North American Scholar

LEBECK, Anne

  • Image
  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1937-01-15
  • Born City: Nashville
  • Born State/Country: TN
  • Parents: Morton & Cecile L.
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 1973-07-01
  • Death City: Amherst
  • Death State/Country: MA
  • Education:

    B.S., Columbia, 1960; M.A., 1961; Ph.D. 1963.

  • Professional Experience:

    Teaching Assistant, then Instructor, Columbia, 1962-65; Junior Fellow, Center for Hellenic Studies, 1965-66; Lecturer, Hunter College, 1966-67; Assistant Professor, Amherst, 1967-73.

  • Dissertation:

    “Image and Idea in the Agamemnon of Aeschylus" (Columbia, 1963). 

  • Publications:

    “The Robe of Iphigenia in Agamemnon,” GRBS 5 (1964) 35-41; “The First Stasimon of Aeschylus' Choephori: Myth and Mirror Image,” CP 72 (1967) 182-5; review of Der Telosgedanke in den Dramen des Aischylos: Ende, Ziel, Erfüllung, Machtvollkommenheit, by Ulrich Fischer, in CP 62 (1967) 205-7 (rev.); Der religiöse Allbegriff des Aischylos, by Wolfgang Kiefner, in CP 63 (1968) 232-4 (rev.); Théognis, Le premier livre, by B. A. van Groningen, in CP 64 (1969) 47-8 (rev.); The Oresteia: A Study in Language and Structure (Washington DC: Center for Hellenic Studies, 1971, REVS.: CJ 70.4 (1975) 73-75, Holtsmark | ACR 2 (1972) 258, Levin | CR 24 (1974) 16-17, Whittle | AJP 45 (1974) 288-92, McCall | G&R 20 (1973) 198, Rees | DLZ 94 (1973) 558-60, Ebener | CW 66 (1972) 167-8, Peradotto | JHS 92 (1972) 193-5, Lloyd-Jones | Maia 24 (1972) 266-9, Salvaneschi CP 69 (1974) 162-4, Smethurst; “The Central Myth of Plato's Phaedrus,” GRBS 13 (1972) 267-90.

  • Notes:

    Anne Lebeck was born in 1937 in Nashville, Tennessee, to a family that had made its money in the late nineteenth century with the town’s most successful dry-goods (i.e., department) store, Lebeck Brothers, which went out of business when she was five years old. She was educated locally at the Peabody Demonstration School (the high school run by Peabody College), graduating in 1954. She also studied modern dance in Nashville, hoping to pursue this in New York, where she instead found work as a fashion model (for which her angular features and thin frame were well suited). "Ballet and Modern Dance" were still listed as her (only) interests and hobbies on her Amherst personnel form.

    Moses Hadas, then the chair of the department of Greek and Latin at Columbia, related how she showed up asking to be admitted to the classics program, which he did after she translated a difficult passage of poetry at sight. She had more than mere reading ability, however. At a time when American and British classics was almost completely historicist and philological, she had picked up from her brother Michael (a poet in his own right; inter alia, he published a translation of Petronius’ Foeda Est in Coitu Voluptas in Arion 2, No. 1, Spring, 1963, 84) and his circle at Yale more literary and nuanced ways of approaching poetry.

    With the support of her dissertation adviser Howard Porter and her two readers Helen Bacon and Charles Kahn, she argued for the notion, then radical in classical scholarship, that in passage after passage when Aeschylus in the Agamemnon was so unclear that philologists would be divided into (at least) two camps, it was likely that Aeschylus intended both to be taken at once, an ambiguity, furthermore, that fit into an Aeschylean world view that was inherently imbued with fearsome and dangerous uncertainty. One notes here and in its later published form (expanded somewhat to cover parts of the remaining trilogy) how she argues not only for intentional lexical ambiguity in individual sentences, but also for an incompleteness of thought she calls prolepsis, that is, a lack of clarity that will be illuminated by the end of the trilogy.

    So compelling and well-argued was her interpretation that it won over such traditional British scholars as Hugh Lloyd-Jones (Lebeck has “taste and intelligence of a high order”) and Tom Stinton (“brilliant book”). Of major scholars, only Martin West remained unconvinced of her approach, which soon became standard, with few literary analyses of the Oresteia not citing her book favorably. Notable also is her remarkable and essential article on how the literary and philosophical aspects of Plato’s Phaedrus complement each other perfectly. It is a great misfortune that her intentions to continue working on Plato were never realized.

    Anne Lebeck also figures (as a thinly disguised “Iris Macreedy,” who has a “bony figure”) in a roman à clef, a mystery clearly based on the Columbia classics department of the early sixties, written by Richard H. R. Smithies: An Academic Question (NY 1965; Death Gets an A is the paperback title). (“Craig Campbell,” is the Gilbert Highet stand-in.) After two years of teaching at Columbia (1963-5), she spent the next year as a Junior Fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington D.C. (1965-6), where earlier she had visited Ezra Pound during his stay at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.  Two of her cohort at the Center were Joseph Russo and Walter Burkert. She returned to New York to teach at Hunter College, after which she became assistant professor at Amherst. Anne Lebeck took her own life in the summer of 1973 after having been offered and having accepted the position of tenured associate professor at the University of Chicago. 

  • Sources:

    Joan Shayne, Joseph Russo, Richard S. Mason, Joel Lidov, and Seth Schein for oral reminiscences; Amherst obituary: https://www.amherst.edu/media/view/347828/original/Lebeck.pdf; Lee Dorman, Nashville’s Jewish Community (Charleston 2010); Michael Lebeck, “Our Well-to-do Parents” (poem), The Sewanee Review 72.2 (1964) 243; Elizabeth Aries, Gender Matters: The First Half-Century of Women Teaching at Amherst (Amherst 2014).

  • Author: David Sider