Looking at Mental Illness in Antiquity

From Columbia News:

The examination of mental disorders would seem to be the almost exclusive domain of psychiatrists and psychologists, not humanities scholars. Yet William V. Harris, the William R. Shepherd Professor of History, has spent his time in recent years studying his chosen field—the history of ancient Greece and Rome—through the lens of mental illness.

Harris, director of the Columbia Center for the Ancient Mediterranean, has explored subjects in ancient times ranging from war and imperialism to literacy and economic history. More recently, he began to focus on emotional states, in books such as Restraining Rage: the Ideology of Anger Control in Classical Antiquity in 2002, and Dreams and Experience in Classical Antiquity in 2009. “I’ve always been interested in psychiatry and psychology, which I see as a quite natural interest for historian,” he said.

Then, in 2008, Harris was, “struck by lightning by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation,” as he put it, which awarded him a three-year grant of $1.5 million for distinguished lifetime achievement. The selection committee said Harris transformed his field by “asking big, difficult questions and offering provocative answers that have generated significant debates beyond the confines of his discipline.”

Harris used the grant to promote research on the history of mental disorders in the classical world, and also on some other, not closely related, aspects of the classical world. “Mental illnesses are among the greatest challenges to understanding ourselves as human beings,” Harris said. Studying them, he added, improves our understanding of ancient lives and texts written thousands of years ago. All three great tragedians, Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides, staged scenes of madness in their plays. In Sophocles’ Ajax, for example, the title character slaughters sheep and cattle believing them to be Greek generals who disgraced him; he later commits suicide.

Harris soon realized that covering a subject so large would require help. So in 2010 he funded two conferences on the topic at Columbia, drawing classics scholars, psychiatrists and historians from around the world. Now the findings of those conferences have been published in a volume that Harris edited titled Mental Disorders in the Classical World.

Chapter titles contributed by many of the conference participants include, “The Early Greek Medical Vocabulary of Insanity” and “Plato on Madness and the Good Life.” Harris’ own essay focuses on hallucinations, which he chose in part because “describing a hallucination is not an impossible task, it tends to be relatively brief,” he said. “Try describing 20 years of depression. That is a very challenging task.”

He offers examples of ancient hallucinators, such as Pheidippides, the Athenian courier who saw the god Pan on his famous run to Sparta, which is the inspiration for today’s long-distance running event.

Another outcome of his conferences was sorting out ancient terminology and classifications, as he and his collaborators created a sort of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of ancient times. “The names of mental disorders that the very best ancient thinkers have used don’t often correspond to anything that exists in the modern world in a neat and tidy way,” Harris said. For example, the word “phrenitis” appears in ancient texts to describe illness characterized by delirium, fever and death. Today, some scholars think it refers to encephalitis.

But using modern-day medicine to understand ancient illnesses doesn’t always work, Harris said. “There’s always a temptation among historians of ancient medicine to do retrospective diagnoses and to say, for example, that so-and-so was a paranoid schizophrenic,” he said. “People have found this almost irresistible.” But ancient descriptions of cases are seldom complete enough to allow for a retroactive diagnosis, he added.

Nor did the ancients have anything approaching a scientific community of peers. The 2nd century Roman physician and philosopher Galen had colleagues and friends, Harris explained, but nothing comparable to the peer review or statistical support that present-day doctors get.

Despite the addition of the new volume on ancient mental maladies, there are many topics still to be plumbed, such as senility, demonic possession in Christianity and Judaism, and the ancient custom of seeking cures for mental (and other) illnesses by invoking the help of the gods. “I regard this book as a useful publication, but it’s a very long way from being the last word on the subject,” he said, perusing its cover, which depicts a 16th century woodcut of Galen. “We are left more with an agenda than a whole set of answers.”

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d.m. Lawrence Richardson

From the News and Observer:

Lawrence Richardson, Jr.
December 2, 1920 – July 21, 2013
Durham

Lawrence Richardson, Jr., died late July 21, 2013 in the Pavilion at Croasdaile Village after a very short illness. He lived a long and wonderful life, and he was lucid and productive to the end. Born December 2, 1920 in Altoona, PA, he was educated at Yale (A.B. with philosophical orations, 1942; Ph.D. in Classical Studies, 1952). But his heart was always in Italy, the center of his prolific scholarship, and at Duke University, where he taught in the Department of Classical Studies from 1966 through his retirement in 1991. Only in 2008 did macular degeneration stop him from going to his office daily, and even through the week of his death he continued to read Latin, correspond with former students, friends, and colleagues, and pursue scholarly projects in his retirement community at Croasdaile. He was a gentle, generous person, famous among friends for his love of convivial companionship and gardening, and known to many for his genteel affability as he walked daily to Duke’s East Campus. He will be sorely missed, even though his numerous scholarly works remain to represent his erudition, wit, and life devoted to the humanities.
He spent many years in Rome and the Bay of Naples, Italy. Larry arrived first in post-war Italy as a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome in 1948, a fascinating experience he recently described in The American Academy 1947-54. Reopening & Reorientation: A Personal Reminiscence (published in 2013, when he was 92). He returned to the American Academy repeatedly, as a field archaeologist working at Cosa (1952-55), Classicist in Residence (1977), and Mellon Professor-in-Charge of its School of Classical Studies (1980-81), as well as during summers. He served the Academy as a Trustee, on various committees such as the Library, and in many other ways. He served on the editorial board of the Associazione Internazionale “Amici di Pompei” (“Friends of Pompeii). He has published numerous articles, reviews, and books, including A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome (1992), Pompeii: an Architectural History (1988), A Catalog of Identifiable Painters of Ancient Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae (2000), and Pompeii: The Casa dei Dioscuri and its Painters (1955). He is a joint author of Cosa II: The Temples of the Arx (1960), and Cosa III: The Buildings of the Forum (1993), helping to publish the material from the site at which he first excavated.
He was a recipient of Fulbright, Sterling and Guggenheim Fellowships. He was a former president of the Archaeological Institute of America (North Carolina Society), a member of the AIA, the American Philological Association, and the Academy of Literary Studies. In 2012 he received the Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement in recognition of his myriad contributions to archaeology through his fieldwork, publications, and teaching.
Although Larry taught also at Yale University and at the University of North Carolina, his real home other than Italy was in Durham and at Duke, where he mentored countless students and numerous colleagues from his arrival in 1966. He served as chairman of the Department of Classical Studies in 1966-69, and again in the 1980s. He was in his office daily from mid-morning until after 6, in early years accompanied by one or two of his dear Airedales. His door was always open, and he never seemed too busy to answer a question; he offered his full attention, and then, without a hint of having been bothered, he turned seamlessly back to whatever he had been doing. His personal library was vast and generously loaned; his knowledge seemingly even greater, and just as generously shared. One of his happiest courses was Latin Prose Composition, and he was often seen patiently working with individual students over a translation of a contemporary news piece into the Latin of Cicero. Many of those undergraduates have gone on to careers in medicine, law, or other non-Classical pursuit, but each vividly recalls Latin Prose Comp with Professor Richardson.
Larry was preceded in death by his beloved wife, Dr. Emeline Richardson. He leaves to mourn him innumerable colleagues, students, and friends, whose lives he enriched. He was well cared for at Croasdaile where he continued to learn to his last days, introduced by devoted visitors to Italian soccer and other non-Classical topics. In keeping with his request, there will be no service. In lieu of flowers memorial contributions may be made to the Richardson Graduate Travel Fund, and sent to the Department of Classical Studies, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0103.

Classics Confidential | Michael Squire on Philostratus’ Imagines

Here’s the official description (with a link to further info):

This week’s interview features Dr Michael Squire of King’s College London, talking about his current research project on the Imagines. This text, which was written by the third-century AD Greek author Philostratus the Elder, contains accounts of 65 paintings displayed in an (imaginary?) gallery on the Bay of Naples. Mike introduces us to some of the paintings described by Philostratus, including a representation of the Cyclops Polyphemus and an image of the Trojan river Scamander. He touches on questions of authenticity and fiction, ecphrasis and imagination, and explains how the images in Philostratus’ gallery relate to one another, as well as referring out to other ancient literary texts including Homer and Sappho.

You can read more about Mike’s work on Philostratus on the Leverhulme Trust website:
http://www.leverhulme.ac.uk/news/news…

… and the interview:

d.m. Spiros Iacovides

From inews (nothing in English yet):

Σε ηλικία 90 ετών έφυγε χτες από τη ζωή ο αρχαιολόγος και ακαδημαϊκός Σπύρος Ιακωβίδης, ειδικός σε θέματα μυκηναϊκής αρχαιολογίας, ο οποίος είχε πραγματοποιήσει ανασκαφές στην περιοχή των Αθηνών, στην Ελευσίνα, την Πύλο, τη Θήρα, την Περατή, τον Γλα και τις Μυκήνες.

Ο Σπύρος Ιακωβίδης γεννήθηκε το 1923 στην Αθήνα. Πήρε δίπλωμα αρχαιολογίας
του Πανεπιστημίου Αθηνών το 1946 και διδακτορικό το 1962. Διετέλεσε Επιμελητής Αρχαιοτήτων (1952-1954), δίδαξε αρχαιολογία στα Πανεπιστήμια Αθηνών (1970-1974), Marburg (1976-1977), Heidelberg (1977) και University of Pennsylvania (1979-1991) και υπήρξε μέλος του Ινστιτούτου Προχωρημένων Σπουδών στο Princeton, ΗΠΑ (1977-1978).

Συνέγραψε, μεταξύ άλλων, τα βιβλία: Η Μυκηναϊκή Ακρόπολις των Αθηνών (1962), Περατή (1969-1970), Αι Μυκηναϊκαί Ακροπόλεις (1973), Vormykenische und Mykenische Wehrbauten (1977), Late Helladic Citadels on Mainland Greece (1988), Γλας Ι (1989), Γλας ΙΙ (1998), Gla and the Kopais (2001), Ανασκαφές Μυκηνών ΙΙΙ. Η νοτιοδυτική συνοικία (με συμμετοχή συνεργατών, 2013). Δημοσίευσε σαρανταοκτώ άρθρα σε επιστημονικά περιοδικά, πραγματοποίησε διαλέξεις σε 90 περίπου Πανεπιστήμια, Μουσεία και επιστημονικά σωματεία στην Ελλάδα, Γερμανία, ΗΠΑ, Αυστρία, Αγγλία, Βέλγιο, Καναδά, Κύπρο, Ιρλανδία, Ισπανία, Αυστραλία, Ελβετία.
Μετείχε σε 65 περίπου επιστημονικές συναντήσεις στην Ελλάδα και το εξωτερικό (1971-2002). Επί Κατοχής κατατάχθηκε στις Ομάδες Ελλήνων Ανταρτών υπό τον Ναπολέοντα Ζέρβα και τιμήθηκε με το Μετάλλιο Εθνικής Αντιστάσεως, και τον Μέγα Ταξιάρχη του Φοίνικος

Διετέλεσε συνεργάτης στην Ιστορία του Ελληνικού Έθνους (1970) και στην Ägäische Bronzezeit (1987). Υπήρξε μέλος της Εν Αθήναις Αρχαιολογικής Εταιρείας, της Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, της Βρετανικής Αρχαιολογικής Σχολής Αθηνών, της Society of Antiquaries του Λονδίνου, της Société de Préhistoire Française, του Γερμανικού Αρχαιολογικού Ινστιτούτου, της Ιστορικής και Εθνολογικής Εταιρείας, εταίρος του Σεμιναρίου Αρχαιολογίας του Πανεπιστημίου της Columbia, τακτικό μέλος της Ακαδημίας Αθηνών (Έδρα Αρχαιολογίας, 1991), Γραμματεύς επί των Πρακτικών της Ακαδημίας (2000-2003), Πρόεδρος αυτής (2004) και επόπτης του Κέντρου Ερεύνης της Αρχαιότητος της Ακαδημίας Αθηνών (1993 έως τον θάνατό του). Επίσης υπήρξε Ξένος Εταίρος της Accademia Nationale dei Lincei (Ρώμη), επίτιμο μέλος της Αυστριακής Ακαδημίας Επιστημών στην Τάξη Φιλοσοφίας και Ιστορίας (Βιέννη), Επίτιμος Διδάκτωρ της Αρχαιολογίας του Dickinson College, Pennsylvania, ΗΠΑ, και του Πανεπιστημίου Κύπρου.

 

d.m. David West

From the Telegraph:

From the 1960s onwards, despite declining numbers taking Latin at school, Latin literary studies experienced something of a renaissance. Summer schools and courses in translation were making the classics newly accessible to students who had not previously studied Latin and Greek. At the same time, the rise of New Criticism in classical scholarship encouraged close readings of the texts. West’s intensely literary approach put him at the forefront of the emerging movement, concerned with bringing out the richness and variety of the language.

In him the classical Roman poets, Lucretius, Horace and Virgil, found a most accomplished interpreter and translator. His translation of Virgil’s Aeneid (Penguin Books, 1990) is remarkably true to the Latin, and has brought Virgil’s epic to life for a generation of modern English readers.

Unlike his immediate predecessors Robert Fitzgerald and CH Sisson, West believed that prose suited his task better than verse, since “I know of nobody at the end of our century who reads long narrative poems in English, and I want the Aeneid to be read.” In order not to interrupt the flow, he avoided using footnotes or a glossary . Scholarly “furniture”, he felt, would only distract the eye and diminish the vitality of the text.

This vitality extended to West’s three-volume edition of Horace’s Odes (published between 1995 and 2002), perhaps the most accessible guide to Horace’s poems now in print. In rendering such dense and lyrical Latin into English verse, West aimed to create a translation that could appeal both to non-classicists and to students. He followed each ode with a commentary describing how the Latin worked, with close attention to rhythm and sound.

David Alexander West was born in Aberdeen on November 22 1926 and educated at Aberdeen Grammar School and Aberdeen University, and then, after National Service, at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he took a first in the Classical Tripos. He began doctoral work on the Greek comic poet Aristophanes. While doing research on manuscripts in Rome, during a stay at the British School, he met his future wife, whom he married in 1953.

Having held lectureships at Sheffield University and Edinburgh, David West was appointed to the Newcastle chair in 1969 . That same year he published The Imagery and Poetry of Lucretius. During his tenure at Newcastle University the Classics department was described as a “powerhouse of classical learning where they still know how to tell it like it is”, and he became a prominent voice in the classical community nationwide, most notably through his work with the British Classical Association .

Later he co-edited, with Tony Woodman, two collections of essays, Quality and Pleasure in Latin Poetry (1974) and Creative Imitation and Latin Literature (1979).

Following his retirement in 1992 he continued to teach for nearly a decade, and worked not only on his Horace commentary, but also on English poetry. His “exaugural” lecture was on George Herbert, and he then published a detailed commentary on Shakespeare’s sonnets. More recently, combining Classics, English literature and his own Scottish roots, he was working on an edition of part of Gavin Douglas’s great Scots translation of the Aeneid.

He was President of the Classical Association in 1995, and a Vice-President of the Association for Latin Teaching.

Like the Epicurean poets whose work he expounded, David West found delight in friendship, family, the countryside , wine (strong, red, Italian), music, the cultivation and enjoyment of home-grown vegetables, and perhaps above all, wide-ranging conversation, in which rationality and imagination were combined in equal measure.

He married, in 1953, Pamela Murray, who predeceased him in September 1995. He is survived by two daughters and three sons.

David West born November 22 1926, died May 13 2013

Others:

Classics Confidential | Brooke Holmes on Sympathy and the Body

This one doesn’t seem to have an official description, but Dr Holmes is working on the notion of ‘sympathy’ in the ancient sense of connections/interactions between various parts of the ancient world. It’s largely philosophical and focused on how humans saw themselves fitting into things:

 

 

Classics Confidential | Phiroze Vasunia on the Classical Tradition in India

Here’s the official description:

In the sixth interview recorded during this year’s Classical Association meeting, CC’s Anastasia Bakogianni talks to Professor Phiroze Vasunia about his recently published book The Classics and Colonial India (OUP, May 2013).

He tells us about the impact of the Graeco-Roman classics in the age of empire (1750s-1945) and about the collision of cultures in India during this period. The very concept of the ‘classical’ was problematic in a culture with its own long-standing local traditions which included Sanskrit, Persian and Arab threads. These competed with the imported Graeco-Roman classics privileged by the British educational system (which encouraged the colonisers to view themselves as ancient Romans). Neoclassical architecture, now largely destroyed, also radically transformed the landscape of the country. Indians such as the writer Henry Louis Vivian Derozio (1809-31) and Mahatma Gandhi, however, opened up their own dialogue with ancient Greek culture and its literature. Inspired by British Romantic Philhellenism, Derozio’s poetry forged a passionate connection with both ancient and modern Greece, while Gandi’s admiration of Socrates informed his own political thinking. This is not, therefore, a simple story of empire, but one of a dialogue of traditions.
Phiroze also tells us about his work as the general editor of the Ancients and Moderns series which is published in the UK by I.B. Tauris and in the USA by OUP. The series explores how classical antiquity continues to inform modern thinking, and examines the encounter between ancients and moderns on topics such as gender, slavery and politics. Seven books have appeared to date, and more are forthcoming.

… and the interview:

More on Alice Kober and Linear B (and Ventris too!)

Since our first encounters meeting Alice Kober and learning about her work with Linear B (Someone You Should Know: Alice Kober  and More on Alice Kober), there have been a few more features out about her and Margalit Fox’s book. Given that Kober was relatively unknown to the Classics world a couple of months ago, it seems useful to collect some of these. First up is a lecture by Fox at CUNY … here’s the blurb:

In her new book, “The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code,” Margalit Fox chronicles the pursuit to decipher Linear B — an unknown script dating to the Bronze Age — and how key research by a Brooklyn College classics professor, Alice Elizabeth Kober, helped to crack its code. But “because she (Kober) was a woman and because history is written by the victor, her contribution was all but lost to history.” In a lecture at Brooklyn College, Fox, a linguist and senior obituary writer for the New York Times, wrote that she wanted to correct a gaping omission in the story of one of the world’s great intellectual puzzles and to narrate a vital piece of American women’s history.

… and the lecture is on this page: Alice Kober and ‘The Riddle of the Labyrinth’ (CUNY)

A lengthy item in BBC magazine includes a bit about the Kober-Ventris relationship:

{…] Kober and Ventris met just once, in Oxford, five years before the decipherment. It’s thought there was no love lost between the two.

“It’s very clear with hindsight that each underestimated the other deeply,” says Fox.

“She underestimated him because he was an amateur, and he underestimated her because she was a woman.”

In a lecture after he had cracked Linear B, and before his death, Ventris did however give substantial credit to Kober for her contribution – but this acknowledgement went largely unnoticed.

Kober has tended to be presented as a harsh, suffer-no-fools, kind of character, says Prof Thomas Palaima, head of the Program in Aegean Scripts and Prehistory at the University of Texas at Austin, which holds Kober’s archives.

But this reputation is unfair, he says. Her papers show her to be a thoughtful, kind and dedicated person, who, for example, converted test papers for a student who was blind into Braille (which she mastered).

“She has a fine sense of humour,” says Palaima. “There’s an amazing amount of whimsical stuff in there.”

But the bulk of the documents detail her meticulous work – including one key grid, says Palaima, which shows she had correctly deciphered around one third of the Linear B characters.

Had she not died prematurely, he believes history would have turned out differently.

“I really do believe she’d have been the one who’d have deciphered Linear B,” he says.

But still some scholars question whether Kober would have had the creative spark to jump the final hurdle.

And no-one is questioning Ventris’ achievement or claim to be the one who finally cracked it. […]

There are also some really interesting photos in the BBC piece and a link to Michael Ventris talking to the BBC soon after the announcement of the decipherment (it’s here too: Linear B decoder Michael Ventris on BBC in 1952). On a semi-personal note, when one of my former professors at McMaster — Howard Jones — was teaching first year ClassCiv, he used to bring up the story of being in school and someone walking into the class saying “They’ve deciphered Linear B.” …

More on Alice Kober

Tip o’ the pileus to Ron Janoff (of New York Latin Leaflet fame) for alerting us to the existence online of Alice Kober’s papers … there are a pile of (mostly handwritten) letters in there which are definitely a fascinating read and give a glimpse into how Classical research was done before email, twitter, etc.:

… it might be worthwhile compiling online ‘papers collections’ of Classicists … hmmm

Someone You Should Know: Alice Kober

Yesterday’s New York Times brought an opEd/hypish sort of thing by the author of a book on Alice Kober, whom I had never heard of and I’m sure many of you haven’t either. Here’s some in medias res:

[…]

Little did I realize six years ago, when I began work on a new book about the decipherment of an ancient script, that I would encounter the greatest backstage player I have ever written about: a woman who helped illuminate a world that flourished 3,000 years ago.

The woman was Alice Kober, an overworked, underpaid classics professor at Brooklyn College. In the mid-20th century, though hardly anyone knew it, Dr. Kober, working quietly and methodically at her dining table in Flatbush, helped solve one of the most tantalizing mysteries of the modern age.

The mystery centered on a long-lost script from Aegean antiquity known as Linear B. Inscribed on clay tablets around 1450 B.C., Linear B was unearthed in 1900 on Crete, amid the ruins of a lavish Bronze Age palace. The script, which teemed with pictograms in the shape of arrows, chariots and horses’ heads, resembled no writing ever seen. No one knew what language it recorded, much less what it said.

An unknown language in an unknown script is the linguistic equivalent of a locked-room mystery, and despite the efforts of investigators around the globe, Linear B endured for more than 50 years as one of the world’s great unsolved puzzles.

Then, in 1952, against all odds, the script was deciphered — seemingly in a single stroke. The decipherer was an amateur, Michael Ventris, a brilliant, melancholic English architect who had been obsessed with Linear B since he was a boy. He discovered that the script was used to write a very early dialect of Greek; set down in wet clay centuries before the advent of the Greek alphabet, it recorded the day-to-day workings of the first Greek civilization.

Though Mr. Ventris’s achievement brought him worldwide acclaim, it also left many unanswered questions. He had planned to write an account of his work, describing the incremental steps that led to his inspired solution. But he was unable to do so before he died in 1956, at 34, in a swift, strange car crash that may have been suicide. As a result, the story of one of the most breathtaking intellectual achievements in history remained incomplete for more than half a century.

Like so many canonical narratives of achievement, this story has a quiet backstage figure behind the towering public one. And here, too, as in other such stories (recall Rosalind Franklin, whose work, long unacknowledged, informed the mapping of the structure of DNA by Francis Crick and James Watson), that figure is a woman.

Alice Elizabeth Kober was born in Manhattan on Dec. 23, 1906, the daughter of recent immigrants from Hungary. A brilliant student, she earned a bachelor’s degree in classics from Hunter College, and it was there, in a course on early Greek life, that she appears to have encountered Linear B.

Enthralled — and already confident of her own blazing intellect — she announced on her graduation that she would one day decipher the script. She came within a hair’s breadth of doing so before her own untimely death, at 43, just two years before Mr. Ventris cracked the code.

Dr. Kober never married, nor do her hundreds of pages of correspondence reveal the faintest glimmer of a personal life. Each night, after her classes were taught and her papers graded, she sat at the table in the house she shared with her widowed mother and, cigarette burning beside her, sifted the strange Cretan inscriptions.

It was Dr. Kober who cataloged every word and every character of Linear B on homemade index cards, cut painstakingly by hand from whatever she could find. (During World War II and afterward, paper was scarce, and she scissored her ersatz cards — 180,000 of them — from old greeting cards, church circulars and checkout slips she discreetly pinched from the Brooklyn College library.)

On her cards, she noted statistics about every character of the script — its frequency at the beginnings and ends of words, and its relation to every other character — with the meticulousness of a cryptographer. Sorting the cards night after night, Dr. Kober homed in on patterns of symbols that illuminated the structure of the words on the tablets. For as she, more than any other investigator, understood, it was internal evidence — the repeated configurations of characters that lay hidden within the inscriptions themselves — that would furnish the key to decipherment.

DR. KOBER and Mr. Ventris met only once, and by all accounts did not like each other. But through her few, rigorous published articles, which together form a how-to manual for deciphering an unknown script, she handed him the key to the locked room. After her death, using the methods she devised, he attacked the mystery with renewed vigor and brought about its solution.

It is now clear that without Dr. Kober’s work, Mr. Ventris could never have deciphered Linear B when he did, if ever. Yet because history is always written by the victors — and the story of Linear B has long been a British masculine triumphal narrative — the contributions of this brilliant American woman have been all but lost to time.

By fortunate coincidence, an archive of Dr. Kober’s papers had opened at the University of Texas shortly before I began my research. As a result, I was the first journalist to have the privilege of seeing her groundbreaking analysis of the script in full.

Dr. Kober’s work on Linear B spanned more than a decade, and the archive includes sheaves of her correspondence with the few would-be decipherers she respected, plus her tens of thousands of homemade index cards, fitted neatly into “file boxes” made from empty cigarette cartons. Like so much of women’s lives at midcentury, all this — which reveals the steps Mr. Ventris took in his triumphant decipherment — had long existed outside the reach of posterity.

I am not certain how Dr. Kober would feel about her role in the decipherment being brought to light today. “The important thing is the solution of the problem, not who solves it,” she wrote to a young American colleague in 1949. But I prefer to take my cue from a letter she wrote two years earlier, on the publication in an academic journal of her scathing critique of another scholar’s misguided attempt to decipher Linear B.

“I hope he will not be too annoyed with my review,” Dr. Kober wrote. “But I feel that in scholarly matters the truth must always be told.”

So, too, in obits. After Dr. Kober died, on May 16, 1950, The Times published a short obituary article under the headline, “Prof. Alice Kober of Brooklyn Staff.” The article — the dutiful roster of job titles and professional memberships that typified obituaries of the period — devotes less than a sentence to her work on Linear B.

As many on the Classics list noted, Kober is mentioned in various books on the decipherment of Linear B, but it seems to be usually in the introduction or other parts of the text where undergrads and other budding professionals probably won’t look. I’m sure I’m not the only person who went through my undergrad knowing of Michael Ventris and probably no one else, and operating under the impression that it was a one-man show, even though you knew there were others in the race. Seems to be something we should be making amends to bring up Kober’s name more often, especially since she can’t really be called an ‘amateur’, which is the epithet we often give to Ventris. There are probably quite a few others in that category as well …