North American Scholar

FRENCH, Valerie

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  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1941-01-16
  • Born City: Toledo
  • Born State/Country: OH
  • Parents: John Samuel & Elizabeth Harmon F.
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 2011-12-08
  • Death City: Washington
  • Death State/Country: DC
  • Married: Donald Robert Allen; Robert Lee Meisner, March 6, 1976
  • Education:

    B.A. Cornell (Chemistry), 1964; M.A., UCLA,  1967; Ph.D., 1971.

  • Professional Experience:

    Lecturer, American University (Washington, DC), 1969-72; asst. to asso. prof. history, American University of Washington, 1972-2005; asso. dean curriculum, 1978-83; dir. summer sessions, 1986-96; chair, dept. history, 2001-4.

  • Dissertation:

    "The First Tribute Stele and the Athenian Empire, 455-445 B.C." (UCLA, 1971).

  • Publications:

    “Sons and Mothers,” Helios 4 (1976) 54-56; Historians and the Living Past: The Theory and Practice of Historical Study, with Allan J. Lichtman (Arlington Heights, IL: AHM Publishing Corp., 1978; repr. Arlington Heights, IL: Harlan Davidson, 1986); “Herodotus, Revisionist Historian,” in Panhellenica. Essays in Ancient History and Historiography in Honor of Truesdale S. Brown, ed. S. M. Burstein & L.A. Okin (Lawrence, KS: Coronado Press, 1980) 31-42; “Midwives and Maternity in the Greco-Roman World,” in Rescuing Creusa. New Methodological Approaches to Women in Antiquity, ed. Marilyn Skinner, Helios, XIII,2 (1986) (Special Issue), 69-84; “The Pixodaros Affair. Another View. Appendix: The Reliability of Plutarch,’ (with Patricia Dixon) AncW 13 (1986) 73-86; “The Source Tradition for the Pixodaros Affair,” (with Patricia Dixon) AncW 14 (1986) 25-40; “What is Central for the Study of Women in Antiquity?,” Helios 17 (1990) 213-19; “The Spartan Family & the Spartan Decline: Changes in Child-Rearing Practices and Failure to Reform,” in Polis and Polemos: Essays on Politics, War, and History in Ancient Greece, in Honor of Donald Kagan, ed. Charles Daniel Hamilton and Peter Martin Krentz (Claremont, CA: Regina Books, 1997) 241-74.

  • Notes:

    Valerie French 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. degrees, learning her needed languages in graduate school. She taught at American University for her entire career. 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.

    Her scholarly work has remained little known but is of the highest importance for Greek, especially Athenian, history. Her dissertation is unpublished but 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

    After the University of California Press wrote that it was unwilling to “publish all those numbers,” that is, her many records of measurements of the letters in her endnotes she became discouraged and apparently lost interest in pursuing another publisher and turned to interests in other fields

    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: [ἐπὶ τε͂ς] ἀ[ρχε͂ς τε͂ς] ἐν[άτες ℎε͂ι — — — — ἐγραμμάτευε — — —]. 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 ἀ[ρχε͂ς], “board.” Eight letter-spaces farther on, ATL printed ν[άτες], “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[ῖοι], French showed that the undotted epsilon and nu of ν[άτες] 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[ῖοι], a city in the Thraceward region; and the column in question contains only Thraceward names, thus “Bergaioi is the most likely restoration.”

    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 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. This work, based on a direct, hands-on study of the famous Lapis Primus, will surely some day receive the attention that it deserves.

  • Sources:

    Mortimer Chambers, APA Newsletter (Summer/Fall 2011); WhAm 62 (2008) 1565; DAS 10.

  • Author: Mortimer Chambers