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 It is unpublished but available from University Microfilms, under the name Valerie French Allen; she later gave up the name Allen and was known in her last decades by her maiden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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SPRING LECTURE SERIES 2021

Après le deluge: plagues, propaganda, and the mobility of the divine

Please join SAMR members in a lecture series this Spring devoted to the exploration of ancient ritual responses to questions that have filled our minds, hearts and news feeds over an extraordinary year. Four speakers have will explore contemporary issues, including disease, identity, mobility and disempowered cultural groups through the lenses of ancient ritual practice.  All are welcome -mark your calendars!

All sessions will be held at this Zoom address: https://pugetsound-edu.zoom.us/j/93329292263

March 11, at 12 noon EST

“Osor-Hapi: North African Cult Paradigms during the Hellenistic and Roman Periods.”

Dr. Vivian A. Laughlin

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Mon, 03/01/2021 - 11:49am by Erik Shell.

The second iteration of the conference, Res Difficiles 2.0 Difficult Conversations in Classics (ResDiff2), will be held March 20, 2021; registration is now

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The Perception of Climate and Nature in Ancient Societies

International Online Conference

14th  May 2021

Organised by  Classical Students Association of the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin

Call for Papers

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Goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone give grain to Triptolemos and teach him the art of agriculture. Marble Relief from Eleusis. ca. 430 BCE. Roman copy. ca. 27 BCE – 14 CE. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The 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. Most of the projects funded take place in the US and Canada, though the initiative is growing and has funded projects in the UK, Italy, Greece, Belgium, Ghana, and Puerto Rico. This post highlights projects that foster engagement and education for school-aged children and young adults from California to Canada, Chicago to New York.

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The Executive Committee of the SCS has issued the following statement:

For several years, serious issues have arisen concerning online communications within the classics community. The SCS reminds its members to respect the dignity of one another in professional and private communications. These communications include, inter alia, social media posts and direct messages, private emails, and messages posted to email listservs. In view of these concerns the SCS Professional Matters Division is preparing guidelines for social media and other online communications.

Approved 2/25/2021

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Summer 2021 Election Slate

The 2020-2021 SCS Nominating Committee, co-chaired by Laurel Fulkerson and Celia Schultz, has worked hard through the late Fall 2020 and early 2021. The Committee is pleased to present the following slate of candidates for election in Summer 2021. All candidates listed below have agreed to stand. SCS will publish candidate statements in the late spring or early summer and online voting will begin as usual on or around August 1.

President-Elect (one to be elected)

Lesley Dean-Jones

Matthew Roller 

Financial Trustee (one to be elected)

Daniel Berman

Joseph Farrell

Vice President for Education (one to be elected)

Dani Bostick

Teresa Ramsby

Directors (two to be elected)

(one candidate, Yurie Hong, has withdrawn)

Young Richard Kim

Nandini Pandey

Bronwen Wickkiser

Craig Williams

Nominating Committee (two to be elected)

Ronnie Ancona

Pramit Chaudhuri

Joel Christensen

Akira Yatsuhashi

Program Committee (one to be elected)

Rosa Andújar

Denise Demetriou

Goodwin Committee (two to be elected)

Rhiannon Ash

Constanze Guthenke

Yopie Prins

Phiroze Vasunia 

Committee on Professional Ethics (two to be elected)

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In Part 2 of our guest series for the SCS Blog, the Women’s Classical Caucus (WCC) invites you to celebrate the winner of its 2020–2021 Leadership Award: Suzanne Lye, Assistant Professor of Classics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The award recognizes Dr. Lye’s extraordinary leadership and initiative in establishing, administering, and fundraising for the SCS-WCC Covid-19 Relief Fund. Since April 2020, this emergency microgrant fund has distributed no-strings-attached awards of up to $500 to North American classicists in need.

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If there’s one thing in this divided America that we can all agree on, it’s that former president Donald J. Trump’s impeachment lawyer Bruce Castor was pretty crappy.

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The Classics Department at UNC-Chapel Hill is sad to announce that Philip A. Stadter died last week at the age of 84 in North Carolina. In over forty years of teaching at UNC, and in almost twenty years of a very active retirement, Philip wrote influential books and articles about Plutarch, Arrian, Thucydides and other authors, and his friendships and mentoring and collaborations extended around the world. There is an obituary online, with information about a service Tuesday 2/16 at 2:30 Eastern time that will have an online component, at https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/newsobserver/obituary.aspx?n=philip-stadter&pid=197767979.

A longer statement from the Department about his life and work is forthcoming.

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The Women’s Classical Caucus (WCC) invites you to celebrate the winners of its 2020–2021 Public Scholarship and Advocacy awards and to learn more about how their work is influencing our field. Over the next month, the SCS Blog will publish a three-part series of in-depth interviews by the WCC with the award winners, who discuss their work in strengthening communities within the field and introducing new audiences to Classics.

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