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 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. In this post we focus on three projects that continue their activity through the COVID-19 pandemic.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 04/24/2020 - 4:39am by .

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View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Wed, 04/22/2020 - 8:19pm by Helen Cullyer.

Each year the SCS holds a roundtable at regional classics meetings across the country to speak directly with members and non-members about a particular issue that looms large in the field. Due to the cancelation, postponement, or virtual movement of regional classics association meetings, the SCS would like to hold an additional, virtual roundtable with this year's topic: "The 'Limits' of Classical Studies," where we consider what geographies, cultures, and time periods fall into the loose category that we call the classics.

This roundtable will take place on May 12 at 1:00 p.m. EST. Please RSVP for the Zoom meeting using this form. You will be contacted 24 hours before the roundtable with a Zoom access link and other supplementary information as needed.

We look forward to a lively and substantive discussion!

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 04/20/2020 - 10:35am by Erik Shell.

Dear SCS Members,

We would like to remind you of the approaching deadlines for submissions for the 2021 AIA/SCS Annual Meeting.  Please see below for relevant deadlines associated with submission type, plus an update to the deadline for reports from Category II Affiliated Groups that have issued a call for abstracts. We would like to remind you that, unless stated otherwise, submissions should be made via the SCS submission website at https://program.classicalstudies.org.  

DEADLINES:  

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 04/16/2020 - 9:20am by Erik Shell.

In  her ‘art of translation’ column, Adrienne K.H. Rose interviews Jinyu Liu, Professor of Classical Studies at Depauw University, about translating texts across cultures, Ovid, and the translation space as a “contact zone.” 

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AKHR: For readers who are learning about cross-cultural translation for the first time, could you say a little bit in general about what it encompasses, as well as how it is a feature in your current projects? Isn't all translation cross-cultural?

View full article. | Posted in on Wed, 04/15/2020 - 6:17am by Adrienne K.H. Rose.

Given that extraordinary demands are presently being placed on everyone’s time (to mention only that), SCS is granting an extended deadline for Category II affiliated groups to submit affiliated group reports on panels for 2021.

The deadline for submission of the Affiliated Group Reports is now 8 June, although we encourage any affiliated group that is ready to submit by April 21 to do so. This extended timeframe will allow groups to renew their calls for papers with a new deadline, should they wish to do so. We would suggest a deadline of 10 May for affiliated group abstracts, to provide time for the usual vetting process. Additionally, we will allow members to submit abstracts for both individual papers and for Affiliated Group panels, to preserve the policy of allowing two routes onto the program for individual submitters, albeit with the submission deadlines in reverse order and without the possibility of knowing the result of the first submission before making the second (these are complicated times!). Should an abstract be accepted in both forms, the paper will appear in the program on the affiliated group panel, not as an individual submission in a paper session.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 04/13/2020 - 12:38pm by Erik Shell.

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View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 04/10/2020 - 7:16am by Claire Catenaccio.

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View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Tue, 04/07/2020 - 2:42pm by Helen Cullyer.

In his history of the long and costly war between Athens and Sparta, the historian Thucydides explained that he had written his narrative to be “a possession for all time” and to be of assistance to those of future generations “who want to see things clearly as they were and, given human nature, as they will one day be again, more or less."1 Thucydides was a shrewd observer and analyst of human behavior, and his work has frequently been cited in times of crisis by those who see patterns in history.  At the famous ceremony dedicating the battlefield cemetery at Gettysburg in 1863 at which Lincoln also spoke, former Secretary of State Edward Everett delivered a eulogy

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 04/03/2020 - 8:10am by .

As we all contend with the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 Coronavirus, I want to start by highlighting a gratifying fact: the indispensable expert and voice of reason, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, majored in Classics as an undergraduate at Holy Cross!  This is a timely and inspiring reminder that Classics majors go on to distinguish themselves in many different careers and to perform many kinds of vital service.

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View full article. | Posted in Presidential Letters on Sun, 03/29/2020 - 2:22pm by Helen Cullyer.

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