Moses Hadas, portrayed by John H. Starks, Jr. MOSES HADAS
(portrayed by
John H. Starks, Jr.)

Representing Our Ancestors

Moses Hadas (1900-1966): John Jay Professor of Greek, Columbia University, 1930-1965. 1922 BA Emory University; 1925 MA Columbia University; 1926 Rabbinical degree, Jewish Theological Seminary; 1930 PhD Columbia University.

Born in Atlanta, Hadas was brought up in an Orthodox Jewish household by Yiddish-speaking parents and received his BA degree in 1922 from Emory University in his natal city. Emory later recognized him with an honorary Doctorate of Letters in 1956; Kenyon College and Lehigh University followed suit with honorary doctorates in 1958 and 1962 respectively. Animated of feature and imposingly bearded in later years, he never lost his Southern accent.

In 1926, while pursuing graduate studies in Greek and Latin literature at Columbia University, Hadas earned a rabbinical degree from the Jewish Theological Seminary. In the following year he married Ethel Elkus, by whom he had two children: David Hadas (1931-2004), a professor of English and Religious Studies at Washington University, and Jane Streusand. Later in his life, he re-embraced his rabbinical vocation by performing wedding ceremonies, especially those—like his own second marriage to Elizabeth Chamberlayne in 1945—that united Jews and Gentiles. A longtime secondary school Latin teacher in New York City, Elizabeth Chamberlayne Hadas is also remembered for her Latin translation of Ferdinand the Bull, the classic children's book by Munro Leaf. There were two daughters of this marriage: Elizabeth Hadas, formerly the director of the University of New Mexico Press, and the distinguished poet Rachel Hadas, currently a professor of English at Rutgers University.

Before completing his PhD, with a dissertation on Sextus Pompey supervised by Charles Knapp, Hadas taught for two years at the University of Cincinnati. However, once he received his doctorate in 1930 and gained appointment to the Columbia faculty, he remained there until his death, save for a brief period of service in the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, advancing from instructor to professor of Greek, and in 1956 to a named chair. He was given Columbia's Great Teacher Award in 1955 and its Student-to-Teacher Mark Van Doren Award in 1964.

On its 250th anniversary in 2004, Columbia hailed Hadas as one of the College's truly great teachers, singling out his contributions to its courses in translation: General Honors, the Colloquium on Great Books, and Humanities A. It also praised him as a gifted scholar of Hebrew and Aramaic as well as of Latin and Greek; as the author of important books on classical culture such as A History of Greek Literature (1950) and Humanism: The Greek Ideal and Its Survival (1960); and as a prolific translator of Greek, Latin and Hebrew texts. He also translated several classical scholarly works written in German; his dazzling linguistic repertoire further encompassed French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Modern Greek and Modern Hebrew.

Like his Columbia colleague Gilbert Highet, Hadas had a major impact on how and to whom classics was taught in mid-twentieth-century America. His clear, spare prose translations of such Greek authors as Sophocles, Euripides, Plutarch, Longus and Heliodorus and of such Latin authors as Caesar, Cicero, Seneca and Tacitus, succeeded in making them highly accessible to students and general readers. His writings, like his courses in English translation, sought to instill sensitive interpretation and pleasurable appreciation of classical texts and brilliantly exemplified the strengths of a literary critical approach. He sought, in his daughter Rachel's words, “to transmit the classical legacy to as wide an audience as possible”—through appearances on television and lectures on the telephone (to several historically Black colleges in the South), as well as through his published writings.

Judith P. Hallett
October 2007
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