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French classics scholar Jacqueline de Romilly dies

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PARIS (AP) - French scholar Jacqueline de Romilly, a specialist on ancient Greece, a prolific writer and one of the first women to join the prestigious Academie Francaise, has died. She was 97.

Romilly died Saturday at a hospital in the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt, her publisher, Bernard de Fallois, told The Associated Press.

President Nicolas Sarkozy called Romilly "a great humanist whose voice we will miss." The scholar was known for her works on ancient Greek literature, tragedy and thought. She wrote several books on ancient historian Thucydides.

At age 91, Romilly told French magazine Lire that she had spent more time with "Pericles and Aeschylus than with my contemporaries. They fill my life, from morning to night."

Among female academics in France, Romilly was a pioneer. She was the first woman to teach at the College de France. In 1988, she became the second woman to join the Academie Francaise, the institution that safeguards the French language, after writer Marguerite Yourcenar.

"I had the luck of being part of a generation where women could get up on the podium for the first time, where the gates opened at last," she told Le Point magazine in 2007.

Romilly was born Jacqueline David in Chartres, southwest of Paris, in 1913. Her mother was Jeanne Malvoisin, an author, and her father was Maxime David, a philosophy professor who was killed during World War I.

After studies at the prestigious Ecole normale superieure and the Sorbonne, she began teaching in high schools in the 1930s. Because her father was Jewish, she was forced to stop teaching during World War II, when France's Vichy regime collaborated with the Nazi occupiers.

The scholar was married and divorced from Michel Worms de Romilly, whose name she took. They had no children. After the war, she took up teaching posts at the University of Lille and the Sorbonne before joining the College de France in 1973.

In her later years, Romilly defended the study of the classics and often spoke and wrote about the importance of education. In 1995, she was given Greek nationality. Among her many honors, she held a Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor from the French government.

Information about funeral arrangements was not immediately available.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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