Theodore F. Brunner, a retired UC Irvine classics professor who helped establish the world's largest computerized database of the Greek language, revolutionizing the way scholars research ancient texts, has died. He was 72.
Brunner died Wednesday of lung cancer at his home in Laguna Beach, his wife and research partner, Luci Berkowitz, said Saturday.
A man who had spent his life immersed in Greek and Latin letters took an unusual career detour after retiring in 1998: He became a reserve officer for the Laguna Beach Police Department, patrolling the streets and enforcing the letter of the law.
In 1966 Brunner arrived at UC Irvine, which was then just a year old, to start the classics department and become its first chairman. Six years later, then-graduate student Marianne McDonald, the daughter of Zenith TV and radio pioneer Eugene F. McDonald, gave the university $1 million to create a computerized database of Greek literature.
The goal of the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, launched in 1972 with Brunner as its founding director, was to collect all of the Greek texts that have survived since antiquity and digitize them. They included the first recorded manuscripts of the epic poet Homer in the 8th century BC; the comedies and tragedies of Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus; the histories of Thucydides; and the epistles of early Christian theologians — everything written in Greek through the 6th century.
"It was an extraordinary project at the time," Maria Pantelia, the current chairwoman of the UC Irvine classics department and director of the project, told The Times. "No one had done anything like that…. Now, Google is digitizing everything."
Brunner was responsible for all phases of the project's development. He convened panels to identify authoritative source material, sought out the latest computer hardware and software technology, and raised funds from public and private donors to pay for it all.
He also got a lot of help from David W. Packard, son of the co-founder of computer manufacturer Hewlett-Packard, who studied classics with Brunner at Stanford University in the early 1960s. Packard developed a computer system called IBYCUS — the name of an ancient Greek poet as well as Packard's pet cat — that could process the data.
By 1985, a database of 60 million words written by more than 3,000 authors had been created and stored on CD-ROM. This allowed scholars from all over the world to examine ancient texts without having to travel to the far-flung universities, libraries and museums that owned each manuscript, much less to Irvine.
"There had been attempts to gather Greek literature in such a form for centuries, but they always failed," said Berkowitz, who collaborated with Brunner on the Greek project, books, translations and other research while also teaching the classics at UC Irvine. "It was just too monumental a task. The computer became the catalyst for all this."
The digital library has grown to include nearly all Greek texts through the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, encompassing 3,700 authors, 12,000 works and about 95 million words. Since 2001, it has been available online at http://www.tlg.uci.edu/ .
Brunner began studying Greek and Latin in his native Germany. He was born July 3, 1934, in Nuremberg. He and his family reached the Netherlands just after World War II and moved to the United States in 1953. They settled in Milwaukee, where his father found work as a lithographer.
Brunner enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1953 and was based in Yokosuka, Japan, until 1956. He returned home, enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and received his bachelor's degree in the classics in 1960.
He received his master's and doctoral degrees from Stanford and wrote his 1965 dissertation on the Roman poet Ovid ("Quite far removed from what he did later on with TLG," Berkowitz noted).
Brunner taught at Ohio State University before being recruited by the fledgling university at Irvine.
A ham radio enthusiast, Brunner got involved with Laguna Beach police by assisting the agency with its emergency response efforts, said his wife, who also volunteers with the department.
After retiring from the university, he enrolled in the Orange County Sheriff's Academy in 2001 and graduated at age 67, by far the oldest member of his class.
He served as a reserve officer for the Laguna Beach Police Department until September 2005, when he was diagnosed with cancer.
In addition to his wife, Brunner is survived by two daughters from a previous marriage that ended in divorce, Christine Brunner of Laguna Beach and Catherine Drever of Dana Point; three grandchildren; and his brother, Peter Brunner of Ashland, Ore.
Although Brunner wanted "no funeral, no viewing, no memorial service, no fuss and no flowers," his wife said, UC Irvine plans to honor him this fall at a 35th-anniversary celebration of the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae.