Passion for classics runs in Woodard clan

The pressure to participate in a small, discussion-based class is stressful enough, but it’s even more nerve-racking engaging in debate while your father is watching. That’s exactly what Paul Woodard ’08 had to do last Wednesday when his father, Roger Woodard, professor of classics at Buffalo University, visited Paul’s class. Roger was in town to give a talk called “Homer’s Bane: Writing as Performed in Ancient Greece.”

“I am taking a course on The Odyssey right now and my dad actually came in and discussed the material with us,” Paul said. “He was invited by the professor and participated in our class discussion. I enjoyed it, but it was a little weird because it was kind of intimidating to discuss The Odyssey with him at the same table.”

Paul had always grown up surrounded by the classical languages, but the same discussion he would have otherwise gladly had with his father was just not the same when it was in a classroom and not at the dinner table. In many ways, Roger was always his son’s role model, as he was the one who originally kindled Paul’s fervor for the classics. “My dad is certainly an inspiration for me. I definitely value his work ethic and his love for what he does everyday,” he said. “He certainly sparked my interested in the classics because of that.”

In a way, it always made sense that Paul would end up studying the classics. While most children fell asleep with visions of farm animals and dashing knights, Paul was dreaming about mythical tales of Pegasus and Medusa. Paul grew up witnessing his father’s passion for Greek and Latin and the classics texts and myths that have survived, so it is hardly surprising that he is now a classics major and is currently writing an honors thesis on The Odyssey. “As a kid, I was really into classical mythology. I remember when I was younger my dad would always read me stories about ancient Greek and Roman myths. I guess I grew up loving classics,” he said.

Paul’s constant exposure to his father’s passion for his field of research was part of the reason Paul even began studying Greek and Latin. But given the subject’s consistency in Paul’s life. it is surprising to learn that his father took a rather circuitous route before realizing his own love for the classical languages.

“You know, I actually came into classics through the backdoor,” Roger said. “I was actually a zoology major in my undergraduate studies. Then one day I decided that I didn’t want to spend my life doing biological research, so I looked around for something else to do. I ended up in divinity school, and there I became interested in the ancient languages and ancient cultures, especially Greek and Roman. After divinity school, I then went to graduate school to study the classics.”

Once Roger began studying the Greek and Roman languages, he was instantly hooked. For him, it seemed only natural that his love for the classics would also transfer to his son. “I think my own research probably had a lot to do with Paul’s own interest in the classics. I guess he grew up with the classics,” he said.

It is undeniable that Roger originally inspired Paul’s interest in the subject, but Paul didn’t solely rely on his childhood hobby, forging his own path toward his current major. “I think my interest in classics mostly began in seventh grade when we were encouraged to sample various languages in school like Spanish, French, Russian and Latin,” Paul said. “I decided to pick up Latin, and I ended up really enjoying it. I loved reading stuff like The Aeneid.”

As a result of their mutual passion, the father and son duo regularly went on family excursions in Greece and Italy for research. Even when he was younger, Paul always tagged along with Roger, helping his dad with small tasks in his fieldwork.

“Paul and I spent time studying artifacts in Greece and Italy, especially in Greece when we looked at inscriptions together,” Roger said. “I collected theses inscriptions and Paul worked for me photographing [the inscriptions] and even helped read them as well.”

Today, the classical languages are prominent aspects of both the father and the son’s academic lives. It is not uncommon for the two to delve into discussions regarding translations of famous classical works during regular causal conversation. For Paul and Roger, debate about the classics replaces stereotypical father-son conversations about sports and cars.

“We definitely exchange ideas and talk about the classics at home. We’ll discuss how we read and interpret Homer and other Greek authors, you now, just talking a lot about Greek society and culture,” Roger said. “We do debate a lot about the classics. They’re friendly debates though, mostly about our interpretation of passages. It’s very common that we’ll disagree because we both have ideas about meanings, and our ideas aren’t always the same.”

Superficially, Paul and Roger’s passion for the classics support the conventional “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” model, but the two aren’t as similar as they may seem. Not only do father and son regularly differ about translations of passages, but they also express different concentrations within the large classics umbrella.

“I think that our approaches [to the classics] are different,” Paul said. “My dad is really more interested in the languages and how languages develop into writing, whereas I am more interested in analyzing the story and its development.”

The differences between Paul and his father do not stop there. Although Paul is passionate about the classics, he equally enjoys math and is currently double-majoring in the two subjects. To further distance himself from his father, Paul has also ruled out pursuing the same professional path as Roger.

“I certainly considered becoming a professor like my dad, but I ended up deciding to go into law next year,” Paul said. “However, I think the manner of thinking that I developed through studying classics has actually been very helpful for law. The analytical skills that I used to formulate and translate writing from Greek are surprisingly similar.”

Although Paul’s future career will likely diverge from that of his father, the two are still committed to sharing their passion. Even now, when the two have been working on projects independent of each other, they have found a way to cross academic paths. “We’ll sometimes talk a little about his work and my research,” Roger said. “However, I don’t think either one of us realized until my lecture that my project and his thesis actually use some of the same passages from Homer. It was startling. I guess our research is a lot more similar than we could have realized.”