All Scholars

HANSEN, Esther Violet

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  • Date of Birth: August 23, 1898
  • Born City: Omaha
  • Born State/Country: NE
  • Parents: Peter and Larlane Knudsen H.
  • Date of Death: February 23, 1986
  • Death City: Horseheads
  • Death State/Country: NY
  • Education:

    A.B., Vassar, 1921; M.A., U. Wisconsin, 1922; Ph.D., Cornell, 1930; postgrad. work, AAR, 1930-1.

  • Dissertation:

    "Attalus I of Pergamum" (Cornell, 1930).

  • Professional Experience:

    Latin tchr., College Preparatory School, Cincinnati OH, 1923-4; Asst. prof. classics, Wells Coll., 1924-30; asst. prof. classics., Elmira Coll., 1934-9; asso. prof., 1939-40; prof., 1940-1963; ACLS fell., 1931-2; Guggenheim fell., 1943-4.

  • Publications:

    An interview with the poet Horace: A "newspaper reporter" of ancient Rome questions the poet laureate (pamphlet, n.d.); The minor poems of Vergil (MA thesis, Madison, WI, 1922; MS digitized and online through Hathi Trust); "Greek vases in the Museum of the American Academy in Rome" (with A. M. Harmon), MAAR 10 (1932) 103-127, pls. 21-29; "The great victory monument of Attalus I", AJA 41 (1937) 52-55; The Attalids of Pergamon (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1947); 2nd ed., revised and expanded, 1971.

  • Notes:

    With her magnum opus The Attalids of Pergamum (1947), Esther V. Hansen presented the first truly comprehensive study of that Hellenistic kingdom. The fruit of a decade and a half of energetic travel and painstaking work, the volume was expanded in a second edition (1971) and still remains an essential study. "This is really a remarkable book", wrote C. Bradford Welles in an enthusiastic review of the first edition (AJA 53 [1949] 220-221). "The author has felt the attraction of Pergamum...She has visited Pergamum, as all do who can. She has studied its topography, its buildings, its art, and its views, both on the spot and in literature, ancient and modern. She has followed the history of the dynasty which adopted it as a stronghold and a capital for a century and a half..." In short, "there is no doubt that [Hansen's book] marks an epoch in Pergamene studies. Everyone who works in this phase of the Hellenistic World must have it at his elbow." Several prominent reviewers (e.g., F. W. Walbank, in CR 62 [1948] 149-50; A. H. M. Jones, in EHR 63 [1948] 233-4) confessed that they found Hansen's exhaustive approach "dull", but still recognized the work as a major achievement ("what will doubtless be the standard history of the Attalids", predicted Jones).

    A native of Omaha NE, Esther Hansen after graduation from Vassar (1921) first took up graduate study at University of Wisconsin. The sudden death in Rome of her MA thesis adviser, Moses Slaughter (1883-1923), may have prompted her departure after two years in Madison to Cincinnati to teach secondary school.

    But after just one year, in 1924, Hansen took up a position as assistant professor at Wells College, and later simultaneously pursued a PhD at Cornell. In Ithaca she worked most closely with archaeologist Eugene Plumb Andrews (1866-1957), with whom she maintained a close friendship for decades following his direction of her dissertation on Attalus I, which she completed in 1930.

    After earning her PhD, Hansen then spent a year (1930-1931) at the American Academy in Rome, where she found also in residence at various points in the year Marion Blake, Adeline Hawes, James Oliver, Lily Ross Taylor,  Prescott Townsend, Kenneth Scott, and Esther Van Deman. Hansen also worked with Austin Morris Harmon (1878-1950) in writing up a catalogue of the pre-classical and classical Greek and Italic vases in the Academy's Museum, which was published in 1932. During this Academy year and in 1931-2 (when she held an ACLS Fellowship) Hansen travelled extensively to pursue her Attalid research, of course to Pergamum and its vicinity, but also Berlin, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and even to Leningrad (St. Petersburg).

    In 1934 Hansen took up a position at Elmira College, where she taught for the next three decades. One high point was the award of a Guggenheim Fellowship to complete her Attalid work in 1943-4; she spent the year in Ithaca. At Elmira in 1940 Hansen helped establish its Phi Beta Kappa chapter, and served as chapter president from 1954-1956. She also lectured widely to alumni/ae and civic groups, on topics that ranged from Sappho to the contemporary relevance of ancient studies. Though she lived the rest of her life in the Elmira area, Hansen's funeral and burial was in her native Omaha.


  • Sources:

    WhAmWomen 1 (1958-9) 538.

    Papers (notes on Pergamon): Cornell University Library

  • Author: Ward W. Briggs, Jr. and (Notes) T. Corey Brennan