Marcel Detienne, Gildersleeve Professor Emeritus of Classics, died on March 21, 2019, in Nemours, France. He was 83.
Professor Detienne was one of the most prominent classicists of his generation. A Belgian-born historian and renowned specialist in the study of ancient Greece, he taught in the Department of Classics from 1992 until his retirement in 2007. His career was dedicated to an innovative— even audacious—crossing of disciplinary boundaries, notably setting anthropology and history in dialogue as a means of bringing new questions and insights to the study of ancient Greece. In his 30 books and hundreds of papers, Professor Detienne used this lens to examine Greek rites, socio-cultural foundations, and political institutions. He often saw connections with the classical world where others had never thought to seek them, reaching across time and space to engage with studies of social experience in places such as Japan and Ethiopia. His efforts made the ancient Greeks human by daring to compare them.
Professor Detienne was the youngest of a cohort of three Paris-based classicists, with Jean-Pierre Vernant and Pierre Vidal-Naquet, who, beginning in the 1960s, transformed the field of ancient Greek religion and society under the influence of structuralist and semiotic theory. Already well-established when he came to Hopkins, and the author of groundbreaking studies like The Gardens of Adonis (1972), Detienne produced a steady stream of important monographs, including Apollon le couteau à la main in 1998; The Daily Life of the Greek Gods in 2000 with Giulia Sissa, then a professor of classics at Hopkins; and Comment être autochtone: du pur Athénien au Français raciné in 2003, which grew out of a seminar he co-taught with Alan Shapiro, W. H. Collins Vickers Professor of Archaeology Emeritus and Academy Professor. Professor Detienne attracted graduate students to Hopkins from all over the world, and supervised the dissertations of students from Germany, Israel, China, Sicily, and Cyprus.
Professor Detienne received his doctorate in religious sciences at the École des Hautes Études in 1960, and his doctorate in philosophy and letters from the University of Liège in 1965. He was a director of studies at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, where he taught until 1998. With Vernant, he founded the Centre de Recherches Comparées sur les Sociétés Anciennes in Paris in 1964. The two also co-authored The Cuisine of Sacrifice among the Greeks in 1979, and Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society in 1989, which became a contemporary classic. Professor Detienne was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2001.
The Department of Classics is planning to hold a memorial event for Professor Detienne this fall.