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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Departmental memberships for 2020 are now available. This year's departmental membership includes new publication options as well as the ability to purchase membership for students and contingent faculty.

You can download the form here, then send it to the SCS office through fax or via email at info@classicalstudies.org

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View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 10/10/2019 - 10:38am by Erik Shell.

"Space and Governance: Towards a New Topography of Roman Administration"

Conference, 3-4 April 2020, Royal Academy of Spain at Rome (Real Academia de España en Roma)

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Thu, 10/10/2019 - 8:53am by Erik Shell.

Call for Volunteers

The Society for Classical Studies seeks graduate, undergraduate, and contingent faculty volunteers for the 151th Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., which will take place this coming January.  Assignments will include working in the registration area and assisting staff with some sessions and special events.

You can sign up to volunteer here.

In exchange for six hours of service (either in one continuous or in segmented assignments), volunteers receive a waiver of their annual meeting registration fees.  It is not necessary to be an SCS member to volunteer.

For more information about the meeting itself, visit our Annual Meeting page.

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View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 10/07/2019 - 10:25am by Erik Shell.

In response to problems and needs, some long-term and others exposed by events at San Diego, the SCS Board of Directors has voted to add an Equity Adviser to the SCS board as an advisory member, with voice but without vote. This will be a three-year appointment made by the President, upon approval of the directors. The position will replace on the board, as of January 5, 2020, the current chair of the Strategic Development Committee, who currently serves as an ex officio board member with voice but without vote. The Strategic Development Committee itself is being wound down as part of an attempt to rationalize our governance structure. This change will not affect the 16 elected board positions.

The main roles of the Equity Adviser (hereafter EA) will be to promote diversity, inclusion, and equity in all SCS activities, looking especially at elections, governance, publications, and the annual meeting.  The EA will consult with the Committee on Professional Matters to obtain an accurate understanding of topics and data relating to diversity, inclusion, and equity across the organization. This would be particularly important in the first year of an EA’s appointment, as the adviser assesses historical trends in diversity relating to:

1) our Board of Directors and our committees;

2) the program of our annual meeting, and its actual realization; and

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Fri, 10/04/2019 - 2:35pm by Erik Shell.

ANCHORING TECHNOLOGY IN GRECO-ROMAN ANTIQUITY

An interdisciplinary conference
Soeterbeeck (Radboud University), 10-13 December 2020

‘Anchoring Innovation’ is a Dutch research program in Classics that studies how people deal with ‘the new’ (http://www.ru.nl/oikos/anchoring-innovation/). We want to understand the multifarious ways in which relevant social groups connect what they perceive as new to what they feel is already familiar (‘anchoring’). In this conference, our focus will be on technological innovations in classical antiquity, and the ways in which these became acceptable, were adopted, and spread – or died an unceremonious death.

Technology is here understood in the widest sense of the word: it includes building materials and techniques, technical procedures and products, but also information technologies such as writing and calculating, coinage, medicine and military technology. Greco-Roman antiquity offers an ideal testing ground for understanding technological change in a complex, yet non-modern society: it is richly documented (both in the written record and in material remains), and the ‘sources’ are complex but also well-disclosed, which enables us to tackle complex research questions.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Fri, 10/04/2019 - 1:24pm by Erik Shell.

In the past year, the Society for Classical Studies website has published a number of pieces catalyzed by the blatant racism on display at the most recent annual meeting. Professor Joy Connolly wrote a piece called “Working Toward a Just and Inclusive Future for Classics,” which then generated a response by an anonymous graduate student group, which in turn led to further comment by the SCS, Professor Connolly, and the newly formed SCS Graduate Student Committee. These various pieces pointed to ways Classics could progress and thrive for generations to come. 

What became lost in this series of posts was a focus on racial diversity and inclusivity, as the conversation increasingly broadened to include all manner of injustice found in academic work conditions. The act of racism that started the conversation became overshadowed by much more general discussion about problems that affect the whole of academia, e.g., the increasing precarity of academic labor.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 10/04/2019 - 6:33am by Joy Reeber.

Below are the citations for the three winners of our 2019 Charles J. Goodwin Award of Merit. Please join us in congratulating this year's winners and in thanking the Goodwin Committee members for their hard work.

Andrew C. Johnston

Josephine Quinn

Francesa Schironi

Andrew C. Johnston, The Sons of Remus: Identity in Roman Gaul and Spain. Harvard University Press, 2017

The story of the Roman Empire, much like the story of the American West, has long emphasized assimilation and Romanization: parcere subiectis et debellare superbos. Presumably discarded were the local identities and indigenous traditions that no longer defined or empowered the provincials. Unlike the cities of the Greek East, with their indigenous and hyper-literate insistence on their own distinctive identities, past and present, the Roman West has been thought to be a virtual tabula rasa, on which Romanness was inscribed with little difficulty. 

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Thu, 10/03/2019 - 12:58pm by Erik Shell.

For the first time since 2016, the SCS will be holding four seminars at this year’s annual meeting.

Seminars as a rule concentrate on more narrowly focused topics and aim at extensive discussion. In order to allow the time to be spent mainly on discussion, the SCS publishes a notice about the session in advance, and organizers distribute copies of the papers (normally three or four in number) to be discussed to those who request them.  Attendance at a seminar will, if necessary, be limited to the first 25 people who sign up. Seminars are normally three hours in length. Registered meeting attendees may sign up at no additional cost for one or more of these seminars during the month of October.

You can chceck out this year's seminars and sign up here: https://classicalstudies.org/annual-meeting/2020/151/2020-annual-meeting-seminars

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View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 09/30/2019 - 10:40am by Erik Shell.

The new Classics Everywhere initiative, launched by the SCS in 2019, supports projects that seek to engage communities all over the US and Canada with the worlds of Greek and Roman antiquity in new and meaningful ways. As part of this initiative the SCS has been funding a variety of projects ranging from children’s programs to teaching Latin in a prison. In this post we focus on four programs that use the performing arts for the exploration and appreciation of Greek and Latin literature.

Observing artists who work imaginatively and freely with the ancient material encourages students to think and act in non-linear ways. Cultivating one’s imagination is particularly important for Classicists, who are constantly seeking for new interpretations and new approaches to the ancient past. The projects below funded by the SCS’ Classics Everywhere Initiative invite their audiences to examine Greek and Roman literature through dance, theater, and staged readings; to explore known stories through different lenses; to stimulate their imagination; and to satisfy the human desire for creativity, entertainment, and learning.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 09/27/2019 - 6:12am by Nina Papathanasopoulou.

The Ancient Mediterranean for Modern Audiences: Reception, Pedagogy, Entertainment

March 6-7, 2020
Ohio Union, Columbus, Ohio

The aim of the OSU Classics Graduate Student Colloquium is to explore various directions in which the Ancient Mediterranean has been adapted and utilized by different cultures in Modern world from the Renaissance to the present day. In recent years, the online journal “Eidolon” and other public scholarship media have already successfully demonstrated how the cultures of the Ancient Mediterranean can be accessed, interpreted, and applied through various experiences by scholars, students, writers, and by the wider communities. We believe that the reception of Ancient Mediterranean cultures has become an important element of Classical scholarship and pedagogy. It is a critical point of contact between the academic community and the general audience.

The OSU Classics Graduate Student Colloquium invites papers on a range of topics that discuss and analyze the reception of the Ancient Mediterranean from a point of view of philology, linguistics, theater and performance studies, history, pedagogy, archaeology, art history, philosophy, anthropology, political studies, media studies, and/or gender studies. Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Thu, 09/26/2019 - 12:34pm by Erik Shell.

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