Theodore Ziolkowski

Theodore Ziolkowski, former dean of the Graduate School, the Class of 1900 Professor of Modern Languages, Emeritus, and professor of Germanic languages and literatures and comparative literature, emeritus, died on Dec. 5, 2020

6 thoughts on “Theodore Ziolkowski

  1. Alan Keele

    I became a Princeton graduate student of German Language and Literature in the turbulent year of 1968. I had applied for admission at Princeton in no small part because I had researched some of the top programs in my field – in those days long before the advent of the internet – by reading some books and articles written by various scholars at those institutions. I clearly recall being astonished and excited by the stylish writing, clear thinking, and Renaissance-level erudition of one Theodore Ziolkowski of Princeton University. I knew then that I wanted to be his student. As luck would have it, I was accepted and granted a generous fellowship.

    At our first meeting during a Departmental social gathering, I was astonished to discover that this towering figure in my field, whom I had expected to be a venerable older scholar, was a man so young and vibrantly energetic – in his 30’s! – that I must have seemed a fool, remarking over and over how unbelievably young he looked. I think Ted realized I was genuinely bowled over rather than being some kind of insincere flatterer, and he responded with a kindness and grace I soon learned was native to his character.

    As my wife Linda and I added our third child, Kristopher, while living in Princeton, it wasn’t long before Ted and his most beautiful, charming, and intelligent wife Yetta took a personal loving interest in our little family living in student housing at Butler Tract, not far from their home at the time just off Prospect. Their kids were still young as well, though a decade or so older than ours, so we had the privilege and honor of knowing the Ziolkowski family “von Haus zu Haus” a formulation Ted famously used to send us greetings at the end of each letter over the next half century or so of our friendship.

    Meanwhile, I was greatly honored to be accepted by Ted as his dissertation advisee. Having him as one’s Doktorvater was considered by us students to be a high accomplishment. He kindly talked me out of a fuzzy notion to “do something with Rilke” and suggested a friend of his, the novelist Paul Schallück, whom he had met in Cologne at the same time Ted had befriended the later Nobel Prize winner Heinrich Böll. This proved to be a brilliant suggestion, allowing me to enter the fascinating world of Post-War German literature by a secret side door, as it were, where I was warmly welcomed by Herr Schallück and greatly assisted in my work, leading ultimately to books and articles about Post-War German literature per se and to such related figures as Nobel Laureate Günter Grass.

    My training under Ted could not have prepared me more perfectly for a satisfying career as a Germanist. The only problem, which I soon overcame, was that I found I simply could not write such astonishing books as Ted did, and certainly not at the rate of one per year! I console myself with the conviction, however, that the books and articles I did write, and at the rate I wrote them, were all vastly superior to what they would have been without Ted’s remarkable tutelage and example.

    Finally, I believe that as a husband and father, I greatly benefitted from the example set for us by Ted and Yetta whose own family life became a model for our own. Even as our eldest daughter Heather succumbed to her struggle with chronic clinical depression, Ted and especially dearest Yetta, could not have been more loving and solicitous in their support for us. Heather passed away exactly five years ago to the day, December 5th, of Ted’s death, which also happens to be the day in 1791 when Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart departed this life.

    I’d like to think that all three of these great human beings experienced what Goethe imagined in his poem “An Schwager Kronos” (“Ode to Father Time”), whose last stanza calls on Chronos, here a kind of heavenly coachman, to blow on his horn and ride full speed ahead into the world of the dead, so that the god of the underworld, Orcus, shall perceive that a noble spirit is arriving, and so that the Mighty Ones who’ve preceded us in death will rise from their seats as a token of their respect:

    Töne, Schwager, dein Horn,
    Rassle den schallenden Trab,
    Daß der Orkus vernehme, ein Fürst kommt,
    Drunten von ihren Sitzen
    Sich die Gewaltigen lüften.

    (PS: in January of 2017, with only tiny prods from me, our son Jeremy and his wife Amy named their baby boy Theodore Keele. My doubtlessly unbiased view is that Teddy is the most delightful and beautiful child imaginable! He lives with his parents and three brothers on Princeton Avenue in Salt Lake City.)

    Alan Keele
    Professor Emeritus of German Studies
    Brigham Young University
    Provo, Utah
    Ph.D. Princeton 1972 in German Language and Literature

  2. shannon stoney

    I was in a precept with Professor Ziolkowski in the early 1970s, when women were first admitted to Princeton. I remember him elucidating a poem by Mallarmé, and I eventually wrote my thesis on Mallarmé, even though an other professor told me that I shouldn’t attempt such a thing because it would be too hard. Professor Ziolkowski seemed to think I could learn or do anything. At one point he casually mentioned that I could “pick up” the German language in graduate school! I didn’t go to graduate school in literature; much later in life, I went to graduate school in visual art, perhaps remembering that he thought I could learn pretty much anything I wanted to.

  3. Keith Murray

    I became aware of Theodore Ziolkowski by way of my love for the works of Hermann Hesse, which grew out of my study of German as an undergraduate at a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania.

    Although I did not attend Princeton, Dr. Ziolkowski made time to meet with me one afternoon in February 2001, and I will forever remember the time we spent discussing both Hesse and literature in general in his office that day. Before I left, he signed his book on Hesse, published by the Suhrkamp Verlag in Germany, and gifted it to me.

    I have since read many of his books on literature and culture and will remember him fondly.

  4. John wisniewski

    Ted and Yetta were family to me all the years I spent tending to the gardens at the grad school. Ted was never to busy to say hello and ask how things were going. Princeton lost a truly great ambassador ,he leaves a wonderful legacy with his extended family of scholars and all the people who are better for having had him as a friend..
    John Wisniewski

  5. Richard Waugaman

    I had the good fortune to attend Professor Ziolkowski’s undergraduate comp lit seminar on “Fictional Transfigurations of Jesus,” as he was writing his book of that title. He opened my eyes to the salience of literary allusion in fiction. I didn’t know at the time how powerfully his seminar would influence my later Shakespeare research, especially on biblical allusions in Shakespeare’s canon.

    What a distinguished man! Astonishing that he graduated from Duke at 18. And being married for 70 years is another amazing accomplishment.

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