Jacqueline de Romilly (1913-2010)

(”Jacqueline de Romilly chez elle en 2004″, photos Olivier Roller)

Jacqueline de Romilly who passed away yesterday at 97, was a magnificent Hellenist & Greek scholar, who collected firsts: the first woman accepted at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, the first woman professor elected to the Collège de France, the first woman elected to the “Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres,” the second woman (after Marguerite Yourcenar) elected to the Académie Française, and the recipient of more honors than one may easily enumerate. But what she will be remembered for is, as Pierre Assouline writes on his “République des Lettres” blog, “a lesson: never to fold, never to renounce, never to give up.” This scholar, author of injumerable books, spent a good part of the second half of her life fighting to save the Humanities. Assouline, again, writes how she “brought home the point, again and again, and in all media willing to hold out a microphone to her, that ancient languages were the basis of contemporary ideas, not only those of democracy but the very sense of what it means to be human,” and that every “honnête homme” had to study that field to some degree. If you have French, you can read the complete blog here, the obit in Le Monde here, or watch and listen to here on an old TV show (Bernard Pivot’s ‘Apostrophes,’) here.

Among her publications are L’Enseignement en détresse (1984), on the problems of the current French educational system, (& with what is going on in this country in terms of ancient and foreign languages — see the posts on Nomadics re the LLC department at the University at Albany — this book makes for prescient reading). She also published many volumes of essays, among them, Histoire et raison chez Thucydide (1956), La douceur de la pensée grecque (1979), a Que sais-je? on Homer (1986), a biography of Alcibiades (1995), as well as a novel, Ouverture à cœur (1990), and short stories that tell of her experiences, Les Oeufs de Pâques (1993) et Laisse flotter les rubans (1999). Not enough is available in English at this point, but check out her A Short history of Greek Literature, translated by Lillian Doherty (University Of Chicago Press 1996) and The Great Sophists in Periclean Athens translated by Janet Lloyd (Oxford University Press 1998).

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