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 It is unpublished but available from University Microfilms, under the name Valerie French Allen; she later gave up the name Allen and was known in her last decades by her maiden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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We have just posted the schedule of APA committee meetings and special events at the upcoming annual meeting in Seattle.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 12/06/2012 - 2:56pm by Adam Blistein.

The Greek Ministry of Education is studying a plan to relocate the University of Patras Department of Philology (24 faculty members and highly ranked) to a new university in Kalamata (175 miles away) and blend it with other humanities programs, against the recommendation of a recent external review. The decision will be made on the 15th of this month. Those interested in seeing the petition against this action, which needs a minimum of 454 signatures to be accepted by the Ministry, will find it here:

http://www.change.org/petitions/department-of-philology-university-of-patras-keep-the-department-in-patras-stop-its-relocation

Jeffrey Henderson

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Wed, 12/05/2012 - 8:17pm by Adam Blistein.

The American Philological Association (APA) will present the following awards for 2012 at the Plenary Session of its 144th Annual Meeting in Seattle

Distinguished Service Awards (awarded occasionally for extraordinary service to the profession of classics and the American Philological Association)
Ward W. Briggs, Jr., University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC
David H. Porter, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY
Michael C. J. Putnam, Brown University, Providence, RI

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Tue, 12/04/2012 - 9:21pm by Adam Blistein.

As promised earlier, I have prepared the following summary of over 200 responses to my request for comments about the Board's proposal that we consider changing the name of the Association.  The Board now wishes to move to a public discussion phase that will inform its deliberations going forward.  Our Information Architect Sam Huskey has created a discussion forum so that all with an interest can exchange views and suggest or express preferences for specific names.  The forum can be accessed here after 8:00 p.m. (Eastern time) today (November 30).

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Fri, 11/30/2012 - 5:08pm by Adam Blistein.

The Departments of Classical Studies and Philosophy at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada, are pleased to announce a new two-year M.A. in Ancient Philosophy, now accepting applications for September 2013. This program is aimed primarily at undergraduate students interested in pursuing ancient philosophy at the doctoral level. Western has one of the largest concentrations of faculty in the field, including five specialists in ancient philosophy and an additional four core members with areas of research related to Greek and Roman language and history. This interdisciplinary program is the only M.A. program of its kind in North America and only one of a handful of similar programs in the world.

View full article. | Posted in Degree and Certificate Programs on Wed, 11/28/2012 - 9:07pm by .

James J. O'Donnell of Georgetown University has been appointed Chair of the Board of Directors of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) effective January 1, 2013.  Prof. O'Donnell has served the APA in many capacities including terms as President and as Vice President for Publications.  APA was a founding member of the ACLS in 1919.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Wed, 11/28/2012 - 8:40pm by Adam Blistein.

Over the last few days we have posted a great deal of new information about the upcoming annual meeting in Seattle.  In addition to information about registering for seminars (posted last week), you can now find abstracts of almost all papers to be presented at the meeting as well as information on special events at the meeting.  In the latter document please note especially that the President’s Reception on Saturday afternoon, January 5, will celebrate the successful conclusion of the Gateway Campaign.  The Board of Directors has therefore approved a larger budget for hors d’oeuvres and snacks at this event than has been the custom in recent years.  The Board urges all APA members to attend this celebration.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Tue, 11/27/2012 - 8:25pm by Adam Blistein.

APA Office Hours:  November 2012-January 2013

Following is the schedule for the APA Office through the annual meeting in Seattle.  Our regular hours are 8:45 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.

November 22-25, 2012                                   Office Closed (Thanksgiving Holiday)
December 22-26, 2012                                   Office Closed
December 27-28, 2012                                   Office Open (see Note A)
December 29-30, 2012                                   Office Closed
December 31, 2012                                        Office Open
January 1-8, 2013                                           Office Closed (see Note B)
January 9-11, 2013                                         Office Open (see Note C)
January 12-13, 2013                                       Office Closed
January 14, 2013                                            Normal Office Operations Resume

Note A:  The building where our offices are located at the University of Pennsylvania (220 S. 40th Street) will be locked, and the University will not be delivering mail during this period.  Courier services may be able to make deliveries, but the best ways of communicating with us will be via telephone and e-mail.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Tue, 11/20/2012 - 4:14pm by Adam Blistein.

Four seminars will take place at the annual meeting in Seattle.  Find details of these sessions here along with instructions for requesting seminar papers in advance of the meeting and Program Committee expectations for participants in these sessions.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Tue, 11/20/2012 - 3:41pm by Adam Blistein.

Classics programs in two institutions in the Russian Federation are being threatened with closure.  Click here to sign a petition in support of the Russian State University of the Humanities in Moscow.  Click here to sign a petition in support of the program at St. Petersburg State University.  The latter link opens a page that appears to be completely in Russian, but the English version will appear if you click on an expansion link with a caret pointing down (V)after the first several lines of Russian text.

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Mon, 11/19/2012 - 1:27pm by Adam Blistein.

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