Memorial Service for David Daube

April 16, 2000

UC, Berkeley

I first met David the first semester I was here at Berkeley as a student in the JSP program. I took his course on Roman law in the fall of 1978. It was a large class in a room far larger than the class, and, like law students everywhere, we scattered ourselves by ones and twos all around the room, so there was little sense of joint effort or common participation.

David's manner was business-like, not cold and brusque, but not particularly inviting either. And, of course, he always demanded the best of which one was capable.

I remember that he spent one class period talking about the Roman peculium, a vexed and difficult subject evidently in that he said that no one had lectured on it at Oxford since he had left.

Rather than take a final, I chose to do a paper. David stressed that Roman law functioned more as the rules for a gentlemen's club rather than a modern legal system and that the gentlemen in this case were of a decidedly unphilosophic cast of mind. So, I did a paper describing the contribution of Roman Stoicism to Roman law in the late Republic. I entitled it "Stoic Midwives at the Birth of Jurisprudence."

He liked it. He offered to help me get it published if I wanted and even volunteered to send it to the editor of a journal on whose advisory board he served. He did so, and, after some delay, which I caused, it came out. It was a topic on which I thought no one had any interest or knowledge, but soon after I received a detailed rebuttal from a law professor in Mexico who was just about to give a paper on the subject in Italy.

In thanking David in the first footnote, I likened him to Anchises in Vergil's Aeneid. I knew he didn't like Vergil and that he wasn't really very much like Anchises, the aged and dutiful father of pius Aeneas, but it served some purpose I had in mind.

My path in JSP led elsewhere than to further study of Roman law, but David befriended me and we remained in contact throughout my time here. He supported my application for a DAAD scholarship to study in Germany, and, when it was successful, I chose to study in Freiburg, his birthplace, about which he often spoke with some warmth. On returning, I gave him a calendar with photographs of the city in the twenties, before the Hitler time and before the Allied bombing raids.

David had strong views, which he expressed in strong ways. I recall that, during the negotiations that were going on then between Israel and Egypt, he measured the chances for peace as the likelihood of rats and mice living together. And, he assured the class that, though unlikely, the very thing had occurred in the basement of his own apartment building.

He once told me he preferred what had happened in Norway to what took place in Nuremberg. Six months after the war, the Nazi collaborators in Norway had been eliminated without all the heavy lifting of the war crimes tribunal. I think this view may have had some impact on his move from Cambridge to Aberdeen. It was not the way one usually went, he told me, and he mentioned the name of Hersh Lauterpacht.

In addition to being brilliant and incisive, David was of course astute. But, he knew too much to be skeptical, and he enjoyed life too much to be cynical. He said he needed what he called das gesellige Leben, life with other people.

The last time I recall seeing him was the day I collected the signatures for my dissertation. He was waiting by the newsstand on Bancroft Avenue, down from Boalt Hall. I went up to him and showed him the title page. He congratulated me, made a few comments, and we said goodbye.

I wrote at intervals after that, and David replied at first. But then, my letters went without reply.

Two things stand out about my friendship with David: one is the abiding sense that it was a privilege to know him, something I didn't deserve. The second is the warmth and depth of concern he showed to me.

I would like to conclude with a few lines from Finnegans Wake, toward the end.


I am passing out. O bitter ending! I'll slip away before they're up. They'll never see. Nor know. Nor miss me. And it's old and old it's sad and old it's sad and weary I go back to you, my cold father, my cold mad father, my cold mad feary father, till the near sight of the mere size of him, the moyles and moyles of itůmakes me seasilt saltsick and I rush, my only, into your arms. I see them rising! Save me from those therrble prongs! Two more. Onetwo moremens moreůMy leaves have drifted from me. All. But one clings still. I'll bear it on me. To remind me of. Lff! So soft this morning, ours. Yes. Carry me along, taddy, like you done through the toy fair! If I seen him bearing down on me now under whitespread wings like he'd come from Arkangels, I sink I'd die down over his feet, humbly dumbly, only to washup. Yes, tidůA gull. Gulls. Far calls. Coming, far! End here. Us then. Finn, again! Take. Bussoftlhee, mememormee!


George Wright