Tradition revived in classics medals

By Paige Parvin | Emory Report | May 3, 2013

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Peter Bing (right) of the Classics Department presents the newly redesigned Reppard Greek Medal to Emory junior Carolyn Cohen. Emory Photo/Video.

Latin and Greek may be considered dead languages, but their study is very, very much alive.

McCord Latin Prize

McCord Latin Prize

A recent gathering at the Michael C. Carlos Museum celebrated both the vibrant 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 an alumnus, the student prizewinners will wear medals once more.  

'An amazing Emory story'

At the April 29 ceremony, Peter Bing, Samuel Dobbs Professor and chair of the Classics Department, 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 H. Y. McCord and R. B. 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).  

Bing posted a photo of the medal on the Department of Classics website along with a brief history of the prizes. That’s how James Passamano, a 1985 graduate of Emory College and an attorney in Houston, became involved. Deeply interested in ancient Greece and Rome, Passamano happened to see the medal on the department's website and contacted Bing with an offer to financially support the re-creation of the prize medals. He enlisted the Medallic Art Company, which makes the Pulitzer Prize and the National Medal of Science, to begin making prototypes.  

"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 will also wear them during Commencement.  

"This evening has made me think that what we do for ourselves alone dies with us, but what we do for others endures," Passamano said. "The ancient world is not remote or irrelevant. It is present in everything that we do, everything that we are."  

Also in attendance was John Fraser Hart, who received the last known Reppard Medal in 1943 and wore it to the ceremony. At 89, 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. McCord IV, the great-grandson of the first McCord prize benefactor, joined the gathering with his wife, Ann, a graduate of Candler School of Theology.  

"This is an amazing Emory story, spanning multiple generations and more than a century of Emory history," says Bing.  

Student honors

The highlight of the evening was the presentation of the student awards. Carolyn Cohen, who received the Reppard Greek Medal, is double majoring in classics and chemistry, and plans to pursue a PhD in organic chemistry. "But I took three years of Latin in high school, and I loved it, so I wanted to also pursue that at Emory," she says. "I took Greek my freshman year and really enjoyed it, so I decided to do the double major."  

James Zainaldin, winner of the McCord Latin Medal, attended the ceremony via Skype from Rome, where he is studying this semester.  

"My primary goal looking to the future is to continue my education in the humanities," he says. "In addition to studying moral philosophy and reading great literature, I would especially like to learn new modern languages and achieve mastery over the languages, ancient and modern, that I have begun—ancient Greek, Latin, German, Spanish and Old and Middle English. I hope to attend graduate school in classics or philosophy."  

Other student awards given during the evening included:

  • Classical Association of the Midwest and South's Outstanding Accomplishment in Classical Studies Awards to Rebecca McManus, Hannah Smagh and Brian Robinson;

  • Emory College Language Center's Excellence in Language Studies Award for Greek to Ted Parker;

  • Emory College Language Center's Excellence in Language Studies Award for Latin to Xi Jiang; and

  • APA Outstanding Student Award to Javaughn Baker.

Robin Forman, dean of Emory College, called the evening "a celebration of continuity and tradition," saying that the classics are "the heart and soul of the humanities."