All Scholars

NORTH, Helen Florence

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  • Date of Birth: January 31, 1921
  • Born City: Utica
  • Born State/Country: NY
  • Parents: James H. & Catherine Debbold N.
  • Date of Death: January 21, 2012
  • Death City: Upland
  • Death State/Country: PA
  • Education:

    A.B., Cornell, 1942; M.A., 1943; Ph.D., 1945; LL.D. (hon.) Rosary College, 1982; D.Litt. (hon.), Trinity College, Dublin, 1984; Fordham, 1999; L.H.D., La Salle University, 1985; Yale, 1986.

  • Dissertation:

    "The Concept of Sophrosyne in Greek Literature from Homer to Aristotle" (Cornell, 1946).

  • Professional Experience:

    Instructor classical language, Rosary College (River Forest, IL), 1946-48; instr. to asso. prof. classics, Swarthmore, 1948-61; prof., 1961-91; Centennial Professor of Classics, 1966-73, 1978-91; Kenan Professor Classics, 1973-78; chair dept., 1959-91; senior research scholar, 2003-2012; vis. asst. prof. Cornell, 1952-2012; vis. asso. prof. Barnard, 1954-55; vis. prof., LaSalle College (Philadelphia), 1965; trustee, 1972-2003; chair, 1991-3; grantee, ACLS, 1943-45, 1973; fellow, 1971-72, 1987-88; board of directors, 1977-85; World War II fellow, AAR, 1942; trustee, 1972-5; resident, 1980; chair, Committee on the Classical School, 1981-95; Centennial Medal, 1995; Mary Isabel Sibley Fellow, Phi Beta Kappa Foundation, 1945-46; Ford Fund Advancement Education Fellow, Fulbright fellow, Rome, 1953-54; Guggenheim Fellow, 1958-59, 1975-76; Goodwin Award of Merit, 1969; Harbison Prize, Danforth Foundation, 1969; director, APA, 1969-72, 1977, 1991-95; president, 1976; Distinguished Service Award, 1996; chair, Catholic Commission on Intellectual and Cultural Affairs, 1970-1; Martin Classical Lecturer, 1972; Executive Committee, ASCSA, 1975, 1987; Blegen Distinguished Visiting Research Prof., Vassar, 1979; Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania, 1989;

  • Publications:

    “A Period of Opposition to Sôphrosynè in Greek Thought, TAPA 78 (1947) 1-17; “Isthmian viii. 24-28,” AJP 43 (1948) 304-8; “The Concept of Sophrosyne in Greek Literary Criticism,” CP 43 (1948) 1-17; “Poetry in the Education of the Ancient Orator,” TAPA 80 (1949) 430; “The Use of Poetry in the Training of the Ancient Orator,” Traditio 8 (1952) 1-33; Sophrosyne. Self-Knowledge and Self-Restraint in Greek Literature, Cornell Studies in Classical Philology XXXV (Ithaca, NY, 1966) REVS: MH XXIV 1967 241 Wehrli | CW LX 1967 254-255 Reesor | REG LXXX 1967 586-588 | Gnomon XL 1968 712-713 Adkins | Mnemosyne XXI 1968 96-98 de Vries | RecSR LVI 1968 610-611 des Places | CPh LXIII 1968 70-71 Sprague | CR XVIII 1968 192-194 Baldry | PhilosQ XVIII 1968 359- 360 Kemp | AJPh XC 1969 360-635 Else; H. Caplan, Of Eloquence. Studies in Ancient and Mediaeval Rhetoric, ed. with intro. by A. King & North (Ithaca, NY, 1970) REVS: Speculum XLVI 1971 413 | QJS LVII 1971 249 |G&R XIX 1972 101 Clarke | History LVII 1972 257-258 Smalley | TLS LXXI 1972 849 | REAug XVIII 1972 313 ; CR XXII 1972 362-364 Winterbottom | AJPh XCV 1974 183-184 McCall; “Canons and Hierarchies of the Cardinal Virtues in Greek and Latin Literature,” The Classical Tradition. Literary and Historical Studies in Honor of Harry Caplan, ed. by Luitpold Wallach (Ithaca, NY, 1966) 165-183; Interpretations of Plato. A Swarthmore Symposium (ed.), Mnemosyne Suppl. L (Leiden, 1977) REVS: AC XLVIII 1979 249 de Ley | BAGB 1979 215 Demont | CW LXXIII 1979 196-197 Lauer | PhRdschau XXVI 1979 305 Gadamer | CR XXX 1980 148 Brown | AGPh LXII 1980 191-194 Ingenkamp | AAHG XXXIV 1981 33-34 Vretska; “The Mare, the Vixen, and the Bee. Sophrosyne as the Virtue of Women in Antiquity,” ICS 2 (1977) 35-48; From Myth to Icon. Reflections of Greek Ethical Doctrine in Literature and Art (Ithaca, NY, 1979) REVS: G & R XXVIII 1981 114 Walcot ; Hermathena CXXX-CXXXI 1981 117-118 Stanford ; CR XXXII 1982 204-205 Classen ; CB LIX 1983 16-17 & CJ LXXIX 1983 78-80 Rexine ; AncPhil IV 1984 249-251 Adkins; “Inutilis sibi periculosus patriae. A Platonic Argument against Sophistic Rhetoric,” ICS 6 (1981) 242-271; “Socrates deinos legein,” Language and the Tragic Hero: Essays on Greek Tragedy in Honor of Gordon M. Kirkwood, ed. Pietro Pucci (Atlanta, 1988) 121-130; “Friedrich Solmsen,” Gnomon 61 (1989) 757-59; “Combing and Curling: Orator Summus Plato,” ICS 16 (1991) 201-19; “The Acropolis of the Soul,” Nomodeiktes: Greek Studies in Honor of Martin Ostwald, ed. Ralph M. Rosen & Joseph Farrell (Ann Arbor, 1993) 423-433; “‘Opening Socrates’: The εἰκών of Alcibiades,” ICS 19 (1994) 89-98; The West of Ireland: A Megalithic Primer, with Mary C. North  (Philadelphia: Iona Foundation, 1999); “Hestia and Vesta: Non-Identical Twins,” in New Light from Ancient Cosa: Classical Mediterranean Studies: In Honor of Cleo Rickman Fitch, ed. Norma Wynick Goldman (Bern, Frankfurt am Main, 2001) 179-188; “‘Sequar… divinum illum virum… Platonem’: Cicero, De legibus 3.1,” ICS 27-28 (2002-3) 133-43; Cork and the Rest of Ireland: A Megalithic Primer II, with Mary C. North (Philadelphia: Iona Foundation, 2003).

  • Notes:

    [Adapted from the notice Swarthmore College President Rebecca Chopp sent to the campus community on 24 January 2012]

    [With the death of] Helen F. North, Centennial Professor Emerita of Classics…The College has lost not just a brilliant scholar who was instrumental in building one of the most influential classics departments at a liberal arts college, but also as one who taught and cultivated relationships among generations of Swarthmore students for more than 60 years, a complete embodiment of the teacher-scholar. Helen was a gentle and gracious lady with a robust and ready sense of humor who was fiercely and firmly committed to intellectual excellence and the highest ethical standards. Her students loved her for these characteristics and because she so successfully modeled for them the joy in living the life of the mind.

    Helen, an avid equestrian, joined Swarthmore's faculty in 1948. Years later she fondly recalled then-President John Nason informing her that she was the only job candidate who ever insisted on seeing the school's stables. She also took some pride in her decision, after President Nason said no, to proceed with recruiting a Roman Catholic priest from Morton, Pa., to come talk with students and hold weekly Newman Club meetings for the first time at the College.

    While Swarthmore served as her longtime home, Helen also held visiting teaching appointments at a number of institutions, including Barnard College, Columbia University, Vassar College, and Cornell University, where she earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees. She also served as Classicist in Residence at the American Academy in Rome and held two teaching and research posts at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens.

    Helen received virtually every major academic award to support her scholarly work, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Fulbright Program, Ford Foundation, National Humanities Center, and the Guggenheim Foundation, from which she received two. That scholarship includes her first book, Sophrosyne: Self-Knowledge and Self-Restraint in Greek Literature (1966), in which Helen identified the nuances of this ancient Greek ideal and traced their development, not only through all the major works of Greek and Roman literature and philosophy, but in political oratory, epigrams, and inscriptions. For this still oft-cited work she received the Goodwin Award of the American Philological Association in 1969.

    Helen is also the author of From Myth to Icon: Reflections of Greek Ethical Doctrine in Greek Literature and Art (1979), in addition to dozens of articles and reports in classical and professional publications. She is the editor and translator of several classical volumes and college texts and co-wrote with her sister, Mary, two guidebooks to Ireland's earliest art and archaeology.

    Helen's contributions to classics and to higher education more broadly are legion. She held leadership positions, throughout her teaching career and after, at Phi Beta Kappa, the American Academy of Rome, American School of Classical Studies in Athens, the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Philological Association, which she served as president.

    For her service over the years, she received the American Philological Association's Distinguished Service Medal and the Centennial Medal of the American Academy in Rome, as well as honorary doctorates from Trinity College in Dublin, Fordham University, La Salle University, where she served as a longtime trustee, and Yale University.

    Although she retired from teaching at Swarthmore in 1991, Helen remained thoroughly engaged with the College community, both on and off campus. Until recently she continued to meet weekly with her colleagues in classics to read, translate, and discuss Greek poetry. She also regularly attended Alumni Weekend and the annual lectureship in classics established in her name by friends and former students in 1996. 

    Helen also attained near legendary status among alumni travelers for leading more than a dozen Alumni College Abroad trips, including the first, in 1978, to Greece. Attendees of those trips still marvel at the memories of her near-encyclopedic knowledge of even the tiniest details of Christian as well as classical symbolism.

    Although she found herself in some demand as a candidate for dean or president at other institutions, Helen always resisted, once saying her friendships with former President Courtney Smith and Dean of Women Susan Cobbs brought her "close enough" to see the burden they bore.

    "Teaching Greek, Greek literature in translation, mythology and religion was just delightful," she added. "I would have been a fool to give that up."

  • Sources:

    WhAm 63 (2009) 3655-56; notice by Swarthmore President Rebecca Chopp (24 January 2012); Michael C.J. Putnam, Proc. AmPhilSoc 157,2 (June 2013) 256-258; John O'Malley, ibid., 258-60.

  • Author: Ignotus / a