Sunday, September 24, 2017


Rosie Wyles, Edith Hall (ed.), Women Classical Scholars: Unsealing the Fountain from the Renaissance to Jacqueline de Romilly. Classical presences. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. xviii, 465. ISBN 9780198725206. $125.00.

Reviewed by Linda Grant, Royal Holloway, University of London (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed below.]

Roland Mayer's essay in this collection is partly titled 'The Unknown Pioneer' and this might serve as a fitting descriptor, pluralised, of so many women who are uncovered in this book which springs from a conference at King's College London in 2013. In investigating women's engagement with ancient Greek and Latin texts from the Renaissance forward, the book takes a geographically diverse view and also explores the range of ways in which this engagement might manifest, from translations to teaching Classics, from receptions to the commissioning and editing of popular editions. As Edith Hall and Rosie Wyles state in their introduction, there is not a steady, progressive narrative to be revealed, but rather one which emerges haphazardly taking in various divergences. That it never completely disappears, however arduous the journey, is a testament to the tenacity, determination and, sometimes, sheer bloody-mindedness of the women discussed.

All of the chapters here offer basic biographical information along with an assessment of the women's scholarly contributions to the field, and a view of how they operated, and were viewed, as women when the study of Classics was predominantly gendered masculine. Some of these women remained unmarried; others used husbands or other male relations as covers for their own work: the various strategies brought into play to allow women to participate in the study of Greek and Latin is itself instructive.

Even though the individual essays range widely across history and geography, there are certain key themes which play out across the volume. The importance of scholarly networks is one, whether formalised in a university setting, or informal via letter-writing and intellectual patronage: as we know, scholarship is not a solitary occupation, and while some women supported each other in their endeavours, the book is also attentive to men who enabled, encouraged and facilitated female classical study.

Inevitably, the question of women as classical scholars intersects with wider questions about female education, and many of the chapters tackle this topic explicitly. Even when women are 'allowed' to study classical texts, it seems that some are more appropriate to a female sensibility that others: Xenophon and Herodotus, for example, are deemed more suitable than either Thucydides or Polybius, whose more rigorous approach to history is thought to be implicitly 'masculine'.

While gender is the construct which organises this book, individual essays are also interested in the way it intersects with other social categories: class, race. Many, though certainly not all, of the women here are white and middle-class, so it's good to see chapters which explore women who used their engagement with classical texts as a way to make the money they needed to live, and a discussion of African American classicists.

All of the chapters here offer up thoughtful material, often surprising, and illuminating of just how extensive is women's contribution to classical philology across history. Some of the highlights for this reviewer which offer a taste of the breadth and scope of the collection are:

Jennifer Wallace on how Elizabeth Carter's classical translations intersected with wider eighteenth century cultural debates about 'the exemplary and polite qualities of women' (p.135).
Judith Hallett's nuanced discussion of Edith Hamilton, a popular writer about classical antiquity who aimed for commercial success.
Edith Hall's reminder that many of us came to classics via the pleasure of the texts, and reads that back into female translators.
Rowena Fowler's entertaining exploration of the role of Betty Radice in popularising classical texts.
Barbara Gold's subtle readings of Simone Weil's Iliad.

In summary, this is a positive, inclusive, wide-ranging collection which challenges the idea of the history of classical scholarship being inherently masculinised, and foregrounds the way in which women have contributed to the field. It sits alongside the ongoing feminist project of writing women back in history generally, and complements the exciting work on gender being done in Classics. Uncovering our 'foremothers' continues to authorise women's purchase on the field and serves as an act of both assimilation and inspiration.

Authors and titles

Introduction: Approaches to the Fountain, Edith Hall and Rosie Wyles
Learned Women of the Renaissance and Early Modern Period in Italy and England, Carmel McCallum-Barry
Hic sita Sigea est: satis hoc: Luisa Sigea and the Role of D.Maria, Infante of Portugal, in Female Scholarship, Sofia Frade
Ménage's Learned Ladies: Anne Dacier and Anna Maria van Schurman, Rosie Wyles
Anne Dacier (1681), Renée Vivien (1903): Or What Does it Mean for a Woman to Translate Sappho?, Jacqueline Fabre-Serris
Intellectual Pleasure and the Woman Translator in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-century England, Edith Hall
Confined and Exposed: Elizabeth Carter's Classical Translations, Jennifer Wallace
This is Not a Chapter about Jane Harrison: Teaching Classics at Newnham College, 1882-1922, Liz Gloyn
Classical Education and the Advancement of African American Women in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Michele Valerie Ronnick
Grace Harriet Macmurdy (1866-1946): Redefining the Classical Scholar, Barbara F. McManus
Greek (and Roman) Ways and Thoroughfares: The Routing of Edith Hamilton's Classical Antiquity, Judith P. Hallett
Margaret Alford (September 1868-May 1951): The Unknown Pioneer, Roland Mayer
Eli's Daughters: Female Classics Graduate Students at Yale, 1892-1941, Judith P. Hallett
Ada Sara Adler: 'The Greatest Philologist' of Her Time, Catherine P. Roth
Olga Friedenberg: A Creative Mind Incarcerated, Nina V. Braginskaya
An Unconventional Classicist: The Work and Life of Kathleen Freeman, M. Eleanor Irwin
A.M. Dale, Laetitia Parker
Betty Radice and the Survival of Classics, Rowena Fowler
Simone Weil: Receiving the Iliad, Barbara K. Gold
Jacqueline de Romilly, Ruth Webb
Afterword: Keeping the Fountain in Flow, Rosie Wyles

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