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 It is unpublished but available from University Microfilms, under the name Valerie French Allen; she later gave up the name Allen and was known in her last decades by her maiden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

Categories

Follow SCS News for information about the SCS and all things classical.

Use this field to search SCS News
Select a category from this list to limit the content on this page.

"Emmett L. Bennett Jr., a classicist who played a vital role in deciphering Linear B, the Bronze Age Aegean script that defied solution for more than 50 years after it was unearthed on clay tablets in 1900, died on Dec. 15 in Madison, Wis. He was 93. His daughter Cynthia Bennett confirmed the death. Professor Bennett was considered the father of Mycenaean epigraphy — that is, the intricate art of reading inscriptions from the Mycenaean period, as the slice of the Greek Bronze Age from about 1600 to 1200 B.C. is known. His work, which entailed analysis so minute that he could eventually distinguish the handwritings of many different Bronze Age scribes, helped open a window onto the Mycenaean world."

Read the entire obituary online at The New York Times.

View full article. | Posted in In Memoriam on Sun, 01/01/2012 - 4:28pm by .

APA Annual Meeting Session 35 (Saturday, January 7, 11:15 a.m.-1:15 p.m., Marriott Grand Ballroom I), is a discussion of the literary, historical, art historical, religious, and political possibilities raised by John Miller's Goodwin Prize-Winning book.  Incoming President-Elect Denis Feeney will be the moderator.  Panelists will briefly summarize their papers but will not read them in their entirety so as to leave more time for discussion.  The papers are therefore posted here.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Fri, 12/30/2011 - 4:01pm by Adam Blistein.

To complement her Presidential Panel, “Images for Classicists,” to be held at the 2012 Joint Meeting of the APA/AIA in Philadelphia, Kathleen Coleman has assembled an online resource to help scholars locate and use images in their teaching and research.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 12/26/2011 - 5:59pm by .

 By Kathleen Coleman, President, 2011

As a one-off project in 2011, the year in which the citations for award winners were curtailed for delivery at the annual meeting, the then President, Kathleen Coleman, conducted interviews with the 2010 prize-winners, to give them more prominence than the new format at the annual meeting allowed. The interviews are archived here for their intrinsic value. This site is not part of a series, but simply a unique exercise showcasing the dedication and talent of members of the Classics profession at a specific moment in its history, and memorializing their example.

The citations for the APA award winners are eloquent testimony to their excellence.  But what do the winners themselves think about the job they do and how to do it?  Along the lines of the former “Questions for . . .” column by Deborah Solomons in the New York Times Magazine and its successor, “The interview” by Andrew Goldman, the President set about finding out over the course of the year via Skype.

Click on the links below to read the Q&A for …

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 12/26/2011 - 5:52pm by .

The complete 2012 Annual Meeting Program is now posted. 

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Fri, 12/23/2011 - 6:31pm by Adam Blistein.

"In a scene out of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, John Cleese’s character asked: “Apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?” Turns out the plebeians and freemen of ancient Rome had it pretty good, at least compared to today’s “working” class in the United States. A pair of historians recently concluded that the richest 1% of the population in the Roman Empire controlled about 16% of the wealth. Here in America, that deep-pocketed sliver of society owns some 40% of it."

Read more at Marketwatch.

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Thu, 12/22/2011 - 1:58pm by Information Architect.

The Academy Vivarium Novum is offering four full tuition scholarships for high school students of the European Union (16-18 years old) and five full tuition scholarships for University students (18-24 years old) of any part of the world. The scholarships will cover all of the costs of room, board, teaching and didactic materials for courses to be held from January 10, 2011 until June 16, 2012 on the grounds of the Academy’s campus at Rome (Via Corrado Barbagallo, 20).

Application letters must be sent to info@vivariumnovum.it by January 5th in order to receive consideration.

A good knowledge of the fundamental of Latin and Greek is required (students must have covered at least the contents of the first 20 chapters of Ørberg’s Familia Romana and of the first 7 chapters of Balme’s and Lawall’s Athenaze).

The courses will be as follows:

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Mon, 12/19/2011 - 10:18pm by Adam Blistein.

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.

Pages

© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy