In Memoriam

Mabel Lang

So many of you have responded to the announcement of Miss Lang’s death either directly to the President or to the College’s Facebook page that we thought it worthwhile to collect your comments in one place and to continue the process of recollecting and remembering this extraordinary teacher, scholar and friend.
Rick Hamilton

Bryn Mawr Now article:
Legendary Professor of Greek Mabel Lang Dies at 93

Mabel Lang on faculty shows:

Mabel Lang on Taylor Hall:

Memorial gifts may be sent to Bryn Mawr College for the Mabel L. Lang Fund in the Humanities (make a gift online at

32 thoughts on “In Memoriam”

  1. I have many extremely fond memories of Mabel Lang’s extremely forthright conversational style. One classmate reported being told, “Miss X, you have a memory, not a mind.” On another occasion, after ascertaining that I had a younger sister, Miss Lang asked whether she might attend Bryn Mawr. She thought it might be a good idea since my sister “wouldn’t have to worry about coming along behind a good student.” Another fond memory of those 8 am baby Greek classes. A student was unable to come up with the word for “sleep.” Mable Lang started rocking back and forth and waving her fingers around menacingly. The student (not me, thank god) sat blank-faced and petrified. It turned out that Mable was trying to look like a hypnotist to prompt the word “hypnos” — but the student (who as far as she knew was not actually hypnotized) later told me that the only thought running through her mind for those few seconds was: “My God. She really is a witch.” One of my classmates was told for Hell Week that she had to put on wellingtons and stomp back and forth outside of Mable Lang’s office in a wraparound skirt until Miss Lang came out to see who was making all the noise. I could go on and on — an indelible person. ljg

  2. When Rick Hamilton was on leave during the Fall semester of 1994, Miss Lang taught the Ancient History course. We met in Guild. The room was set up with tables in a U-format facing the lecturer’s table. Miss Lang’s voice was low and gentle and we could not hear her. At the next lecture, the students moved the table into the center before Miss Lang arrived. It was wonderful. We could hear her and the lecture was lively. After the 4th lecture, we forgot to push her table forward before she arrived. When she did appear, she paused, surveyed the room, and moved the table forward herself. Never said a word. That gave us a sense of who she was.

    The course was definitely one of the best I took at BMC. It was diverse. In addition to the history, we had to learn the geography of Greece, and we were treated to Greek literature, archaeology, and the opportunity to study the Greek city-states in a way that helped us understand ancient Greece. I am thankful to the student who alerted me to the fact that Miss Lang was teaching that semester and that this could very well be the last opportunity to have her as a professor.

    Even though I knew I would be majoring in Latin, it was Miss Lang’s course that helped to convince me to study Greek instead of the Spanish I was planning to take as my second language. I am grateful for that experience.

    Beyond her teaching ability was her terrific understanding of her students. I had a concussion that semester and she helped me to work out what I could and could not do until I had recovered. Although a force to be reckoned, I count it an honor to have been a student of hers, for even that one semester.

  3. Miss Lang was a powerful influence on me at Bryn Mawr, though owing to her leave, I did not have her for the famous baby Greek. She and Prof. Lattimore alternated the teaching in Greek 101 and she was (naturally) wonderful for Herodotus, a special interest. For Greek tragedy we only prepared the dialogue and speeches and the professor translated the choruses for us. One day one student asked about the meter of the chorus. Miss Lang replied: “I have no patience at all with metrics!” End of subject. The Homer comp. conference was one of the best experiences I had as a student. Everything about the poems, language, archaeology, history, all was made clear and fascinating as we worked our way through both epics complete. Curiously, she rather disapproved of Silvine Marbury and me reading everything in Greek (this was not required). While in graduate school Stanford, I hit a rough patch and wrote to Miss Lang. She recommended the novels of Georgette Heyer (“Not the mystery ones!”). I have read and enjoyed them–it was a perfect piece of advice. But also a surprising one. The novels do indeed have many a spunky heroine, who despite the strictures of the 18th century, manages to e.g. write a successful novel, fight a duel disguised as a man, etc. But they are romances with happy ever after endings with a splendid hero. An interesting insight into a complex and fascinating person.

  4. I had Miss Lang for baby Greek, and she was wonderful. The textbook was not very good, but she loved the material so much that it was a treat. Due to her influence, (as well as that of Berthe Marti, Nan Michels, and Bob Broughton I did my graduate work in Classics at Yale and have been teaching that material even since.

  5. Mabel Lang was unquestionably one-of-a-kind making baby Greek with her a unique experience. We had an odd and amusing relationship: I was a Classical Studies major who had no intention of continuing my Classics studies. I worked hard but didn’t take it all as seriously as my Classics classmates. Yet Miss Lang seemed to like me anyway and we enjoyed many laughs together, usually at my expense.

    My primary Mabel Lang claim to fame is that I was the first, perhaps only, person to take her to lunch at Roache & O’Brien’s, where she enjoyed a cheap burger and beer while disbelieving students stared wide-eyed at the back of her head. It was a bonding moment I’ll never forget.

  6. I have so many fond memories of Miss Lang it has been hard for me to write. I teach Classics at a small liberal arts college now. Although I have had the privilege of learning from many great teachers in my lifetime, some of her observations about teaching have left the strongest impressions. With many others, I cowered before her through baby Greek. (We thought maybe those massive calf muscles of hers were really extra memory capacity.) I learned more about Greek history from her than in graduate school. But it was when I had the treat of serving as her teaching assistant in intermediate Greek as a Dorothy Nepper Marshall scholar my senior year that my schooling really began. She was such a reflective teacher. She revealed that she thought elementary language students needed to be scared into the work, because otherwise it was difficult to be motivated, but that intermediate students needed more confidence, so she chose to present herself as more encouraging and sympathetic in the Homer class. She felt that learning a language as an adult was inherently undignified, which is why she preferred to use last names for students. She thought being Miss Severy and Mr. Ho and Miss First would preserve our dignity under trying conditions. And obviously what she thought I needed as a senior contemplating becoming a professor was to see behind her façade and understand the decisions she made so carefully in order to give the students what she thought they needed at a given stage in their development. Although I often make different choices as a teacher, I began making them deliberately because of Miss Lang. She was a treasure of the institution, the discipline and the profession, and I am so grateful to have known her.
    Anassa kata, kalo kale, Ia ia ia Nike, Bryn Mawr, Bryn Mawr, Bryn Mawr!
    Mabel Lang

  7. My most powerful memory of Baby Greek with Miss Lang in the Fall of 1979 was the day second semester when we had our first class on Plato. We students had spent the time in the hall before class moaning and groaning about how incredibly long the probably 15-line assignment had taken us—our first real translation after Chase and Phillips. I spent (I swear this is my memory) 6 hours on it. When class started, the first thing Miss Lang did was ask us how long it had taken us. No-one admitted the truth. We all cut our time at least in half. And she was still astonished at how long we said we had taken. She stared at us for a bit, studying the dimwits, and then got to work and slogged through it with us. That combination of exacting standards and real concern for students was her trademark. Her patience and her love for us, and for the language, was what kept us going. I am less patient with my students, I fear, but she is my model.

    Does anyone remember a skirt, possibly green, with a spider web on it?

  8. I can truly say that without Miss Lang I would not be the scholar that I am today (and I hope she would think this a good thing). I had her for the first semester of the legendary Baby Greek. Like everyone else, I was terrified. I remember sitting in the classroom as she would declare “Second person singular aorist middle imperative of hiemi, MIss . . . Morgan! It was the pause that really did it, as everyone desperately ransacked their memories and hoped that she would not call on them. Then the paralysis that descended when you knew that it was going to be you, coupled with an almost religious desire not to disappoint. I really learnt my Greek, and that is the beginning of wisdom. I also learnt a most important lesson: no excuses. It has served me well.

    I always thought (Innocently) she had no idea what my first name was, and it was astounding to me when, during my senior year, we crossed paths in opposite directions going across campus. “Hello Kathy!,” she said. But this was so like her: so fierce and so surprisingly gentle too.

    Also during my senior year I took her graduate seminar on Thucydides (there were not enough majors to have Senior Conference), and that was another revelation. One that helped teach me how to be a scholar. Once again: no excuses. Formidable amounts of Greek and secondary scholarship had me scrambling to keep up. But this really intimate and adult engagement with an ancient text stayed with me through graduate school and was a model. So now I am a Professor of Classics myself, and as I ponder my next book project I realize that I am going to return to Thucydides. I hope I can be half the teacher to my students that she was to me. Thank you, Miss Lang.

  9. I am writing in haste (just before a plane) but I would like to say something about Miss Lang’s patience and understated humor when she was my Dissertation Director. I was well aware that those days with her were priceless. I am glad I knew it then. My experiencee was at the highest level, and she enhanced even that. Once I asked to see what she was working on (she was too modest to offer) and she showed me copies of a few papers she was preparing for publication, arranged in a neat stack carefully typed–without Word or computers. She straightened them out and showed them to me. It was overwhelming what topics she had going. Her eccentricities were fabulous (e.g. her black plastic skirt that was supposed to be leather). I did not even know she had any until I got to stuffy places.

    Lisa N. Woodside, PhD 1972

  10. I took “Baby Greek” from Mabel in 1977, and she was an inspiration—incredibly organized, efficient, and terrifying, but also (as I see much more now in retrospect) with a sly sense of humor and a genuine concern for all of us.

    As I got to know Miss Lang a little better, what really struck me was how different she was in private from her Baby Greek persona—shy, modest, and incredibly kind. I remember her encouraging me to become a Greek major in the spring of my freshman year; when I explained to her that I didn’t think I could because I was pre-med (as I was then), she told me that she had originally taken Greek at Cornell because she herself had been pre-med and figured that learning Greek would help her with medical terminology. She then wrote out in her tiny, precise hand my course schedule for the next three years, to prove to me that I could be a Greek major and still fit in all my pre-med requirements.

    Most of all, I realize in retrospect, Mabel always treated us like grown-ups, and that’s a big part of what made her such an inspiration—she modeled for us, without pretension or artifice, the life of a teacher and scholar, and thereby made it accessible and imaginable. So, for example, I remember going to her office once and finding her hard at work, collecting rhetorical questions in Herodotus (in preparation for her Martin Lectures). In response to my idle question, she explained the whole project to me; the obligation of the Martin Lectures; and her anxieties about it. For me, as for many others, the encounter with Mabel was a transformative one, and she will always remain a model of the very best kind of teaching.

  11. You have kindly given me the opportunity to say a few words about Mabel Lang. As an undergraduate, I was so intimidated by her that I was afraid to take Greek, or Greek literature. But half a lifetime later, when I was floundering after the death of my husband, I had an idea for a play that I told Pat McPherson: what the women were doing during Plato’s Symposium. “Tell Mabel,” Pat said. “What were the women doing next door?” I asked Mabel. “UPSTAIRS!!” she corrected, in her kindly metallic voice. So it was that at my bleakest life moment, I came back to Bryn Mawr, and Mabel gave me on-the-job training in ancient Athens. “Now go to A427bc,” she said to me, sending me to the stacks of the library. I went and learned about the Agora, and wrote a scene. “Now go to G976x1” she said when it was time for the next scene. “Scholarship,” she said, “is knowing where to look.” So it was that guided by her, and infused with energy from the wonderful young women on campus who were rooting for me to succeed, as opposed to Hollywood where I lived where all root for you to fail, I finished the play in 31 days. With song besides, as my heart was singing. I brought Mabel a basket of flowers. She was sitting in her Dickensian office, books piled to the ceiling, threatening to fall on her. “But I should be giving flowers to You!” she cried, and, to my amazement, got up. “I’ve never done anything CREATIVE before!” dancing around the room to the music of the word. It was one of the great moments of my life. Now, to my unexpected joy, the play will be put on October 29th on by the Greasepaint Society, undergraduates at Bryn Mawr infused with love of theater. The only sad part is that Mabel will not be there.

  12. I started studying Greek in 1955, my sophomore year at Bryn Mawr. The course was “baby” Greek, and Miss Lang was teaching it. (To this day I cannot even to myself call her anything but Miss Lang.) The textbook was Chase and Phillips, A New Introduction to Greek. Although the readings this book offers are excellent, it gives the student no quarter, nor did Miss Lang. I was terrified of her “pounce” method of instruction. To give an example, part of her standard procedure was directly asking a student: “Second person singular, aorist optative passive [of some highly irregular verb]?!” And one had to answer immediately. We had to master the entire book by Christmas vacation so as to do the Apology of Socrates afterward. Early on in the course she told us her name was Macrophile and explained why: Lang=long=macro- and Mabel comes from the Latin amabilis, hence -phile. Not even in our dreams would we have dared to call her that.

    When I went on to graduate work at Cornell I met that great humorist Harry Caplan, who had taught Miss Lang as an undergraduate and became my mentor. Through him I learned that calling the beginning course “baby” Greek was a peculiarity of the Classics department at Cornell, and that she must have liked that usage and so took it with her to Bryn Mawr; also how Miss Lang had told him she used a “pounce” method in teaching Greek. When he asked how she would characterize his, she said, “ah, yours is the charm method!”

    Since I considered myself a late starter in Greek, she gave me very useful advice on how to bone up on it during summer vacations. My senior year quite out of the blue she told me to read Mary Renault’s The Last of the Wine (although, she said, “sometimes it reads like the dregs!”), and I certainly gained valuable insight into Greek culture from that work of fiction. When I told her I had changed my mind about going to Harvard for graduate study and instead was going to Cornell (the reasons need not concern us here), she said her former teachers there would be all right, “unless they have become senile.” Well, they were more than all right, and certainly not senile.

    When the senior class went around the campus singing Christmas carols she was there, at one of our stopping places. My view of Miss Lang was that she was as hard as nails, so imagine my surprise when I saw tears in her eyes as she listened to the singing!

    I last talked to her sometime in the early 70s. I had driven down to Bryn Mawr because I needed to consult a book in quite a hurry, and since our library here at Binghamton (at that time, SUNY at Binghamton) did not have it and it was out on loan at Cornell, where I would go as a matter of course whenever I needed something more or less rare, I decided to try my alma mater. Miss Lang was in her office and I was glad to have the opportunity to see her. This was long before Iran became prominent in the news; I forget why we came to talk about Iran, but do remember her assumption that the people there were Zoroastrians, and how surprised she was to hear their religion is Islam! This shows how very immersed in antiquity she was. I shared with her some misgivings I had about the originality of the article I was working on, and she said anything we write is completely ours, like our fingerprints. Oddly I found this very reassuring. She also told me about some elements of the iconography of Herakles that were unfamiliar to me even though I was already teaching mythology.

    It was sad to learn of Miss Lang’s death. I had assumed that with the demise of Emily Townsend Vermeule and Gordon Kirkwood all my old teachers were gone. Is there such a thing as becoming an academic orphan?

  13. One of the immortals, Mabel Lang will live on in the hearts and minds– made fuller and more rigorous by her demanding, but always kind instruction– of everyone she taught, directly and indirectly, at Bryn Mawr and in the world beyond. In the mid-seventies, I took her baby Greek class. I will always remember how accommodating she was to a harried first-year graduate student who initially thought he could easily cram another course into a shrunken day. And I will forever be in her debt for the pleasure of discovering the beauty of Plato’s style. Wherever you are, Miss Lang– some palm-filled office splendiferous with Mediterranean light on Mt. Olympus, no doubt– I hope you know how much love you spread in your sojourn amongst the mere earthborn.

  14. Miss Lang was formidable. I was in the 9 a.m. section of Baby Greek in the fall of 1978, not the macho section at 8 a.m. Ill-prepared, undisciplined, and slow to realize that a winning smile wasn’t winning me anything, I was asked to write a sentence from the homework on the board. Miss Lang, in tones equally amused and exasperated: “Miss McNamara, you sprinkle your accents like salt and pepper over your sentence.” Nailed. I hadn’t a clue where they went, nor had I really tried to figure it out.
    Miss Lang was brilliant, larger than life. She dressed sensibly: wrap skirt or trousers, polo shirt, Wallabees, I think, in winter. Her one indulgence—de rigeur in the Agora or but exotic in Taylor Hall—were her Greek sandals. I remember my delight in discovering that Homer has Athena wear a version of these—kala pedila–which confirmed my sense that Miss Lang’s insight was god-like and further enhanced her mystique. The real mystery, though, was how to approach this superior being. After I’d had a string of terrible quizzes, she told me to stop by her office one Sunday afternoon for review. I sweated out the weekend, studying hard and rehearsing what I would say to Miss Lang, nervous that I would present as the bubble-headed freshman I had realized I was rather than the sophisticated linguist I wished to be. I arrived outside her office and knocked on the door, which opened to reveal Miss Lang wolfing down a Wendy’s quarter pounder. She looked mildly embarrassed. I was shocked. She actually eats?! Eats junk food?! You mean, you can translate Linear B and go to Wendy’s? Suddenly, so much more was possible.
    Inspired by Miss Lang and intrigued by the rigors of classical language and history, though quite lacking in proficiency, I stuck with ancient Greek. After a rough term of marching with and through Herodotus, salved by Greg Dickerson’s kindness, I had reached the point of no return. I needed one more semester of Greek to fulfill my language requirement, and the better option, as an English major, was Homeric Greek. Our professor was a Mellon Fellow whose disappointment in my weaknesses was obvious early in the course. Despite this, I genuinely enjoyed reading Homer and my proficiency significantly improved. When the Mellon Fellow left three weeks before the end of the semester, Miss Lang finished teaching the course. For me, the arc of my progress as a student, and not only in Greek, came when I translated aloud a sizeable passage from The Odyssey. I knew it had gone pretty well because I had finally mastered enough Greek to judge, but the real thrill was in Miss Lang’s judgment: “Miss McNamara, you have greatly improved.” Six words, but I felt like I’d won the lottery.
    Miss Lang stood for rigorous scholarship and exceptional self-discipline. She was a model of devotion to her field. For me, she was also a model of encouragement, not coddling, of her students, and her effect on me has been profound.
    Kathleen M. McNamara, AB 1982

  15. Having learned of Miss Lang’s death just a short time ago, I am still grieving and cannot find the words to express how much her teaching, guidance, and support always meant to me. But I would like to share one example of her delicious sense of humor. On April Fool’s Day 1974, back when “streaking” (i.e., running around in public naked) was in vogue, the bicollege newspaper featured a front-page headline to a non-existent story, “Mabel Lang: Why I Streak.” That same afternoon, when Miss Lang entered the classroom to teach our Greek History class, some joker had written on the blackboard, “Why DO you streak?” Miss Lang walked calmly to the board, gazed at it a moment, then remarked, “You know, there’s only one thing that bothers me about that headline. They obviously chose the person that they thought would be least likely to do such a thing. And I don’t like to be thought of as the one LEAST likely to do ANYTHING.” God bless her; she truly was one of a kind!

  16. Miss Lang charmed those of us, and I suspect there were many, whose strengths lay entirely in the humanities and not at all in the sciences by revealing with no shame and much humor–expressed as resignation or perhaps merely a flat statement of reality, as I recall–that the only thing she had ever seen through a microscope was her own eyelashes.

  17. I took Miss Lang’s Homer seminar in my first year as a graduate student in Greek. I remember everyone in the room was incredulous when our first week’s assignment was to read Book 1 of the Iliad, plus some secondary literature. One person asked, just to make sure, “Is this Book 1 in Greek?” I forgot Miss Lang’s response, but it certainly would have been made with her dry humour and with that warm smile of hers. Her seminar certainly brought us all up to speed in Homer very quickly, and to this day I can still sight read Homer pretty well (having left the field of classics exactly 25 years ago). Her seminar — in fact, the whole Greek programme at the time — was like Marine boot camp, but we sure learned our stuff and those of us who stuck it out enjoyed it immensely. Miss Lang was a great teacher and scholar, as well as a kind person.

  18. I took Baby Greek as a junior year Latin major. I had heard that Miss Lang ate freshman for breakfast, but–oh, no–I wasn’t afraid. I did, however, always do my Greek homework FIRST. It was generally done by 3:00 in the afternoon I enjoyed that class ever so much.

    I recall the story Miss Lang told one day of her undergraduate days at Cornell. She didn’t join any of the sororities (I believe), but she went around looking at the Greek letters on the fraternity and sorority houses and figuring out what phrases or sentences the letters stood for. She said that she knew all of them, and that was supposed to be something no one but the initiated knew! I’ve always wondered how she figured it out. But I am not among the initiated, even in Greek.

  19. At Iliad 15. 395-8 Patroclus is with Eurypylos when he realizes that he needs to get back to Achilles. In his sudden anxiety he slaps his thighs:

    But when he saw the Trojans were sweeping over the rampart
    and the outcry and the noise of terror rose from the Danaans
    Patroklos groaned aloud then and struck himself on both thighs
    with the flats of his hands and spoke a word of lamentation.

    Miss Lang’s graduate seminar on Homer came to this moment with some perplexity one day in 1980. “Why did he slap his thighs?” one member asked. “With both hands?” said another. A third student asked, “Was he standing up or sitting down?” Yet another said, “Can you even reach your thighs for a slap when you’re standing up?” Miss Lang had followed this exchange with sincere scholarly interest and a bit of wry amusement. In her pseudo-gruff voice she said, “Let’s find out!” No sooner were those words out of her mouth, than she and every single one of the twenty graduate students simultaneously rose to their feet and slapped their thighs in unison, verifying that, yes, you can reach your thighs for a slap when you are standing up. Once reseated, we burst into a round of laughter upon realizing how oddly we had acted and how thoroughly we had been engaged by the unusual question. Miss Lang had made our group of graduate students so invested in our common enterprise, so committed to the understanding of the Homeric texts and so comfortable pursuing a collective inquiry that we had behaved like characters in a Monty Python sketch, but we had learned a little something about Homer’s poem and about the pleasures of the scholarly life.

  20. Omigosh! I didn’t know she had died! I’m so sorry–the world is a flatter place without her.
    I took Greek on a dare. I was a high school senior talking to a neighbor one day, saying I was going to a girls’ school 3,000 miles away and look at the weird stuff they had on their course list: Greek!! “Bet you don’t take that!” he said, and I, being halfway in love with him, said “Of course I will!” And I did. Yikes, it was hard. I had no idea–I could hardly deal with the alphabet, let alone the vocabulary and grammar. Most of my classmates had taken Latin and knew how to study; it was a very tough row for me.

    Miss Lang was all everyone above has said: demanding but understanding. She gave me a D first semester, and I’d hardly seen anything below an A in my whole life. It was a shock; but I improved. She was wonderful. I had the impression that she appreciated a person stepping so far out of their comfort zone. All the best to you, Miss Lang, and thank you for being exactly as you were.

  21. “Baby Greek” was one of the hardest and most rewarding courses I ever took. Mabel Lang’s dry sense of humor, even though it could sometimes be scathing, managed to keep us all awake through the early-morning struggles with dauntingly complex grammar. My most vivid memories of her excellent teaching and formidable erudition, however, are from her Greek History course, which I took my senior year. I have attempted to model many of my own syllabi and teaching techniques since then on that class.

  22. Where to start? Mabel was above all a good listener, and a patient one. In my senior year, she sat with me every week as I read my developing Herodotus paper to her. She never commented until I had finished reading that week’s portion. Then her comments were always direct, incisive, helpful, and generally right on.

    She was willing to listen to…anything…and be supportive when circumstances made a student need support. At that time, she was spending the summers in Pylos, and one summer lent me her car because she knew I needed transportation. It was practically new, and definitely feeble, barely able to make it up hills, putt putt putt, but it filled the need.

    Betchen Wayland (Elizabeth Barber) and I were the only Greek majors of our year, and she met regularly with the two of us to cover Homer for the comps. Her coverage of Homer and Homeric scholarship was as good or better than any seminar I took in grad school, and I was able to go on to prelims depending solely on that.

    I loved Mabel’s tongue in cheek humor, so will share an anecdote or two: She claimed Ben Merritt once asked her when unmarried women stopped expecting or hoping to marry, “Some of us never do!” she shot back. Bryn Mawr and Haverford decided to buy a new-fangled apparatus called a mainframe computer, and organized training sessions for faculty. She attended a session or two, came back and commented, “Talk about learning disabilities!” To this day, I am not sure if she was referring to herself or to other faculty members, but I rather suspect the latter. Indeed, she could be quite sharp about scholars whose work did not come up to her expectations – but always with a touch of humor.

    When I think of her, I see her not as the photo shows her, but smiling just a tiny bit, or trying to suppress a smile. Thank you, Mabel, for the smiles, the soft touches and the sharp ones, the kindness, and the insistence on excellence. I am still teaching Classics at the age of 73 – happily – and think of you as the role model I cannot touch.

  23. I still use material from her graduate seminar on Homer in my own teaching (adapted to a ClassCiv context). I once made cardboard armour and got the students to work out what items had to be put on in what order by trial and error – as an introduction to arming scenes. I’m not sure I ever told her about that or sent her the photos – I regret that now. It’s been a few years since I wrote to her, but while letter-writing has slipped my mind, her memory never has.

  24. Miss Lang (could one address her any other way?) is without question the most indelible and indispensible figure from my college days. Oh, how I struggled; how I tried her patience; and what I learned about persistence, precision, language, history, and the profound value of mastering something that has been humbling and difficult. There is not much that could ever scare a graduate of Mabel Lang’s Baby Greek.

    I wish she’d been in the room years later when I was seated next to a self-satisfied attorney during an investigative docket. As one witness testified, rather badly, the attorney smirked and scribbled out a phrase in Greek on his notepad. I leaned over. “So, whose unexamined life isn’t worth living, Attorney L?” He was gobsmacked. “You’ve…read… GREEK?” I smiled. “Oh yes.”

    Thank you, Miss Lang, for so many things.

  25. I think it was in her Athenian History seminar. I was intimidated as I had no confidence in my Greek, yet I felt very blessed (still do in retrospect) when Miss Lang made E. and me sit the closest to her since we spoke so softly that she had trouble hearing us. We were usually the first ones to answer her questions and give our opinions as Miss Lang often called on us in turn from the edge of the tables. So naturally I had to study very hard for the seminar.

    There came time to write a paper, but I had no idea as to what to write about. So one day I gathered my courage and visited her office. I remember being happily surprised to be received warmly. She gave me a topic and when I told this to other members of the seminar, they went and each got their topic. How nice of Miss Lang! I always think it great to learn from a strict demanding teacher, and even greater to find that the teacher is very warm and helpful talking in private. Thank you, Miss Lang.

  26. One of the things that made Miss Lang so memorable as a teacher was her knack for imparting wisdom about how to read and think—about how to be a scholar, really—often along with a hilariously understated bit of humor.
    “Cultivate the wandering eye,” she told us, to suggest that the answer we were racking our brains for was actually right there somewhere on the page.
    “I don’t think that’s right,” we were in the habit of saying. “No,” she stopped us, finally. “It’s not that you don’t think. It’s that you think it isn’t right.”
    Or the phrases she came up with to help us remember and recognize grammatical constructions. “Consider the lily how it grows,” and “Would God I were a tender apple blossom!” which she always delivered with a glance heavenward.
    Miss Lang never missed an opportunity to teach. A quintessential moment came during an afternoon in Greek History, in a seminar room on the third floor of Canaday Library. We were 14 women and one man from Haverford sitting around the table, with Miss Lang at the head. We had just gotten up to the part in Thucydides where he describes the desecration of the Herms, a bizarre episode in which the phalluses of these statues were mysteriously hacked off.
    Miss Lang paused and fixed us with an unflinching gaze.
    “Does everyone know,” she asked, “what a phallus is?”
    We froze, unable to look at each other, dreading what might happen next. Some of us prayed, others gaped. The Haverfordian reddened.
    Without missing a beat, Miss Lang answered her own question. “It’s the male organ,” she informed us.
    We sighed in relief. And the lesson proceeded.

  27. I have many fond memories of Miss Lang and Baby Greek from my freshman year. She was the first great professor I had at school, and I responded by doing very well in her class. I think some kind of imprinting must have happened in her class, because even though I never studied with her again, Miss Lang always represented Bryn Mawr to me. There was absolutely no question who would receive my May basket when I graduated. If I hadn’t fallen in love with her class and her teaching, I don’t think I would have persevered through some of the ups and downs in the years that followed.

    Here’s one of my favorite Miss Lang stories. We were reading the New Testament and got to Matthew 19:12, which says something along the lines of “For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and some have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven.”

    She cocked her head, and then pronounced, “For some reason that always reminds me of Shakespeare–‘Some men are born great, some men achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.'” We roared.

    She had a wonderful sense of humor and her kindness shone through.

  28. Long ago, in the previous century, my Mother, Dorothy Burr Thompson (born 1900), and a BMC PhD. Archaeologist, arrived on the doorstep of her dear friend, Lore Ostwald in Swarthmore. Behind her, my Father carried a large Smirnoff corrugated carton filled with Mother’s small lifetime Diaries from 1912 onward.

    Lore cheerfully agreed to the task of transcribing the Diaries to CDs. She enlisted my family’s friend Mabel Lang to help her transcribe Mother’s tiny pencil handwritings (some in Greek) over the previous 80 plus years, two World Wars, myriad world travels and international archaeological pursuits. She included mention of her husband and her three daughters occasionally – so it made fascinating reading for all of us! Mabel Lang had been a friend and colleague of my family from their youth together in Greece. This Diary transcription, entered on CDs, became a long term project and one that my family, and the BMC Archives are delighted to have among their assets.

    Evidently, Mabel and Lore got together for over ten years, once a week, and puzzled out DBT’s handwriting, delighting at the emerging information about the 66 year old marriage of my archaeological parents. They refused any credit or remuneration for this incredible work which they attended to until their eyes could, literally, no longer keep up with their loyal spirits.

    Although they have both passed on, they have left behind a treasure for scholars and my family for generations to come.

    Although totally inadequate, but with love, I say once more; thank you Mabel and Lore.

  29. I must confess — and I know I am not alone in this — that I was very much intimidated by Miss Lang. At first. After an initial period of fear and anxiety, I took every seminar I possibly could with her. A full year on Thucydides; Herodotus; and Athenian politics. In those seminars I learned more about being a scholar and a teacher than I can begin to describe. Quite apart from sharing with us her astonishing and, in my experience, unparalleled knowledge of Greek and Greek history, she managed to bring out the very best in each of us. A ‘not bad’ from Mabel Lang was worth a dozen ‘excellent’ from anybody else.

    There are many tales I could tell, but I’ll just share one. In the middle of February one year, Philadelphia was walloped with a horrific blizzard that brought the city to a standstill. I was in the process of finishing my dissertation, and blizzard or no, I had to make the trip from Chestnut Hill to Bryn Mawr. I managed to survive the drive, mostly because I had left at dawn to allow myself plenty of time. Arriving on campus around 7 AM, I started trudging through the deep snow across the yard toward Thomas. Through the blinding white and howling wind, I could see no more than a few inches in front of my face. Suddenly, without warning, I bumped hard into a dark figure, bundled in a heavy jacket. We peered through our scarves at one another, and I recognized the face of Mabel Lang. ‘Miss Lang, what you doing out in this weather?’. I asked. ‘There is Greek to be read, Mr. Gowing,’ she replied, as she shuffled out of sight. Humbled, I made my way to my carrel in Canaday and spent the rest of the day reading Greek.

  30. Had I more advance notice I might be on a plane to Philadelphia tonight, so that I could catch the Mainline train to Bryn Mawr tomorrow, and attend the memorial service for Miss Lang in the afternoon, in Thomas Great Hall.

    Instead, I sit at home in Colorado, Chase and Philips by my side, reading postings that echo my own experience. I too, equate Bryn Mawr and Mabel Lang. I too, was surprised when she addressed me by my first name outside of class; I didn’t know she knew it! I too, recall her as stern, but encouraging. I too, did poorly in my first semester of baby Greek, and blossomed in the second, as she had told me I could. Thus encouraged, I did. Miss Lang demanded a great deal of us and expected us to rise to the challenge. When we did, her acknowledgement of our success was our reward.

    I am impressed by the number of postings by classicists, and interested to read their insights in to her teaching style. Miss Lang apparently inspired many to pursue her path. I so loved baby Greek that I considered majoring in Greek, though I was quite committed to the sciences. Miss Lang tried to convince me that I could do a double major. I was pretty sure I couldn’t. I didn’t have the chance to try, as I left Bryn Mawr and transferred to Yale after my sophomore year.

    After a semester at Yale I was struck by the lack of female role models there, and wrote an article for a college publication contrasting my experiences at Yale and Bryn Mawr. I wrote of the “role models, mentors and friends,” that I had found at Bryn Mawr, chief among those role models and mentors was Miss Lang. She clearly was a role model and mentor to scores of Bryn Mawrters and Haverfordians, who remember her, as I do with fondness, and with gratitude for all that she inspired us to find within ourselves.

    I took additional courses in Greek at Yale, and traveled to Greece after college. While at the Agora I imagined her tromping around in summers there. I have a copy of her work published by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, The Athenian Citizen, Democracy in the Athenian Agora, on my computer desktop. As I write of her, I turn to this, and it is reassuring to read her words, she is still with us through her works, and our strong and dear memories.

    In baby Greek we learned Attic Greek, which is quite difficult. At the end of the year we read the New Testament in Greek, which is much easier. Years later, inspired by my ability to read the New Testament, I found my copy of the New Testament in Greek and used it to read from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians at my wedding/commitment ceremony. Ἐὰν ταῖς γλώσσαις τῶν ἀνθρώπων λαλῶ καὶ τῶν ἀγγέλων, ἀγάπην δὲ μὴ ἔχω, γέγονα χαλκὸς ἠχῶν ἢ κύμβαλον ἀλαλάζον.… νυνὶ δὲ μένει πίστις, ἐλπίς, ἀγάπη, τὰ τρία ταῦτα: μείζων δὲ τούτων ἡ ἀγάπη. It meant a great deal to me to read this beautiful passage in Greek at my wedding, I am sorry that I was never able to tell Miss Lang of this use of the knowledge gleaned in her class.

    Thank you, Miss Lang

  31. Having heard for three years all the anecdotes from Mawrters about how fierce Mabel Lang was, I figured my bi-co experience would not took be complete without experiencing her first hand (I think I recognize some of the delightful stories others have lovingly recorded in this memorial). So in my senior year at Haverford, freshly returned from a sojourn in Greece, I took her ancient Greek history class. I never took her language classes and, despite my heritage, I speak only a little Greek — and that’s demotic, not Attic, and I can’t read or write even that. So, of course, it was inevitable that she would put me on the spot somehow, since she always addressed us by our surnames. She did this by asking me one day, appropos of lord knows what, why it was that my family couldn’t figure out how to properly transliterate our surname from the Greek to the Roman alphabet. I thought she was joking so I laughed it off, but she just stood there, staring at me with her eyebrows raised. So I summoned up some bravado and said that picking a Roman letter to transliterate eta was always a little bit arbitrary, and that the spelling of my surname in English might not be an accurate transliteration, but it was a pretty accurate rendition of the actual pronunciation of the name down in Sparti, where my family was from, and where folks tended to speak with an accent that put an “sh” or “ch” sound in words when eta was flanked by two sigmas. I didn’t know then that she’d spent so much time at Pylos, but I apparently lucked out with my improvisation. She scowled for a long time, and then finally nodded and said that my answer was acceptable and was plainly a legacy of the fact that my ancestors had good ears for the spoken language but were illiterate! And so help me, it didn’t even sound rude when she said it. Lord, she was a treasure, and so very, very, very Bryn Mawr. I shall miss her. –Brian Koukoutchos (Haverford ’80).

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