Hazel Estella Barnes (2008)

Hazel Estella Barnes was trained in classics at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (B.A. 1937), close to her home in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, where she was born on 16 December 1915. She went on to Yale where she received a Ph.D. in 1941 in a class that included Henry Immerwahr, Henry Hoenigswald, and Christopher Dawson. Her passion was for Greek philosophy and after stints at Ohio State University, the University of Toledo, and Pierce College in Athens, Greece, she arrived at the University of Colorado in Boulder in 1953. It was well before this, however, in 1949, at the age of 34, that she first read the French Existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre and her life was changed. "How was it that from my first introduction I felt such empathic affiliation with Parisian intellectuals whose lives . . . were so unlike my own, both in external events and in intimate lifestyle?" she asked in her 1998 autobiography, The Story I Tell Myself: A Venture in Existentialist Autobiography. She set about translating Sartre's magisterial work, Being and Nothingness (1956) and later Search for a Method (1963). Though many assumed a gulf between the Greeks and the Existentialists, Barnes clearly did not. In fact she felt her classical training predisposed her to Sartre, Beauvoir, and Camus because they so frequently explained their philosophy in terms of classical figures like Sisyphus, Prometheus, and Medusa. In fact, Barnes and Camus had both written dissertations on Plotinus. Like the Greeks the Existentialists denied any fixed barriers between literature, philosophy and psychology. Finally, Greek philosophy was consumed by describing the authentic life and "the high value the Greek philosophers placed on reason unites more than it separates them from the French Existentialists." Though Barnes maintained her classics credentials with books like Hippolytus in Drama and Myth (1960) and The Meddling Gods: Four Essays on Classical Themes (1974), her great achievement was the popularization of her beloved Existentialists, not only through her translations, but also through her important studies, An Existential Ethic (1967), Sartre (1973), and Sartre and Flaubert (1981).

At Colorado, Barnes moved from the Classics Department to humanities and ultimately to philosophy. She received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1977 and two years later became the first woman to be named a Distinguished Professor at CU. She received the university’s highest award, the University of Colorado Medal and in 1991, CU established the Hazel E. Barnes Prize, worth $20,000 to the recipient whose activity shows "the enriching relationship between teaching and research." Following her retirement in 1986, she traveled and lectured widely. For her 90th birthday she corrected what she considered a blemish on Athenian tragedy by re-writing the end of Euripides' Alcestis, which was subsequently published in Amphora. She died on March 18, 2008, at her home in Boulder.

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