In Memory of M.G.M. van der Poel (1957-2022)

Date of news: 22 December 2022

On 18th December 2022, Marc van der Poel, Professor of Latin Language and Literature at the Faculty of Arts, passed away at age 65. With his death, the Faculty of Arts has lost a valued colleague who was associated with our faculty for much of his career.

Marc van der Poel, born on 4th February 1957 in Geldrop, attended the St. Hubertuscollege in Neerpelt, Belgium, from 1969, where he graduated in 1975 - the best of his year - with a degree in Classical Humanities. After leaving secondary school, he studied Classical Languages at the Catholic University Nijmegen (KUN), now known as Radboud University. Although Greek was also close to his heart, he decided to specialise in Latin. During that time, he made a name for himself as a student assistant by, among other things, compiling an extensive subject bibliography. In addition to his efforts as a student, Marc was also an active member of the Sodalicium Classicum Noviomagense, the Nijmegen study association for Classics students. From 1976 to 1978, as quaestor of the 48th and 49th boards of the Soda, he was responsible for the association’s finances in collaboration with his friend and fellow student Wim Palmen, who was President. In 1979, he passed his candidate exam, after which he initially continued his studies in Nijmegen but went to France in 1981 for a stay abroad. At the University of Tours, he managed to obtain his Diplôme d’Études Approfondies in 1982, at the Centre d’Études Supérieurs de la Renaissance, under the supervision of Prof. Dr Jean-Claude Margolin.

Back in Nijmegen, Marc briefly combined a job teaching Classical Languages in a secondary school in Eindhoven while continuing his studies. In 1983 he took his doctoral exam in Classical Languages, which he passed cum laude. His thesis was on Seneca Pater and led him to his later field of (Ancient) Rhetoric. In his earlier years of study, Marc had already become fascinated by the study of the Latin of the humanists. He, therefore, already studied during his candidate years with Dr Pierre Tuynman, then Director of the Institute of Neo-Latin at the UvA, who played an important role as a teacher and mentor for Marc from those years onwards.

After graduating, Marc van der Poel was able to continue his Latin studies in the form of doctoral research in the field of Neo-Latin, co-supervised by Dr Pierre Tuynman. As a scientific assistant, he worked from 1983 to 1986 at KU Nijmegen on his dissertation, De 'declamatio' bij de humanisten. Bijdrage tot de studie van de functies van de rhetorica in de Renaissance, on which he received his doctorate from Prof Jan Brouwers in 1987. Research into the Latin of the humanists from this period onwards would lead to many publications in this field, including some in collaboration with Dr Pierre Tuynman, about whom he always spoke with great admiration and appreciation.

After his PhD at Nijmegen, he managed to secure a prestigious Fulbright fellowship for postdoctoral follow-up research in the form of a two-year appointment, from 1987 to 1989, as visiting researcher and visiting assistant professor at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. Here, he collaborated with Prof Kenneth Lloyd-Jones, a collaboration that resulted in an edition of speeches by Dolet, Les "Orationes duae in Tholosam" d'Etienne Dolet (1534) in 1992. A year earlier, Ambo had published a book on the 15th-century Humanist Rudolf Agricola, Over Dialectica en Humanisme, and in the same year a French monograph, in collaboration with Jean-Claude Margolin - his old teacher from Tours - and Jan Pendergrass, Images et lieux de mémoire d'un étudiant du XVIe siècle. Etude, transcription et commentaire d'un cahier de Latin d'un étudiant néerlandais.

Conferences and lectures took him to many places during these years, including universities in Texas and Arizona, and Princeton in New Jersey. Over the years, he delivered lectures in Toronto, Göttingen, Tübingen, Copenhagen, Baltimore, Edinburgh and Warwick, among others, in addition to many lectures closer to home.

A third research appointment followed, from 1989 to 1992, again in Nijmegen, after which Marc van der Poel stayed on as a KNAW Fellow in the Classics Department of the same university. From 1992 to 1997, he continued working on research into the dialectical-rhetorical argumentation of the humanists, particularly Agricola. This research culminated in two books. A learned annotated anthology of the work of Rudolf Agricola was published in 1997 in French. In the same year, Brill also published a monograph on Agrippa, Cornelius Agrippa, the Humanist Theologian and His Declamations.

His time as a researcher in Nijmegen was followed in 1997 by appointment as a senior academic staff member at the Constantijn Huygens Institute for Text Editions and Intellectual History in The Hague, where he worked for two years as a researcher and as working group leader of the Renaissance section. In November 1999, he returned to Nijmegen and was appointed Van der Leeuw Professor, a construction made possible by NWO in which he worked as a new professor alongside the incumbent professor, Prof Jan Brouwers, for three years. His inaugural address, Horatius op School, was a plea for continued attention to a precise philological approach to Latin literature in education, an approach he has always remained convinced to share with students.

From 2000, Marc van der Poel, now the father of two daughters, Heleen and Simone, took care of much of the Latin education in Nijmegen’s Classical studies programme. Combining his care for a young family with his commitment to classics students included various other responsibilities, such as his editorial support of the Dutch specialist journal Lampas, from 2001 to 2004. With the retirement of Jan Brouwers, Marc van der Poel became Chairholder of the Latin branch of Nijmegen's Classics Department, from 2001 in the form of an undergraduate programme GLTC and a Master's programme in Ancient Studies. Teaching in Nijmegen included specialisation lectures on his own field of research, but reading Seneca's tragedies was also a recurring part of these courses. Whereas in his research, his specialisation in the History of Rhetoric dominated, his lectures reflected his great love, as a philologist, for Latin Literature, for prose, but certainly also for poetry.

His thorough knowledge of the Altertumswissenschaft and the history of his subject always formed the philological basis for reading the source texts in his teaching, which he tried to convey with enthusiasm to his students. He often managed to convince them of the quality of the older commentaries, grammars and handbooks, which he eagerly collected for his impressive library, which also included Greek. For him, the combined study of the two languages was precisely what always formed the basis for studying the subject, a position he has always defended as indisputable. Students not only appreciated his commitment to the study programme but also to the study association, which was shown in 2004 when Marc was made an honorary member of the Soda because of his commitment to cooperation, a gesture he was certainly proud of. Soda parties were still often frequented in those days, where Marc liked to complain about the choice of music, insisting on real music and recommending Jimi Hendrix to the younger guard of would-be Classics students.

As a supervisor, Marc van der Poel supervised seven PhD students, including several former students (Leendert Weeda, Moniek van Oosterhout, Bé Breij, Werner Gelderblom, Roald Dijkstra), mainly in the field of Rhetoric and Neo-Latin, having previously been co-supervisor alongside Prof Jan Brouwers. In addition to his research commitments, Marc was also active as a Director. From 2004 to 2008, as Vice Dean of Education, he was a defining face in the Faculty of Arts; from 2008 to 2015, he was Chair of the GLTC Department. In addition, he later chaired the faculty Library Committee from 2013 to 2021. A particular responsibility entrusted to him by the beadle was the production of Latin texts for the doctoral diplomas belonging to honorary doctorates awarded at Radboud University.

His research focused mainly on the study of Rhetoric in all its facets, from textual and interpretative problems in the Greek of Menander Rhetor and in the study of Cicero, to the eloquence of the humanists. This included the comic paradox, Renaissance Latin, Dialectics and the tradition of teaching the artes liberales, from antiquity to the time of the humanists and beyond. Besides several contributions to encyclopaedias, articles on Lipsius, Cardano, Ramus and Turnebus reflect his keen interest in the Rhetorical Latin of the early modern and modern periods. A contribution to the edition of Erasmus' Opera Omnia in 2016 (Brill) and an edition with French translation of Agricola, Écrits sur la dialectique et l'humanisme in 2018 are among the larger projects from his later research. His contribution to the dissemination of rhetorical texts from the early modern period is also evident in his earlier Dutch translation of a selection of Lorenzo Valla's work, published by the Historische Uitgeverij in 1998, in the series Philosophy and Rhetoric, a series to which Marc was also attached as editor. With his Flemish colleagues Jan Papy and Dirk Sacré, he translated a selection of letters by Erasmus, which appeared in 2001 with Boom Publishers. Both books nicely demonstrate Marc's interest in sharing his knowledge about the great humanists with a wider audience outside the academy.

In an international context, it may be mentioned that Marc van der Poel was for a long time an editorial board member of the authoritative academic journal Rhetorica: Journal of the History of Rhetoric. He succeeded his good friend Michael Edwards as Editor-in-Chief of this prestigious journal in 2011, a position he would hold until 2018. No less important was his Chairmanship of the International Society for the History of Rhetoric (ISHR) from 2019 to 2021 as President of the Board of Directors, having already served as Vice-President from 2018 to 2019. As President of the ISHR, a society he had been a member of since 1993, he was responsible for the major international 23rd ISHR congress that took place in Nijmegen in the summer of 2022. Also, from his knowledge of and interest in intellectual history, he was for many years an Associate Editor on the Editorial Board of the scholarly journal LIAS (Journal of Early Modern Intellectual Culture and its Sources).

In addition to working on numerous smaller publications, Marc van der Poel, in collaboration with Michael Edwards and James Murphy, worked on a major project in recent years: the creation of the imposing Oxford Handbook of Quintilian, which saw the light of day in 2021. The book launch, which unfortunately had to take place online because of the covid pandemic, nevertheless brought together many colleagues from around the world, who spoke with warmth and appreciation of their collaboration with Marc. In addition to his meticulous work on this companion, Marc devoted much of his research time to another major project, a new edition with commentary and translation of Rudolf Agricola's work De inventione dialectica. Related to this was also the bibliographical research he did for the benefit of Oxford Bibliographies Online. Marc's commitment to accurate and complete bibliographies - his students would surely agree - was already evident in his Bibliographia Latina Selecta and Bibliographical Aid to the Study of Renaissance Latin Texts. He maintained this online from 2000 and 2007, a continuation of the paper precursor Beknopte bibliografie van de Latijnse taal- en letterkunde, the fourth edition of which he had previously edited and on which he had collaborated as a student assistant.

Marc would have retired at the end of 2023; ideas about the content of his farewell lecture had been in the works for some time. It was no longer given to him to conclude his career at Radboud University with that honourable ceremony. He would have liked to find the time to finish his edition of Agricola after his retirement. Marc always tried to carry out that research alongside his teaching commitments, which he otherwise fulfilled with great pleasure and dedication on his own but also in collaboration with colleagues inside and outside the department. This included his partner and colleague Bé Breij, with whom he shared the Nijmegen Latin Chair from 2015. Characteristic of his love for teaching Latin Literature was his conscious decision to often choose new texts for his courses, even when not required, thus always giving an impetus to his own study of ancient works and authors, especially in recent years, towards his retirement. Therefore, a dividing line between work and hobby could hardly be drawn. Marc lived for Latin, although he also made room for other hobbies, such as reading novels, mostly in English, running, and cooking for his loved ones. Those who experienced him up close knew how much he could enjoy white wine, cigars and his cat.

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Although he himself was always impressed by the scholars he continued to study, students and colleagues at home and abroad remember him as a great scholar in his own field. With his passing, the faculty, the department and the programme have lost a committed professional, a dedicated teacher and administrator and a remarkable person.