Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Jack Holtsmark

Erling B. (Jack) Holtsmark
May 19, 1936-July 17, 2022

It is with great sadness that the Department of Classics marks the passing of Erling B. (Jack) Holtsmark, who died on July 17, 2022. 

Jack received a B.A. in Greek from the University of California at Berkeley in 1959 and a Ph.D. in Classics from there in 1963. He came to teach in Classics at the University of Iowa in Fall 1963. He was department chair from 1982 through to 1993. Jack published numerous articles over the years on various topics including on Homer, Aeschylus, Theocritus, Lucretius, and Quintilian. Later in his career he became interested in contemporary literature and the Classics, publishing Tarzan and Tradition: Classical Myth in Popular Literature in 1981, Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1986, and articles on classics and contemporary cinema and on detective fiction.

As chair in Classics, Jack worked diligently to increase the number of English-language courses at the University of Iowa, including building up the course on Classical Mythology and Word Power. Under his leadership, the department began publication of the journal Syllecta Classica, which he co-edited with Helena Dettmer. He facilitated the use of computers in the department, making the department one of the first in which every professor had an office computer. Together with Marcia Lindgren and John Finamore, Jack created a computer drill for the Word Power course, which was free for every student to use. The drill now in use in the course is a direct descendent of that original computer drill. In the 1980s Jack wrote a weekly column, Antiquity and Modernity, in the The Daily Iowan, in which he discussed topics of classics in contemporary society.

Jack always lived life to the full. As a teenager in La Jolla, he was an avid surfer. When he was teaching at the University of Iowa, he took flying lessons and wrote about his experiences piloting in the book Private License, Private Thing in 1974. 

His students remember Jack for his incredible knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages and his early morning courses. His colleagues admired his ability to chart a productive course for the department. Jack created a transparent system for assessing faculty raises (a direct predecessor of the system now used) and wrote the Graduate Student Handbook for our students, parts of which are enshrined in the department’s present Handbook. Jack’s kindness, attention to detail, and love for the department shined through in all he did. He will be greatly missed.