Beert Verstraete

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Biography

This is only the briefest of (auto) bio’s. In the not too distant future, I hope to produce a much longer document that will serve as my testament to the journey of intellectual development and personal growth that my life has taken thus far.

1944: I was born on April 2nd, 1944 in Zwolle, The Netherlands, as the oldest child of Christiaan Verstraete and Cornelia Verstraete née van Dam. This was just before the beginning of the final year of the brutal German occupation of Holland, a subject about which I heard a great deal even as a child from my parents.

1950-89: I had six years of primary and two years of secondary schooling in the Netherlands. In 1958, my parents took the momentous step of immigrating with their six children (three sons and three daughters) to Canada. We settled in Wallaceburg, Ontario, only eight miles from the grand St Clair River, across which lay the state of Michigan. My youngest sibling, Ingrid, was born there in 1960. In the early 1960’s, Dad founded the highly successful Wallaceburg Bookbinding Company. In 1973, however, he sold his shares in the business, and my parents re-established themselves themselves in Point Edward, right opposite Port Huron, Michigan, on the other side of the St Clair River, at the point where the massed waters of Lake Huron surged into the river’s narrow channel.. Here my father, again successfully, founded a smaller, more specialized and craft-based bookbinding business, Admiral Bookbinding (after his mother’s maiden name, Admiraal), which he operated until 1989, when he more or less retired.

1959-63: I attended the Wallaceburg District High School, from which I graduated in 1963 as a designated Ontario Scholar. I had there the good fortune of being able to take Latin for four years, a wonderfully enriching experience which, unfortunately, is denied now to the large majority of students in Canadian and American schools.

1963-68: With the financial support of generous scholarships, I did a Bachelor of Arts in Honours English and Latin at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario. In my final undergraduate year, I knew I wanted to be classicist and so threw myself passionately into the study of classical Greek. Following my graduation in 1967, I spent one more year at Western in order to obtain a Masters of Arts in Classics.

1968-72: These were the years of study at the University of Toronto, where I obtained a PhD in Classics in the Fall of 1972. My doctoral thesis was entitled, The Development of Propertius’ Poetic Technique in Books I-III, and underlined my enduring love of the beauty of classical Latin poetry. These were also the years of my coming out as a gay man, as well as of my involvement in the nascent gay and lesbian movement in the Toronto area. More on this involvement in the article which I wrote for the Athenaeum, the student newspaper of Acadia University, in February 1998, and which, too, is to be placed on this website

1972-78: Careerwise, these were my gypsy years. In Toronto, I did two stints, lasting a total of three years, in the Department of Employment and Immigration of the federal government, but also taught at the University of Guelph and the University of British Columbia. While I was away from Toronto, my day-to-day involvement in the movement was pretty well nil. I did manage to do some scholarly research and publication during these years: this fact, in addition to the teaching experience I had acquired, was very instrumental in my securing a tenure-track position in the Department of Classics at Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, in 1978.

1978-present: At the writing of this, I am in my 29th year at Acadia. I received tenure in 1983 and promotion to the rank of full professor in 1991. I headed the small Department of Classics from 1990 to 2000, when it was merged with the Department of History, creating what is now the Department of History and Classics. In 2006, I became the Chair of the Department for a three-year term. My position at Acadia has allowed me to expand my intellectual and research interests greatly. When I came to Acadia, alongside my literary-critical studies of classical Roman poetry (mainly Propertius and Vergil, followed later by Statius), as well as the odd bit on Greek and Roman homosexuality, I was working on a translation of and commentary on one of Erasmus’ most important and influential educational treatises, Early Liberal Education for Young Children (De Pueris Statim ac Liberaliter Instituendis), which appeared in volume 26 of the Collected Works of Erasmus series of the University of Toronto Press. This led to a number of editing and translation projects based on Latin literary texts of the Renaissance period, in collaboration with two other scholars (one of English literature at my university, the other of German at McGill University); these came to comprise four volumes in the Index Emblematicus series published by the same Press. At about the same time, I was branching out into comparative literary studies, in which my knowledge and appreciation of Dutch literature played a key-role. Finally, it was my friendship with Bill Percy, whom I first met at a gay and lesbian studies conference in Amsterdam in December 1987 that reactivated my work, which had lain nearly dormant for many years, on same-sex desire and love in Greco-Roman antiquity; for this fact alone I am truly indebted to him. Politically, too, my years at Acadia I have been very rewarding, if at times a bit too turbulent to my liking. In 1987, working together with a colleague, Matt Hughes, in the School of Music, I gained full spousal benefits, available previously only to heterosexual couples, for my partner Scott; this, in spite of the initial objections of one of the insurance companies involved and some last-minute sputtering by the University’s Board of Governors. This made Acadia University the second Canadian university (after York University in Toronto) to take this tremendously progressive step, and Matt and I were in fact the first Canadian academics actually to reap the advantage for our respective partners. At my University, I have been openly gay almost right from the start, and I like to think I have served as somewhat of a mentor to the succession of organizations of gay and lesbian student organizations that have come and gone, but now may be said to be really visible and flourishing, at my university since the late 1980’s. In 1998, I was drawn into union politics when I was elected as president of the Acadia University Faculty Association, in which position I served for two years. (In Canada, under the labour laws of nearly all provinces, faculty associations are legally unions and thus have the right to go on strike, which many faculty associations—including Acadia’s in 2004—have not hesitated to do when they deemed it necessary.) During these years, I attended many meetings and seminars of the narional umbrella organization, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), In addition, in 2001-2 I served as the president of the Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers (ANSUT), which serves as the principal lobbying organization, with the provincial government, for Nova Scotia’s university professors.

2009 is the year of my official retirement from Acadia, since sixty-five is still the mandatory age of retirement in Nova Scotia, although this is virtually certain to be challenged, as it has been successfully in other provinces. In any case, this should only mark the beginning of a new, equally (perhaps even more) rewarding phase of my life; more time certainly will be freed up for my beloved study and writing.

Finally, putting the academic and political stuff aside—I have been in two long-term relationships since my coming out: with Brian for six years, and with Scott for nineteen years. I treasure my close friendships with both of these unique, fine men that have survived the painful break-ups that took place years earlier..

September 2014 update:

Since I wrote my brief autobiographical sketch composed in 2007, a few major developments have taken place in my personal and professional life. Scott passed away in July of 2009 at the age of 57. I have much grieved over this, but I continue to be comforted by the great and unique contribution he made to me intellectually and personally. His love of the physical and biological sciences and as well as of psychology and philosophy (he was for some years a real Ayn Rand fan) was infectious. I’ll always treasure my memories of watching with him Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” and of the fact that in 1976-77, the year I was unemployed, we together audited a course entitled, “The Psychology of Deviance”—homosexuality was off the list by then!— at the University of Toronto. My renewed trust in spirituality and in living “sub specie aeternitatis” is also of great comfort to me in coming to grips with the death of a dearly loved one, whom by the time of his death I had known for almost 34 years.

I did not retire officially from Acadia until 2011 and continued to teach part-time (actually, it amounted to virtually fulltime) until two years later when I had turned 69. I continue to be active as a scholar in giving guest lectures (including one at the University of Amsterdam on the interwar Dutch paederastic but also devoutly Christian poet, Willem de Mérode, in September 2013), attending and giving papers at conferences, writing articles and book reviews, and with my mind set now on the writing of a book—more popular, I hope, than traditionally academic in style—on male homoerotic poetry, both ancient and modern—especially from the late 19th century onwards. Finally and most importantly, I continue to treasure my circle of cherished friends living close by and elsewhere in Canada, the United States, and The Netherlands, with a special fondness for and gratitude to Bill Percy on whose website I am honoured to see this sketch of myself included.

beert.verstraete@acadiau.ca

The Rewards of my involvement in the Gay and Lesbian Rights Movement by Beert C. Verstraete (as pdf)

Major Works

The Emergence of A New Professional Identity Among Modern Classicists: A Synthesis of Symbolic-Interactionist, Semiotic, and Hermeneutic Perspectives

Panegyric and Candour in Statius, Siluae 3.4 (as pdf)

Classical References and Themes in Salman Rushdie's 'The Satanic Verses' (as pdf)

Originality and Mannerism in Statius' Use of Myth In the Silvae (as pdf)

New Approaches in The Literary-Critical Study of Roman Poetry (as pdf)

Propertius' Use of Myth in Book Two (as pdf)

The Implication of the Epicurean and Lucretian Theory of Dreams for 'Falsa Insomnia' in 'Aeneid' 6.896 (as pdf)

The Defense of Epicureanism in Erasmus' Colloquies: from the 'Banquet' Colloquies to Epicureus (as pdf)

The Literary Achievement of Louis Couperus in His Greco-Roman Novels, with Special Reference to 'De Berg van Licht' (as pdf)

The Low Countries in Tacitus' Annals: An Epic and Tragic Landscape (as pdf)

The Ring Inside the Fish: A Comparison of the Use of a Similar Folklore Motif in Herodotus and a Dutch-Frisian Folktale (as pdf)

Alexander The Great In The Historical Fiction of Mary Renault and Louis Couperus: A Study In Contrasting Portrayals (as pdf)

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