Charles Murgia Memorial May 5

March 4, 2013

Update April 14, 2013

An on-campus memorial event honoring Charles Murgia will be held Sunday, May 5, from 2 to 5 pm in the Seaborg Room of the Faculty Club on the UC Berkeley campus.

March 4 story:

We are saddened to report the death on February 27, 2013, of Emeritus Professor Charles E. Murgia at the age of 78. He had been managing a heart condition since a difficult knee replacement surgery, but continued to be active, although complaining of how little stamina he had for extended activity. He had returned from a vacation in Hawaii just the day before his death at home.

Charles joined the Berkeley faculty in 1966, upon the completion of his PhD at Harvard. He had previously completed undergraduate work at Boston College and had taught at Boston College High School Summer School (1959), Franklin and Marshall College (1960-61), Dartmouth College (1964-65).

At Berkeley, Charles rose through the ranks in due order, attaining tenure in 1972 and promotion to full professor in 1978. He served as Department Chair from 1980 to 1983. At the age of only 59, he opted to take the generous early retirement offer available during the California budget crisis in 1994 in order to concentrate on his scholarship. For more than a decade after retirement he was frequently recalled to teach, especially the Classics Proseminar and Advanced Latin Prose Composition, and he also gave many presentations on Latin palaeography for Medieval Studies and the Proseminar. He also spent a semester as Visiting Professor at Harvard in 1996.

Although he originally had begun a dissertation on Thucydides and noted in his letter of acceptance in 1966 that he hoped he would be able to teach Greek courses from time to time, Charles was regarded locally and in the wider world as an extraordinary Latinist, with a consummate command of language, style, textual tradition, and textual criticism. His first and only book was the monograph Prolegomena to Servius 5 - The Manuscripts (University of California Publications: Classical Studies, vol. 11, Berkeley 1975), based on his Harvard dissertation, and the large project expected from him thereafter was the edition that was supposed to follow of the Servian commentary on Books 9-12 of Vergil's Aeneid. The main obstacle to completion was the impossibly high standard he set himself for the treatment of the testimonia to accompany the edition, and even when he was retired he was much happier working on other smaller projects than toiling over the testimonia for Servius.

Apart from Servian matters, Charles' numerous articles touched on Vergil, Tacitus, Quintilian, Ovid, and Propertius. He was keenly interested in imitatio and allusion and developed a distinctive method of arguing for the relative dating of closely similar passages, including those in the same author when either the author is "imitating" himself or an inauthentic poem has entered an author's corpus. Charles ran through the full cursus honorum of external research fellowships, from the ACLS in 1974, NEH in 1979, and Guggenheim in 1983. He was a member of the Editorial Board of Classical Philology for almost thirty years.

Colleagues in the Department remember hearing Charles' penetrating voice from down the hall, his hearty laugh, and the wickedly strong fishhouse punch he prepared annually in the days when APA parties were held in overcrowded hotel rooms with liquor surreptitiously carried into the hotel. He was one of the earliest users of computers for his research, taking advantage of early UNIX and troff and a terminal with a special chip that allowed the use of Greek characters for his apparatus criticus. Eventually changes in the campus computing environment forced him to move reluctantly to a Macintosh, but he liked gadgets and near the end he had his own iPhone. Another distinction during a long stretch of his Berkeley years was the presence of his mother, who moved from Arlington, Massachusetts, to live with her youngest son in his house in the Oakland hills (which was spared in the great fire of 1991, while some nearby houses were consumed). Mrs. Murgia often attended Departmental parties, and was always very happy to welcome the visits of the families of Charles' colleagues who had young children.

Between his frequent offering of the proseminar and his service in the Advanced Latin Composition course and other courses, Charles probably taught almost every graduate student in the Berkeley Classics program over the course of several decades.

The funeral will take place on Saturday, March 9, at St. Theresa Church, 30 Mandalay Road, Oakland CA 95618, at 11 am, with a viewing also in the church from 9:30 to 10:30. For more information see