Scholia Reviews ns 17 (2008) 26.

Michele Valerie Ronnick (ed.), The Autobiography of William Sanders Scarborough, with a foreword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: African American life series. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2005. Pp. xvi + 425, incl. 16 black-and-white illustrations. ISBN 0-8143-3224-2. US$29.95.

Michele Valerie Ronnick (ed.), The Works of William Sanders Scarborough: Black Classicist and Race Leader, with a foreword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: The Collected Black Writings Series. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Pp. xlvii + 508. ISBN 978-0-19-530962-1. UK£43.00.

Philipp Brandenburg
Humanidades, Universidad de Puerto Rico, Mayagüez

The name William Sanders Scarborough certainly rings a bell today because of the prize that the MLA established in 2001 to honor him, a short time after Ronnick identified him as its first African-American member (see footnote 8 below). But his life and his work have not been accessible outside specialist circles before now.[[1]] Ronnick's work has opened up these at times very dark, but nevertheless extraordinarily interesting chapters of the history of the Classics in the United States. She has edited the minor works and the autobiography of Scarborough.[[2]] The latter is published now for the first time eighty years after the death of its author.

The review will focus on those aspects that are relevant for classical philologists, commenting first on the autobiography, then on the works, and finally on the editorial work done by Ronnick.

1. The Autobiography of William Sanders Scarborough

Scarborough describes his life in 28 chapters which show both his wide interests and his abilities as a writer. The basic data of his life are quickly summarized: Scarborough was born in 1852, in Macon, Georgia. His parents, who despite official interdictions had learned to read and write, were Jeremiah, a manumitted slave, and Frances Gwynn, a nominal slave whose owner William K. DeGraffenreid permitted her and her family many liberties (Chapters 1-2). Thus, although he himself was legally a slave and consequently subject to the same restrictions,[[3]] he nevertheless was given basic education by other educated blacks and an otherwise overtly racist white neighbor. After learning carpentry and shoe-making he studied at Atlanta University and Oberlin College, Ohio (1869-1875, Chapters 3-4). He then became a teacher at Lewis High School where he met his future wife Sarah Cordelia Bierce, a white divorcée, but, when the school was burned down (p. 59), he abandoned the South and resumed his studies at Oberlin College (Chapters 5-6). Upon receiving the M.A. he became professor at Wilberforce University[[4]] in Greene County, Ohio (Chapter 7). From 1891 to 1897 he taught New Testament Greek at Payne Theological Seminary (Chapter 12). After his return to Wilberforce he became vice president and later president of this university (1908-1920, Chapters 15-18). His presidency, however, was overshadowed by severe financial restraints and the World War (Chapters 20-24). Finally, he held a position at the Department of Agriculture (1921-1924, Chapter 26). Two years later he died at home in Ohio (Chapter 29, written by his wife).[[5]]

This impressive career was achieved under the constraints of a society that forced him to fight on three frontiers at the same time:

First, he had to suffer preposterous acts of racial discrimination. While still a young man, he was forbidden to enter an omnibus (p. 57). Later in life it was mostly hotels, for example in Williamstown (p. 134) and Ohio (p. 157), that insisted on segregation and refused to accommodate him. In Baltimore the Hotel Belvedere would 'not undertake to serve a dinner at which members of [his] race might be present' although he was a speaker at the APA meeting held there (p. 207). The disarming ironic humor that Scarborough applies to these descriptions of otherwise unbearable acts will win him the sympathy of every reader. In London, however, a courageous hotel manager decided rather to see his white American guests leave under protest than to permit any maltreatment of Scarborough (pp. 173-75 and p. 185). And the captain of the Carmania 'had informed the waiters that if [he and his wife] were not properly served he would wait on [them] himself' (p. 215).

Secondly, when Scarborough was a student, Calhoun had publicly asserted 'that no Negro could learn Greek' (p. 44, cf. the index). And Scarborough was proud that he proved him wrong twice (p. 78): once by learning Greek, and a second time by writing a teaching book about Greek. Scarborough had made himself living proof that blacks were indeed able to achieve the goals of higher education.

Thirdly, Scarborough also struggled with the then prominent anti-classicist position among Blacks. Its most prominent propagator was Booker T. Washington who held that practical skills were more important for African-Americans than the classical curriculum. Scarborough, however, clearly saw that this unnecessarily limited the chances of blacks, effectively excluding them from key positions in society and, in the long run, from a more prosperous future.

Scarborough's autobiography helps the reader to contextualize his philological works. His renown was to rest exclusively on two books, First Lessons in Greek which had become a standard work in Greek tuition of both black and white students in his day, and Birds of Aristophanes[[6]]. No other book length study on Classics of his was ever published.[[7]] Financial pressures forced Scarborough to abandon the publication of his edition of Andocides, which was otherwise ready for press (p. 105, see also Works p. 328). And his Questions on Latin Grammar was outdone by a similar work published at the same time (p. 355, n. 10).

2. The Works of William Sanders Scarborough

The second book to be reviewed here hosts a selection[[8]] of the minor works of Scarborough (p. xxv). The majority of articles pertains to African- American issues. Ronnick has arranged them thematically into the following categories: 'Military' (pp. 1-8), 'Speeches' (pp. 9-36), 'Journalism' (pp. 37-46), 'Introductions to Books' (pp. 47-64), 'Book Reviews' (pp. 65-90), 'Obituaries' (pp. 91-96), 'Biographies' (pp. 97-140), 'Travel Narratives' (pp. 141-58), 'Education in General' (pp. 159-84), 'Education of Blacks' (pp. 185- 232), 'Philology in General' (pp. 233- 70), 'Classical Philology' (pp. 271-332), 'Politics, Policy, and Prejudice' (pp. 333-484), and 'Farming' (pp. 485-92).

Although there is a special section on Classical Philology, some classics-related works are categorized elsewhere: for example, the introduction to his own First Lessons in Greek (pp. 49f.), a review on a book on how to teach Latin (pp. 78-81), a discussion of the utility of studying Greek that probably will still help motivate many a teacher of that language (pp. 159- 66), and two contributions on Iphigenia plays (pp. 255- 60, 267-70). The section on Classical Philology itself then contains the strictly philological publications. To give a glimpse of Scarborough's achievements in the Classics, some of them will be summarized here.

In the article 'On Fatalism in Homer and Virgil' (pp. 274-81) Scarborough establishes that the words MOI=RA, fatum 'Fate' are polysemous and may indicate either 'the will of the Gods' or the 'blind impersonal force, behind the Gods and beyond their power' (p. 275).

Scarborough holds -- pace Grote -- that ANE/LPISTOI in Thucydides 6.17 (pp. 305-10, summarized p. 282) means 'hopeless of success' (p. 305), or in other words 'that the Peloponnesians were "hopeless" in the sense that they were not powerful enough, had not resources enough to make a successful resistance against the Athenian forces' (p. 310, see also pp. 322-25 and 329f.).

He establishes that ancipiti in Caesar's De Bello Gallico 1.26 (p. 289-93, summarized p. 283) 'means 'doubtful' in the sense of 'critical' or 'uncertain'' (ibid.).

In the question which author should be read in undergraduate reading courses he prefers Andocides over Xenophon because of the ease of his language in combination with the interesting subjects touched (p. 284). And he adds that the fact that his colleagues chose Cebes' Tablet shows at least that the case against Xenophon was gaining momentum (pp. 287f.).

Concerning the infamous reference to a child in the Fourth Eclogue of Vergil (pp. 297-301, summarized p. 286) he concludes that the reference is, if to anyone, to 'Marcellus, the son of Octavia by her former husband of the same name (Aen. 6.861 sqq.)' (p. 286).

'On the Accent and Meaning of Arbutus' he insists that the antepenultimate syllable is to be accented and 'that the meaning of the word is that of a tree, and not the common Mayflower as popularly used' (pp. 294- 96).

In 'Bellerophon's Letters, Iliad VI.168 ff.' (pp. 302-4) he demonstrates 'that SH=MA, aside from its ordinary meaning, may express the idea of written characters' (p. 302).

On the phrase hunc inventum inveni in Plautus' Captivi 422 (pp. 311-14) he states: 'If we make hunc refer to the son of Hegio, Philopolemus, the meaning is clear and the interpretation is simple' (p. 313).

In discussing the connotations of 'Cena, DEI=PNON, prandium, A)/RISTON' (pp. 320f.) Scarborough determines that the former two referred to meals 'from noon to midnight and possibly later' and the latter two 'from early morn to midday' (p. 321).

In his 'Notes on the Meaning and Use of FI/LWN and XE/NWN in Demosthenes, De Corona, 46' (pp. 326f.) he comes to the conclusion 'that FI/LWN and XE/NWN are used in a derisive sense' (p. 327) and paraphrases the passage thus: 'For at one time those (whom Philip had deceived and bribed, sc. FI/LWN KAI\ XE/NWN) were regarded as friends (FI/LOI) -- friends in the ordinary sense -- also friends (XE/NOI) in the sense of parties mutually pledged by gifts or otherwise to support each other regardless of the nature of the cause or compact' (p. 326).

Even after a century has passed Scarborough's contributions to classics have lost nothing of their value. They still provide inspiring reading and testify to the stylistic mastery[[9]] of their author. Most of the positions he takes and the conclusions he arrives at are such as one could adopt today without being old- fashioned let alone wrong. Those who want to belittle Scarborough's philological output must not forget that all this was achieved under greatest limitations and pressures -- including constant shortage of money and abundance of workload.

3. The Editorial Work of Michele Valerie Ronnick

In her introductions, Ronnick explains the difficulties that she faced in the process of editing. The original manuscript of the Autobiography, for instance, was lost early after its author's death. So Ronnick had to rely on copies made by Savoy and Robinson, and bases her edition on Savoy's manuscript. The printed text, thus, is the result of philological efforts similar to the puzzling intricacies of a critical edition. Restoring the original text of the author, including the deciphering of abbreviations and clarification of unclear references, took Ronnick eight years (Autobiography p. 21) and resulted in explanatory notes that fill almost hundred pages of the book (pp. 333-400).

Similarly, the edition of Scarborough's Works took another eight years because they had appeared in a wide array of journals spanning a 50-year period and no comprehensive bibliography of Scarborough's works had ever been made. Some of the material was nigh unreadable and in certain sections well corroded by time. Other articles, Gates informs us in his foreword (Works p. xvii), would have been lost had not the paper versions been converted into microfilm during the 30's. So the collection literally preserved them from extinction.

Ronnick consistently marks her corrections in the text by square brackets. The need for polishing up the editions is undeniable and the readers need not know the nature of every misprint that typesetters have produced hundred years ago. However, obvious but unbracketed errors in the edited text of the Works leave the reader wondering which publishers are responsible for them. Errors in the Greek script like A)MQI/ and A)NH\N (Works p. 291) are inconclusive, but errors due to the old-fashioned German script ('Fraktur') point to the 2007 publishers: näre (read: wäre), twice; jetyt (read: jetzt); zueier (read: zweier); and enöchte (read: möchte) all on one page (Works p. 306). Of course, no error is so grave that consultation of the original would seem necessary. And every scholar citing Scarborough's works will have the sense to tacitly correct these errors without further ado.

Both books are beautifully hardbound. The autobiography comes with sewn pages at an incredibly cheap price that makes it an affordable reading to any student of Classics or Black History. The works, however, although they cost more, are not sewn. Lengthy indexes that include everything whatever the reader might look for round off both books. One can only hope that the books attract many readers who pay more attention to the personality than to the skin-color of the original author and that they encourage more Blacks to study Classics in the footsteps of Scarborough.


[[1]] Apart from brief notes here and there such as Benjamin Brawley, The Negro Genius: A New Appraisal of the Achievement of the American Negro in Literature and the Fine Arts (New York 1966) 169.

[[2]] The autobiography was reviewed before by Catherine Conybeare in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review (2005.05.12), and what has been said there I have no reason to repeat here.

[[3]] One must keep in mind that in those days 'a learned black man was a walking oxymoron, a contradiction in terms, both preposterous and frightening' (Autobiography p. 1). Cf. Kenneth R. Manning's Black Apollo of Science: The Life of Ernest Everett Just (New York 1983) for more details about the struggles of blacks in the academic world. For other black classicists see Robert Fikes Jr., 'African- American Scholars of Greco-Roman Culture', The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 35 (2002) 120- 24, Ronnick, '12 Black Classicists', Arion 11 (2004) 85-102, and 'Early African-American Scholars in the Classics', The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 43 (2004) 101-5.

[[4]] On Wilberforce in general see Erving E. Beauregard, 'Wilberforce University: Black America's Oldest University', in John William Oliver Jr., James A. Hodges, James H. O'Donnell (edd.), Cradles of Conscience: Ohio's Independent Colleges and Universities (Kent and London 2003) 489-508.

[[5]] For more about his life see John F. Slater's obituary in The Journal of Negro History 11.4 (1926) 689-92. Being one of the few African-Americans who had the opportunity to travel, Scarborough also used his narrative talent to describe the deep impression that these travels left on him (Autobiography Chapters 16, 19, 21, and 25; Works 141-58).

[[6]] First Lessons in Greek: Adapted to the Greek grammars of Goodwin and Hadley, and designed as an introduction to Xenophon's Anabasis and similar Greek (New York 1881) and Birds of Aristophanes: Theory of interpretation (Boston 1886).

[[7]] One should, however, not fail to mention his authoritative pamphlet on The Educated Negro and his Mission (Occasional papers 8) (Washington, D.C. 1903).

[[8]] Hellenists will miss his article 'The New College Fetich', A.M.E. Review 3 (1886) 126-35, where he vigorously defends the usefulness of Greek studies. See Ronnick's 'William Sanders Scarborough: The First African American Member of the Modern Language Association', PMLA 115.7 (2000) 1787- 793, for the historical background.

[[9]] Note that Scarborough's 'The Party of Freedom and the Freedmen' (Works pp. 24-28) was printed in Alice Moore Dunbar (ed.), Masterpieces of Negro Eloquence: 1818- 1913 (New York) 151-56), recently reprinted by Dover Publications, Mineola, N.Y., 2000. On his style cf. also Steven Mailloux: 'Thinking with Rhetorical Figures: Performing Racial and Disciplinary Identities in Late-Nineteenth-Century America', American Literary History 18.4 (2006) 695-711.