Mabel Louise Lang (1917-2010)

Mabel Louise Lang, emeritus professor of Greek at Bryn Mawr College, died peacefully on July 21, 2010, at the age of 92. She had spent more than seventy years at Bryn Mawr, where she was worshipped by generations of students and admired by scholars around the world.

Lang was born on November 12, 1917 in Utica, New York, and received her AB from Cornell in 1939 and her PhD from Bryn Mawr in 1943. She began teaching at Bryn Mawr in 1943 and continued to do so long after her official retirement in 1988, allowing more than half a century’s worth of students to benefit from her extraordinary ability to bring out the best in them.

Lang was a tireless worker with a selfless devotion to her students and to the college; she rarely took sabbaticals and abstained from any leave whatsoever while serving as chair of the Greek department, a role she filled continuously for twenty-seven years. Her scholarly productivity was remarkable, particularly considering her heavy teaching load and administrative responsibilities (in addition to her long tenure as chair of Greek, she served four times as a dean, was Secretary of the General Faculty for five years, and chaired the Managing Committee of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens from 1975 to 1980). Over her career she produced twelve books and more than fifty articles, as well as countless reviews. At her death Lang left a substantial body of unfinished work, which was published by colleagues as her thirteenth book (Thucydidean Narrative and Discourse). Her writings are noted for their accuracy, clarity, and concision and received high acclaim from the scholarly community; more than seventy reviews of her books are listed in L’Année Philologique, many in the field’s most prestigious journals.

Although officially a member of the Greek rather than the Archaeology department at Bryn Mawr, Lang worked primarily on archaeological material for most of her career. Her best known publications are the reconstruction of the Bronze Age frescoes from Pylos (The Palace of Nestor at Pylos II), the preliminary publications of the Linear B tablets found at Pylos between 1957 and 1964 (when her transcriptions of new tablets appeared in AJA each year only a few months after those tablets were discovered), a series of articles about Thucydides’ historiographic technique, and a study of Herodotus (Herodotean Narrative and Discourse). She was also responsible for three volumes of the official publication of the excavations of the Agora in Athens (Weights, Measures, and Tokens; Graffiti and Dipinti; and Ostraka), as well as a guidebook to those excavations, five works in the Agora picture books series, and a guide to the Asklepieion at Corinth.

Despite her impressive research record, Lang was first and foremost a teacher. Happily shouldering a load of 10 or more class hours each semester, she taught on a regular basis everything from elementary Greek and mythology to graduate seminars and was legendary for giving every student in every class an extraordinary level of care and attention. Her signature undergraduate course, which she offered nearly every year from the time she joined the faculty until her retirement, was elementary (“Baby”) Greek, a course legendary among the undergraduate population as the ultimate Bryn Mawr experience. In the first semester the students learned all the grammar of ancient Greek, and in the second they read Plato’s Apology and Crito, the gospel according to Matthew (at sight), and sometimes Euripides’ Alcestis as well, while also re-learning all the grammar. The course offered not only a solid foundation for future study of Greek, but also friends for life in the form of the other students who had survived the experience. Despite meeting at 9 am four days a week, Baby Greek was so well attended that often a second section had to be added at 8 am; in a college with an annual intake of fewer than 300 students, Lang’s Baby Greek classes had an average enrollment of 22 and in some years more than twice that number. During her teaching career she introduced nearly a thousand students to the Greek language via this course.

At the graduate level Lang was equally famous for her Homer seminar, in which students read the entire Iliad and Odyssey in the original along with vast amounts of secondary literature in a wide range of languages, which students were expected to read and understand whether or not they knew the languages concerned. (When one of her former students attempted to teach a version of Lang’s Homer seminar at another institution, she discovered that she had to reduce the workload to one twelfth of the original in order to make it possible -- and even this reduced version was considered unusually difficult.) Close competitors to the Iliad seminar were Lang’s seminars on Thucydides, Herodotus, and Problems in Athenian History; she described the Thucydides seminar as “an attempt to induct students into the ecstasy and agony of Thucydides.” Common to all her seminars was an immense workload (often around forty pages of Greek text a week), meticulous planning and design, and an intense learning experience that caused students to do whatever it took to be prepared for the seminars.

Lang’s cult status among Bryn Mawr students was something of a mystery to many outsiders, as her technique appeared to consist of assigning an impossible amount of work and terrifying students into doing it, a system that does not normally lead to adoration on the part of the student body. The reason it worked in Lang’s case seems to have been her deep respect and affection for the students. Lang once laid down as a rule for a person in charge of student welfare that “even when she is dealing with unimportant problems she will show the students respect, nor will she ever condescend,” and this was a principle she followed absolutely in her own teaching. She considered every student her equal and treated each as she treated herself -- and she drove herself very hard. So Lang was ruthless in holding her students to the highest standards, but she cared about them as people, helped them when in need by giving them her own money and possessions, never dismissed their concerns as trivial, apologized sincerely on the rare occasions when she erred, gave her time without any limits at all, and believed absolutely in the ability of each and every student to succeed. Convinced that a good course is a challenging course, and that all the students were of her own intellectual caliber, Lang gave her students courses that would have been challenging to someone of her own intelligence, but did so out of sheer goodwill. And when faced with her unshakeable confidence that they could rise to the challenge, students usually did. In doing so they discovered new abilities in themselves that then became available for accomplishing other challenging tasks, and their lives were transformed by the discovery of what they were capable of. Such students remained forever grateful to Lang for making them into the talented and successful individuals they became.

It is customary in obituaries to discuss the deceased person’s personal life, but Lang had very little personal life owing to giving everything to her work and her students. The noted examples of non-academic existence on her part are all academic-related: she knitted sweaters and socks with inscriptions in Linear B for favoured colleagues and students, she cared for former colleagues in their old age, she directed and stage-managed the faculty shows that used to be produced every few years at Bryn Mawr, and she had extraordinary physical stamina, which she demonstrated on long-distance walks with other members of the Bryn Mawr community. When she died she left, instead of a husband and children, several thousand grateful students.

A memorial for Mabel Lang was held at Bryn Mawr on April 3, 2011. Tributes to her from this and other occasions have been posted on the blog dedicated to her memory (http://mabellangmemorial.blogs.brynmawr.edu/), and a biographical sketch with a complete list of her publications can be found at the end of her posthumous book Thucydidean Narrative and Discourse (Ann Arbor: Michigan Classical Press 2011).

Eleanor Dickey
University of Exeter

[Note: some portions of this obituary have been taken from the biographical sketch mentioned above.]

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FELLOWSHIPS FOR RESEARCH AND STUDY AT THE GENNADIUS LIBRARY 2021-2022
 

The American School of Classical Studies at Athens is pleased to announce the academic programs and fellowships for the 2021-2022 academic year at the Gennadius Library. Opened in 1926 with 26,000 volumes from diplomat and bibliophile Joannes Gennadius, the Gennadius Library now holds a richly diverse collection of over 146,000 books and rare bindings, archives, manuscripts, and works of art illuminating the Hellenic tradition and neighboring cultures. The Library has become an internationally renowned center for the study of Greek history, literature, and art, especially from the Byzantine period to modern times.
 

COTSEN TRAVELING FELLOWSHIP FOR RESEARCH IN GREECE: Short-term travel award of $2,000 for senior scholars and graduate students, for work at the Gennadius Library. Open to all nationalities. At least one month of residency required. School fees are waived for a maximum of two months.

DEADLINE: JANUARY 15, 2021.
 

THE GEORGE PAPAIOANNOU FELLOWSHIP: Ph.D. candidates or recent PhDs writing on Greece in the 1940’s and the post-war period, civil wars and the history of the Second World War. Fellows are required to make use of the George Papaioannou Papers housed at the Archives of the ASCSA. Open to all nationalities. School fees are waived for a maximum of two months. Stipend of €2,000. 

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Mon, 10/26/2020 - 7:23am by Erik Shell.

August 2020 saw the release of  Total War Saga: Troy, a strategy video game where the player takes on the role of one of various heroes on either side of the Trojan War and leads their armies to victory. If you’ve ever wanted to play Penthesilea defeating Achilles, here’s your chance.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 10/23/2020 - 8:03am by .

Call for Papers, “Contact, Colonialism, and Comparison” Conference

Different methods of ‘comparing antiquities’ do or do not presuppose the existence of contact between the civilizations they compare, or else weigh differently the importance of contact to the work of comparison. Underlying these differences are methodological questions like: to what extent, and in what ways, the history of contact between different civilizations plays a role in the work of comparison? To what extent the fact of contact between two civilizations legitimates their comparison? How the aims and methods of comparison differ in cases where contact has or has not taken place? More subtly, how should the intellectual history of contact in later periods of a region’s history affect how we do comparative work on earlier periods of that history?

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Wed, 10/21/2020 - 11:15am by Erik Shell.

REVISED, 10/20/2020

The deadline for applications for the position of Editor of TAPA has been extended to November 20, 2020. Furthermore, in recognition of the increased demands currently being made on faculty time, we will now entertain, in addition to applications to be sole Editor, proposals from any self-formed team of two co-editors who wish to share the duties. A two-person application should include a statement of how the two co-editors will complement each other, how they will divide tasks, how often they will consult each other, and how they will reach consensus in difficult cases.

Call for Applications for Editor of TAPA (2022-2025)

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Tue, 10/20/2020 - 12:54pm by Helen Cullyer.

Please see the following deadlines, some of which have recently been extended:

October Deadlines

Nominations for the Forum Prize: October 23 (extended deadline)

Classics Everywhere microgrant applications: October 26 (extended deadline)

November Deadlines

Nominations for the Precollegiate Teaching Award: November 2 (extended deadline)

Pearson Fellowship applications: November 6

TLL Fellowship applications: November 6

December Deadline

Frank M. Snowden Jr. Undergraduate Scholarships (formerly the Minority Scholarships): December 11

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 10/19/2020 - 12:34pm by Erik Shell.

Registration for the 2021 virtual annual meeting is now open!

You can register here: https://aia-scs-2021.secure-platform.com/

We also have funding available to support free registration for graduate students, contingent faculty, and unemployed scholars. You can apply for a registration subvention until November 15th using this form. We will also be sharing information soon on volunteer opportunities since we will be seeking volunteers to assist with tech support within sessions. If you are applying for a registration subvention or are interested in volunteering, please do not pay for registration at this stage.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 10/15/2020 - 10:28am by Erik Shell.

Welcoming New Board Members

In consultation with the Graduate Student Committee and Committee on Contingent Faculty, the SCS Board of Directors has approved two new appointed board positions, with voice but without vote, for a graduate student and contingent faculty member-at-large. These appointments will become effective in January 2021. It is intended that these two seats will become elected positions with full voting rights, but this will most likely require changes to the method of SCS elections, which will in itself require a member vote for approval. 

We welcome, as the initial appointees, Del Maticic (co-chair of the Graduate Student Committee) and Chiara Sulprizio (junior co-chair and incoming chair of the Contingent Faculty Committee) to the board in 2021. Del and Chiara will join the following elected officers and directors, who will also begin their terms in January 2021: Kathryn Gutzwiller (Vice President for Publications and Research); Jinyu Liu (director-at-large); Dan-el Padilla Peralta (director-at-large); Matthew Santirocco (President-Elect); and Ruth Scodel (Vice President for Professional Matters).

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Wed, 10/07/2020 - 10:50am by Erik Shell.

The Ph.D./ M.A. Program in Classics at the Graduate Center, CUNY is pleased to announce our upcoming virtual conference, 'Honor and Shame in Classical Antiquity', to be held on Friday, October 23 from 9:30 AM- 7 PM (EST) via Zoom webinar. This conference includes three graduate student panels (Embodiment and Performance, Greek Poetics, and Rhetorical Deployment). Our keynote speaker is Professor Margaret Graver (Dartmouth College); her presentation will be "The Eyes of the Other: Honor and Epistemology in Plato and the Early Stoics." A full schedule and further information are available online at https://opencuny.org/classicsconference2020/

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Tue, 10/06/2020 - 1:51pm by Erik Shell.

CALL FOR CHAPTERS

Pseudo-Oppian’s Cynegetica ­­– On the Hunt for Ethics and Poetics

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 10/06/2020 - 8:41am by Erik Shell.

Netflix’s new Paralympic documentary, Rising Phoenix (written and directed by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui), was released in August 2020. As with many Netflix docu-films, Phoenix uses interviews with various athletes and members of the Paralympic Committee to follow the history of the Paralympics. These interviews are intermixed with old footage from the sport events themselves as well as the the use of statues in the style of those granted to ancient Olympians and athletes. Focusing mainly on the games in Beijing, London, and Rio, Rising Phoenix tells the story not only of prominent athletes - Matt  Stutzman, Tatyana McFadden, Ellie Cole, Bebe Vio, Jonnie Peacock, Jean-Baptiste Alaize, Cui Zhe, Ryley Batt, and Ntando Mahlangu to name just a few - but also narrates the history of their disability along with their discovery of sport. In order to do so, Rising Phoenix draws on the imagery of classical statues in order to create a new perspective on disability in the modern world.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 10/05/2020 - 8:01am by .

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