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 It is unpublished but available from University Microfilms, under the name Valerie French Allen; she later gave up the name Allen and was known in her last decades by her maiden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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Several affiliated groups have extended their deadlines in their calls for abstracts for the 2023 Annual Meeting:

American Classical League, Teaching Students to Read Latin: What does that mean?, February 10, 2022

Vergilian Society, Green Vergil: Nature and the Environment in Vergil and the Vergilian Tradition, February 11, 2022

Society for Late Antiquity, Slow and Fast Violence in Late Antiquity, February 15, 2022

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The American Council of Learned Societies Opens 2022 Leading Edge Fellowship Competition for Recent PhDs in the Humanities and Interpretive Social Sciences

Program Partners Early-Career Humanities Scholars with Nonprofit Organizations Advancing Social Justice

Fellowship applications due by 9pm EDT on Monday, March 28, 2022.

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Wed, 02/02/2022 - 12:06pm by .

Announcing SOURCES IN EARLY POETICS, a new book series published by Brill

Online launch and roundtable: 16 March 2022 (1:30 PM – 3:00PM EDT)

View full article. | Posted in General Announcements on Wed, 02/02/2022 - 11:12am by .

The Department of the Classics at Harvard announces the following opportunities and initiatives designed to advance our community’s goals of diversity and inclusion:

Harvard Classics Scholars-in-Training Summer Program (for high school students (Remote) or undergraduates (In Person) Application deadline is Friday, February 25, 2022 by 11:59 p.m. EST.

View full article. | Posted in Summer Programs on Wed, 02/02/2022 - 10:55am by .

Final Reminder: Revised 9/23/21 with updated submission deadline of Friday, February 18, 2022.

As previously announced, Patrice Rankine and Sasha-Mae Eccleston will serve as guest editors of a future issue of TAPA with the theme of race, racism, and Classics (issue 153:1, to appear April 2023). Their detailed call for papers, along with submission instructions, follows.

Covid-19 and the global Movement 4 Black Lives have highlighted the extent to which racism is a public health emergency whose reach extends across the Black Atlantic and far beyond. In light of these deeply imbricated developments, this volume becomes even more timely.

Race and Racism: Beyond the Spectacular

"…the “cultural logic” of lynching enables it to emerge and persist throughout the modern era because its violence “fit” within the broader, national cultural developments. This synchronicity captures why I refer to lynching as “spectacular”: the violence made certain cultural developments and tensions visible for Americans to confront."

       Jacqueline Goldsby, A Spectacular Secret: Lynching in American Life and Literature

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 01/31/2022 - 1:37pm by .
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Please join us on Monday, February 14, 2022, at 4:00-5:30pm EST, for a career webinar for PhDs and graduate students on K-12 teaching (registration required).

ACLS will offer a virtual presentation for PhDs and graduate students to learn about teaching roles in K-12 schools during a Q&A with people representing K-12 independent and public schools.

We hope this will prepare anyone interested in applying to K-12 independent and public schools for Fall 2022 teaching roles, which are advertised primarily in winter. Teaching at public schools is a less immediate option because of certification and degree requirements which vary by state, so most of our panelists teach in independent schools, which don’t require certification.

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Fri, 01/28/2022 - 9:33am by .

In 2022 the Society for Classical Studies (SCS) will again award the David D. and Rosemary H. Coffin Fellowship for study and travel in classical lands.

The Fellowship is intended to recognize secondary-school teachers of Greek or Latin who are as dedicated to their students as the Coffins themselves by giving them the opportunity to enrich their teaching and their lives through direct acquaintance with the classical world.  It will support study in classical lands (not limited to Greece and Italy); the recipient may use it to attend an educational program in (e.g. American Academy, American School) or to undertake an individual plan of study or research. It may be used either for summer study or during a sabbatical leave, and it may be used to supplement other awards or prizes.

You can read more about this fellowship here: Coffin Fellowship Flyer or for full details and instructions please visit the David D. and Rosemary H. Coffin Fellowship page. Materials must be received no later than 5:00 p.m. (Eastern Time) on Thursday, February 17, 2022.

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View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 01/27/2022 - 8:16am by Helen Cullyer.

Digital Ancient Rome

An NEH Summer Seminar for K-12 educators

Digital Ancient Rome is an NEH Summer Seminar for K-12 educators that will give teachers an opportunity to learn about important examples of Roman art, architecture, and archaeology through a broad range of digital resources. One of the most exciting things for students who study ancient Rome is that so many physical aspects of its civilization survive to this day. It is not just an ancient history that we know through texts. The surviving material remains—small artifacts, sculpture, paintings, mosaics, public monuments, neighborhoods, and whole cities—tell a variety of stories about the ancient world, and they bring history to life in a way that students find compelling.  

Dates: July 18-29, 2022

Place: Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minnesota

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Wed, 01/26/2022 - 8:40pm by Helen Cullyer.

Congratulations to our 2021 award winners again! You can view the full award citations by clicking on the links below:

Deborah Beck

Richard Ellis

Wilfred Major

Brett Rogers 

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Tue, 01/25/2022 - 2:11pm by Helen Cullyer.

Congratulations again to our 2021 winners! You can read the full award citations for each prize winner by clicking on the names below:

Jessie Craft

Mathew Olkovikas

Margaret Somerville


View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Tue, 01/25/2022 - 1:48pm by Helen Cullyer.

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