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Daniel Penham, Columbia Professor and Scholar of Budé, Dies at Age 86

Daniel F. Penham, a Columbia professor emeritus of French literature and romance philology and a scholar renowned for his translations and critical interpretions of the work of the French Renaissance scholar, Guillaume Budé, died at his Manhattan home on July 12. He was 86 years old.

Penham had suffered for many years with Parkinson's disease.

Penham devoted his lifetime to the work of Budé and was a pioneer in recognizing the importance of the French scholar, also known by the Latinized form of his name, Budaeus. A towering figure of the Renaissance, Budé persuaded the French King, Francis I, to found the Collége de France and amass a library that became the core of the Bibliothéque Nationale. Penham was the first to translate Budé's monumental work, De transitu Hellenismi ad Christianismum ("The Transition from Hellenism to Christianity") from the Latin and Greek into English for his doctoral dissertation at Columbia, completed in 1954. Later, he prepared a critical edition from the original into French, Le Passage de l'Hellenisme au Christianisme, a work of the highest scholarship.

During nearly 40 years at Columbia, Penham was known for the broad scope of his scholarship and teaching, offering courses in Old French, Renaissance poetry, Montaigne and the history of language.

Born Sigfried Oppenheim on Oct. 1, 1914, in Bad Hersfeld, Germany, he undertook advanced studies at the College de France and the University of Besancon, where he became during the 1930s a vocal critic of the Nazis and early member of the French Resistance. After earning his License Es Lettres in 1936 at the University of Besancon, he joined the faculty, where his lectures denouncing the Nazis and work in the Resistance gained attention throughout France. At the time, he was placed on an extradition list of the most wanted anti-Nazis.

With the collapse of the French government in 1940, Penham, who had been with the French Army in Normandy, disguised himself in peasant clothes and fled south to Montauban, where the University of Besancon had relocated from occupied territory. There, a local official helped him to establish a new identity as Jean Pineau. He adopted the name Penham when he came to the United States after the war, dropping the "op" from his given name and changing the final letters.

He taught Latin and Greek in Montauban and lived and worked in a bakery. Sought by both the Germans and their French collaborators, he escaped a house-to-house search by the Nazis, made his way to Marseille and obtained a visa to travel to the United States. The boat on which he sailed was commandeered by the Germans and he was sent to the Ouedzem concentration camp in Morocco, becoming a forced laborer on a railroad being built by the Germans across the Sahara. With the help of a Moroccan official, he was released, ostensibly for medical reasons, and convinced the American consul at Rabat that his fluency in many languages could help the allied war effort. Granted a U.S. visa, he sailed for the United States, where he was trained in the Counter Intelligence Corps. He landed on Normandy on June 7, 1944, the day after D-Day, fought across France, Belgium and Germany, including the Battle of the Bulge, and participated in the liberation of the Dora concentration camp.

Toward the end of the war, he worked in the successful de-Nazification of the University of Leipzig and helped to unmask Nazi sympathizers on the faculty of the University of Heidelberg. By reading faculty members' works by night and interrogating them by day based on his knowledge of their own enthusiastic endorsements of the Nazis, he exposed many professors who falsely claimed that they had been forced to adopt the Nazi philosophy. His work resulted in the dismissal of many professors and the closing of the universities for six months.

Penham joined the Columbia faculty in 1947 while working on his doctorate. He became full professor in the department of French and romance philology in 1964 and retired in 1983. He was named professor emeritus in 1984.

He is survived by his wife, Ruth, two sons, Julian and Michael, a daughter, Vivian; and two granddaughters, Deborah and Juliana, all of Manhattan.

Published: Jul 21, 2001
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002

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