Bryn Mawr Classical Review 04.05.43


Commentary: Nan Michels


Agnes Kirsopp Lake Michels died in Chapel Hill N.C. on November 30. She took her bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in Latin at Bryn Mawr College, where she was a member of the faculty from 1934 until 1975, serving for many years as department chair. Hers was not an inactive retirement: she lectured widely in Canadian and American universitites in the 1970's and following her move to Chapel Hill frequently taught courses or seminars at Duke University as well as the University of North Carolina.

Her interest in Roman religion, which may seem to have come naturally enough given her family background, was fostered by time spent in Rome as a Fellow of the American Academy and especially in the company of Lily Ross Taylor, and was the focus of her research. She devoted years to the preparation of a deceptively slender volume, The Calendar of the Roman Republic (1967), which, like the article, "The Versatility of Religio" published ten years later, reflected albeit imperfectly the enormous intellectual and emotional effort she made to come to grips with the religious mentality of the ancient Romans.

"Rome and the Gods" (the title of her Martin lectures) dominated her thinking over the years no less than the responses of individual Romans to them, and her favorite authors were those on whom religion had weighed heavily in one way or another: Lucretius, Cicero, Horace, Livy, Vergil and Ovid. In her last article, "The Insomnium of Aeneas", which deals with the notorious problem of Aeneas' return to the upper world through the gate of false dreams, Nan consulted these same authors (and Artemidorus too) as informants in their own right to arrive at her conclusion.

"Vergil must have agreed with Horace that God deliberately conceals the future from mortal men, who should not be unduly concerned with it, but cope with the present." The observation, like many she made, is pithily expressed, but it too reveals what long years of study, reflection and worry hand enabled her to grasp as few others of her generation in the field did: the peculiar driving force of ancient Roman religion.