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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May, 2020

Below is a list of the most recent NEH grantees and their Classically-themed projects. The NEH helps fund a number of SCS initiatives, and their support affects the field of Classics at a national and local level.

Grantees

  • Michael Leese (University of New Hampshire) - "Institutions and Economic Development in Ancient Greece"
  • Angelos Chaniotis (Institute for Advanced Study) - "Reconstructing Ancient History through Squeeze Digitization at the Institute for Advanced Study"
  • Roslyn Weiss (Lehigh University) - "Justice in Plato's Republic: The Lessons of Book 1"
  • Elizabeth Baltes (Coastal Carolina University) - "Portrait Statuary from the Athenian Agora Excavations"
  • Richard Armstrong (University of Houston) - "Theory and Theatricality in the Early Work of Sigmund Freud"
  • Michael Brumbaugh (Tulane University) - "Plato and the Guaraní Republics of Colonial Paraguay"
  • Evan Rodriguez (Idaho State University) - "Rivals or Relatives? Tracking Truth and Ways of Knowing among Plato and the Sophists in Classical Greece"

Congratulations to all grantees!

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(Photo: "Logo of the United States National Endowment for the Humanities" by National Endowment for the Humanities, public domain, edited to fit thumbnail template)

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Mon, 05/04/2020 - 11:54am by Erik Shell.

Update on COVID-19 Joint Relief Fund

The SCS and WCC are delighted to announce that CAMWS, CANE, and CAAS have joined forces with us in sponsoring the SCS/WCC COVID-19 Relief Fund. This fund will support microgrants of up to $500 to graduate students and contingent faculty based in North America. Each organization will additionally offer free membership for the remainder of 2020 to successful applicants.

Already, only a week after the April 23 launch of this initiative, we have much to report. As we noted in our initial announcement, the WCC and SCS started this fund together with $15,000. Within eight hours of launching the fund, we had more than thirty applicants, enough to consume our entire seed money. At the same time, individual donations started pouring in, as did substantial pledges from the regional organizations CAMWS, CANE, and CAAS. Thanks to all their generosity, the fund has now doubled in value, allowing us to help more people. Yet we are still not able to meet the need: as of today, there are seventy-eight applicants to the fund, with more arriving daily. 

Due to the high demand, the COVID-19 Fund Selection Committee met this week on an accelerated schedule and selected twenty-five individuals with urgent needs, mostly graduate students but also contingent faculty, to receive this award in an initial round. The committee will meet again to consider applications on May 10th for disbursement by May 20th.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Fri, 05/01/2020 - 12:13pm by Erik Shell.

How has the field of Classics changed with the growth of digital writing and social media? How can this writing reframe how ancient languages function online?

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 05/01/2020 - 6:45am by Patrick J. Burns.

Call for Proposals

Lessons from COVID-19: Reflections on Teaching and Learning Remotely

Special Issue of Teaching Classical Languages

As the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced classes to move to “remote delivery,” students and teachers alike are fearful that both “Everything Will Change” and “Nothing Will Change.” For teachers concerned about the rise of online and distance education, this emergency foray into online teaching prefigures a turn to more permanent and widespread online delivery of coursework: everything will change. For underserved students for whom school serves as a safe place and provides the possibility for socio-economic mobility, the emphasis on technology in remote delivery reiterates geographic and class disparities: nothing will change.

The world over, we are hoping that we will emerge from this period somehow changed for the better: that we will learn lessons about what really matters and how better to do what matters most. We are concerned to make the best use of this bizarre opportunity to reconsider our lives, our priorities, our work, our teaching.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 04/28/2020 - 9:25am by Erik Shell.

The SCS Board has endorsed a statement from the American Sociological Association calling on higher education administrations to revise a number of their academic policies.

Two main policy recommendations include recommending "that institutions make temporary adjustments to timelines for student progression and completion, including revising funding timelines as appropriate" and to adjust "expectations for learning and scholarship during this period...[including] alternate grading options or amended graduation requirements."

You can read the full statement here.

View full article. | Posted in Public Statements on Fri, 04/24/2020 - 10:53am 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. In this post we focus on three projects that continue their activity through the COVID-19 pandemic.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 04/24/2020 - 4:39am by .

The Society for Classical Studies (SCS) and the Women’s Classical Caucus (WCC) would like to announce the creation of the SCS-WCC COVID-19 Relief Fund, a new award fund to support classicists, particularly graduate students and contingent faculty, experiencing precarity as a result of the pandemic. Applicants do not have to be current members of the SCS or WCC but do need to be currently active scholars or graduate students who study the ancient Mediterranean world. We know that what we can offer is unlikely to match the needs arising from the crisis, but we hope that these microgrants can give immediate, unrestricted financial support.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Wed, 04/22/2020 - 8:19pm by Helen Cullyer.

Each year the SCS holds a roundtable at regional classics meetings across the country to speak directly with members and non-members about a particular issue that looms large in the field. Due to the cancelation, postponement, or virtual movement of regional classics association meetings, the SCS would like to hold an additional, virtual roundtable with this year's topic: "The 'Limits' of Classical Studies," where we consider what geographies, cultures, and time periods fall into the loose category that we call the classics.

This roundtable will take place on May 12 at 1:00 p.m. EST. Please RSVP for the Zoom meeting using this form. You will be contacted 24 hours before the roundtable with a Zoom access link and other supplementary information as needed.

We look forward to a lively and substantive discussion!

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 04/20/2020 - 10:35am by Erik Shell.

Dear SCS Members,

We would like to remind you of the approaching deadlines for submissions for the 2021 AIA/SCS Annual Meeting.  Please see below for relevant deadlines associated with submission type, plus an update to the deadline for reports from Category II Affiliated Groups that have issued a call for abstracts. We would like to remind you that, unless stated otherwise, submissions should be made via the SCS submission website at https://program.classicalstudies.org.  

DEADLINES:  

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 04/16/2020 - 9:20am by Erik Shell.

In  her ‘art of translation’ column, Adrienne K.H. Rose interviews Jinyu Liu, Professor of Classical Studies at Depauw University, about translating texts across cultures, Ovid, and the translation space as a “contact zone.” 

____________________________________________________

AKHR: For readers who are learning about cross-cultural translation for the first time, could you say a little bit in general about what it encompasses, as well as how it is a feature in your current projects? Isn't all translation cross-cultural?

View full article. | Posted in on Wed, 04/15/2020 - 6:17am by Adrienne K.H. Rose.

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