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 It is unpublished but available from University Microfilms, under the name Valerie French Allen; she later gave up the name Allen and was known in her last decades by her maiden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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Following is the schedule for the APA Office for the next few weeks.  Our regular hours are 8:45 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.

December 23, 2011                                        Office Open

December 24-26, 2011                                   Office Closed

December 27-29, 2011                                   Office Open (see Note A)

December 30, 2011-January 2, 2012               Office Closed

January 3, 2012                                              Office Open

January 4-8, 2012                                           Office Closed (see Note B)

January 9-13, 2012                                         Office Open (see Note C)

January 14-16, 2012                                       Office Closed

January 17, 2012                                            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.

Note B:  All staff will be at the annual meeting in Philadelphia

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 12/19/2011 - 3:35pm by Adam Blistein.

October 11, 2011 was a remarkably beautiful afternoon to celebrate a  remarkably beautiful soul at the Community Arts Auditorium at Wayne State University in Detroit. And I was honored to be there to speak, not only on behalf of Wayne State University and the Department of Classical and Modern Languages Literatures and Cultures, but also on behalf of the  American Classical League, the American Philological Association, the Classical Association of the Atlantic States, the Classical Association of the Middle West and South, the Classical Association of New England, the Classical Society of the American Academy in Rome,  the Michigan Classical Conference and the classics honor fraternity, Eta Sigma Phi: each of which asked me to present  their condolences.

View full article. | Posted in In Memoriam on Wed, 12/14/2011 - 8:05pm by Adam Blistein.

A limited number of rooms are still available at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel at the convention rate.  Click here for information about the Hotel.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Tue, 12/13/2011 - 8:06pm by Adam Blistein.

The American Philological Association (APA) will present the following awards at the Plenary Session of its 143rd Annual Meeting. 

Charles J. Goodwin Award of Merit (for an outstanding contribution to classical scholarship published by a member of the Association within the preceding three years)

Lawrence Kim, Trinity University, Homer between History and Fiction in Imperial Greek Literature (Cambridge University Press)

Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Classics at the College Level

William C. Stull, Colgate University

Awards for Excellence in Precollegiate Teaching

Anna Andresian, Regis Jesuit High School, Aurora, Colorado

Sherwin Little, Indian Hill Exempted Village School District, Cincinnati, Ohio

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Fri, 12/09/2011 - 3:57pm by Adam Blistein.

The Pennsylvania Classical Association has kindly agreed to offer Pennsylvania Act 48 credits for primary and secondary school teachers attending the APA and AIA annual meetings.  Complete this form during the meeting and submit it (postmarked no later than January 11, 2012) to the address listed at the bottom.  Copies of the form will also be available in the registration area.  If regulations in their states permit it, teachers from outside of Pennsylvania may also be able to use this form to obtain credits.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 12/08/2011 - 9:42pm by Adam Blistein.

The American Philological Association is pleased to present this special event sponsored by the Gatekeeper to Gateway Campaign for Classics at the upcoming APA Annual Meeting

Thursday, January 5, 2012

9:00 p.m.

Grand Ballroom H (fifth floor), Philadelphia Marriott Hotel

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 12/08/2011 - 9:12pm by Adam Blistein.

According to U.S. News and World Report, "Med school officials say it's all Greek to them that classical language skills help aspiring doctors." Read the article, which quotes Cynthia Bannon and Charles McNelis, online.

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Wed, 12/07/2011 - 7:45pm by Information Architect.

Many thanks to Chuck Jones for pointing out that back issues of Illinois Classical Studies are available in open access. See his entry on the subject at AWOL—The Ancient World Online.

View full article. | Posted in Websites and Resources on Wed, 12/07/2011 - 2:19pm by .

A table listing all abstracts submitted for the 143rd Annual Meeting in Philadelphia has been posted on the APA web site.  Click on the title of the abstract to link to its text.  Abstracts are listed in the order in which they will appear in the printed program.

Authors are asked to review their abstracts to ensure that no information has been lost during the process of uploading the document.  A link at the bottom of the abstract will allow you to send an e-mail with any necessary corrections to Information Architect, Samuel Huskey.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 12/05/2011 - 4:28pm by Adam Blistein.

"How do you take a discipline that's been around as long as higher education itself and make it fresh, interesting, and new? Ask classics professor Dr. Rebecca Resinski. Through Your Hendrix Odyssey: Engaging in Active Learning and other engaged learning programs, classics students at Hendrix have participated in archaeological excavations and on-site study in Greece, Italy, and Portugal. One student group studied the Parthenon by travelling to Nashville, Tenn., where there is a life-size replica of the Parthenon; to London, where the Parthenon Marbles are kept in the British Museum; and to Athens, where the Parthenon itself stands on the Acropolis. Another group gave readings of Greek tragedies for the campus community and designed costumes for updated versions of Greek drama." Read more of the feature on Prof. Resinski at http://www.hendrix.edu/news/news.aspx?id=57174.

View full article. | Posted in Member News on Sun, 12/04/2011 - 3:36pm by .

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