In Memoriam Valerie French

Valerie French, Associate Professor Emerita of History in American University, Washington, D.C., died suddenly in her home in Washington, Dec. 8, 2011, in her 71st year. She was born in Toledo, Ohio, Jan. 16, 1941. She received her B.A. degree in chemistry from Cornell University, where her interest in ancient history was awakened in classes under Donald Kagan. She pursued ancient history at UCLA, where she gained her M.A. and Ph. D. (1971) degrees, learning her needed languages in graduate school. She taught at American University from 1969 until her retirement in 2005. She received multiple awards for teaching and for her work in administration. Ebullient and supportive towards all, she served several years as a dean. She published widely on the history and activities of women and children in antiquity and sustained by herself the program in ancient history at American University. Other colleagues will discuss her work in these areas. This notice will focus on her strictly scientific work. It has remained little known but is of the highest importance for Greek, especially Athenian, history.

Her dissertation at UCLA was “The First Tribute Stele and the Athenian Empire, 455-445 B.C.,” 173 pp. It is unpublished but available from University Microfilms, under the name Valerie French Allen; she later gave up the name Allen and was known in her last decades by her maiden name, Valerie French. The official copy of the dissertation is held by the Department of History, UCLA. The work is a highly detailed study of the texts of the first ten of the Athenian tribute lists inscribed on the famous First Stele, or Lapis Primus, preserved in the Epigraphic Museum, Athens. The tribute lists constitute a document second only to Thucydides for our knowledge of fifth-century history. In this study French rigorously brought to bear her scientific training and proposed many important new readings and hypotheses. In measuring and reading the often worn and fragmentary letters she had the advice of Markellos Mitsos, the director of the EM, and of two of America’s preeminent epigraphists, Professors Ronald Stroud and Stephen Tracy. She drew attention to the need for multiple measurements of all ambiguous letters and preserved her many original readings in the notes to her discussion. The result is the only precise study of the texts of the tribute lists since the edition of the lists, known to all as ATL, by Meritt, Wade-Gery, and McGregor (Cambridge-Princeton, 1939-1953). Any future editor of the lists will inevitably have to use French’s work on the texts.

She submitted her manuscript to the University of California Press, which replied that it would not “publish all those numbers,” that is, her many records of measurements of the letters in her endnotes. Discouraged by this reply, she apparently lost interest in pursuing another publisher and turned to interests in other fields. Her publications in fifth-century classical studies are essentially limited to essays in Festschriften dedicated to Truesdell Brown, Donald Kagan, and Mortimer Chambers. The result is that her work on the Athenian empire has been all but totally overlooked. McGregor, who heard about it, requested from her a photocopy of her dissertation but seems to have made no use of it. It is briefly mentioned by Raphael Sealey in his A History of the Greek City States (Berkeley-Los Angeles 1976 etc., pp. 286, 296), in a discussion of W.K. Pritchett’s suggestion that a decorative relief, perhaps containing one list on its back, was mounted on the first stele above list 1. French (pp. 38-41) examined the surface at the top of the first stele and concluded that there was probably “a decorative relief which has been totally destroyed,” but she reserved judgment about whether this hypothetical relief also carried a list of a year’s tribute.

As one specimen of the originality and importance of her work, we may look at the first line of List 9 as numbered by ATL. This line is designated as a prescript by ATL (that is, it supposedly follows the usual formula at the head of a year’s record, “under the ninth board of treasurers, for which ... was secretary,” following which would come a list of cities that paid tribute. The reader will note, however, that only three Greek letters in the whole line are printed in ATL. The first is a dotted (that is, by epigraphic convention, uncertain) alpha, which ATL understands as the first letter of á¼€[ρχε̃ς], “board.” Eight letter-spaces farther on, ATL printed ἐν[á½±τες], “ninth,” in which both epsilon and nu are undotted, that is, considered certain by the editors.

Through repeated measurements of these supposed letters and the location of letters under them in the list of states paying tribute, specifically the name of the city Μενδα[á¿–οι], French showed that the undotted epsilon and nu of ἐν[á½±τες] cannot be read and, more crucially, that the whole line is not, as ATL held,  the prescript heading the records of tribute for the year. She finally sketched and interpreted the preserved marks as rho, gamma, alpha, part of [Βε]ργα[á¿–οι], a city in the Thraceward region; and the column in question contains only Thraceward names, thus “Bergaioi is the most likely restoration.”

French’s results support those of David Lewis, ABSA 49 (1954) 25-28, who with George Forrest had rejected the supposed alpha of á¼€[ρχε̃ς] as “no more than an accidental nick on a much-worn stone.” For Lewis, there was “a distinct possibility that the letters [sc. epsilon, nu of ATL’s ἐν[á½±τες] are not part of a prescript.” Lewis could not accept ATL’s ἐν[ and finallysaw “no alternative to the reading [Βερ]γ[αá¿–οι],” which was to be French’s final suggestion. Note, however, that she read rho, gamma, and a possible alpha, thus carrying the decipherment beyond Lewis. Her work on these letters, it will be seen, is not confined to rediscovering the name of one city, but requires a whole reconsideration of ATL’s list 9.

There is not enough space here to discuss the other critical subjects that French surveyed in her dissertation, such as ATL’s very adventurous opinion (barely accepted, reluctantly, by Meiggs-Lewis in their collection, p. 135) that in the year 449/8 the Athenians collected no tribute whatever and resumed collection in the next year. Rejecting this conclusion after detailed argument, French writes, “there is no ‘missing list,’ no year in which tribute was not collected” (p. 63). On all such topics French maintains her iron concentration and clear, vigorous prose;  and she provides data available nowhere else. Her work, based on a direct, hands-on study of the famous Lapis Primus, will surely some day receive the attention that it deserves.

Mortimer Chambers

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As I strolled one day in the old center of Tel Aviv, I entered the house of Haim Nachman Bialik, the Hebrew national poet. An imposing building, it constitutes a manifesto of Jewish art in the early 20th century: the architectural style reprises oriental shapes, alternating arches and square forms; the decoration aims to express a quintessentially Jewish art. As I daydreamed about the poet holding private meetings and public receptions with the foremost representatives of culture and politics of his day, my eye was caught by two decorative tiles. These tiles, located at opposite ends of an arch that leads into the salon, represent two opposite moments of Jewish history: on one hand, a tile reproduces the Judaea capta coin minted by Vespasian after the First Jewish War; on the other, another tile mirrors Vespasian’s coin, proclaiming, in Hebrew letters, “Judaea liberated.”

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 10/22/2021 - 12:13pm by .

Dear members,

We have a number of deadlines that fall prior to mid-November. Please see the following:

October 31: Nominations for the Forum Prize

November 1: Applications for annual meeting participation stipends and childcare / dependent care funding

November 1: Nominations and applications for the K-12 Teaching Excellence Award

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 10/21/2021 - 11:40am by Erik Shell.
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View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 10/18/2021 - 9:53am by .

(From the Classics Department at Princeton)

View full article. | Posted in In Memoriam on Fri, 10/15/2021 - 9:14am by Erik Shell.
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Krishni Burns: Can we start with a description of your project?

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View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 10/11/2021 - 10:33am by Krishni Burns.

The members of the Committee on the C. J. Goodwin Award of Merit are delighted to announce that the 2021 winners of the Goodwin Awards are Aileen R. Das (University of Michigan), Ellen Oliensis (University of California Berkeley), and Andreas Willi (University of Oxford).

Please click on the names below to read the full award citations written by committee members David Konstan and James I. Porter (co-chairs), Harriet Flower, Richard Hunter, and Amy Richlin.

Aileen R. Das

Ellen Oliensis

Andreas Willi

Citation for Aileen R. Das, Galen and the Arabic Reception of Plato’s Timaeus, Cambridge University Press, 2020

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Sun, 10/10/2021 - 6:52pm by Helen Cullyer.
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View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 10/08/2021 - 1:50pm by .
San Francisco

Hotel reservations are now open! 

The Hilton San Francisco Union Square is the official hotel for the 2022 Annual Meeting and will host the exhibit hall, all academic sessions, the opening night reception, and most related events.  The discounted group rate is $169 per night (plus applicable taxes). Additional rooms are available at the Hilton Parc 55 across the street.  A limited number are available for $159 per night (plus applicable taxes) for reservations made by October 31st.  Click on the links below to make your reservations. You can also make a reservation by calling 1-800-HILTONS and using code AIA or SCS to make your reservation. 

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 10/07/2021 - 3:26pm by Erik Shell.

Online Conference: “The Genre of Hymn in Antiquity”

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Wed, 10/06/2021 - 10:00am by Erik Shell.

The New England Classical Journal (NECJ) invites applications for the position of Book Review Editor, with the appointment to begin in December 2021.

The deadline for applications is 11:59 pm Eastern Time on Oct. 22, 2021. 

A publication of the Classical Association of New England (CANE), NECJ is a biannual, peer-reviewed journal that publishes articles, notes, and reviews on all aspects of classical antiquity. The journal is an Open Access Publication and is available at https://crossworks.holycross.edu/necj/ 

NECJ aims to publish reviews of books on a wide range of topics related to classical antiquity. Each issue of NECJ contains 4-6 book reviews of 1,200-1,500 words each, and the Book Review Editor is responsible for selecting books for review; finding reviewers; and working with reviewers to help them submit their completed reviews by the deadline. In this position the successful candidate will work with the journal’s Editor, Aaron Seider, and Managing Editor, Ruth Breindel, and will receive an honorarium of $1,000/per year for their work on the journal.

View full article. | Posted in Organizations on Wed, 10/06/2021 - 9:51am by Erik Shell.

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