William & Mary

Faculty Spotlight: Irby

Join us every month as we shine a spotlight on our excellent faculty members!  This month, Prof. Irby.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Northern Virginia, and we lived mostly in the DC area during my early years (plus a year in Panama City, Panama when I was quite small and where my brother was born). My father was concerned about raising a family in DC, so he moved us to his home town, Athens, GA. We had a lovely old home in the country abutting acres and acres of woods where I wandered about for hours on end.

What is your favorite thing about Classics?

Goodness, what’s not to love? the mathematical complexity of the languages (my favorite authors are Tacitus, Vergil, Ovid), the elegant artwork, those crazy gods of Greek mythology, and the timelessness of the great works of literature, such as the Iliad. Perhaps what I like most is the sheer breadth of the material and how all the pieces fit together—I am an “intellectual omnivore”, and the strata of the Classics are myriad. There is always something new to learn or understand in a new way.

What do you like to do on your days "off"?

Days “off”? Who gets days “off”? When I take time for myself, I enjoy knitting, sketching, composing poetry as well as yoga, hiking, and hula hooping. I’m also rarely without my camera (and have discovered the joys of video editing). Music, also, is very important to me (I play a little guitar and recorder, and listen to a wide variety of musical genres). My obsession, though, is sailing ships. I volunteer on the maintenance and sail crew at the Jamestown Yorktown Foundation where I continue to “learn the ropes”. Crewing on the Godspeed has given me confidence and courage, and it was at JYF that I met by best friend.

What was your favorite class when you were an undergrad?

To quote Arlo Guthrie’s daughter Sarah Lee, “Rainbow is my favorite color, I could never choose just one”. A few, however, do stand out: third quarter calculus (8:00 am, M-F, taught by pipe-smoking Dr. Edwards, who wrote our book), Differential Equations, Introduction to Anthropology (I nearly changed my major), and, of course, there is Dr. Harris’ Medieval Latin. He gave us Wednesday’s off (when he visited the Botanical Gardens), brought homemade pie for us during exams, and played his clavichord every Friday (he constructed them from kits). Dr. Harris was the first professor who wouldn’t allow me to use a dictionary on exams (frightening, but a confidence builder), and he refused to use a Xerox machine because of the “rays” that were retained in the paper. One of my classmates pinned her Xeroxed handouts on her clothesline so the dangerous “rays” would dissipate before her presentation. My paper topic was on Medieval Bestiaries (animals are another great obsession of mine), which I lettered entirely in Carolingian minuscules, complete with illuminations.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what 3 books would you bring?

This question is just dirty pool! Have you seen my office? Never mind my house! My dad was an enthusiastic collector of books, and he once told me that he hated to part with any of them because he would feel somehow diminished. I am my father’s daughter. So, what three books? The Complete Works of Mark Twain (for his cutting wit), Kenneth Graham’s Wind in the Willows (the edition with the E.H. Shepherd illustrations), and Pliny the Elder’s Natural Histories (I’d finally have time to read it!)

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