I received my BA and MA equivalents from the University of Pisa and the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa. I completed my PhD in 2016 with a dissertation entitled “An Improbable Symphony: Genealogy, Paternity, and Identity in Heliodorus’ Aethiopica.” In July 2016, I took up an appointment as Assistant Professor in the Classics Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. At the moment, I am working on a book that explores the dynamics of selfhood in Heliodorus’ Aethiopica. My next project will focus, respectively, on the transformations of Aristotle’s concept of man as “political animal” in the first three centuries CE and on the ways queer writers and artists engaged with classical antiquity as they contested the politics of representation and memory that surrounded the AIDS epidemic.
I came to Princeton after earning a B.A. at Roger Williams University, a small liberal arts college in Bristol, Rhode Island without a formal Classical department, and following several years of itinerant study in Europe. In those in-between years, my time studying with Fr. Reginald Foster, a Carmelite Monk who worked at the Vatican as the Secretary of Latin Letters, and taught a legendary spoken Latin summer program in Rome, was probably the one experience which confirmed my decision to pursue a graduate degree in Classics more than any other.
My time in the Ph.D. program at Princeton offered me an opportunity for deep reading of Latin and Greek texts, and more foreign travel and language learning. The generals process, though one of the hardest things I have ever done, gave me reading fluency in both ancient languages, for which I am truly grateful. I now look back on the countless late nights in my twenties spent in Firestone library with fondness, and sometimes with Vergil’s forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit ringing in my ears.
When I had finished my general exams and started writing my dissertation, I began to realize that I did not want to be a traditional academic. While I loved Latin and Greek literature, language, and teaching, my interests in travel, and program development had clearly emerged as the passions I wanted to pursue professionally. As luck would have it, my mentor, Fr. Foster, retired in 2011, and I co-founded The Paideia Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to continuing his mission of teaching students to speak Latin among Rome’s ruins in the summers. Since that time, this organization has grown into a vibrant Classics start-up, that provides study abroad experiences in Classics all over Europe, as well as online classes and digital humanities initiatives, an online journal, and outreach projects focused on demonstrating the relevance of a classical education in the modern world.
I’m deeply grateful to Princeton for the countless opportunities it provided me to pursue my interests, eclectic as they were. I’m also grateful to the Classics Department, and particularly to my advisors, Denis Feeney, Andrew Feldherr, and Andrew Ford, for their open-minded support of my alternative, and somewhat improbable, vision for what to do with my Ph.D. in Classics.
Jessica Wright (BA Cambridge 2008, PhD Princeton 2016)
I study the history of medicine, religion, and the body. My doctoral dissertation, “Brain and Soul in Late Antiquity,” examined medical and theological ideas about the brain in antiquity, with particular attention to the role of the brain in early Christian theology and preaching. I currently hold a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at the University of Southern California, where I am writing a book about the history of the brain from the emergence of presocratic philosophy through to the medieval period.