Wall Street Journal Reports that New Book by Professor Emerita Mary Lefkowitz Could Be the New “Go-to Edition” of Classic Greek Plays

September 1, 2016
Ericka Burchett/The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal recently interviewed Mary Lefkowitz ’57, professor emerita of Classical Studies, to talk about the new book she co-edited with James Romm. Their book, The Greek Plays (Penguin Random House’s Modern Library), has set its sights on ‘toppling’ the “long-time incumbent of Greek drama,” The Complete Greek Tragedies (University of Chicago Press), said the article. Lefkowtiz and Romm’s The Greek Plays has “the goal of becoming the new go-to edition for students and devotees of the classic,” which would change how future generations approach the plays.

Lefkowitz, said the Journal article, taught Classics at Wellesley for more than four decades before she retired in 2005. “I wish I’d been able to provide my students with something like The Greek Plays when I taught Greek drama and other courses at Wellesley,” she said in an email. This is because it is “one volume containing most of the plays I wanted my students to read, but with notes that provided background information and maps that could help them find their way through an unfamiliar world.” She adds that she and Romm took the approach of thinking about what questions readers might have, such as: “Why do the poets write in different metrical patterns? Why did Plato want to exclude poetry from his ideal state? How have writers in modern times re-purposed the ancient texts? And why do they still have so much meaning for us today?”

In the Journal interview, when asked what Greek playwright “has the most contemporary voice,” Lefkowitz answered with an emphatic “Euripides, definitely.” She explained, “[H]is characters seem drawn from life (as opposed to bigger than life), flawed, stubborn, self-interested. Often it’s only the slaves who seem to get things right, but none of the grandees seem willing to listen.”

Lefkowtiz got other good news recently as well. Another one of her books, Euripides and the Gods (published last year by Oxford University Press), has been short-listed for Phi Beta Kappa Society’s prestigious Christian Gauss Award, awarded to a book in the field of literary scholarship or criticism. Hers is one of only five books on the short list. The winner will be announced on October 4, 2016.