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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The American Academy in Berlin invites applications for its residential fellowships for the academic year 2020/21.

The Academy seeks to enrich transatlantic dialogue in the arts, humanities, and public policy through the development and communication of projects of the highest scholarly merit. Past recipients include anthropologists, art historians, literary scholars, philosophers, historians, musicologists, journalists, writers of fiction and nonfiction, filmmakers, sociologists, legal scholars, economists, and public policy experts.

Approximately twenty Berlin Prizes are conferred annually. Fellowships are typically awarded for an academic semester, but shorter stays of six to eight weeks are also possible. Benefits include round-trip airfare, partial board, a $5,000 monthly stipend, and accommodations at the Academy’s lakeside Hans Arnhold Center, in the Wannsee district of Berlin. 

For 2020/21, the Academy will also award three specially designated fellowships: two Andrew W. Mellon Fellowships in the Humanities, for work that demonstrates an interest in the topics of migration and social integration, race in comparative perspective, or exile and return. In addition, in memory of its founder, the Academy will name a Richard C. Holbrooke Fellow for a project that looks at diplomatic approaches to resolving major global issues, from armed conflicts to environmental challenges to the impact of new technologies.

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Fri, 06/14/2019 - 10:00am by Erik Shell.

Congratulations to Davina C. Lopez (Eckerd College) and Pamela Zinn (Texas Tech) for their 2019 ACLS Development Grants!

You can read the full list of 2019 recipients on the ACLS website.

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(Photo: "library" by Viva Vivanista, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Thu, 06/13/2019 - 10:21am by Erik Shell.
The Sphinx of Naxos. Archaeological Museum of Delphi. Picture by Yoandy Cabrera

This month, we spotlight the graduate research of Dr. Yoandy Cabrera Ortega, who recently defended his dissertation on the portrayal of human emotions in ancient Greek myths and in modern literature from Spain and Latin America. 

My dissertation was an interdisciplinary one, intertwining different approaches and fields such as classical reception, queer studies, affect theory, and Hispanic studies.

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 06/13/2019 - 8:46am by Yoandy Cabrera Ortega.

Can a computer understand the hendecasyllables of Catullus, the declamations of Seneca, or the letters of Pliny? Not yet, and maybe never in any conventional sense of this word. No one has succeeded so far in teaching a computer to comprehend language – that is, to reason about, generate, act upon and, importantly, communicate intentions through symbolic speech – let alone to appreciate texts written in a dead language with a sophisticated literary tradition. (Embodied cognitive science claims, in fact, that without a human body no computer can ever hope to achieve human understanding). But it is possible to represent the meanings of the Latin language in a way that can be manipulated and analysed by computers. The idea of training machines in these meanings forms the basis for the field of natural language understanding, which is a specialized kind of natural language processing (NLP) focused on modelling linguistic semantics.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 06/07/2019 - 6:48am by .

CALL FOR ARTICLE PROPOSALS

Elementary-level foreign language instruction: from theory to practice

Editor: Ekaterina (Katya) Nemtchinova, Seattle Pacific University, katya@spu.edu

The articles in this volume will:

  • focus on adult learners in a formal classroom setting (e.g. college or university classes);
  • address facilitation of linguistic, communicative, and cultural competence in the framework of reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills;
  • describe successful instructional strategies and collaborative projects;
  • discuss empirical research findings and their implications for classroom teaching;
  • present innovative materials and techniques that enhance teaching and learning;
  • offer practical teaching suggestions that would work in any adult elementary-level language classroom.

The book will consist of the following tentative sections: 

  • Grammar and vocabulary
  • Speaking and listening
  • Reading and writing
  • Intercultural competence
  • Assessment and evaluation
  • Teaching with technology

Your Article Proposal should include

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Wed, 06/05/2019 - 2:14pm by Erik Shell.

The Ancient Philosophy Society was established to provide a forum for diverse scholarship on ancient Greek and Roman texts. Honoring the richness of the American and European philosophical traditions, the APS supports phenomenological, postmodern, Anglo-American, Straussian, Tübingen School, hermeneutic, psychoanalytic, queer, and feminist interpretations of ancient Greek and Roman philosophical and literary works.       

THEME: Although papers on all topics relating to the continental interpretation of ancient philosophy are welcome, this year’s conference organizers are especially interested in assembling one or two panels relating to the themes of xenia or ‘hospitality’ and the xenos or the ‘foreigner, stranger,’ thereby bringing the ancients into the urgent contemporary conversation about social/political issues such as immigration, national identities, and border policy. 

Submissions cannot exceed 3000 words in length (not including notes) and must be prepared for blind review.

Send to:  APS2020@depaul.edu

The conference hosts at DePaul University this year are Michael Naas, Sean D. Kirkland, and William McNeill.

Deadline November 22nd, 2019.

For more information visit: http://www.ancientphilosophysociety.org

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View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 06/03/2019 - 11:02am by Erik Shell.

ELEATICA 2019 - PROGRAM

The eleventh edition of ELEATICA - International Session on Ancient Philosophy, will be held on September 18-21, 2019 at the Fondazione Alario per Elea-Velia Impresa Sociale (Ascea Marina, Salerno, Italy, in the vicinity of the archeological area of ancient Elea). This time the main lectures will be given by Prof. Richard McKirahan (Pomona College, Claremont, Los Angeles, President of the International Association for Presocratic Studies).
Here is the conference programme:

Eleatica 2019
ARISTOTELE E GLI ELEATI

Wednesday, September 18

14:15 Courtyard of Palazzo Alario: Welcome and Registration

15:15 Palazzo Alario, Sala Francesco Alario: Opening Ceremony
Marcello D’Aiuto (President of the Fondazione Alario per Elea-Velia impresa sociale).
Francesca Gambetti (Scientific Direction of Eleatica – Univ. Roma Tre - SFI)

15:30 ‘I nostri libri’
Stefania Giombini (Scientific Direction of Eleatica – Univ. Autònoma de Barcelona, Univ. Girona)

16:00 1st Lecture: ‘Un Parmenide aristotelico’, Richard McKirahan
Chair: Bernardo Berruecos Frank (UNAM)
Discussant: Massimo Pulpito (Scientific Committee of Eleatica - Cátedra Unesco Archai)

17:30 Debate

Thursday, September 19

08:00 Visit to Paestum (with tastings of local gastronomy)

Friday, September 20

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Mon, 06/03/2019 - 8:24am by Erik Shell.

Call for Abstracts

The Second Annual St Andrews Graduate Conference in Ancient Philosophy

The Soul in Ancient Philosophy

11-12 October 2019

 We are delighted to announce our upcoming graduate conference on ‘The Soul in Ancient Philosophy’ taking place at the University of St Andrews, Scotland on the 11th and 12th of October 2019.

The keynote lectures will be delivered by Professor Dorothea Frede (Hamburg) and Professor Hendrik Lorenz (Princeton).

The soul has been of central importance in the ancient philosophical tradition, from the earliest Greek thinkers to the Neoplatonists. For ancient philosophers, the soul helps to account not only for various kinds of life on earth, such as human, animal, or even plant-life, but also the heavenly movements of the stars and planets. While the soul is often viewed as a principle of motion, in humans it is associated with a wide range of important phenomena, such as cognition, love, death, reason, emotions, and feelings. Moreover, the soul is sometimes seen to have a life of its own apart from the body, so that a distinction can be drawn between embodied and disembodied existence and experience. In this way, the soul naturally brings together a range of different philosophical concerns, including epistemology, ethics, psychology, the natural sciences, cosmology, and eschatology. 

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 06/03/2019 - 8:18am by Erik Shell.

From time to time, T.H.M. Gellar-Goad will be checking in with a member of the discipline to see how they conceptualize or define “productivity” in their own work and in the profession. We’ll ask them the same set of five questions and share their responses, plus perhaps a photo or two from their experiences. These Perspectives on Productivity will present views from a diverse cross-section of our field, people from all sorts of backgrounds, working in all sorts of areas, and at all stages in their Classics-related journeys. Today we hear from Erik Shell, the Communications and Services Coordinator at the Society for Classical Studies. 

What does "productivity" mean to you as a member of the discipline?

I expect it means something different to me than the academically engaged portion of the Classics community. I do not research in Classics anymore nor do I intend to start up my old research; I do not teach nor do I have an opportunity to start teaching again. With that in mind I see productivity as the process of working toward two different goals: legacy and yield.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 05/31/2019 - 7:50am by Erik Shell.

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, I want to talk about domestic violence and Game of Thrones.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 05/27/2019 - 6:44am by Serena S Witzke.

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