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  • Orchêsis Kallinikos:Lillian B. Lawler's Greek Dance Legacy1

Lillian B. Lawler (1898–1990), a professor of classics and art history at several institutions in the United States, is best known as a scholar of ancient Greek dance. This paper, which is heavily based on archival research, presents details of Lawler's life and career and reveals a more complex figure than has previously been attested. Her prolific contributions to ancient dance studies are well-known and much-cited, yet her passion for Latin pedagogy and plays has up to now been largely forgotten. It is suggested that her ongoing engagement with each of these subjects contributed to her unique multidisciplinary practice, deriving from a general passion for performing arts, dedication and creativity as a classroom instructor, and opportunities to travel abroad to study objects, sites, and dancing first hand.


Dance, Performance, Latin, Pedagogy, Travel, Greece

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"She has not told which came first–her love of dance or her love of Greece–but together they have made for her a remarkable and distinctive career."2

The American classicist Lillian B. Lawler3 (1898–1990; fig. 1) is best known as the author of The Dance in Ancient Greece (1964a), an introductory survey that has long been used by scholars of classics, dance, and performance studies. As a professor of both classics and art history at several different institutions in the United States, Lawler devoted many years of her scholarly career to researching and publishing on various aspects of Greek dance. Her narrow attention to a single topic was somewhat eclectic and encompassed at times literature, art, epigraphy, and even anthropology (Delavaud-Roux 1993: 15). Lawler's first articles on Greek dance appeared in the late 1920s, and she would go on to publish extensively on the subject, from maenads, theater, and animals, to named dances, vocabulary, and encyclopedia entries.4 The bulk of her writings is so vast (some 50 articles) that Frederick Naerebout (1997: 77–78) in his historiography of Greek dance scholarship has coined the term "the Lawler era." Throughout her many articles, and in her books, she seems to have been a follower of no particular school or method. She was herself a student of dance, trained in ballet, folk, and interpretive techniques (Lawler 1947: 343). What is particularly important is the role Lawler played in distancing her topic from current trends in both classical scholarship and professional dance (Smith 2014: 87–88). Her abundant writings on ancient Greek dance redirected the existing discourse and moved the subject squarely toward contextual, social, and [End Page 198]

Fig. 1. Lillian B. Lawler, Athenian Acropolis, 1926 (Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City).
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Fig. 1.

Lillian B. Lawler, Athenian Acropolis, 1926 (Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City).

[End Page 199] thematic concerns. Her interpretations, based in an interdisciplinary practice that was well ahead of its time, brought both the dancer and the dance to a higher level of respect in classical scholarship than had previously been the case. Lawler earned both for herself and for ancient Greece a secure place in modern dance history.

Lawler's collective passions and interests–pedagogy, travel, and performance–reveal a more complex character than has previously been attested. It is evident that her concentrated attention to ancient dance was the result not only of her own education, dance training, and professional experiences but also of a highly personal journey from various departments and universities throughout the United States to the research institutes, museums, and archaeological sites of Europe and beyond. This essay, which is heavily based on archival research and draws on Lawler's wide array of publications, presents details of her life and career, from her undergraduate days at the University of Pittsburgh to her retirement as a Visiting Professor at the University of Iowa. It will be suggested that her ongoing engagement with ancient Greek dance, as well as her scholarly development, belonged to her love of performance, her dedication and creativity as an instructor, and to her exceptional opportunities to travel abroad to study objects, sites, and dancing first hand. Regardless of influences, focus, or merit, one cannot underestimate the significance of Lawler's contributions to classical studies, on the one hand, and to dance history, on the other.5 For each of these reasons, Lawler deserves to be remembered as one of the most important scholars ever to broach the topic of ancient dance and to date the most prolific in the English speaking world. As an American woman classicist who actively impacted the discipline for nearly 50 years, her legacy is felt in the form of her numerous publications and the several academic scholarships that bear her name.6 Furthermore, her influence was manifested in Latin clubs and classics classrooms across America, two aspects of a "remarkable and distinctive career" that have largely been [End Page 200] overlooked or simply forgotten over time. Her ongoing engagement with Latin plays and pedagogy contributed to her unique multidisciplinary perspective as dance scholar.

I. Education and Career

It is difficult to uncover information about Lawler's early life, family life, or personal life. Born 30 June 1898 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she attended the Grammar School and Fifth Avenue High School.7 In 1919 she received her Bachelor's degree (summa cum laude) in Latin and Greek at the University of Pittsburgh, an institution that had graduated its first women, sisters Margaret and Stella Stein, in 1898, the same year Lawler was born.8 In the following year Lawler was employed as a Latin teacher at Somerset High School, in Pennsylvania. She would move from there to the University of Iowa, where she would eventually earn two graduate degrees, an MA and a PhD. Her Master's thesis, A Classification of the Cognomina Appearing in the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum Vol. IX, was completed in 1921, the very same year that Republican Vice-President, Calvin Coolidge, delivered an address, "The Classics for America," at the Second Annual Meeting of the ACL in Philadelphia, in which he defended the continuance of classical education.9 Lawler's doctoral research completed in 1925 and supervised by B.L. Ullman was on a pedagogical topic: The Potential Improvement of English Spelling through the Study of High School Latin.10 Despite [End Page 201] these rather restricted research topics, as a student instructor at Iowa her teaching covered Latin, Greek, and art history.

Lawler enjoyed a full and distinguished university teaching career over the course of several decades. From 1926 to 1929, she taught in the Department of Latin and Greek (now Classics) at the University of Kansas initially as Instructor (1926–1927) and later promoted to Assistant Professor (1927–1929).11 Two notes about Lawler featured in the Graduate Magazine of the University of Kansas. The first in April 1928 stated that "Dr. Lillian B. Lawler, of the Latin and Greek department, has been invited to be one of the five travelling lecturers sent out each year by the Archeological Institute of America . . . [and]. . . . will speak

on the Greek dance"; and the second in February 1929 announced that she had tendered her resignation to accept a position in Hunter College, N.Y.12 It was at Hunter College where she would spend the greatest number of years, hired first as an Instructor but eventually achieving the rank of Full Professor in 1955.13 After her retirement in 1959, the University of Iowa welcomed her back as a Visiting Professor from 1961 through 1967, and she remained in the Iowa City area until her death on December 13, 1990. In 1984, a few years prior to her death, Lawler donated her collected papers and photographs to the University of Iowa, where they became part of the Louise Noun–Mary Louise Smith Iowa Women's Archives founded in 1992.

The first documented evidence for what would become Lawler's lifelong research interest in Greek dance dates from her final year as a doctoral student at the University of Iowa, when she was awarded a fellowship to spend a year of additional study at the prestigious American Academy in Rome. This momentous achievement made the headlines in the local Iowa City newspaper, The Daily Iowan (13 May 1925): Lillian [End Page 202] Lawler wins fellowship to Rome Academy; Iowa Woman One of Two to Receive $1250 Award; Will Study Dance of Greeks by use of Vases. In anticipation of her departure, she was featured in the same newspaper a few months later on 14 August: Fellowship Student leaves for Rome; Lillian Lawler will attend Academy of Rome One Year. The article goes on to provide unbelievable detail about the trip, from an itinerary that took her to places of "literary and architectural interest,"14 to her research project on "the study of Greek dance as portrayed in objects of art such as vases and statues," the fellowship's requirement to published a book, details about the Academy, Lawler's other memberships and awards, and finally, the announcement of her forthcoming book entitled Latin Play-lets for Highschools.15

Also, mentioned in the first of the two 1925 newspaper articles is Lawler's mentor, Berthold Louis Ullman, her professor both at Pittsburgh and at Iowa. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that Ullman was also the annual professor at the School of Classical Studies of the American Academy in Rome for the academic year 1925–1926.16 B.L. Ullman (1882–1965) was a renowned scholar of the Latin language. He was a founder and later President of the ACL, and also served as President of the Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMWS) and of the American Philological Association (APA, now the Society for Classical Studies). Ullman was the author (with N.E. Henry) of several Latin textbooks, among them Latin for Americans, which would be printed in multiple additions beginning in 1941.17 He also published in the areas of paleography, epigraphy, and on mediaeval and Renaissance Latin; yet a recurring theme throughout his career was the importance of pedagogy and the state of classical education in schools and universities in the United States.18 His influence on Lawler's early career was profound, [End Page 203] and the pair clearly had a close connection. They shared an interest in performing arts and, as Lawler describes in his obituary published in The Classical World, he often directed performances of classical plays at the University of Pittsburgh (Lawler 1966: 190). He was the supervisor of her doctoral thesis, and her 'playlets' would turn up in several of his Latin textbooks.19 Ullman would also cite Lawler's published work on Latin pedagogy and the importance of integrating the language with other subjects.20 In her seminal article of 1927, "The Maenad: A Contribution to the Study of the Dance in Ancient Greece," the result of her fellowship year in Rome, Lawler would also gratefully acknowledge her mentor.21

II. Latin Plays and Pedagogy

Regardless of her location or her professional status, there are two themes that dominated Lawler's early productivity: Latin plays and Latin pedagogy. The earliest publication I have been able to trace by her, and one that does not appear in the previous bibliographies of her work, comes from the 1920 Classical Journal, "Rex Helvetiorum: A Play for Second-Year Latin Students." Like her later ones, this play included stage directions in Latin, and it would be reprinted in her 1929 book of Easy Latin Plays. Ullman, who wrote the introduction to the book states (Lawler 1929a: v–vi):

One of the most recent remarkable developments in our educational system has been the interest in and use of the dramatic form. In the field of Latin, teachers have for some years been making more and more use of Latin plays. Miss Lawler has had a prominent part in the development of this movement. She has devoted herself particularly to the very short simple play suitable for beginners, and in the field she has no peers. [End Page 204]

Lawler's "To the Teacher" that opens this book, a reprinted essay from the 1924 Classical Journal article, "The Presentation of Simple Latin Plays in High School," is a how-to guide for what follows. She entreats teachers of early Latin students to make use of simple plays as a pedagogical tool. By doing so, in her view, every student will learn proper pronunciation, to read Latin phrases correctly, "to give a glimpse of Roman life, Roman dress, Roman ways."22 Performing the plays, however, was considered the ultimate aim; thus, rehearsal, costuming (i.e. a step-by-step "how to drape a toga" using photographs),23 hairstyles and adornment, staging, and occasions are presented to guide teachers through the process. In addition to her "playlets" featured in Ullman and Henry's Latin textbooks, Lawler's one-scene play, Senatus Populusque Romanus, made its way into Magoffin and Henry's Latin–First Year published first in 1928. The book was well illustrated with pictures not always relevant to the text but selected by the authors to "enable pupils to visualize Rome at the apex of her life and glory."24 Even the book's cover, as explained in the preface: "bring the physical features of this book into conformity with its subject matter . . . the color of its cover is . . . bright Pompeian red . . . the border is reproduced from a design painted on an ancient Greek vase, and in the center is a reproduction of an Etruscan vase."25

In the broad range of Lawler's early publications, she composed some 25 articles from the 1920s and 1930s alone, concerned with the Latin language and Latin pedagogy. The vast majority of these take the form of articles published in Classical Journal, although a few did find print elsewhere. A particularly interesting series is the co-authored "Hints for Teachers," an eclectic mix of pedagogical and social advice.26 Consistent with this trend are such titles as "Learn a Word Everyday" (CJ 1923) and "The Potential Remediability of Errors in English Spelling through the Study of High-School Latin" (CJ 1925), based on her [End Page 205] doctoral research. Another extraordinary publication would come along a bit later in 1929, The Latin Club, a detailed guide published by the ACL concerned with establishing a successful club at your local junior or senior school.27 Section II on the "Value of Latin Clubs" lays out the advantages of such an organization, such as: learning more about "the Romans and their civilization," "establishing friendly relations between student and teacher, and between student and student," strengthening Latin pronunciation, and giving "an outlet to the dramatic instinct."28 No stone is left unturned by the authoress who provides information about membership, names, mottos, colors, songs (e.g. "God Bless America" in Latin), as well as games, talks, tournaments, and of course group projects for the participants, foremost among them being plays (both in Latin and English), dances, pantomimes, moving pictures, banquets, and other "social affairs." Jokes and limericks, riddles and verse–some ancient, some modern, some mixed–are among the recommended group activities relevant to the classics and suitable for "adolescent boys and girls," among them the macaronic verse "Puella at a Ballgame:" "Puella on the corner stat; She non est thin, she non est fat" (Lawler 1929b: 34–37; cf. Lawler 1938b).

Lawler was also active throughout her career as part of the national classics scene in the United States. She was a member of the APA, founded in 1869, and of CAMWS, founded at the beginning of the twentieth century. The latter would bestow on her its highest honor of ovationes (for service to Classics) in 1963, and in their academic publication, Classical Journal, a very large number of Lawler's publications on both Latin topics and dance topics would appear.29 Lawler was also a member of Eta Sigma Phi, for which she served as National Trustee 1949–1955. As a member of the ACL, founded in 1919,30 she not only published The Latin Club and served on numerous committees and as a Vice President (1957–1964) but also acted as editor of their journal, Classical Outlook (formerly Latin Notes) for more than [End Page 206] 20 years, starting in 1936.31 Her "playlets," such as one titled "In Terra Pax: A Christmas Play for the Classical Club," short stories, and poems were occasional additions under her editorship (Lawler 1937, 1938a, 1938c). Upon her retirement as editor, she was awarded "summa cum laude" by ACL President Dr. Van L. Johnson, who further composed a charming Latin poem in her honor (Carr 1994: 50–51). Additionally, Lawler was elected President of the Classical Association of the Atlantic States (CAAS) from 1947 to 1949. For the Association for the Promotion of the Study of Latin (APSL), another place to honor and promote Latin study, she wrote Latin "playlets" for their Latin language publication Auxilium Latinum.32

III. Greek Dance and Greece

Immediately following her year at the American Academy in Rome during the mid-1920s, Lawler would publish the first of her seemingly endless articles on the subject of Greek dance.33 "Easter Dances of Megara" (Lawler 1927a) is a firsthand account of the Modern Greek dancing she observed on Easter Monday. She documented the dancing in both notes and photographs, which now belong to the Iowa Women's Archives, such as one captioned on the back: Old Greek types of beauty among village women at an Easter dance, Megara Greece (fig. 2). In the published article, she describes the dances in great detail and even visualizes a link between the ancient past and the modern present (Lawler 1927a: 8):

Perhaps we were mistaken; but it seemed to us that even with our first glance at the dancing-place we caught some of the spirit of ancient Greece. What we saw was merely an open space, made roughly circular by a surrounding ring of booths, within which vendors were making ready to sell to the crowds such simple wares as fruits, sesame [End Page 207] cakes, honey cakes, cheese, and nuts; while under one or two trees on the edge of the circle rude wooden benches had been set up where the thirsty might buy and consume resinated wine or cool water.

Apart from an underlying desire to make such connections, "Easter Dances of Megara" would turn out not to be her typical sort of dance article. Rather, her plentiful articles and essays concerned with ancient Greek dance focused on named dances, regions, movement, and schemata. But Lawler's approach to Greek dance, which she developed over a period of many years, was all her own. As Professor Ullman had declared of her Latin plays "in the field she has no peers," such was the case, as will shall see, with her scholarship on dance.

Fig. 2. Village Women at an Easter Dance, Megara Greece, 1926 Photo: Lillian B. Lawler (Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City).
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Fig. 2.

Village Women at an Easter Dance, Megara Greece, 1926 Photo: Lillian B. Lawler (Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City).

The onset of Lawler's writings on dance coincides with significant developments in the arena of modern dance. For a start, the first decades of the twentieth century witnessed the "Natural" dance movement, [End Page 208] practiced by women in the United States, England, Europe, and Australia. Characterized by free-flowing garments and barefoot dancing, the "Natural" movement "took root in formal choreography, in new methods of theatre and dance teaching" (Fensham 2011: 1; Carter and Fensham 2011). Importantly, its followers, among them the American dancer Isadora Duncan and Ruby Ginner, British instructor and author of The Revived Greek Dance (1933), viewed Classical Greece through an idealistic lens, as a culture where one existed in harmony with nature and, thus, freed from modern (post-Victorian) constraints (Carter 2010; Macintosh 2011; Leontis 2019: 135–64). Their new style of dancing broke with classical ballet, both technically and on a social level, as "revived Greek dance" was accessible to all classes and all people (Macintosh 2011: 52). Lawler's entree as a dance scholar with her article on maenads (female figures particularly admired by "natural" dancers) falls coincidentally in the same year as Isadora Duncan's death (Vigier 1994: 41–53; Macintosh 2011: 44). Also of relevance for Lawler are the writings of Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, whose "Eurythmics" focused on teaching music through movement, and François Delsarte's "method," a systematized set of gestures and attitudes that was taught widely and exercised tremendous influence on modern dance and on physical education. Lawler was well-aware of these trends and of their impact as she discloses in her 1947 article, "The Dance in Ancient Greece:" "Many of these [dances] have been in the nature of a reaction from the rigorous discipline of the formal ballet dance, from the futility and sterility of the dances of ballroom and the theater, and, incidentally, from the restraints of clothing and manners of the dancers' own day" (Lawler 1947: 348). She goes on in the same article to mention Duncan, Dalcroze, and others, warning readers that "Neo-Greek dance is not a facsimile of the ancient Greek dance . . . much of it would probably astonish an ancient Greek beyond measure" (Lawler 1947: 348). That being said, her own admission that she was trained in interpretive dance suggests that she had first-hand exposure to such techniques and may well have been skilled in the Delsarte method, which was certainly in circulation in the United States during her formative years.34 In fact, in one of her earliest publications she asserts (1927b: 91): "A renewed study of the [End Page 209] Greek dance should be based not only on archaeological and literary facts and methods, but upon practical knowledge of the technique of the dance as well."35

A second relevant trend, which Lawler was both familiar with and critical of, was the the "reconstructionist" approach pioneered by the French musicologist Maurice Emmanuel at the end of the nineteenth century. Looking at vases and sculptures, and principally rejecting textual evidence, Emmanuel connected individual movements in Greek art with those of the French ballet and also thought it possible to create a series of steps, poses, and gestures based on ancient art. The implications of Emmanuel's approach to Greek dance, as well as his lingering influence, have been well-treated elsewhere and need not be repeated here. Suffice it to say that by the early 1930s–just as Lawler was getting going–staged performances of revived Greek dance were coming to an end, as a result of the deaths of Duncan and several other key figures and also due to the disbanding of companies, among them the Ballets Russes (Naerebout 1997: 74–75; Naerebout 2010). From the perspective of classical scholarship, Louis Séchan would publish his La danse grecque antique in 1930, where he devoted a large portion of the book to modern revivalists and to reconstructionism. Lawler's take on Emmanuel and his successors is unambiguous, and of Séchan she writes (1953: 64) that he "followed Emmanuel blindly on technique . . . accepting his findings without argument."36 She is compelled at various points to remind her readers of the drawbacks inherent in reconstructing ancient dance on the basis of images alone. For example, in the 1947 article mentioned above, where she illustrates an Athenian red-figure vase showing a komos of nude males, the caption explains: The attitudes of the figures are physically impossible if one attempts to interpret them exactly as drawn (Lawler 1947: 349; Carter and Fensham 2011: 17–18). In other words, don't try this at home!

It is important to position Lawler's dance scholarship within this larger cultural context, because it helps us to appreciate why she regarded herself as separate from both professional dancers and from [End Page 210] other classical scholars (Lawler 1947: 348). What then exactly is her approach? Today we might call it multi- or interdisciplinary, incorporating "all the evidence available, from as many angles as possible" (Lawler 1947: 349; cf. Naerebout 1997: 273). That being said, to a large extent her writings on dance engage heavily with primary texts and make ample references to major classical scholars in Europe and the United States, including many scholars of ancient drama. Textual references, often a single word or an isolated phrase are routinely her catalyst, and she thus begins many articles with "in Alcman," "in Athenaeus," "in the Homeric Hymn to . . . ," and the like. Her fixation on terminology comes with the desire to learn how Greek terms might be used to animate movement, that is to say, what they reveal about the process of dancing. For example in her article "Dancing Herds of Animals" (1952), in reference to two passages in Pindar she states, "both of these passages refer ultimately to something real–to very old animal dances, performed in the rituals of deities of animal fertility, by human beings wearing masks or skins" (Lawler 1952: 317). In addition to an overall concern with movement and gesture, she seems equally committed to finding connections with modern Greece and the wider Mediterranean world. She also draws heavily on visual and material sources throughout her works but, surprisingly, does not cite contemporary practitioners of Greek art and iconography, such as Sir John Beazley, the great connoisseur of Athenian vases, or T. B. L. Webster, who shared many of her same interests.37 She is undeniably attracted to the newly discovered "Minoan" culture (which she no doubt encountered up-close during her study tours of Greece), and it features regularly in her interpretations of Greek dances of the later periods. Such is the case in a brief article printed in the first issue of Archaeology in 1948 where she explores "Snake Dances," using the Snake Goddess discovered by Sir Arthur Evans at Knossos in the early twentieth century and already on display in the Herakleion (then Candia) Museum as her starting point.38 Lawler was also a devotee of Curt Sachs, the German-born musicologist and author of World History of Dance (trans. 1937) with whom she shared an interest in the dancing of "peoples of all races and of all times," in her own words (Lawler 1951: 383).39 [End Page 211] Even if not her main focus, such an attempt to explain Greek dance in "world" terms is an almost overlooked aspect of her writings. Throughout her articles, there is also an underlying interest in ethnography and anthropology, as they are peppered with references to dance traditions across the globe.40 Indeed, Lawler's obituary in one Iowa City newspaper states that "she traveled on all continents observing dances."41 Later in her life when she was unable to travel as readily, she details in a letter the places she had occasion to visit: "How different from those earlier years when I traveled extensively in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, North, Central, and South America, and all the major islands (including the Philippines, Hawaii, Fiji, Pango Pango, Japan, Ireland, Crete, Cyprus, etc.)"–a list repeated from one of her very own dance publications.42

But it was Lawler's travels to Greece that made the most obvious impression on her, both personally and professionally, and that helped shape her academic outlook. According to her travel journals and photographs in the Iowa Women's Archives as well as information kept at the Blegen Archives of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, she made three trips to Greece in 1926, 1936, and 1955 (Smith 2010: 90–91). The first one was in the Spring, during which she had observed dancing at Megara, and was part of her broader European itinerary, the true focus of which was her fellowship at the American Academy in Rome. Her second trip to Greece occurred during the summer and its details were recorded in part in a small red memo book. Beginning in Naxos and Paros on 10 August 1936, she then travelled to the islands of Samos, Chios (purchased a "votive leg"), and Lesbos; and from there on to Lemnos, Troy, Samothrace, Thasos, Mt. Athos ("Men went ashore. Women not allowed to step on shore"), Skyros ("Bo't embroideries, carved wood, coins"), Volos ("Magnificent painted stelae. Reliefs. Vases. Terracottas—one of dancers"), Chalkis, and on 20–21 August she concluded her tour [End Page 212] in Athens to see the Parthenon and the Acropolis Museum. Her third and final trip to Greece in 1955, during which she was a participant in the summer program of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, was her most structured and comprehensive (Smith 2010: 91). While in Greece, Lawler made a large number of photographs of people, things, and places, especially archaeological sites: Acrocorinth, Aegina, Marathon, Sounion ("Byron's autograph on temple of Poseidon"), Eretria ("theatre"); Delphi, Olympia, Eleutherae, Chaeronea, Mycenae, Tiryns, Athens, Lerna, Nemea, Tegea, Mistra, Sparta, Argive Heraion, Candia, Gortyn, Piraeus, Eleusis, Levadia, Thermon, Orchomenos, and Dodona. Individuals in the photographs are not always named or she is herself uncertain of their identity, and the exact dates are either missing or no longer visible on some of them. Archaeological luminaries are seen on site, among them William Bell Dinsmoor, the architectural historian and architect for the American School, and A. J. B. Wace, the British excavator at Mycenae. Her own interest in performance spaces took her to specific sites, such as Epidauros and Argos, where she photographed the theaters, and to Eleusis to document the "altar where dances took place" (fig. 3). After her retirement from Hunter College and her relocation to Iowa City, Lawler began making plans to donate to the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in order to create the Ellen N. Lawler Memorial Fund, named in "memory of my beloved mother."43 The fund would eventually be large enough to be awarded to one of the students taking part in the annual Summer Session beginning in 1976 (Meritt 1984: 147). In one letter addressed to Richard H. Howland, Chairman of the Managing Committee (1965–1975), she writes: "It will be a momentous occasion when the first 'Lawler scholar' is chosen! In the past, when people mispronounced my name, I used to say, '"Lawler" rhymes with "scholar" and with "dollar," too I hope!'"44

Returning to Lawler's published works, her dance articles might be divided into the major categories of named dances, drama and dithyramb, and animal dances; though she herself subdivided ancient dances [End Page 213]

Fig. 3. Altar at Eleusis, 1926. Photo: Lillian B. Lawler (Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City).
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Fig. 3.

Altar at Eleusis, 1926. Photo: Lillian B. Lawler (Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City).

into the four areas of processional, mimetic, kinetic, and acrobatic (Lawler 1927b: 91). She drew heavily on ancient texts of every possible period available and, despite her warnings to the contrary, takes the artistic evidence rather too literally in many instances. Titles such as "Four Dancers in the Birds of Aristophanes," "The Dance of the Holy Birds," "The Geranos Dance," "Cosmic Dance and Dithyramb," and "The Dancing Figures from Palaikastro," typify her interests, which extend from religion to drama, animals to artifacts, komos to chorus. Her article "Orchêsis Kallinikos," printed in TAPA (1948a), provides a perfect example of her scholarly formula. She begins with Pindar's use of the [End Page 214] word kallinikos in Olympian 9.1–4, followed by other attestations of the word or related material found in a wide variety of other texts (tragedy, Plato, Old Comedy, Pollux, etc.). Admitting that there are no literary descriptions of the kallinikos dance, she meanders through all types of evidence ("certain passages in ancient literature . . . archaeological and epigraphical evidence") to identify its place in "Greek religion and life" (Lawler 1948a: 258–59). Although no reconstructionist, Lawler nonetheless hazards a guess, based on her sources, regarding choreography and arrangement (a procession or rectangle), relationship to other ancient dances, comparisons with modern dances of the Mediterranean and farther afield (i.e. America, India), mythic and cultic connections (citing J.G. Frazer, M. Nilsson, and L.R. Farnell), and iconographic parallels on vase and in Minoan costume. This Greek dance mash-up is apparent in many of her published articles, described alternatively by Naerebout as "a remarkable corpus of literature in which she gathered together much material scattered hither and thither" (Naerebout 1997: 78; Ruyter 2016). It is her tying together of such disparate threads that is the greatest achievement of Lawler's "remarkable corpus," yet her lack of intellectual development over time remains its chief disappointment.

Lawler's scholarly career culminated with three more substantial contributions on ancient Greek dance, each one slightly different. The first was Terpsichore: The Story of the Dance in Ancient Greece, a 57 page booklet published by Dance Perspectives in 1962 intended as a "survey for dancers and teachers" (Lazenby 1963: 36). Lawler divides the topic into seven small chapters (theories and origins, prehistoric, animals, drama, orgiastic and mysteries, shrines and festivals, transition to the Middle Ages), and lays out five categories of evidence (literary, archaeological, epigraphical, linguistic, and anthropological; cf. Lawler 1964a: 15). The booklet, which is sometimes cited as an article or essay (e.g. Bieber 1966: 79), received a favorable review in the Classical Journal from Francis Lazenby, a classicist and librarian at Notre Dame with an interest in ancient daily life (Lazenby 1963: 37): "Terpsichore is packed with information; it is easy reading, and always rewarding. It might very profitably be made required reading for courses in tragedy and those dealing with Greek and Roman private life."45 Another reviewer, [End Page 215] Douglas Feaver, is equally positive about the "neglected" topic of Greek dance, and praises Lawler for a "monograph" that "provides the scholar with information and interpretation which are so valuable and yet so unavailable elsewhere" (Feaver 1962).

In 1964 Lawler would at long last publish two books on ancient Greek dance, and both would receive much greater scholarly attention than had her series of articles published over several decades in American journals, bulletins, and magazines. The first, The Dance in Ancient Greece, reprinted in paperback in 1978, uses the same types of evidence and follows the identical chapter layout of Terpsichore. In the forward, Lawler states: "It has been my aim in this book to present for the non-specialist and the general reader some of the results of the study and research in the field of ancient Greek dance which have occupied many scholars, from antiquity to the present day."46 Contrary to this claim, the book is generously footnoted, and chockfull of examples, many of which derive from her previously published work. Not all reviews of the book were positive, and it can be seen to have suffered from attempting to cover too many types of evidence without the academic training to do so. This was especially the case with Greek art, as stated by John Boardman (1965: 365) in Classical Review: "the evidence of representations is fully used but less fully understood." The sentiment is echoed by Briggs in the Biographical Dictionary of North American Classicists, who mentions "a certain lack of control and even mistrust of the archaeological evidence" (Briggs 1994: 347; cf. Smith 2010: 89–90).

Despite such criticisms at the time, The Dance in Ancient Greece has consistently been referenced in scholarly publications concerned with its own topic, as well as in recent studies of tragedy, dance history, performance, and pantomime, to name but a few. It is quite possibly the single most cited source on the subject of Greek dance ever. There are various explanations for this. Firstly, hers is the only book of its type written in English, in fact the only one written at all. Secondly, it is a straightforward, readable account, well-illustrated, and in a word, unpretentious. Thirdly, her tone in this book, as in much of her writing, is a teacher's tone, written as if speaking, before a live audience of bright-eyed students hearing about it all for the first time. As predicted [End Page 216] in reference to her fellowship in Rome and her resulting article of 1927 on maenads, "Miss Lawler's paper is but the beginning of a study of the Greek dance which may be expected to come somewhere near finality in this field, as she has the unusual background of a combination of archaeological and philological training with dance technique."47

The second book is less well-known and less-often cited by specialists, but no less important. The Dance of the Ancient Greek Theatre strikes a more scholarly tone and is actually quite a good read. It is well-researched and demonstrates both familiarity and ease with the primary sources. The book has a simple chapter layout by genre–dithyramb, tragedy, comedy, satyr play–yet no introduction, no conclusion, and no bibliography. In her brief preface (Lawler 1964b), the author makes two statements that are essential to her presentation: she has "refrained from entering into the innumerable controversies" pertaining to the origins of Greek drama; and "sought wherever possible to isolate the problems of the dances from those of the drama." Although repetitive in places, and pilfering material from her prior publications, Lawler reveals her scholarly strengths in this book. Her concern with named dances, steps, gestures, movements, and performance spaces is apparent in every chapter.48 The book is completely unillustrated and makes only a few references to visual evidence (mainly vases)–an issue which Margarete Bieber (1966: 79), the scholar of ancient Greek drama, bemoans in her joint AJA review of both Lawler books: "she neglects the monuments to a degree that is astonishing in one who has been trained since childhood as a dancer . . . among the different sources she prefers the literary ones." On the whole, The Dance of the Ancient Greek Theatre can be viewed as a fitting finale to Lawler's long academic career dedicated to plays, performance, and dance.

Lawler's encore publication would appear in the second edition of the Oxford Classical Dictionary, edited by N. G. L. Hammond and H. H. Scullard in 1970.49 Her entry on "dancing" was a radical departure from Frederick Adam Wright's version in the original edition of 1949. Where Wright relates the ancient art to the modern ballet ("a form of mental [End Page 217] expression with the body as its medium") and lists a few named types (e.g. Turbasia, Kordax), Lawler expands the presentation to consider ancient perceptions of dance, the social status of dancers, and a greater number of occasions and varieties. Her entry would be reprinted in the third and fourth editions with Anthony Spawforth, one of the editors, listed as a co-author. Much of Lawler's original text remains intact as a true testament to her lingering and authoritative voice in the field of ancient dance studies.

IV. Beyond the "Lawler Era"

Lillian B. Lawler (fig. 4) was a significant figure in American classics throughout much of the 20th century. A playwright, Latin teacher, and dance scholar, she was active on both the local and national levels, and surely one of the most well-published women in her field and in her day. That being said, her separate yet concurrent areas of interests–Latin pedagogy and Greek dance–appealed, then as now, to two separate audiences. As a result, the complete picture of her career, with its discrete yet related trajectories, has been forgotten over time. Moreover, it is her writings on dance that have survived into the twenty-first century, while her Latin plays and pedagogical tools have been largely relegated to library book shelves and archival storage. The more we learn about her teaching and writings, the clearer it becomes that the "Lawler era" was more than the sum of her essays, articles, lectures, travels, and books related to the subject of ancient Greek dance. Her impressive service to classics organizations across the United States as a member, an officer, and an editor, as well as her generosity in funding fellowships, demonstrate a deep and lasting commitment to her discipline and a fondness for the institutions were she studied and taught.50 Her standing amongst her peers and in her field within the United States may well explain LIFE Magazine's choice to publish her "letter to the editor" on 20 September 1963, where she corrects an unfortunate error in dating: "Sirs, By now several thousand irate classicists have probably upbraided you most [End Page 218] severely for putting Roman Consul Decius Mus into 340 ad. But, after all, what are six or seven hundred years among friends?"51

Fig. 4. Lillian B. Lawler, undated (1960's?) (Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City).
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Fig. 4.

Lillian B. Lawler, undated (1960's?) (Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City).

If one digs deeply enough into Lawler's life and works, the common themes of pedagogy, travel, and performance consistently emerge. Her time spent travelling in Greece, other countries in Europe, and other parts of the world, where she observed dance and experienced language, informed her scholarly output and played a key role in her presentations, be they in the classics classroom, at an academic conference, or on the printed page. While there is little doubt that Lawler is remembered today as a historian of Greek dance rather than as an author of Latin plays, it is hardly surprising that a trained performer would find such value in the writing of original dramas for school children, undergraduates, and [End Page 219] members of classics clubs and societies, not to mention in the process of producing and directing them. Her profound affection for languages and dance converged first in foremost in her overall approach to her "day job"–namely, the teaching of her pupils. In fact, in 1941, more than 20 years before her two books on Greek dance appeared, Lawler collaborated on a long forgotten textbook entitled Adventures in Language. The book's frontispiece portrays a simple line drawing of a boy and a girl who walk eagerly in tandem along an uphill path towards a huge castle. Their slow and steady pedestrian route takes them past a series of signs, each one displaying the name of an individual language they will encounter on their journey: Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, Italian, German and, at the top of the summit, English. In the book, Lawler and her co-authors promote the idea of learning language through song, gesture, dramatization, and pantomime. It serves as yet another example of her life-long love affair with philology, travel, and the stage. [End Page 220]

Tyler Jo Smith
University of Virginia

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1. Versions of this paper were presented at the Women as Classical Scholars Conference held at King's College, London in March 2013, and at CAMWS 2016 in Williamsburg, Virginia. Special thanks are owed to Rosie Wyles and Edith Hall for inviting me to speak in London, and to Fiona Macintosh for her assistance with delivering the paper. I also acknowledge the following individuals and institutions for providing vital information and the permission to include it: Ronnie Ancona, Department of Classics, Hunter College, and Louise S. Sherby, Archives and Special Collections, Hunter College Libraries; John Younger, Department of Classics, University of Kansas; Carrie Sulosky Weaver, Department of Classics, University of Pittsburgh; Janet Weaver, Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa; Sherwin Little, American Classical League; Kevin Mullen and Laurel Sparks, Archaeological Institute of America; Dylan Rogers, Assistant Director, Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan, Blegen Archives, and Alicia Dissinger, Programs Administrator, American School of Classical Studies at Athens. At the University of Virginia, I am grateful to Sean Tennant and Dan Weiss; to Anna Lazou at the University of Athens; and at the University of Oklahoma, Ellen Greene, who encouraged me to pursue this research at an early stage.

2. Pischel and Cohen 1962, in the preface to Lawler's "The Story of the Dance in Ancient Greece," which comprised an entire issue of Dance Perspectives.

3. Her middle name is not certain, and has been documented as "Bray" (Rovik 1991: 159), "Beatrice" ("Biography of Miss Lawler," University of Kansas, January 18, 1926[?] (the year stamp is faded); in the "Biographical Note" under the "Guide to the Lillian B. Lawler papers" on the website of the University of Iowa Libraries:; and on the Database of Classical Scholars (APA):; cf. Briggs 1994; and as "Brady" (e.g. Lawler 1947, an article in CJ). The name appears as "Lillian B. Lawler" on her gravestone in Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City; and in her obituary (Iowa City Press-Citizen, 14 December 1990).

4. Her publications are scattered throughout the "select bibliography" on ancient Greek dance compiled by Naerebout 1997: 114–45; and see Rovik 1991: 165–69. Another version appears on the Database of Classical Scholars (APA):; cf. Briggs 1994: 346–48.

5. See discussions in Naerebout 1997: 77–85; and Smith 2010: 89–91. Ley 2003: 473–80, details her contribution to tragedy. On her contribution to dance history see Pischel and Cohen 1962; Lazenby 1963: 36; Raftis 1987: 25; Lonsdale 1993: xv, and footnote 2; and Hunt 1996: 15.

6. Calder 1994: xxxvii briefly mentions women in the early history of classics in America; and see Solomon 1985: 23, 81–82, on the controversy of offering Latin and Greek to women in American universities. Lawler receives an entry in Briggs 1994: 346–48, published by the APA, and will be included in the forthcoming biographical dictionary of women classicists published by Brill.

7. According to biographical records at the University of Kansas, which also lists her father as having been an "electrical worker;" and as of 21 Feb. 1961, she identifies herself as "single." The Fifth Avenue High School in Pittsburgh, a public school, closed in 1976, and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1986; Toker 1986: 235–36. A brief career summary has been made available by the Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa:

8. The university was founded as the Pittsburgh Academy in 1787, and renamed the Western University of Pennsylvania in 1819. The Stein sisters took degrees in the "Latin Scientific" course; Alberts 1986: 41–48.

9. The lecture was held at the University of Pennsylvania on Thursday, 7 July; and may be accessed at Cf. Benario 1989: 31, who explains that after World War I "the value of the study of the ancient languages and their civilizations was challenged as never before; classicists found themselves constantly on the defensive."

10. According to her obituary in the Iowa City Press-Citizen (14 Dec. 1990) her doctorate was in Education and her masters was in Latin.

11. According to the University Catalogues, available in that university's library reading room, her courses were Cicero (six orations), Vergil's Aeneid (six books), Horace

(Odes), Roman Private Life, and History of Roman Literature (John Younger, Department of Classics, University of Kansas, personal correspondence). The University of Iowa website incorrectly lists her as Assistant Professor from 1926 (see above n. 7).

12. Volume 26, No. 7, 50; and Volume 27, No. 5, 27. According to the AIA archives she gave lectures in Chicago, St. Louis, Madison, Essex Falls, Richmond, Roanoke, Lynchburg, and New York. A letter of 25 May 1974 in the Blegen Archives, ASCSA, describes in detail that "several years ago" she lectured on a Mediterranean cruise for the Dollar Steamship Co.

13. According to her employment record at Hunter College, she also taught Latin during the summers at State Teachers College, Kirksville, Missouri (1923); Teacher's College, Columbia University (1930); School of Education, New York University (1931, 1935).

14. The earlier article (13 May) states she would also be spending a month in Greece on the way home.

15. At this time, she was also writing one-act plays in English, such as one entitled "The Big Blue Book"; see The Daily Iowan (11 March 1925) 4.

16. Henderson 1964: xi; Lawler 1966 details his life and career. See further Briggs 1994: 559–61.

17. The well-illustrated textbooks emphasized reading over grammatical forms, and also introduced history, culture, art, and archaeology. Ullman and Henry 1926a, 1926b, 1937 are a bit more traditional in format.

18. His obituary appeared in the New York Times (27 June 1965) 64; and see Lawler 1966. His "Hints for Teachers" was a standard feature of CJ throughout the 1920s and early 1930s.

19. Library records for the doctoral thesis at the University of Iowa indicate that Ullman was the dissertation advisor. Lawler is mentioned in the introduction as the author of two new plays written for the 1956 edition of Latin for Americans; Ullman and Henry 1956: viii, no. 15; and see also Ullman and Henry 1926a: ix; Ullman and Henry 1937: ix; and Ullman and Henry 1950: vii.

20. Ullman 1943: 127, where he cites Lawler 1942; cf. Ullman 1919: esp. 314. See also Lawler, Robathan, and Korfmacher 1960 xii.

21. As reported by the Professor in Charge of the School of Classical Studies of the American Academy in Rome in the annual report of the AIA Bulletin 17, 1926. See Lawler 1927c; Lawler 1927b.

22. Lawler 1929a: ix–xvii, esp. x for the quote; cf. Lawler 1959: 39 on the use of "living models in the teaching of ancient costume."

23. Ibid., figs. 1–3. It is entirely possible that the woman shown in figure 3 is Lawler herself.

24. Magoffin and Henry 1928: vii. She would also be acknowledged in Wheelock's Latin textbook (1956: xii).

25. Magoffin and Henry 1928: vii. The vase on the cover is actually an example of East Greek 'Wild Goat Style.'

26. See above, n. 18.

27. Cf. A newspaper headline from The Daily Iowan (20 June 1922) 3: Classical Club is Organized in Summer Session (for which Lawler presided, and Ullman was a speaker).

28. Lawler 1929b. Subsequent editions were revised and published after her death.

29. See Benario 1989: 12, on the journal's pedagogical aims.

30. Benario 1989: 39: "ACL came about in order that there might be a national organization, embracing classicists at all levels, to fight against the pressures now facing the study of the ancient languages."

31. Gries and LaFleur 1994: 235–39, on the change of title and Lawler's tenure as editor; Phinney 1994: 278–80; and Carr 1936. Her other offices are listed on her 1954 C.V. (Archives and Special Collections, Hunter College Libraries).

32. Cf. Lawler 1929a: 37–44. Her 1961 "Biography" from the Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa, specifies that "AL publishes one of [Lawler's] Latin teaching plays every two months; has been doing this since 1930."

33. She writes under publications: "about 100 articles on various aspects of Greek dance . . . about 100 miscellaneous articles on subjects other than dance" ("Biography," University of Iowa, Iowa Women's Archives, 1961). See also Pischl and Cohen 1962.

34. Macintosh 2011: 48; and see Fensham 2011: 1; Leontis 2015: 206–207; and Lawler 1947: 343.

35. Rovik 1991: 1 explains that Lawler disapproves of Duncan and other performers for misunderstanding the ancient evidence and of archaeologists who lack familiarity with dancing.

36. Cf. Lawler 1927b: 91, where she describes the approach of Emmanuel as misleading.

37. Smith 2010: 89–91, on Lawler and vases; and Smith 2014: 88, on Webster.

38. See Leontis 2015, who discusses archaeological discovery and revived Greek dance.

39. See Youngerman 1974 for Sachs and his impact; and Naerebout 1997: 78, on Lawler and Sachs.

40. E.g. Lawler 1947: 347; Lawler 1962: 7–8. See also Royce 2002: 94–97, on Lawler from an anthropological perspective.

41. Iowa City Press-Citizen (14 Dec. 1990), a direct quote from her 1954 C.V. archived at Hunter College (Lawler 1937, 1938a, 1938c); and see Smith 2010: 91 (cited as Pittsburgh); and Lawler 1964a: 23.

42. To the Managing Director of the ASCSA, Richard H. Howland, dated 22 December 1977 (Blegen Archives); and Lawler 1947: 343.

43. As specified in a letter to the School (11 Sept. 1971), where she also writes that "the funds be given by preference to women students." The gift was then accepted by Richard H. Howland, Chairman of the Managing Committee, in a letter dated 3 Nov. 1971. Both letters belong to the Blegen Archives, ASCSA. According to the archived reports of the Summer Session, the Lawler Fellowship has been given continuously up to the present day to up to two graduate or advanced undergraduate students.

44. Letter of 25 March 1974 (Blegen Archives, ASCSA).

45. Lazenby's 1941 doctoral dissertation at the University of Virginia, entitled Household Pets in the Literature and Art of Ancient Greece and Rome, reveals a similar interest in daily life.

46. Lawler 1964a: 5. The C.V. she prepared for promotion to Full Professor at Hunter College (above n.31) states, under the sub-heading "unpublished research:" "Have been working for some time on a book on the Greek dance."

47. The report is in the AIA Bulletin of 1926 (see above, n. 21).

48. In a letter of 26 April 1974 (Blegen Archives, ASCSA) she describes the growing interest in the book by "teachers of physical education, dance, and drama."

49. Both Rovik 1991 and Briggs 1994 list her final publications as the two 1964 books on dance.

50. The Lillian B. Lawler Fellowships at the University of Pittsburgh continue to be "awarded annually to full-time, advanced-level graduate students pursuing a PhD in Classics, English, French, German, Hispanic, History, or Slavic who show potential for an outstanding career in teaching and research" (

51. The letter sent from Iowa City appears on page 25. The back issues of LIFE are available at

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