In Memoriam: Wesley D. Smith

(Written by Ralph Rosen and Joe Farrell, with assistance from Karen Faulkner and James O’Donnell)

Wesley D. Smith, Professor Emeritus of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, died at his home in Philadelphia on June 23, 2018. He was 88 years old.

Wesley was born in the copper-mining town of Ely, Nevada on March 26, 1930. His family moved to Seattle, where he attended public schools and the University of Washington, where he earned a BA in Classics in 1951. He went on to graduate work at Harvard University, earning his MA in 1953 and his PhD in 1955. That same year, he began teaching in the Classics Department at Princeton University, but was immediately drafted into the U.S. Navy upon the expiration of his student visa. Between 1956  and 1958, his duties included organizing and running high school classes for naval recruits in Virginia. In later life, Wesley liked to say that he ran the first racially integrated school in that state. He returned to Princeton in 1957, and then in 1961 moved to Penn, where he remained, rising through the cursus honorum from assistant professor to associate professor to professor, until his retirement in 1996. 

Wesley’s disregard for hierarchical distinctions made him a wonderful senior colleague. He had no time for academic politics, and the only administrative post that interested him was that of university ombudsman, in which he served for a time. This preference was in accordance with his general principles of social justice, which led him to get involved in political organizing and campaigning from an early age. A Progressive before he was old enough to vote, he was active in the mayoral campaign of  Councilman David Cohen in the Philadelphia Mayoral campaign  of 1971 until Councilman Cohen, at the urging of  a delegation of his supporters, including Wesley, agreed to withdraw and support the candidacy of William Green in the hope of defeating Frank Rizzo.

Wesley always retained his love of the west and liked to travel there by car with his family every few  years while his children were growing up. He would choose a different route each time and stop often along the way to explore caves, to hike (at least part way) up mountains (including Mt. St. Helens, after the eruption), and to visit historical and archaeological sites along the way. One year’s trip, after a year of reading the “Little House on the Prairie” books with his six-year-old son, followed the route of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s family as they moved west with the railroad.  

No one who knew Wesley did not know at least one of his succession of standard poodles, Mariette, Selene, Argus, and Gus.  He trained each one himself and made sure that they were well behaved and rarely needed to be leashed, with the result that they were welcome in places that few dogs were.

Wesley also had a fine bass voice and sang with the Philadelphia Chorus for more than thirty years. He was a good squash partner, and played regularly well into his seventies. Shortly before retiring, he began studying ceramics and then painting at Community College of Philadelphia, and his art quickly became a passion.

Although Wesley was to become a luminary in the field of ancient medicine, he began his career as a scholar of Greek tragedy. His 1955 Harvard dissertation was a study of dramatic technique in Euripides’ Supplices, which anticipated later scholarly interest in performative aspects of Greek drama, and his earliest publications reflect this direction, e.g., ‘Staging in the Central Scene of Euripides’ Hippolytus’ (TAPA 1960). He retained his focus on Greek tragedy in the 1960’s, publishing several more articles on Euripides, but his intellectual epiphany (as he used to describe it) came while he was working on an article that still remains foundational for anyone interested in conceptions of madness and insanity in Classical Greece, ‘So-called Possession in Pre-Christian Greece’ (TAPA 1965). Wesley was always one for challenging orthodoxies, and in this article he set out to show that traditional assumptions about ‘demonic possession’ in Classical antiquity were misguided, and unduly influenced by popular beliefs of much later periods. His research on this topic brought him into close contact with Hippocratic texts, in which he found an inspiring repository of cultural and intellectual history hiding, as they say, in plain sight. Years later, writing as President of the Society for Ancient Medicine in the society’s newsletter of 1992, Wesley reflected on his unplanned, but enduring, foray into the field: ‘I imagine that everyone else’s experience [in the Society] is comparable to mine. I had no notion of medical history before I explored the Hippocratic texts in connection with my interest in medical imagery in Greek Tragedy. One thing inevitably led to another, and led me in over my head into fields I had not suspected were there.’           

Few literary scholars in the 1960s paid much attention to ancient medical texts, partly because there were fewer commentaries, translations, and monographs available for such texts, partly because the ancient medical authors had been relegated to the realm of ‘technical writing’ and had never properly entered the Classical pedagogical canon. Wesley spent much of the 1970’s gaining expertise in the works of Hippocrates and Galen—no small feat, given the sheer quantity of available texts and the relative dearth of resources at the time.            

The fruits of his labors appeared with the publication in 1979 of his book, The Hippocratic Tradition (Cornell). This complex, trenchant study confronted the nature of the Hippocratic tradition itself, particularly as it has made its way down to us since the Renaissance. Geoffrey Lloyd summed up the book’s main theme succinctly in his 1980 review in Classical Review, ‘…that most of what has been written about Hippocrates and the Hippocratic tradition is a construct, not to say myth, fabricated and sustained first by medical men—and then by philologists in the light of their own preconceptions about either true medical method or the values of ancient or both.’ This was a bold and controversial thesis, but even those whom it didn’t please in all the specifics could not fail to recognize its brilliance and significance. Investigating the nature of Hippocratic medicine through a corpus of works that has come down to us conveniently, but misleadingly, packaged as a ‘corpus’ was an intensely complicated process, which Wesley carried off in The Hippocratic Tradition with a kind of elegance and sparkle that most reviewers made a point of noting. The sheer number and variety of mediations between a historical Hippocrates and what we think we know of his work today, made his task particularly daunting. In most recent centuries, as Wesley showed, an image of Hippocrates and his works reflected more the needs of editors and medical practitioners in their own time than anything resembling medical history. But the greatest mediator in the ‘Hippocratic tradition’ was the prolific and assertive Galen, writing in the second c. CE, whose reverence for, and ongoing engagement with Hippocrates over a long career helped shape the idea in later centuries that Hippocrates was the quintessential ‘father of medicine’ who is always good to claim as one’s scientific forebear. Smith’s rigorous exploration of Galen’s Hippocratism in particular helped to explain why Hippocratism began to supplant Galenism after the Renaissance.

The Hippocratic Tradition was largely a philologically-grounded intellectual history, as many of his reviewers noted at the time,  but in many ways one can see now how it foreshadowed various scholarly approaches of 1980’s and ’90’s, which stressed the ways in which historiography is shaped by the cultural and social forces—not to mention personal biases—in which authors construct the past for use in the present. Just as Galen needed his Hippocrates to be a certain way, and would sometimes go to great lengths to align his great idol with his own thinking, so did later scholars and doctors, even up to the twentieth century, construct a Hippocrates who would promote and justify their own practical and philosophical needs. One can see how Wesley’s book influenced a new generation of scholars particularly in the subfield of ancient Greek gynecology, which even today must work hard to undo centuries of inherited misconception and misdirection laid at the feet of Hippocrates. Wesley must have very pleased, for example, to read Helen King’s account, in her 1998 book Hippocrates’ Woman, of the appalling misuse of Hippocrates in 19th-C British gynecology.

Wesley’s edition of the Hippocratic Epidemics books 2, 4, 5, 6, and 7, which appeared in the Loeb series in 1994, was in many ways a logical consequence of his earlier monograph. Prior to his Loeb volume, only books 1 and 3 of the Epidemics were deemed worthy of editing and translating in that series, largely because Galen thought the others were less authentically Hippocratic. Whereas books 1 and 3 were held to offer monumental examples of Greek scientific methodology, the others were criticized in various ways for being less polished, less coherent or less sophisticated. The Hippocratic Tradition had already showed how capricious and tendentious judgments of this sort could be, and how often they derailed a proper history of the texts. As Wesley stated in his Introduction to the edition, with characteristic simplicity, ‘I hope to make some amends for that here, and, by making all seven books of Epidemics available, to help to restore these unique and interesting works to their proper place.’ As he proceeds to note, ‘the Epidemics are…a unique genre. We know of nothing like them written before or after.’

That point alone should be enough to get these unusual books into the Classical canon and added to graduate student reading lists! In many ways, the style and approach of the authors of Epidemics seemed to reflect aspects of Wesley’s personality as well. Reading the way he describes these works in his Introduction, one can see why he would be attracted to work on them: ‘A large part of their attraction is their freshness, one might even say innocence…In reading the Epidemics one seems to be present while [their authors] are first formulating their descriptions of the way the body is put together, the way it responds to disease, the things that make a difference for good or ill, the ways in which the medical men should intervene. One finds the authors musing about the nature of their experience,…admonishing themselves, “study this,” “think about that,” and explaining “this is what I observed, and this is what I made of it.”’ The ‘freshness’ he detects in these authors, their open curiosity and sense of wonder about the natural world around them—all of these qualities could be seen in Wesley himself. His deep erudition and philological acumen were always ready to hand, but he was most himself when musing about large, elemental issues of human experience, unafraid to start from the ground up, building to complexity from simple, clear questions, observations and inferences.           

One of Wesley’s most remarkable academic achievements has by now become all but obscured by new technologies since the1990s, but it is worth mentioning here as a crucial step in rising importance and popularity of ancient medicine within Classical Studies. From 1989-1993, Wesley was the editor of the Newsletter of the Society for Ancient Medicine (‘SAM’), a most unusual collaborative project inspired by a now legendary panel at the 1975 meeting of the American Philological Association in Washington, DC. At that meeting it was decided to found SAM, and to establish a newsletter with the modest goal of disseminating information about upcoming meetings and events of interest to its members. In 1978, then president of SAM, John Scarborough related a suggestion from one of the society’s members, that the newsletter be ‘used as a bibliographical assembly “agency” in ancient medicine’. The plan was for the newsletter to appear twice a year, and feature a section of ‘publications in ancient medicine’, including articles as well as books. 

Throughout the 1980s the newsletters appeared every six months or so, with increasing space devoted to (often considerably) annotated bibliographies, with many entries appearing in the form of thumbnail reviews. Books, articles, even book reviews, were noted and often summarized. By the time Wesley took his turn as editor in 1989 (with issue #18), the newsletter had steadily grown from about 30 pages to well over 100 pages. Under his editorship, he expanded the newsletter’s editorial board and produced it for the first time entirely with computer technology. (Wesley was the Department’s first member to plunge into the digital revolution, already in the late 70s and early 80s, bringing in TLG tapes that ran on a computer the size of a golf cart and in 1985 eventually the Ibycus ‘scholarly computer’ that David Packard designed for the special needs of classicists). Applying his early expertise in digital publishing his first act as editor was to reprint all the earlier SAM newsletters, bound in two printed volumes for easy reference. In his introduction to these reprints, which appeared in 1990, he had occasion to reflect again on the nature of the field: ‘What is the field of ancient medicine? It appears to me at the moment to include Greco-Roman medicine and its antecedents in Egypt and Western Asia, from the beginning until the abandonment of the ancient conceptual model—for most purposes, the 18th-century, and it includes also non-western medicine in general where it seems relevant and comparable. I hope our inclusiveness will expand.’

The SAM newsletter survived for a few more years, and its final issue in1997, edited by Ann Ellis Hanson, was 263 pages. Many of the original functions of the newsletter were transferred, consciously or not, to the internet, but there has been nothing quite like it since and it is worth noting how much ahead of its time it was, especially in the years that began with Wesley’s editorship. Translated into the terms of our own day, the newsletter was part blog, part crowdsourcing, part database. In fact, nothing available on the internet since has been able to quite achieve what the newsletter did. Listservs and online resources have certainly offered us various kinds of academic community, but these have not yet quite been able to replicate the sense of disciplinary connectedness and sense of purpose that the newsletter strove to foster.

Wesley repeatedly made the point during his term as editor of the SAM newsletter that the field of ancient medicine was vast and required cooperation and collaboration among scholars for it to advance. Today, courses in ancient medicine proliferate, and some of the most interesting work in other fields recognizes the value of ancient thought about the body, disease, sexuality, dietetics, pharmacology, mind-body interaction, and all the other areas that concerned the ancient medical writers. We have only arrived at this happy state because for the past fifty years a small group of devoted scholars was willing to do the kind of difficult, systematic groundwork necessary to present ancient medical texts to a wider, contemporary world. All these scholars were pioneers of their discipline, and many of them remain leaders of the field to this day. Wesley Smith was never one to call attention to himself or to promote his work as anything substantially different from what his fellow classicists were doing, so it remains for us, then, to recognize that he too was one of the great pioneers of his field, and one whose scholarly legacy will endure for many generations to come.

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(Photo: "Candle" by Shawn Carpenter, licensed under CC BY 2.0; other photos used with permission)

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We are writing to share the Call for Proposals for The Routledge Companion to Publicly Engaged Humanities Scholarship, a new edited volume on theories and practices of the publicly engaged humanities to be published in 2023 by Routledge. 

The core of this companion will consist of 25 wide-ranging, practice-based essays, exploring the history, concepts, and possible futures of publicly engaged humanities scholarship in the United States. To build a foundation for these futures, this volume will collect case studies grounding discussion of their methodologies and objectives. 

The project meets an acute need in the field of publicly engaged humanities scholarship, and we hope it will serve as a standard reference guide for future training in a higher education context. 

Following an introduction to the field and its history and methods, the volume will be organized around five areas of particular impact in public humanities scholarship: 

  1. Informing contemporary debates

  2. Amplifying community voices and histories

  3. Helping individuals and communities navigate difficult experiences

  4. Preserving culture in times of crisis and change

  5. Expanding educational access

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Wed, 11/03/2021 - 9:46am by Erik Shell.

Crete/Patras Ancient Emotions IV
An International Digital Workshop on Rethinking Ancient Emotions

November 23-24, 2021

[If you wish to attend, please contact jointly George Kazantzidis
(gkazantzidis@upatras.gr) and Dimos Spatharas (spatharasd@gmail.com)
between 16 and 22 November
2021]

Programme

Tuesday, November 23
Session I. Rethinking the History of Ancient Emotions
16.00* (Athens time)
Douglas Cairns
“Why is there a history of emotions?”
16.45
David Konstan
“Between appraisal theory and basic emotions: How to do the history of
emotion.”
17.30
Chiara Thumiger
“Gates, towers and trenches: history of emotions and the definition of
‘human’”.
18.15-18.30 Break

Session II. Emotion Concepts and the Language of Emotions
18.30
Christopher Gill
“Stoic typologies of emotions: Universalism and ethical standpoint.”
19.15
Catherine Edwards
“Fire and flood: image and emotion in Roman Stoic thought.”
20.00-20.15 Break
20.15
Peter Singer
“Exotic and familiar, medicine and philosophy, emotions and
non-emotions.”

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Wed, 11/03/2021 - 9:43am by Erik Shell.
An oil painting set in front of rust-colored rocks. A woman in pink drapery with her head covered approaches from a higher rock with her arms outstretched. Below, a woman in yellow and green, next to a man in black, reaches up towards her.

I recently taught the troubling Homeric Hymn to Demeter in my Classical Myth course at Bucknell. On the one hand, this hymn is a story of violence. Three quarters into the hymn, readers find Hades “sitting in the bed with his bashful, very unwilling, wife who yearned for her mother” (μενον ν λεχέεσσι σν αδοί παρακοίτι, | πόλλ εκαζομέν μητρς πόθ, 343–344). As Jermaine Bryant and Ship of Theses have recently discussed on Twitter, this scene is clear evidence that Hades has sexually assaulted Persephone. On the other hand, the text presents perplexing information about this violence. At the hymn’s opening, the narrator juxtaposes Hades’ kidnapping of Persephone with a reminder that “loud-thundering wide-eyed Zeus gave” her to Hades (ἣν Ἀιδωνεὺς | ἥρπαξεν, δῶκεν δὲ βαρύκτυπος εὐρύοπα Ζεύς, 2–3).  How are we then to understand the role of Zeus, Persephone’s father, in her abduction?

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 11/01/2021 - 9:51am by .
Stone relief in which the body of a child lies on a couch, surrounded by people in various gestures of mourning.

In the modern world, we are confronted with questions surrounding gender daily, from pronouns in our email signatures to gender-neutral bathrooms. Our awareness of the limitations of a gender binary and gendered roles continues to grow in an effort to reflect gender identity and expression more accurately. Despite these efforts and realizations about our own society, when discussing the Roman world, we often assume a gender binary that is inflexible and constant. By examining cases from Roman social life in which gender plays a fundamental role, we can see a wider spectra of gender expression that falls outside of the strict male/female binary. The Roman funeral, in particular, provides a special opportunity to consider how, even when roles are gendered, gender can be transgressed.

The transitional apparatus of the Roman funeral allowed and even encouraged performative undermining of norms. The liminality of the funeral space, in which the living ushered the deceased from their world to the world of the dead, provided a unique setting that demanded a break from norms. This included gender norms, and Roman funerals served as spaces in which normative expectations around gender were both reproduced and subverted. At funerals, men and women had specific jobs according to gender, but those roles often fell outside typical gender expression expectations.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 10/25/2021 - 10:30am by .
A white circle on a black background with green leaves and white flowers. Around the circle is a yellow vine border, and in the middle there is a palm tree. On the left side of the tree, an abstract figure in drapery stands, and on the right side, a simil

As I strolled one day in the old center of Tel Aviv, I entered the house of Haim Nachman Bialik, the Hebrew national poet. An imposing building, it constitutes a manifesto of Jewish art in the early 20th century: the architectural style reprises oriental shapes, alternating arches and square forms; the decoration aims to express a quintessentially Jewish art. As I daydreamed about the poet holding private meetings and public receptions with the foremost representatives of culture and politics of his day, my eye was caught by two decorative tiles. These tiles, located at opposite ends of an arch that leads into the salon, represent two opposite moments of Jewish history: on one hand, a tile reproduces the Judaea capta coin minted by Vespasian after the First Jewish War; on the other, another tile mirrors Vespasian’s coin, proclaiming, in Hebrew letters, “Judaea liberated.”

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 10/22/2021 - 12:13pm by .

Dear members,

We have a number of deadlines that fall prior to mid-November. Please see the following:

October 31: Nominations for the Forum Prize

November 1: Applications for annual meeting participation stipends and childcare / dependent care funding

November 1: Nominations and applications for the K-12 Teaching Excellence Award

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 10/21/2021 - 11:40am by Erik Shell.
A bronze bust of a man with short, wavy hair and a slightly pained expression on his face.

The Seleucid empire has long stood on the fringes of Classical scholarship. Following the conquest of the east by Alexander, the vast, multicultural construction lasted from 312–64 BCE, stretching from modern Turkey south to the Levantine coast and east into Afghanistan. Interdisciplinary by its very nature, Seleucid history straddles the boundaries of academic disciplines, languages, and methodologies, further fragmenting the study of an already fractured power. Recent holistic studies are rare, making the 2014 publication of Paul Kosmin’s comprehensive The Land of the Elephant Kings something of a groundbreaking study. The examination of what Kosmin calls the “territorialization” of the empire—the ideological constructions and experiences that bounded, ordered, and defined the imperial realms—changed the nature of Seleucid studies by intensifying the focus of the recent “spatial turn” in the humanities.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 10/18/2021 - 9:53am by .

(From the Classics Department at Princeton)

View full article. | Posted in In Memoriam on Fri, 10/15/2021 - 9:14am by Erik Shell.
Poster for the play, Plautus's Casina. A minimalist digital design with a blue background; mountain shapes in pink, yellow, and orange; walls with windows in the same colors; and an ancient statue of a woman.

In the Spring of 2021, as her undergraduate UIC Honors College Capstone project, my student Luana Davila adapted and produced a version of Plautus’ Casina in the style of a telenovela. Due to COVID, she was not able to stage the play, but she produced a filmed version in collaboration with theater students at Columbia College in Chicago. For safety reasons, each actor’s scenes were filmed separately, then edited together. Below is an interview with Luana and the play’s director, Amy Gerwert Valdez, a Theater Directing major at Columbia.  [Editor’s note: the transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.]

Krishni Burns: Can we start with a description of your project?

Luana Davila: The project aimed to tie together patriarchal society in ancient Rome and in Latinx cultures (or in the case of this production, Mexico). My play was adapted in such a way that the original storyline was changed as little as possible, proving that its seemingly ridiculous events made for a believable tale in modern Mexico. This was done to show how interconnected the two cultures are, even though they existed thousands of years apart.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 10/11/2021 - 10:33am by .

The members of the Committee on the C. J. Goodwin Award of Merit are delighted to announce that the 2021 winners of the Goodwin Awards are Aileen R. Das (University of Michigan), Ellen Oliensis (University of California Berkeley), and Andreas Willi (University of Oxford).

Please click on the names below to read the full award citations written by committee members David Konstan and James I. Porter (co-chairs), Harriet Flower, Richard Hunter, and Amy Richlin.

Aileen R. Das

Ellen Oliensis

Andreas Willi

Citation for Aileen R. Das, Galen and the Arabic Reception of Plato’s Timaeus, Cambridge University Press, 2020

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Sun, 10/10/2021 - 6:52pm by Helen Cullyer.

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