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 It is unpublished but available from University Microfilms, under the name Valerie French Allen; she later gave up the name Allen and was known in her last decades by her maiden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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Faculty, their administrations, and non-profit organizations, including SCS, around the country are engaging in the necessary work of addressing racism within their institutions. In recognition of this work and in support of it, the Executive Committee of SCS is reiterating the board statement of June 3, 2020:

https://classicalstudies.org/scs-news/statement-police-brutality-systemic-racism-and-death-george-floyd

View full article. | Posted in Public Statements on Mon, 07/13/2020 - 2:30pm by Helen Cullyer.

In light of the present administration’s brazen disregard for facts and the public good, you’ve got to admire past leaders’ nonpartisan concern to preserve knowledge for the future. 

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The SCS Board has joined many other scholarly societies in endorsing this letter imploring the federal government to "reinstate the temporary visa exemptions for international students and faculty members while we are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, including at least the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters."

You can read more at the link above.

If you want to take action, please consult the National Humanities Alliance's action alert on the issue here.

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Call for Papers

February 27th, 2021

University of Florida (Gainesville, FL)

Fourth University of Florida Classics Graduate Student Symposium
Myths and Societies: A Cross-Cultural and Intertemporal Approach

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 07/07/2020 - 10:33am by Erik Shell.

Call for Papers

The Fourteenth Conference on Orality and Literacy in the Ancient World will take place in Jerusalem (Israel) from Sunday 20 June 2021 to Wednesday 23 June 2021. Classicists, historians, students of comparative religion, the Hebrew Bible, early Christian and Rabbinic traditions, as well as scholars in other fields with an interest in oral cultures are cordially invited.

The conference will follow the same format as the previous conferences, held in Hobart (1994), Durban (1996), Wellington (1998), Columbia, Missouri (2000), Melbourne (2002), Winnipeg (2004), Auckland (2006), Nijmegen (2008), Canberra (2010), Ann Arbor (2012), Atlanta (2014), Lausanne (2016), and Austin TX (2019). It is planned that the refereed proceedings once again be published by E.J. Brill in the “Orality and Literacy in the Ancient World” series.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 07/07/2020 - 7:28am by Erik Shell.

Body and Medicine in Latin Poetry’, which will take place online on the 17th and 18th September 2020. 

The ongoing epidemic crisis brought forth by the spread of Covid-19 compels us to rethink the concepts of body and disease in light of  their effect on human nature, as well as seek new methods to cope with the sense of anxiety and vulnerability generated by such pandemic diseases. 

This conference will navigate the relationship between Medical Science and Humanities in Antiquity, with papers exploring how medicine can be integrated into poetry and how poetry, in turn, can propagate medical knowledge across various social classes and cultural contexts. Further to that, the conference will explore the extent to which such a relationship reflects our individual concerns about the validity and consistence of medicine as a science of the Human.

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Mon, 07/06/2020 - 5:57am by Erik Shell.

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View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 07/03/2020 - 9:28am by Sarah E. Bond.

The new 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. This post centers on projects that promote emotional well-being and use Greek texts to facilitate conversations on current social justice issues, from New York to Chicago and San Francisco.

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Dear members (and past Annual Meeting participants),

After extensive research and discussion, AIA and SCS staff and officers have decided that the January 2021 Joint Annual Meeting scheduled to take place from January 7-10 in Chicago will now be a virtual event. We know that many of you were looking forward to attending paper sessions and other events, to seeing old friends and colleagues, and to making new connections and we recognize that a virtual event cannot substitute in many ways for a face-to-face experience. However, after full consideration of the public health risks and significant impact of COVID-19 on the ability of most of you to travel to and participate in a large conference in the upcoming months, AIA and SCS have decided that a virtual event is the most prudent course.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 06/25/2020 - 7:13am by Helen Cullyer.

In 2018, a group of scholars founded Mountaintop Coalition, an SCS-affiliated group with a shared interest in advancing the professional goals of Classicists who identify as members of ethnic groups traditionally underrepresented in the field. Mountaintop’s activities focus on practical issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access in professional settings.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 06/19/2020 - 8:30am by Samuel Ortencio Flores.

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