Ancient History, Burnished New Again
Latin and Greek may be considered dead languages, but their study is very much alive.
This spring, a gathering at the Michael C. Carlos Museum celebrated both the vital presence of classics scholarship at Emory and the triumphant revival of a forgotten tradition: the awarding of medals for the McCord Latin Prize and the Reppard Greek Prize. Presented annually to outstanding students in these subjects, in recent years the prizes have been accompanied by a book. But thanks to a combination of historical digging and the interest and generosity of two alumni, the student prizewinners wear medals once again.
At the medal ceremony in April, Peter Bing, Samuel Dobbs Professor and chair of the Department of Classics, described how he and his colleagues did some research last year to learn more about the endowed prizes and their original benefactors. They found that Henry Young McCord and Robert Blair Reppard both served as Emory trustees in the early 1900s, and the prizes named for them began as medals; in fact, a Latin prize medal awarded in 1922 remains in the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL). The McCord and Reppard Prizes are among the oldest awards given by Emory College, originating at Emory’s original campus in Oxford.
Bing posted a photo of the 1922 McCord medal on the classics website along with a brief history of the prizes. That’s how James Passamano 85C, an attorney in Houston, and his wife, Beth Sufian 87C, became involved. Deeply interested in ancient Greece and Rome, Passamano happened to see the medal on the department website, and contacted Bing with an offer to financially support the creation of new prize medals. He enlisted the Medallic Art Company, which makes the Pulitzer Prize and the National Medal of Science.
“We were electrified by his generous offer,” Bing told guests at the medal ceremony. “Within a few months, we had new designs. The medals turned out to be true objects of beauty.”
Passamano attended the classics event, where he was able to see the student winners don the new bronze medals; they also wore them during Commencement.
“I was not a classics major in my time at Emory,” Passamano said. “I only discovered my interest long after I left school and happened to hear a recorded lecture on the Iliad by Dr. J. Rufus Fears, professor of classics at the University of Oklahoma. I was instantly hooked. I did not realize it then, but I later learned that Dr. Fears was a student here at Emory in the Class of 1966 . . . he was also the McCord Latin Prize recipient.”
John Fraser Hart 43C, who received the last known Reppard medal, also traveled to Emory for the ceremony. At eighty-nine, Hart continues to teach full time at the University of Minnesota. “Tonight is really the first chance I have had to wear this medal in public,” said Hart, who is donating his medal to the classics department.
In addition, Henry Y. “Hank” McCord IV, the great-grandson of the first McCord prize benefactor, joined the gathering with his wife, Ann McCord 86T.
“This is an amazing Emory story,” says Bing, “spanning multiple generations and more than a century of Emory history.”