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Mendelsohn President Citation

The SCS Board has unanimously voted to give the 2013 President's Award to Daniel Mendelsohn to recognize his significant contributions to advancing public appreciation and awareness of Classical antiquity.

Daniel Mendelsohn received a PhD in Classics from Princeton University in 1994. He then made a momentous decision: rather than pursue a university career in teaching and research, he moved to New York City with the intention of becoming a professional writer and journalist. To date he has published eight books and more than two hundred articles and reviews in major venues; has given lectures and readings all around the world; and has taught at several institutions including Columbia, Princeton, and Bard College, where he is currently Charles Ranlett Flint Professor of Humanities. He has received many honors, including the Prix Médicis Étranger, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the George Jean Nathan Prize for Dramatic Criticism.

Daniel is very learned, a superb researcher, and deeply thoughtful about everything he writes. He works in a remarkable range of areas, including the Holocaust, the poetry of C.P. Cavafy, a wide variety of fiction, history, and memoir, and American popular culture including film and television. What makes him worthy of the SCS President’s Award is his consistent commitment to and remarkable talent for making the texts, performances, history, and culture of the ancient world accessible and attractive to the general public. His first book, a personal meditation on the mysteries of identity, includes allusions to Antigone, Ion, Pentheus, Hippolytus, Narcissus, Catullus, Sappho, and more, including a wonderful discourse on the Greek particles men and de, all woven effortlessly into his reflections. In discussing new translations of Greek and Latin literature, productions of Greek plays, and novels and films based on ancient texts or history, he eloquently elucidates the strength and power of the ancient materials and makes strong connections with contemporary life. His most recent piece, for example, considers the debate about burying the dead Boston Marathon bomber in light of Antigone. In discussing the ancient world he assumes no previous knowledge, and provides all the information necessary to understanding, yet never talks down to his audience. He is no purist (”there is nothing at all wrong with toying with epic characters and story lines”) but gives no quarter to waffling and pretense.  He brings up scholarly debates in illuminating and often witty ways: “The history of Homeric scholarship is filled with factions whose names make them sound like the parties in a religious war or the participants at a Freud conference: Separatists and Unitarians, Oralists and Analysts.” Michael LaPointe, reviewing Daniel’s latest book in TLS Jan. 25, 2013, says: "The essays on 'Classica' form a congenial survey, ranging from Homer to Horace, which could serve as an introduction to classical literature for the general reader (for whom Mendelsohn always writes)."

Finally, and most important, Daniel is a brilliant writer, who always knows how much detail to include, what tone to take, what words to use to arouse powerful and complex effects. He does what scholars almost never can, considering not only the intellectual but the emotional effects of what he studies and writes about, often in personal terms. Daniel demonstrated all of his talents in a wonderful reading at the SCS meeting in 2012, for which he waived his usual fee so that all the funds raised from ticket sales could go to the association’s Capital Campaign. The classics profession is most fortunate that our area of studies is so important to Daniel Mendelsohn.

Mary-Kay Gamel

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