Thursday, September 16, 2021


National Review
A Scholar and a Gentleman
By Jay Nordinger; September 2021

At Brooklyn [College], a history major had to take Western civilization and then a variety of courses, covering many periods and places. They wouldn’t let you be an ignoramus, Kagan said. These days, if you’re an ignoramus, no problem.

And how did he come to be a classical historian—an historian of the ancient world? This, said Kagan, tells us something about “the role of chance in our lives.”

There were so many history courses to choose from, after you took Western civ. Where to begin? Donald Kagan thought he would go in order: from the ancient world on up. He consulted some older students about this. Should he begin with Greece and Rome? “Um, that’s fine,” they said, “but you might want to wait a year or two. Maybe she’ll be retired by then.”

“She”? That was Meta Elizabeth Schutz, “a maiden lady in her sixties,” as Kagan put it to me. She was formidable, no-nonsense—kind of a battle axe. Anyway, Kagan, undaunted, signed up.

“The first thing I noticed was that the room was too big for the number of students in it. And that squared with what I’d heard about her.” Not many were undaunted. Not many were cut out for Miss Schutz.

She had no desire to be your friend. She wasn’t there to cuddle you. She was a severe, exacting teacher. She would not wait for you to raise your hand. She would call on you. And you’d better have the answer.

One young woman began her answer tentatively, saying, “Well . . .” Miss Schutz said, “It is not well!”

Kagan resolved to be ready for this lady. She would not show him up. He studied and studied. And when she called on him—he gave the answer she needed, and gave it with kind of a tough-guy attitude. “Yes,” said Miss Schutz. Then she moved on, matter-of-factly, to the next student.

She did not celebrate young Kagan’s answer. She did not pat him on the back. She expected you to know. That was normal. And if you didn’t know—that was abnormal. She treated her students—many of them poor immigrant kids—as if they were products of Choate and Groton, studying at Princeton. She had high standards—normal standards, she would have said—and expected you to meet them.

Long story short, Kagan grew to appreciate Meta Elizabeth Schutz a great deal. And he determined, then and there—that very semester—to be an ancient historian. When he was a professor, did he, too, call on students, without waiting for them to raise their hand? No. “I wasn’t man enough to be Meta Schutz.”



Donald Kagan was one of the leading classical historians of our time. He spent most of his career at Yale—from 1969 until his retirement in 2013. For three years, he was dean of the college. Kagan knew plenty about Rome, but his real love was Greece, and at Yale he had the luxury of teaching Greek history, only. On August 6, 2021, Professor Kagan passed away at 89.

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