2010 President’s Award Citation
The Board of Directors of the American Philological Association is pleased to give the first SCS President’s Award to Garry Wills. The SCS established this award to honor an individual, group, or organization outside of the Classics profession that has made significant contributions to advancing public appreciation and awareness of Classical antiquity. Prof. Wills is one of the nation’s most prominent and respected intellectuals. He is not only an American historian, Catholic apologist, and presidential biographer, but he is one of the most eminent American voices for the importance of the classical tradition in Western culture.
His breathtakingly diverse body of work is difficult to classify, but one can say that his chief interests have been the American myth and American mythographers. His core subjects have been not only heroic figures of our history, from Washington, Jefferson, and Madison to Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and John Wayne, but the relation of the American past and its models (largely classical) to the American present. Since he received his Ph.D. in Classics from Yale in 1961, he has written significant works on the influence of the classical world on American figures and institutions: George Washington’s private identification with (Addison’s) Cato and his popular identification with Cincinnatus in Cincinnatus: George Washington and the Enlightenment (1984); the Athenian tradition of the thanatopolis reborn in America in Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge; and Lincoln’s almost perfect following of the Gorgianic model for a funerary address in Lincoln at Gettysburg (1992), for which he won the Pulitzer Prize.
Prof. Wills is also justly celebrated for his biography of St. Augustine (1999), his translations of the Confessions (2001-2004), of the Gospel books of the New Testament, What Jesus Meant (2006); What Paul Meant (2006), What The Gospels Meant (2008) as well as his translation of Martial (2007). Through these and other works, he has actively contributed to our knowledge of the authors and influence of the ancient world. He is most frequently seen in the pages of the New York Review of Books, where he has reviewed regularly since 1973. After the withdrawal of their chief classical reviewer, his teacher Bernard Knox, in 1992, Wills began (with Jasper Griffin and Glen Bowersock) to take on reviews of books on classical antiquity. His first such review came in 1992 (books on Greek statuary) and continued through 2009 (Sarah Ruden’s translation of the Aeneid; translations and productions of the Oresteia). He has continued to represent in the popular and learned press the importance of classical culture in American life.
Finally, Prof. Wills has been a strong supporter of the SCS itself. He attended the meeting in Chicago in 2008 and was the first to join the Capital Campaign’s Honorary Advisory Committee. He has made a generous donation to the Campaign and traveled to Washington at his own expense to speak at a fundraiser at the Center for Hellenic Studies. For all of these reasons we give this first President’s Award to Garry Wills to celebrate his many contributions to the Classics.
Ward W. Briggs