My research focuses on ancient Greek literature and the ways in which different readers, through time and across the globe, make it their own – ‘the balance between the classical and the familiar’, as writer Cesare Pavese put it.
Two major research projects stem from this focus. The first originated at the University of Durham and was funded by the European Research Council: the main contention of Living Poets: A New Approach to Ancient Poetryis that representations of the ancient Greek and Roman poets tell us something crucial – not about the actual poets of Greece and Rome, but about their audiences and readers. This is an idea that animates much of my work: my first book, Inventing Homer: The Ancient Reception of Epic (Cambridge, 2002), various collaborative projects, such as Homer: The Resonance of Epic (London, 2005), co-authored with Johannes Haubold, Homer in the Twentieth Century: Between World Literature and the Western Canon (Oxford 2007), edited with Emily Greenwood, Tombs of the Ancient Poets: Between Literary Reception and Material Culture (Oxford 2018), edited with Nora Goldschimdt, and my latest monograph project: Sappho, Networked.
The second major research project is Logion: Machine Learning for Greek Philology. This is located at the intersection between Classics and Computer Science and is funded by Magic Grant awarded by the Princeton Humanities Council: the main aim is to harness the resources of machine learning to help ‘make sense of ancient texts’ (to use Sheldon Pollock’s definition of philology). The focus, so far, has been on detecting and emending textual corruptions, filling lacunae, and exploring the limits of statistical approaches to language processing. The traditional philological investment in the lectio difficilior, for example, can be seen as a commitment to non-conforming and uniquely meaningful uses of language.
I take inspiration from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, bell hooks, and Donna Harraway in emphasizing care, curation, and indeed love – as well as criticism – in my approach to the textual and material remains of the distant past. This position inspired Iliad VI: A Commentary (Cambridge, 2010), co-authored with Johannes Haubold, and is theorized in my latest book, Classics, Love, Revolution: The Legacies of Luigi Settembrini, co-authored with Andrea Capra. The book explores a queer, southern-Italian approach to classical scholarship and revolutionary action – uncovering a nineteenth-century love story along the way.
The connection between ancient literature and its diverse readers informs my public engagement, broadcasting, and writing for general audiences. The Gods of Olympus: A History (London, 2013), shortlisted for the Criticos prize and translated into several languages, traces the travels and transformations of the Olympian gods from antiquity to the Renaissance, exploring how they evolved from deities to secular symbols of human creativity. Several programmes for BBC television and radio, as well as for French and Italian television and the US History Channel, relate antiquity to the present. My reviews on both classics and contemporary fiction have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, the Times Higher Education, and The London Review of Books.
A podcast conversation I particularly enjoyed can be found here.
I was educated in Trieste, Oxford and Cambridge and taught in Oxford and Durham before moving to Princeton in 2018, where I currently chair the Classics Department and serve on the Research Advisory Board of Princeton Language and Intelligence, as well as the Editorial Board of Princeton University Press. I hold a National Teaching Fellowship, the highest recognition for excellence in teaching in the United Kingdom, and an Excellence in Doctoral Supervision Award.
I am interested in advising students working on Greek literature and its reception; Machine Learning and Philology; as well as students wishing to explore authorship and (auto)biography as modes of relating to ancient literature.