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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From the SCS Board of Directors, approved 6/3/20

The Society for Classical Studies condemns the relentless horror of police brutality and murder of black men, women, and children, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and Rodney King, to name just a few of the victims. Brutality perpetrated by the police and others stands with mass incarceration and unequal access to healthcare, education, and housing as symptoms of longstanding systemic, structural, and institutional racism in American and European cultures. These are deep problems in society that will not be fixed without radical policy changes at every level of government and across all institutions.   

View full article. | Posted in Public Statements on Wed, 06/03/2020 - 6:20am by Helen Cullyer.

The new Classics Everywhere initiative, launched by the SCS in 2019, supports projects that seek to engage communities worldwide with the study of Greek and Roman antiquity in new and meaningful ways. As part of this initiative the SCS has been funding a variety of projects ranging from reading groups comparing ancient to modern leadership practices to collaborations with artists in theater, music, and dance. In this post we focus on digital projects that engage with ancient texts and discuss the study of Classics during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 05/29/2020 - 7:55am by .

Fellowships, Scholarships, and Grants, January – April 2020

Some of our short-term fellowship and Classics Everywhere award winners are deferring use of their awards until Fall 2020 or 2021 owing to COVID-19. However, we congratulate everyone who was awarded a scholarship, fellowship or grant this spring, and we thank our selection committees for their hard work.

TLL Fellowship:

Amy Koenig

Pearson Fellowship:

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Wed, 05/27/2020 - 5:32pm by Helen Cullyer.

Please see below a message from the SCS President, followed by a listing of 2020 graduates:

With in-person celebrations ruled out by the coronavirus pandemic, the Society for Classical Studies is proud to recognize the many graduates at all levels across North America who have chosen to make serious and sustained study of the ancient Mediterranean world a significant part of their education.  For those who are earning PhD’s, we welcome the new contributions to knowledge that each of you has made, and we pledge our support and guidance as you negotiate an even more challenging professional landscape than you signed up for.  We warmly salute all degree-recipients who are pursuing careers in the vital enterprise of K-12 education.  For those who are going in other directions, we take great satisfaction in the variety of paths you will be following.  We hope the classical world will remain an important part of your lives, and we invite you to visit our website, read our blog, and join the SCS as “Friends of Classics.”  And we count on you as lifelong advocates for the value of studying Greco-Roman and ancient Mediterranean history and culture: please take every opportunity to spread the word that the ancient world still presents us with new questions to investigate and with multiple points of reference for thinking through our present-day concerns.  Heartfelt congratulations to all!

View full article. | Posted in Presidential Letters on Mon, 05/25/2020 - 12:11pm by Helen Cullyer.

The Arabic and Latin Glossary (hereafter al-gloss) is a free, online dictionary of the vocabulary used by medieval translators, primarily working in eleventh- to thirteenth-century Italy and Spain, to render the Arabic versions of Greek scientific and philosophical texts and original Arabic compositions into Latin. It is parallel, in terms of its scholarly goals and methodology, to the database Glossarium Graeco-Arabicum (hereafter gloss-ga), which is also run out of Germany but by a different team. In this review, I will refer to gloss-ga because it offers a point of comparison for assessing al-gloss’ editorial decisions and accessibility.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 05/22/2020 - 3:23pm by .
Books

Loeb Classical Library Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowships in Classics

2021-2023

The Trustees of the Loeb Classical Library Foundation announce funding of four two-year postdoctoral fellowships to be held in the academic years 2021–2023. [A further four fellowships will be funded for the academic years 2022–2024] The details for the first round of competition for these fellowships are as follows:

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Thu, 05/21/2020 - 2:30pm by Helen Cullyer.

Many congratulations to Erik Shell who graduates today with his M.A. in Education Policy from NYU. Erik has been working part-time on his degree while working full-time for SCS in many roles. He runs the the Placement Service, works on social media and our website, coordinates our departmental membership program, edits video, and does so many other things. Thank you, Erik, for everything you do for SCS and its members, and congratulations on a well-deserved Masters degree!

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Wed, 05/20/2020 - 8:09am by Helen Cullyer.

Have you ever thought about a terminal MA in Classics?

I have to confess, I hadn’t before coming to teach at Boston College, where we have such a graduate program. I had firsthand experience with Classics BAs in colleges that only granted undergraduate degrees, BAs and MAs in PhD-granting departments — heck, even a combined BA/MA program. But a freestanding MA degree that was a purposeful end goal rather than an add-on, an along-the-way, or a no-more-thanks? It never crossed my mind. To judge from the conversations that I’ve had since joining a department with a terminal MA program, I think that’s true of a lot of Classics faculty, as well as for a lot of students. And I also think that has led to some unfortunate misunderstandings about terminal MAs and their contributions, both to the field as a whole and to the personal and professional development of individual students.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 05/15/2020 - 8:26am by Christopher Polt.

Barbara K. Gold is Edward North Professor of Classics at Hamilton College, Emerita. She received her B.A. at the University of Michigan in 1966, her master’s degree in 1968 and her doctorate in 1975, both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research focuses on Greek and Roman literature, particularly Roman elegy, lyric, and satire; medieval literature, culture, and history; Roman social history; women in the ancient world; and feminist criticism. A prolific author and recipient of numerous grants and awards, Professor Gold was the first woman editor of The American Journal of Philology from 2000 to 2008 and is currently Vice President for Professional Matters of the Society for Classical Studies. She has also served on numerous college committees and was Associate Dean of Faculty at Hamilton College (1997-2001).

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 05/08/2020 - 5:01am by Claire Catenaccio.

THE ERICH S. GRUEN PRIZE

On behalf of the Society for Classical Studies (SCS), the Erich S. Gruen Prize Committee invites all graduate students in North America to enter the first annual competition for the best graduate research paper on multiculturalism in the ancient Mediterranean. This year the prize will be a cash award of $500. 

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Thu, 05/07/2020 - 6:55am by Erik Shell.

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