MANDELBAUM WINSTON-SALEM, NC - Allen Mandelbaum May 4, 1926 - October 27, 2011 Allen Mandelbaum left this earthly light for the Bright Light on Thursday, October 27, 2011. Born in Albany, New York on May 4, 1926, he left that city at the age of one and was raised in Louisville (Kentucky), Toronto (Canada), Troy (NY), and Chicago (Illinois). He came to New York at thirteen and stayed until 1951, when he entered the Society of Fellows at Harvard. He completed his Ph.D. at Columbia University while teaching at Cornell and Columbia Universities. He was also a Fellow in Humanities of the Rockefeller Foundation and a member of the Society of Fellows at Harvard. In 2002, Rev. Edward A. Molloy, President of University of Notre Dame, applauded Mandelbaum for "the way that [his] scholarly efforts encompass the European tradition in a way that grasps the fraternal connections between its Jewish and its Christian strand without effacing the differences between them." Mandelbaum strongly believed that it was his duty to apply the talents he was given and devote his lifework to honoring those gifts as a poet and translator. The list of his works of poetry and translation is large. As a translator, he began with an English version of Giuseppe Ungaretti's Life of a Man and Salvatore Quasimodo's Selected Writings before completing The Aeneid of Virgil, which won the National Book Award in 1973. Those accomplishments were followed by The Selected Poems of Giuseppe Ungaretti in 1975 and the major work of his lifetime: the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso of Dante, completed in 1984. In addition to the volumes entitled Ovid in Sicily and Ungaretti and Palinurus, Mandelbaum's translations culminated in The Odyssey of Homer in 1990 and The Metamorphoses of Ovid in 1993. Mandelbaum's poetry collections include Journeyman (1967), Leaves of Absence (1976), Chelmaxioms: The Maxims, Axioms, Maxioms of Chelm (1978), A Lied of Letterpress (1980), The Savantasse of Montparnasse (1988) and Le porte di eucalipto in 2007. During his Harvard years, Mandelbaum spent most of his time in Italy, not returning to the United States until 1964. During these years, he devoted most of his time to the translation of Italian poets, which earned many awards. Upon his return, he joined the doctoral faculty of the new Graduate Center of the City University of New York, teaching and chairing the English graduate faculty for some twenty years as University Professor of English and Comparative Literature. In 1989 he began serving as Kenan Professor of the Humanities at Wake Forest University (Winston-Salem, NC) and remained in that position for almost two decades. A man of many awards, Mandelbaum was the recipient of the Order of Merit from the Republic of Italy, the Premio Mondello, the Premio Leonardo (at the Guggenheim Museum in New York), the Premio Biella, the Premio Lerici-Pea, the Premio Montale at the Montale Centenary in Rome, and the Circe-Sabaudia Award. In 1994, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry for his translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses. After that, he received one of Italy's most coveted honors, the Presidenza del Consiglio's prize, the National Award for Verse Translation in 1998. In 2000, the 735th anniversary of Dante's birth, Mandelbaum was awarded the Gold Medal of Honor of the City of Florence, Italy for his translation of Dante's Divine Comedy. He was the first American to be given this honor. Three years later, Mandelbaum was awarded the Presidential Prize of the President of Italy in May 2003. In 2004 he received Italy's highest award, the Presidential Cross of the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity. He was also the first American to earn the title of Professore Ordinario per Chiama Fama, teaching at the University of Torino for five years. He received a Doctor of Letters Honoris Causa at Purdue University in 1987, and similar honorary degrees at the University of Torino (1994), the University of Cassino (1996), and the University of Notre Dame (2003). During his eighteen years as Kenan Professor of the Humanities at Wake Forest, Allen Mandelbaum was a prominent defender of all that is best in a Liberal Arts education. He was committed to supporting his colleagues in many disciplines in any way he could, and helped with the publication and advancement of a number of the faculty in the English Department in particular. He was regularly present at the musical events on campus and always attended the lectures and presentations from departments as various as English and Philosophy to those in the sciences. His classes were always filled with committed students eager to absorb his profound knowledge of Dante, Virgil, and the other classical writers, and he invariably devoted his full attention to their needs. In the years since he retired in 2007, he regularly responded to inquiries from past students across a lifetime of teaching, always striving to further the best that is thought and known. Allen Mandelbaum is among the last of a generation of learned individuals whose likes will not be seen again. Master of many languages, a man whose breadth and depth of learning was unparalleled, he also possessed an aesthetic sensibility that allowed his translations to capture the essence of some of the world's greatest poetry with beauty and grandeur. One of the most moving moments in his translation of Virgil's Aeneid comes when a character asks his friend: "Euryalus, is it / the gods who put this fire in our minds, / or is it that each man's relentless longing / becomes a god to him?" Mandelbaum's life and work blazed with that fire and testified to the power of restless longing that is at the heart of all great endeavors. Allen Mandelbaum is survived by his wife Marjorie, their son Jonathan Mandelbaum and his wife Anne, and two grandchildren, Elisa and Nicholas Mandelbaum. The family is deeply indebted to his doctors, Franklyn Millman and Julie Williams; the staff of the Sticht Center (Wake Forest Baptist Hospital); his devoted private nurses Karen Harding, Kenan Carter, Lisa Landon, Josephine Littlejohn, Robert Goodman, Judy Hairston and Cathy Peay. Contributions to be made to the Mandelbaum Fund, Z. Smith Reynolds Library Wake Forest University PO Box 7777 Winston-Salem, NC 27109 A Memorial Service will be held at a date to be determined.
This obituary was originally published in the Winston-Salem Journal.