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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Fellowships, Scholarships, and Grants, January – April 2020

Some of our short-term fellowship and Classics Everywhere award winners are deferring use of their awards until Fall 2020 or 2021 owing to COVID-19. However, we congratulate everyone who was awarded a scholarship, fellowship or grant this spring, and we thank our selection committees for their hard work.

TLL Fellowship:

Amy Koenig

Pearson Fellowship:

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Wed, 05/27/2020 - 5:32pm by Helen Cullyer.

Please see below a message from the SCS President, followed by a listing of 2020 graduates:

With in-person celebrations ruled out by the coronavirus pandemic, the Society for Classical Studies is proud to recognize the many graduates at all levels across North America who have chosen to make serious and sustained study of the ancient Mediterranean world a significant part of their education.  For those who are earning PhD’s, we welcome the new contributions to knowledge that each of you has made, and we pledge our support and guidance as you negotiate an even more challenging professional landscape than you signed up for.  We warmly salute all degree-recipients who are pursuing careers in the vital enterprise of K-12 education.  For those who are going in other directions, we take great satisfaction in the variety of paths you will be following.  We hope the classical world will remain an important part of your lives, and we invite you to visit our website, read our blog, and join the SCS as “Friends of Classics.”  And we count on you as lifelong advocates for the value of studying Greco-Roman and ancient Mediterranean history and culture: please take every opportunity to spread the word that the ancient world still presents us with new questions to investigate and with multiple points of reference for thinking through our present-day concerns.  Heartfelt congratulations to all!

View full article. | Posted in Presidential Letters on Mon, 05/25/2020 - 12:11pm by Helen Cullyer.

The Arabic and Latin Glossary (hereafter al-gloss) is a free, online dictionary of the vocabulary used by medieval translators, primarily working in eleventh- to thirteenth-century Italy and Spain, to render the Arabic versions of Greek scientific and philosophical texts and original Arabic compositions into Latin. It is parallel, in terms of its scholarly goals and methodology, to the database Glossarium Graeco-Arabicum (hereafter gloss-ga), which is also run out of Germany but by a different team. In this review, I will refer to gloss-ga because it offers a point of comparison for assessing al-gloss’ editorial decisions and accessibility.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 05/22/2020 - 3:23pm by .
Books

Loeb Classical Library Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowships in Classics

2021-2023

The Trustees of the Loeb Classical Library Foundation announce funding of four two-year postdoctoral fellowships to be held in the academic years 2021–2023. [A further four fellowships will be funded for the academic years 2022–2024] The details for the first round of competition for these fellowships are as follows:

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Thu, 05/21/2020 - 2:30pm by Helen Cullyer.

Many congratulations to Erik Shell who graduates today with his M.A. in Education Policy from NYU. Erik has been working part-time on his degree while working full-time for SCS in many roles. He runs the the Placement Service, works on social media and our website, coordinates our departmental membership program, edits video, and does so many other things. Thank you, Erik, for everything you do for SCS and its members, and congratulations on a well-deserved Masters degree!

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Wed, 05/20/2020 - 8:09am by Helen Cullyer.

Have you ever thought about a terminal MA in Classics?

I have to confess, I hadn’t before coming to teach at Boston College, where we have such a graduate program. I had firsthand experience with Classics BAs in colleges that only granted undergraduate degrees, BAs and MAs in PhD-granting departments — heck, even a combined BA/MA program. But a freestanding MA degree that was a purposeful end goal rather than an add-on, an along-the-way, or a no-more-thanks? It never crossed my mind. To judge from the conversations that I’ve had since joining a department with a terminal MA program, I think that’s true of a lot of Classics faculty, as well as for a lot of students. And I also think that has led to some unfortunate misunderstandings about terminal MAs and their contributions, both to the field as a whole and to the personal and professional development of individual students.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 05/15/2020 - 8:26am by Christopher Polt.

Barbara K. Gold is Edward North Professor of Classics at Hamilton College, Emerita. She received her B.A. at the University of Michigan in 1966, her master’s degree in 1968 and her doctorate in 1975, both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research focuses on Greek and Roman literature, particularly Roman elegy, lyric, and satire; medieval literature, culture, and history; Roman social history; women in the ancient world; and feminist criticism. A prolific author and recipient of numerous grants and awards, Professor Gold was the first woman editor of The American Journal of Philology from 2000 to 2008 and is currently Vice President for Professional Matters of the Society for Classical Studies. She has also served on numerous college committees and was Associate Dean of Faculty at Hamilton College (1997-2001).

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 05/08/2020 - 5:01am by Claire Catenaccio.

THE ERICH S. GRUEN PRIZE

On behalf of the Society for Classical Studies (SCS), the Erich S. Gruen Prize Committee invites all graduate students in North America to enter the first annual competition for the best graduate research paper on multiculturalism in the ancient Mediterranean. This year the prize will be a cash award of $500. 

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Thu, 05/07/2020 - 6:55am by Erik Shell.

(From Anthony Preus and Caleb Cohoe)

Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy Network Facebook group has been set up as a forum for scholars working in any area of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, from Thales of Miletus through to Boethius and Byzantium. All members are encouraged to share ancient philosophy related events, questions, books and articles (including their own), and teaching materials. Any scholar with an interest in ancient philosophy, whatever their academic discipline, is welcome to join. Caleb will generally be able to respond to membership requests within 24 hours. 

He'll still be posting events and other key information on my ancient philosophy events calendar. 

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Wed, 05/06/2020 - 12:52pm by Erik Shell.

(Sent by the National Humanities Alliance on May 5, 2020)

As Congress considers additional COVID-19 stimulus funding packages, we are once again calling on you to advocate for additional relief funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

While we are very grateful for the $75 million awarded to the NEH in the CARES Act, currently available funding will cover only a fraction of the needed assistance.

Humanities educators and organizations across the country continue to face intense strains as they try to meet the growing needs of their communities. Whether it's humanities programming that connects people, scholars contributing to public discourse about the pandemic, or archives that have made a quick pivot to preserve artifacts of this moment, the humanities are proving crucial to community life.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Tue, 05/05/2020 - 3:11pm by Erik Shell.

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