an award given every two years to an accomplished author of classical literature.
“His translations of Latin are superb in that they are usually very accurate and also just very readable and elegant,” Scodel said. “He had great style.”
Former students from Bailey’s 2002 seminar on Latin textual criticism reminisced about his personality.
“Shack just had a kind of aura, mystique about him,” University alum Steven Benjamin said.
Benjamin also characterized him as having an “old-school British personality.”
“He was a real character,” Benjamin continued. “Everybody who met Shack had Shack stories.”
Bailey’s mystique included other habits, including his use of a walking stick and daily afternoon strolls, which he took clad in shabby gray suits and tennis shoes.
Rackham student Sanjaya Thakur commented on the privilege of being in Bailey’s class:
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a class with him,” Thakur said. “His major works have been tremendously influential in the field of classics. He had the unique ability to translate ancient texts in a very modern way.”
[and I continue to marvel that I haven't seen an obituary for Naphtali Lewis]