The Greek tragedy “Oedipus The King,” professor Charles Krohn explained in an impromptu history lesson by phone last week, was first performed in 429 BC. Krohn makes sure to mention this to his English class at St. Thomas University in Houston because the play debuted during a three-year plague that wiped out about one-fourth of the population of Athens.

In his 55 years at St. Thomas, Krohn has endeavored to find some way of connecting classic works of literature to the present-day world. While 2020 has often seemed historic, he uses literature to teach his class it is not unprecedented.

“It sort of explains that that play is somewhat reflective of the experience we’re all going through,” Krohn said.

Krohn, 91, is no longer on the full-time faculty at St. Thomas but is in his first year as a professor emeritus. A post on the St. Thomas website announced his retirement last spring but noted he was “by no means stepping down.” In fact, Krohn has not thought about the end of his teaching days and has found himself somewhat re-energized by the challenges the novel coronavirus pandemic presents.

To put it clearly, he said he would have to be “forced by armed guards” to retire from teaching permanently.

Retirement “was in the works,” his daughter, Julia, said. “He didn’t want to — it was more them saying, ‘Aren’t you ready?’ and he said no. So they were trying to figure out a way to keep him on, and it just happened to work out.”

The remote-learning environment has been a struggle for many teachers, parents and students, but Krohn has adapted quite well. He had computer trouble initially and had to conduct class at Julia’s house for a while, but otherwise he has conducted his literature classes almost exactly as he would in person. He sits at a desk in a button-down shirt, slacks and dress shoes, with a grid of students on the screen facing him.

His daughter even filmed one of her father’s passionate lessons about Homer’s “The Odyssey” and posted it on Facebook. She has taken the opportunity to see her father in action — for the first time in more than 20 years, since she would make brief visits to summer-school classes — as one of the small privileges of the pandemic.

“I know how incredible he is,” Julia said. “But to be sitting there witnessing it, as I have been with so many things that he does, I was just blown away.”

Krohn is adapting, to this day, the way he teaches the classics. He uses Emily Wilson’s translation of “The Odyssey” in class, finding her version is “more accessible without losing the sense of poetry.” Wilson’s writing was published in 2017 and named one of the New York Times’ 100 notable books of 2018.

In his representative literature class, Krohn teaches everything from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” to more modern 20th-century works. And his morning class schedule continues to suit him well.

“This is just how he’s always lived his life,” Julia Krohn Mechling said. “He never stops — not in an obsessive, scary way, just that he’s so passionate about what he does and he just happens to be a master at everything he does.”

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