Lefkowitz, Mary R. 1935–

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Lefkowitz, Mary R. 1935–

(Mary Rosenthal Lefkowitz)

PERSONAL: Born April 30, 1935, in New York, NY; daughter of Harold L. and Mena G. (Weil) Rosenthal; married Alan L. Lefkowitz, July 1, 1956 (divorced, 1981); married Hugh Lloyd-Jones (a professor), March 26, 1982; children: (first marriage) Rachel Greil, Han-nah Weil. Education: Attended the Brearley School, New York, NY (graduated); Wellesley College, B.A. (summa cum laude), 1957; Radcliffe College, M.A., 1959, Ph.D., 1961.

ADDRESSES: Home—15 West Riding, Wellesley, MA 02181. E-mail[email protected].

CAREER: Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA, instructor, 1959–63, assistant professor, 1963–69, associate professor, 1969–75, professor of Greek and Latin, 1975–79, chair of department, 1970–72, 1975–78, 1981–87, 1991–94, and 1997–2001, director of educational research, 1978–79, Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities, 1979–2005, Mellon Professor Emerita, 2005–. Visiting professor at University of California, Berkeley, 1978; Sacher visiting fellow at St. Hilda's College, Oxford, 1979–80, honorary fellow, 1994–, Pembroke College, Oxford, 1986–87, and Corpus Christi College, Oxford, 1990–91. Director, National Endowment for the Humanities seminars for college teachers, 1984, 1985, and Pew Foundation Grant, 1986–91. Guest on television programs such as 60 Minutes.

MEMBER: American Philological Association (member of national board of directors, 1974–77), Phi Beta Kappa, American School of Classical Studies in Athens (member of board of trustees, 2004–).

AWARDS, HONORS: Woodrow Wilson fellow, 1957–58; Radcliffe Institute fellow, 1966–67, 1972–73; American Council of Learned Societies fellow, 1972–73; National Endowment for the Humanities fellow, 1979–80, 1990–91; Mellon Grant, Wellesley Center for Research on Women, 1980–81; Radcliffe Graduate Society Medal, 2004; recipient of honorary degrees from Trinity College (Hartford, CT), University of Patras (Greece), and Grinnell College (Grinnell, IA).


The Victory Ode: An Introduction, Noyes Press (Park Ridge, NJ), 1976.

(Editor with Maureen B. Fant) Women in Greece and Rome, Samuel Stevens (Sarasota, FL), 1977, revised edition published as Women's Life in Greece and Rome, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1982, 3rd edition, 2005.

Heroines and Hysterics, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1981.

The Lives of the Greek Poets, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1981.

Women in Greek Myth, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1986.

First-Person Fictions: Pindar's Poetic "I", Clarendon Press (New York, NY), 1991.

Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1996.

(Editor, with Guy MacLean Rogers) Black Athena Revisited, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 1996.

Greek Gods, Human Lives: What We Can Learn from Myths, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 2003.

Contributor of articles and reviews to periodicals, including Times Literary Supplement, New York Times Book Review, New Republic, Partisan Review, and American Scholar. New England editor, Classical Journal, 1977–83; member of editorial board, American Journal of Philology, 1986–89, and American Scholar, 1988–.

SIDELIGHTS: Classical scholar Mary R. Lefkowitz is the author of works on the lives of the Greek poets, women in Greek myth, and the status and treatment of women in ancient Greece and Rome. One of her books, Women's Life in Greece and Rome, coedited with Maureen B. Fant, is considered "the standard source book in the field," noted a biographer on the Wellesley College Web site.

Lefkowitz has willingly courted controversy in her career. With Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History, Lefkowitz entered into the conflict regarding Martin Bernal's theory that African influences helped shape early Greek culture. Bernal argued that "linguistic, technological and intellectual contributions of Egyptian (i.e., African) and Phoenician (i.e., Semitic) provenance played a significant role in the genesis and subsequent development of ancient Greek civilization," reported Jacques Berlinerblau in the Nation. This suggestion rang loudly in the halls of classical academia, causing many classicists to dispute the suggestion and call Bernal's scholarly credentials into question (he has a Ph.D. in Oriental Studies, but specializing in China).

Lefkowitz sees adherence to Bernal's position as a symptom of modern universities' "subordination of genuine scholarship to fashionable causes and politically correct ideologies," commented reviewer Graeme Voyer in the Alberta Report. In other words, Bernal's argument is not scholarship but political correctness, and to Lefkowitz, it cannot be allowed to permeate the field and take root in Classical studies. In her book, Lefkowitz "assails the Afrocentric view and thoroughly demolishes it, revealing it as based on faulty reasoning and misuse of evidence," stated Voyer.

In Black Athena Revisited, edited by Lefkowitz and Guy MacLean Rogers and published shortly after Not Out of Africa, Lefkowitz attempts to establish a scholarly framework for further examining Bernal's assertion that African civilization had a profound influence on the development of early European and Classical civilization. If Bernal's volume has "captured the imagination of the public, it has earned the author the enmity of many of his fellow scholars," observed Elizabeth Sherman in the Wilson Quarterly. In approaching Bernal's argument, two questions must be answered, Sherman stated. "First, is there any truth to Bernal's bold claim that the real cradle of Western civilization was not classical Greece but Africa? And second, what is the standard of truth by which such scholarly (some would say pseudoscholarly) claims can be measured?" The contributors in Lefkowitz's volume analyze those questions and conclude that Bernal's hypothesis does not withstand careful scrutiny. Voyer stated that the Afrocentrism at the heart of Bernal's work "is only one manifestation of a deeper problem. It could only have emerged in the contemporary anti-intellectual climate—a climate which denies the reality of objective truth, claiming that all 'perspectives' are equally valid."

With Greek Gods, Human Lives: What We Can Learn from Myths, Lefkowitz offers an intriguing intellectual question: How could the Greeks, whose society, technology, and intellect were the exemplars of the time and the basis for much of Western science, worship gods who were spiteful, capricious, and at most times unworthy of worship? Lefkowitz "advances a convincing answer to such questions and in the process provides an intriguing look at our own cultural presuppositions about the nature of God and the world," commented Paula L. Reimers in Journal of Church and State. The answer, she concludes, is found in the way that Classical myths and stories have been translated and retold over the years. The translated stories focus on the perspective of the humans in the story; in the ancient texts, however, the focus was more on the lives of the gods. Works such as the Iliad and the Odyssey take on a profoundly new slant when retold from this perspective. "No longer tales of humans affected by the gods, they were shown to be stories of the lives, loves, and rivalries of the gods that happened to intersect human affairs," Reimers noted. Humans were interested in the gods because of their superiority, and because they did not have to endure the same privations and hardships as even the most influential human leader. In most cases, the gods tended to their own affairs and left humans alone. But humans sometimes forgot their position in relation to the gods; failure to accord them the honor and respect they felt they deserved would cause the gods' wrath to fall on humans, individually and collectively. In the original stories, Lefkowitz reveals, the gods did not exist for the benefit of humans, they tended to favor only those who could somehow help advance their interests, and human-god interaction was often catastrophic. Lefkowitz's "treatment is both accessible to the general reader interested in mythology and stimulating to the specialist," stated Library Journal reviewer T.L. Cooksey. Reimers concluded that "Lefkowitz's work is an absorbing study for those who wish to understand the worldview of the ancient Greeks and to meditate on the meaning of their own faith."



Alberta Report, May 26, 1997, Graeme Voyer, review of Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History, p. 42.

Journal of Church and State, summer, 2004, Paula L. Reimers, review of Greek Gods, Human Lives: What We Can Learn from Myths, p. 652.

Journal of World History, fall, 2000, Maghan Keita, review of Not out of Africa, p. 337.

Library Journal, November 1, 2003, T. L. Cooksey, review of Greek Gods, Human Lives, p. 83.

Nation, October 28, 1996, Jacques Berlinerblau, review of Out of Africa, p. 42.

Research in African Literatures, spring, 1998, Molefi Kete Asante, review of Black Athena Revisited, p. 206.

Wilson Quarterly, spring, 1996, Elizabeth Sherman, review of Black Athena Revisited, p. 79.


Wellesley College, http://www.wellesley.edu/ (October 31, 2005), biography of Mary R. Lefkowitz.