William Kendrick Pritchett ’29, one of the nation’s foremost scholars on Greek language, culture and literature, died May 29, 2007, in his Berkeley home after a fall. As a UC Berkeley professor of Greek, he patiently helped students beginning to learn the difficult language. But in the academic world, he reveled in his reputation as a combative scholar, eager to challenge other academics and long-accepted beliefs.
During his 28 years as a professor in the department of classics—including four as its chairman—and after his retirement, he wrote more than 30 books and 100 articles. The topics included ancient Greek grammar and syntax, literature and historiography, topography, war, religion, political institutions, chronography, and the study of inscriptions carved into marble.
But he always loved teaching, and despite his experience and reputation, insisted on teaching elementary Greek as often as possible.
At Davidson he was a member of Kappa Sigma fraternity. He earned a master’s from Duke University in 1930. He earned a doctorate in 1942 from Johns Hopkins University. From 1936 to 1942, he was a researcher in the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps shortly after Pearl Harbor and rose to the rank of captain before leaving the military and returning to Princeton.
In 1948, he was hired as an associate professor of Greek in the UC Berkeley classics department. At UC, he distinguished himself as an authority in the fields of Greek typography, military science and practice, and the intricacies of the Athenian calendar and time-reckoning. He traveled extensively in Greece to establish the veracity of such historians as Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon and Polybios, whose accounts were often viewed with skepticism by modern academics.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Elizabeth Dow, and daughter, Katherine. He is survived by two grandchildren.