In Memoriam: Mae Smethurst

(Submitted by Mark Possanza)

Mae Elizabeth Johnson Smethurst was born 28 May 1935 in Hancock, Michigan and spent her early childhood in nearby Houghton, on the wolf's tongue of Lake Superior. The granddaughter of Finnish immigrants, she spoke Finnish before English. At age seven, Mae’s father took a job in the defense industry and her family moved to Philadelphia, where she grew up playing the violin in the Lower Merion High School orchestra and excelling academically. Her scholarly achievements continued at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, where she majored in Classics and French. While a freshman at Dickinson, she met Richard Smethurst in the library, when she was writing a paper about Julius Caesar and he about Roman baths. Dick would become her husband, intellectual partner, and best friend. They married in 1956, between semesters of Mae’s senior year, and after honeymooning in Bermuda, Dick went to Japan to serve in the US Army. Mae joined him after her graduation in 1957, traveling to Japan by troop ship with other Army officer family members. During this first stay in Japan, she taught Classics at the American School, and, with Dick, developed a connection to Japan that would last for her entire life and bring her many friends, collaborators, and avenues for intellectual exploration. Peter Grilli, a student she taught at the American School, took Mae and Dick to see Benkei’s famous roppō on the hanamichi in Kanjinchō at the old Kabukiza; this was their introduction to Japanese theater. They first saw noh at a “Noh for Foreigners” production of Dōjōji at the old Kanze honbu in Omagari, Tokyo.

Mae and Dick returned to Japan in 1961-2, and Dick studied Japanese at a language school while they lived with the Yasuba family, where Mae learned to speak colloquial Japanese with the family’s daughters. Mae and Dick’s relationship with the Yasubas, who considered them family, continued throughout Mae’s life. During that year, Mae took part in the Komaba meetings of the Greek tragedy seminar known as “Giriken,” or Girishia Higeki Kenkyūkai, collaborating on the translation of Philoctetes and other works from Greek into English and then into Japanese and supporting an outdoor performance at Hibiya Park. In the immediate aftermath of demonstrations against the Mutual Security Treaty (Ampo Jōyaku), the seminar was politically charged. Giriken members became lifelong friends of Mae and Dick, including faculty advisor Kubo Masaaki and later Dean of the School of Letters at Tokyo University.

Mae took her PhD in Classics at the University of Michigan in 1968, a year after she began working in the Classics department at the University of Pittsburgh. She was appointed Assistant Professor at Pitt in 1968, and spent her entire career in Pitt’s Classics Department, which she also chaired from 1988-94, eventually retiring in 2013. She also held a courtesy appointment in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures from 1989 until her retirement. Mae’s prolific body of work in Classics was recognized by a number of awards. She was named Junior Fellow of the Harvard University Center for Hellenic Studies in Dumbarton Oaks 1979-80, which at the time was run by one of her mentors, the eminent classicist Bernard Knox. She received the Distinguished Classicist Award by the Classical Association of the Atlantic States in 1993, and was University of Pennsylvania FEW Lecturer/Scholar of Asia and the Classics in 2004-5. 

From early on, however, Mae was interested in comparative work and actively engaged with scholars of Japanese literature and theatre. In a series of conferences at Yale beginning in 1976 examining “Time and Space in Japanese Culture,” she was brought in to offer an “outsider,” comparative view. By the final conference, she was challenging the field to think comparatively through her presentation “Temporal and Spatial Immediacy and Remoteness in Greek Tragedy as an Analogue to Noh.”

Her comparative engagement with noh and Greek tragedy was the focus of numerous articles and books. The Artistry of Aeschylus and Zeami: A Comparative Study of Greek Tragedy and Noh, published by Princeton University Press in 1989, received the Hiromi Arisawa Memorial Award from the Association of American University Presses and was hailed as one of the first monographs to offer a cross-cultural examination of a Japanese literary genre. As Royall Tyler noted in his review, Mae was the first to offer a bridge, and one that would bear weight, between these genres.[1]

 The Artistry of Aeschylus and Zeami was translated into Japanese in 1994 by Professor Kiso Akiko, carving a place for English-language based scholars working on premodern Japanese literature and culture. Mae’s publications on noh continued in 2000, with Dramatic Representations of Filial Piety: Five Noh in Translation with the East Asia Series at Cornell University, which was awarded a Japan-United States Friendship Commission Prize by the Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture at Columbia University. In 2003, she co-edited, with Christina Laffin, The Noh Ominameshi: A Flower Viewed From Many Directions (also with the Cornell East Asia Series), a unique, bilingual volume that brought together scholars of disparate fields and research styles to produce a synergistic work that has served as inspiration and model for later generations of scholars. In 2013, she used Aristotle’s Poetics to approach realistic noh (genzai nō) in Dramatic Action in Greek Tragedy and Noh: Reading with and beyond Aristotle (Lexington Books), which was then translated into Japanese by Professor Kiso and published by the Nogami Memorial Noh Theatre Research Institute at Hosei University. Building on decades of comparative research, the volume offered “an important frame of reference to support world theatre studies.”[2]

Mae’s career brought her into contact with prominent artists as well as scholars. She and Dick regularly hosted noh and kyōgen troupes for performances and workshops at the University of Pittsburgh, including Uzawa Hisa, Uzawa Hikaru, and Nomura Mansai. In conjunction with these events, she and Dick created outreach opportunities in the Pittsburgh community and forged a strong link with Pittsburgh’s Creative and Performing Arts High School, which helped co-host events. Her deep engagement with both Greek tragedy and the noh placed her in a unique position to engage intellectually with modern Japanese productions of Greek tragedies, including Miyagi Satoshi’s Medea, which she and Dick brought to Pittsburgh in 2011. Mae’s final publication, “Greek Tragedy Produced in Japan,” was included in the program for the recent production of Miyagi’s Antigone at the Park Avenue Armory in New York. Along with Dick and colleagues at Pitt, she helped create an exhibit and digital database of the noh prints of Tsukioka Kōgyo (https://digital.library.pitt.edu/collection/k%C5%8Dgyo-tsukioka-art-noh). Throughout her life, she continued to find ways to make the arts she loved accessible to colleagues, students, and the community.

Mae was of the exceptional generation of scholars who came of age in an academic climate that only begrudgingly was beginning to allow women into its ranks, but through their work and devotion helped re-envision the academy as a place where anyone with intellectual passion and persistence could find a place to grow and be taken seriously. She was a beloved teacher and mentor for students of both Classics and Japanese theatre. Benjamin Haller, Associate Professor of Classics at Virginia Wesleyan University, remembers her as an amazing teacher and equally amazing human being. Sachiko Takabatake Howard and Yuko Eguchi Wright, who participated in a seminar in noh Mae co-taught with Dick, recall her passion for noh and for teaching, as well as her respect for her students, a trait both of them try to emulate in their own teaching careers. Mae embraced us all with enthusiasm, helping us tap into our own intellectual passions and turn them into classes, events, and publications that enriched not only us but the broader intellectual and artistic communities around us. 

Mae devoted her life to deepening our abilities to see across genres, times, cultures, and languages, to find ways to speak across disciplines with both profound grounding and lively curiosity. She was an incredibly gifted linguist, a tireless researcher, and endlessly enthusiastic promoter of the arts, a profoundly influential mentor, a lively mind, and a good friend. She passed away December 15, 2019 at home, just one week before December 22, when she and Dick would have celebrated their 63rd anniversary. She will be missed by all, but most deeply by her beloved husband and partner Dick, her first and most constant collaborator.



[1] Review by Royall Tyler in Journal of Japanese Studies 17:1 (Winter 1991).

[2] Review by Judith Halebsky in Asian Theatre Journal 31:2 (Fall 2014).

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Non-human Animals in Ancient Greek Philosophy and Religion

May 13-15, 2021 (Online Conference)

Non-human animals figured prominently in ancient Greek agriculture, diet, medicine, visual art, homelife and war practices. They were also portrayed and examined in various poems, plays, dialogues and treatises. This conference aims at examining ancient Greek philosophical and religious views on issues pertaining to the nature and status of non-human animals and the attitudes of human beings towards them. Possible topics include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. The religious significance of animal sacrifice in Greek antiquity

  2. The depiction of animals in Greek myth and poetry

  3. The goals of the systematic study of animals in Ancient Greece

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Wed, 12/02/2020 - 11:53am by Erik Shell.

Specialized Labor in Classical Antiquity: Economy, Identity, Community

May 14-15, 2021, Zoom Webinar

Keynote Speakers: David Hollander (Iowa State University) and Lynne Kvapil (Butler University)

The notion of ‘specialized labor’ informs research on economic growth in antiquity, ancient slavery, urbanism, philosophical discussions of craft and knowledge, and so much more. But what is specialized labor? In what contexts did it exist in classical antiquity, and why? What were its economic consequences, and how did its existence shape discourses concerning work, knowledge, and identity? Who were the people performing this labor, and what impact did it have on their lives?

The past decade has seen a surge in interest about the lives of workers both in the ancient Mediterranean and beyond. From in-depth case studies (such as Flohr 2013; Tran 2013) to expansive volumes (Verboven and Laes, eds. 2017; Stewart, Harris, and Lewis, eds. 2020) and dedicated conferences, there is an increasing awareness of and interest in what labor looked like in classical antiquity. This conference will join that conversation. Specialized labor provides an approach to understanding labor that bypasses the valuation of labor as ‘skilled’ or ‘unskilled’ by focusing more closely on the division of labor rather than its social prestige. Charcoal burners and mosaicists alike may be specialists, for all the differences in their professional lives.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Wed, 12/02/2020 - 6:32am by Erik Shell.

PhD scholarships in the Humanities at Newcastle University

Northern Bridge Consortium offers up to 67 fully funded doctoral studentships to outstanding applicants across the full range of arts and humanities subjects, including Creative Practice disciplines, and interdisciplinary studies. As of 2020/21, all international students will be eligible to apply for Northern Bridge Consortium studentships, including EU and non-EU citizens. 

We run an annual competition to select the best doctoral candidates and provide a comprehensive and attractive package of financial support over the duration of study, which incorporates:

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Mon, 11/30/2020 - 11:35am by Erik Shell.

1st -3rd September 2021

Abstracts are invited for contributions to a conference on “Reflections on language in early Greece”, to be held on-line (via Zoom or a similar platform) on 1st-3rd September 2021. By ‘early Greece’ we have in mind texts and other cultural artefacts earlier than Plato, and materials that are all too often overlooked in scholarly discussions of Greek reflections on the nature of language. We envisage the conference as offering a series of independent yet mutually illuminating contributions, which illustrate the significance of the topic in this period and the wealth of views and approaches adopted towards it, beyond and besides the traditional opposition between physis and thesis, or between a Cratylus and a Hermogenes. To this end, we hope that our conference will cut across genres, traditional periodizations and academic disciplinary boundaries and we welcome contributions that straddle the divide between Classics, Philosophy, and Linguistics.

Themes that we wish to examine include, but are not limited to:

·         The correctness or incorrectness of language (incl. names)

·         The potential of language to represent reality; the role of language as a tool for accessing reality or as an obstacle to doing so

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 11/30/2020 - 11:34am by Erik Shell.

The American Journal of Archaeology (AJA) was founded in 1885 and is the distinguished, peer-reviewed scholarly journal of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA). The AJA is published quarterly in print and electronic forms (see www.ajaonline.org).

The Editor-in-Chief (EIC) of the AJA reads initial submissions, decides whether to assign them to peer reviewers, and determines whether the final version is publishable. The EIC develops an editorial vision and solicits manuscripts consonant with that vision. The EIC works closely with the Managing Editor and editorial staff as well as with the AIA’s Vice President for Research and Academic Affairs.

The EIC appoints peer reviewers and an Editorial Advisory Board, assists the AIA Development Department in raising funds in support of the journal, and provides written reports on the status of the journal to the AIA Governing Board. The EIC oversees a part-time Editorial Assistant and the work of two independent contractors: the Book Reviews Editor and the Museum Review Editor.

The EIC serves as an independent contractor for a term of three years, with an option to extend for two years. Compensation is normally in the form of release time from the EIC’s home institution; appropriate adjustments will be made in the case of independent scholars.

Required Qualifications

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 11/30/2020 - 10:54am by Erik Shell.
"Empty Theatre (almost)"by Kevin Jaako, licensed under CC BY 2.0

"Old Victories, New Voices"

Lecture and Concert Video Nancy Felson, Helen Eastman, Alex Silverman, & Live Canon Ensemble

In the fifth century B.C., Pindar of Thebes wrote odes to celebrate the victories of great athletes at the pan-hellenic games. He celebrated their prowess by re-telling the myths of ancient Greece in a way that elevated the athletes' status and suggested that they, like the heroes of old, would be glorious forever. But the mythic women had little to say. Instead, they were frequently abducted or maligned. In this lecture-concert, learn more about some of those silenced women in new music and poetry and hear some modern victory odes, including two that celebrate winners in the recent U.S. elections.

The program, which is part of our Performing Pindar Project, aired Thursday, November 19 at the University of Georgia's (virtual) Spotlight on the Arts Festival. It featured new writing by Live Canon poets, performed by members of Live Canon Ensemble, and new music by composer Alex Silverman and lyricist Helen Eastman. The original music includes ballads of Cyrene and an instrumental piece based on the meter of Pindar’s Ninth Pythian Victory Ode. This video should appeal to a wide audience of students and faculty -- anyone who welcomes creative responses to ancient poetry.

Please click on the link below anytime in the next two weeks to see the full program:

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Wed, 11/25/2020 - 2:19pm by Erik Shell.

The Classics Everywhere initiative, launched by the SCS in 2019, supports projects that seek to engage communities worldwide with the study of Greek and Roman antiquity in new and meaningful ways. As part of this initiative the SCS has been funding a variety of projects ranging from reading groups comparing ancient to modern leadership practices to collaborations with artists in theater, music, and dance. Most of the projects funded take place in the US and Canada, though the initiative is growing and has funded projects in the UK, Italy, Greece, Belgium, Ghana, and Puerto Rico. This post centers on two projects that explore the experience of studying Classics in secondary schools, and amplify the voices of Classics students during their early encounters with the field.

View full article. | Posted in on Wed, 11/25/2020 - 7:53am by .

On November 3, 1903, the Department of the Isthmus separated from the Republic of Colombia and became its own republic. This act ended 82 years of history between them. The reason? to allow the US to build a canal after Colombia refused to in August of that same year.

The new republic entered the twentieth century with great emotion and with the dream of finally seeing an interoceanic canal. New projects were sought, but there was also an uncertain future accompanied by the first conflicts with the Canal Zone and the United States. Which were initiated by the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty of 1903, as in Article 1 indicates that the US will guarantee the independence of the Republic and the right to intervene in the affairs of Panama as it is set forth in Article 136 of the 1904 Constitution. The former raised doubts, and questions not only from the neighbors countries that said that Panama was now a US a protectorate and that in fact it was not Latin American, but also by the same Panamanians that felt that way and understood it as an attack on sovereignty and as a risk on the national identity and Panamanian culture.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 11/16/2020 - 7:57am by .

Res Difficiles 2.0: A Digital Conference On Challenges and Pathways for Addressing Inequity In Classics

Organizers: Hannah Čulík-Baird (Boston University) and Joseph Romero (University of Mary Washington)
Date: Saturday, March 20, 2021
Platform: Webinar

ResDiff 1.0 was timely respite in the midst of a pandemic that forced us to change whether and how we convene and exacted costs disproportionately in underserved communities by reinforcing the durable inequities that have come to define our times. What was conceived as an intimate gathering on the campus of Mary Washington for those teaching Classics was transformed into a digital event attracting 250 registrants from twelve countries. In our papers and conversations, we explored how people on the margins in our texts and contexts are invited—or pushed further from—the center, and explored avenues through with such marginalization might be addressed. Following the conference, recordings of the presentations were made available online at resdifficiles.com. Furthermore, a selection of those papers is being prepared for publication in a co-edited series of consecutive issues in Ancient History Bulletin which will start to appear in 2021.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Sun, 11/15/2020 - 1:21pm by Erik Shell.

Some months ago, a piece by Leah Mitchell and Eli Rubies on Classics and reception studies in the 21st century reiterated the importance of studying the reception of classical antiquity. It was a reminder that reception of classical material itself predates the scholarly field devoted to it.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 11/09/2020 - 7:29am by .

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