James Lawrence Peter Butrica
Jim Butrica died on July 20, 2006, after a year-long struggle with cancer.
Jim was born in 1951 in Camden, New Jersey. He studied at Amherst College (B.A. 1972) and the University of Toronto (M.A. 1973, Ph.D. 1978), where his doctoral research was supervised by Richard Tarrant. From 1977 to 1979 he was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Victoria, and from 1979 to 1981 a member of its Department of Classics. He joined the Department of Classics at Memorial University of Newfoundland in 1981, where he spent the rest of his career. His professional milestones included the President’s Award for Outstanding Research from Memorial in 1986, promotion to Professor in 1994, and appointment in 2000 to the Accademia Properziana del Subasio.
The subject of his doctoral dissertation was the Propertian manuscript tradition. This study formed the basis of his book The Manuscript Tradition of Propertius (Toronto 1984), which remains the standard work on the highly corrupt text of this author. Throughout his career he continued to refine his often controversial beliefs about Propertius’ text and its transmission (e.g. ICS 21  87–158, CQ 47  176–208), and he worked for many years on a commentary on Book 3, even as his interests and publications spread far into other areas. Some of these were related closely to Latin and Greek poetry — not only elegy but epic, tragedy, and comedy as well — others were very different from those subjects, including (among others) ancient medicine, the ancient book trade, and medieval and Renaissance literature and culture. He was a prolific and industrious scholar, and only in the last months of his disease did he begin to slow. Numerous substantial works will appear posthumously, including two volumes in the University of Toronto’s Collected Works of Erasmus (vols. 67 and 68) and a chapter in the Brill Companion to Propertius.
The curiosity Jim had about Greek and Roman civilization and the clarity of his thought were apparent to the students who attended his classes at Memorial, to the scholars who heard his papers on many occasions in North America and Europe, and to all who read his articles and book reviews. The wide range of his interests grew from a drive to understand ancient people from all angles, but his knowledge ran deep in areas as diverse as opera and classical music, television, radio and film, visual art and popular literature, modern languages, and not least the game of Bridge, which he played with considerable success. In recent years his learning was on display in his many entertaining and edifying contributions to the Classics-List, a medium ideally suited to his knowledge of culture both high-brow and popular, as well as to his unique wisdom and wit and his lack of pretension.
From 1994 until the time of his death he served as co-editor of one of the CAC’s two scholarly journals, Echos du Monde Classique/Classical Views, renamed Mouseion in 2001. The editorial standards he set were very high, and although he had a low tolerance for jargon and fad, he always took pains to ensure that submissions to the journal received a fair hearing and were assessed by referees who did not have disciplinary or personal axes to grind. He had patience for the efforts of good young scholars in particular and would often spend much time helping contributors to improve their articles for publication. He worked hard to attract the best submissions possible and to find the right reviewers for books. He was, in short, devoted to the job of editor and brought just the right temperament to it.
As a teacher Jim deplored intellectual laziness and sought to challenge his students’ easy assumptions. To those who responded to the challenge he gave his time without reserve, teaching many overload courses throughout his career. He had a special affinity for his younger colleagues, for whom he provided an exacting but humane model. His learning was widely known across his Faculty and elsewhere in the University, and his non-classical colleagues frequently went to him for help of many kinds. He was justifiably proud of the service that he gave to his Department and University, and to the cause of Classics in Canada, including a year as Head of his Department in 1996–97, terms as council-member of the CAC and as editorial board-member of Phoenix in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, his organization of the CAC conference in St. John’s in 1997, a CAC-sponsored lecture-tour in Ontario and Quebec in 2000, and many memorable talks to the MUN Classics Society. Some of his more remarkable studies trace their origin to these latter presentations, including his discussion of ancient uses of cannabis, now recognized as authoritative on this subject.
Although Jim’s untimely passing is marked with profound sadness by his colleagues in Canada and abroad, we take comfort in the memory of his friendship and in his impressive scholarly legacy.
Mark Joyal, University of Manitoba