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 It is unpublished but available from University Microfilms, under the name Valerie French Allen; she later gave up the name Allen and was known in her last decades by her maiden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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"When Ted Pappas returned to Greece last summer he took 'Electra' with him. 'I studied it in Greek under an olive tree on my property,' says Pappas, who is directing the Pittsburgh Public Theater production of 'Electra' that begins performances Thursday at the O'Reilly Theater, Downtown." Read more at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review online.

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Sun, 10/02/2011 - 2:14pm by Information Architect.

Helen Hansen, a Plan II and public relations freshman at the University of Texas-Austin, wrote an impassioned defense of the Classics Department in her column in The Daily Texan this week.

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Sun, 10/02/2011 - 2:06pm by Information Architect.

The deadline has been extended to nominate primary and secondary school Classics teachers for the Awards for Excellence in Teaching at the Precollegiate Level that we present jointly with the American Classical League.  October 11, 2011 is the new deadline for receipt of nomination materials in the APA Office.  Thanks to a gift to the APA's Campaign for Classics by Daniel and Joanna Rose, these awards carry a larger honorarium and include a stipend for the awardee's school to use for the purchase of educational materials.  Full details are available on the APA web site.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 09/26/2011 - 5:34pm by Adam Blistein.

A new programme to revive Latin and Greek in our schools

Peter Jones writes in Spectator.co.uk:

Some 15 years ago, at the behest of the then editor Charles Moore, I wrote a jovial 20-week QED: Learn Latin column for the Daily Telegraph. It attracted a huge following, and I still have four large box-files full of letters from users. The majority of them expressed one of three sentiments: ‘I learned Latin at school x years ago, loved it and am delighted to renew my acquaintance’; ‘I learned Latin at school, hated it, but now realise what I have missed’; and ‘I never learned Latin at school and have always regretted it’.

These responses have stayed with me ever since, but they prompt a question: anecdotal evidence about the value people place on Latin is all very well, but would it be possible to produce something a little more objective? Can we demonstrate unconditionally that, as Gilbert Murray argued to the Classical Association in 1954, our pearls are real?

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Sun, 09/25/2011 - 7:45pm by Information Architect.

From The Daily Texan's letters to the editor:

“Greek studies” is not about to be eliminated either as a field of study or as a major here, as the story titled “Greek studies to be eliminated from UT majors,” which ran in The Daily Texan on Thursday, suggests. The classics department continues to offer a wide range of courses on the languages and cultures of ancient Greece and Rome (classical studies), and UT students will continue to have multiple options for pursuing degrees that include advanced work in the language and culture of ancient Greece.

Yes, the Higher Education Coordinating Board has directed UT to eliminate one of our majors: the bachelor’s in Greek. But students still have four other degree options that require advanced work in ancient Greek language and culture: classics, classical archaeology, ancient history and classical civilization and Latin. The classics major requires advanced work in both Greek and Latin language. The classical archaeology and ancient history majors require advanced work in classical culture and also in either Greek or Latin. Even the bachelor’s in Latin requires advanced work in either Greek or classical culture.

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Sat, 09/24/2011 - 7:56pm by Information Architect.

"UT is the only public university in Texas to offer an undergraduate degree in Greek studies, but students entering the University after the current academic year will no longer be able to declare a major in the program. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board directed UT to eliminate its degree in Greek studies following this academic year. The board has suggested colleges cut certain degree programs with low enrollment in order to ease state-wide budget cuts to education." Read more at The Daily Texan …

For clarification, see Professor Stephen White's letter to the editor of The Daily Texan.

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Sat, 09/24/2011 - 12:43pm by Information Architect.

In support of the Gateway Campaign for Classics in the 21st Century the APA and Boston University will host a benefit on October 6th featuring classically themed readings by four poets.

Boston, Home of the Muses: Classical Translations and Inspirations by Four Eminent Poetswill be held on Thursday, October 6, 2011 at 8 p.m. at the Metcalf Trustee Center at Boston University. The evening will feature readings and a reception with

David Ferry, poet, translator, and recent winner of the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize for lifetime achievement.

George Kalogeris, poet and teacher of English Literature and Classics in Translation at Suffolk University.

Robert Pinsky, former United States Poet Laureate and Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. 

Rosanna Warren, poet and Emma MacLachlan Metcalf Professor of the Humanities at Boston University.

A pre-performance dinner with the poets for top-tier ticket purchasers will be held at the former President’s residence, known as The Castle, one of Boston University’s most elegant buildings.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Fri, 09/23/2011 - 2:50pm by Adam Blistein.

The Packard Humanities Institute has made its database of Classical Latin texts available online at http://latin.packhum.org/index. Click on "Word Search," then click on the symbol next to the "search" button for directions.

View full article. | Posted in Websites and Resources on Wed, 09/21/2011 - 12:50am by .

"Before he became a Professor of literature at Harvard, and way before he wrote his classic Shakespeare biography, Will in The World, Stephen Greenblatt was an I'll-read-anything kind of kid. One day, he was standing in the campus book store, and there, in a bin, selling for ten cents (good price, even in 1961) he noticed a thin, little volume called On the Nature of Things, by a Roman writer named Lucretius. When he opened it, he found a description of how the universe came to be. Because Lucretius lived a couple of generations before the birth of Jesus, Stephen was expecting a tale of how gods, goddesses, earth, air, fire and water and an assortment of miracles created everything we see, but as he turned the pages, he says 'his jaw dropped' and 'his head began to burst open,' because Lucretius' creation story doesn't feel remotely ancient. First of all, it's a radically secular account, ignoring gods, goddesses, heaven, hell, life after death, and intelligent design, but more surprising, its logic is eerily, almost spookily modern." Read more, or listen to the interview at NPR.org.

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Mon, 09/19/2011 - 5:20pm by Information Architect.

"Fragments of ancient, rare manuscripts of Greek classical poetry, Greek philosophy and Judeo-Christian Scriptures are being retrieved from papier-mâché-like mummy wrappings on loan to Baylor University -- all part of an international project that will give undergraduate humanities students rare hands-on research. The project, called the Green Scholars Initiative, eventually will include more than 100 universities, with Baylor University as the primary academic research partner. Professor-mentors will guide students through research and publication of articles about rare and unpublished documents, among them an ancient Egyptian dowry contract on loan to Kent State University and an ancient papyrus of Greek statesman Demosthenes' famed "On the Crown" Speech, said Dr. Jerry Pattengale, initiative director and a Distinguished Senior Fellow with Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion." Read more at baylor.edu …

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Wed, 09/14/2011 - 1:59am by Information Architect.

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