I joined the Vanderbilt Department of Classical Studies in August 1998, after completing my doctoral dissertation on “Lucretius and the Deception of Rome: an Adaptation of Epicurean Epistemology.” The original plan was to stay for a year or two and seek a tenure-track appointment elsewhere. But the exciting challenges and responsibilities of my position, the energy and enthusiasm of our students, and especially the warmth and support of my classicist colleagues, have all persuaded me to stay right where I am.
My primary responsibility to the Department is as Director of Undergraduate Studies, advertising our program and coordinating our advising for the roughly 40 majors in our three programs: Classics, Classical Languages, and Classical Civilization. I also supervise our Latin Language sequences, which primarily involves close mentoring of our graduate student teachers, each of whom teaches at least one section of Latin while completing their Masters degree. I maintain close contacts with the other language instructors by serving on the Vanderbilt Arts and Science Committee for Second Language Acquisition. And finally I coordinate with classical students and teachers at the secondary level, actively participating in the Tennessee Classical Association, the Junior Classical League, and the American Classical League, at whose National Institute I delivered the plenary speech in June 2007.
As Senior Lecturer in the Department, I teach a variety of Latin courses from introductory through graduate seminars, as well as larger lecture courses on Roman and Greek Civilization. I created our first advanced writing seminar, on the history, literature, and propaganda of Augustan Rome. And I have added to our Latin curriculum an Intensive “refresher” course to be offered every Fall, which takes students from pronunciation on the first day to Cicero’s “First Catilinarian” speech by the last; this is ideal not only for students who have had a rusty year or two of the language in High School, but also to more ambitious undergraduate and graduate students who want to be reading Intermediate Latin by the following Spring. As a result we now have roughly 50 students passing through our Introductory Latin sequence each Fall.
My research interests are wide-ranging, focusing in particular on literature and society of Late Republican/Early Imperial Rome; literature and society of 5th/4th century Athens; Epicureanism in Greece and Italy; and issues in Latin language pedagogy. I am especially interested in how the philosopher-poet Lucretius (c. 90-55 BCE) applies Epicurean theories of psychology and education to manipulate reader-response: by alternating passages designed to arouse pleasure and pain, Lucretius traumatically rearranges the atomic make-up of his reader’s soul, thus promoting through temporary disturbance a more stable emotional state of “disturbancelessness.”
We may not have have any reliable images of Lucretius left, but we certainly know what Epicurus looked like, thanks to the almost talismanic images worshipped by his disciples; featured above is one of the many surviving busts of the “professor of pleasure” himself.
I grew up in Italy, where I developed my twin passions for soccer and classics. I am indebted both to Vanderbilt and to the Middle Tennessee Soccer Alliance for allowing me to pursue both, and I am always eager to share my enthusiasm with any unsuspecting student or colleague passing by my office door. Usually no appointment is necessary; just come on by to Cohen 303, and if the door is open, the Doctor is in!