With a freshly minted Ph.D., his translation of the Byzantine biography Life of Martha upcoming, and a rare honor from the Bryn Mawr College undergraduate community in appreciation for his exemplary mentoring and teaching, Charlie Kuper sat down with us to reflect upon his experience at Bryn Mawr and his recent appointment as Visiting Assistant Professor in Classics at Haverford College.
Charlie, congratulations on your recent appointment. How does it feel to be at Haverford College and teaching Bryn Mawr? What classes are you teaching?
This is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I am thrilled to be at Haverford and Bryn Mawr this year—such a joyful, rewarding experience so far!
This autumn, I’m teaching advanced Latin, for which I’ve chosen the theme of friendship, and intermediate Greek, whose focus is Herodotus (along with some lyric poetry). One thing that I’m particularly looking forward to this semester is reading an unpublished Renaissance poem on friendship with my students. I happened across it in Bryn Mawr’s special collections this summer and immediately transcribed it. I am currently finishing an accompanying commentary so that it’s ready for students to read at the end of term.
In the spring, I shall teach intermediate Latin (Cicero/Catullus) and two new courses in translation. The first is entitled, “Narratives of Ethical Leadership from the Past,” which uses the figures of Alexander the Great, Socrates, Cicero, and Anthony of the Desert as springboards for investigating a number of timeless issues such as the ethics of warfare, the power of political rhetoric, and the practice of civil disobedience. The second (at Bryn Mawr), is a course on “the Problem of Evil,” which, in addition to considering various approaches to evil in antiquity, follows this inquiry into the present. For example, we shall supplement our discussion of the prison system with a field trip to Eastern State Penitentiary.
Reflecting on your time at Bryn Mawr, how has your training prepared you for your current position?
Individuals make an institution what it is. I have been fortunate to have many wonderful friends, mentors, colleagues, and students in my time at Bryn Mawr. I owe a special debt to my advisor Catherine Conybeare. She has done so much—more than she possibly realizes—in shaping me into what I am today.
The opportunity to design and teach my own course also played a significant role in preparing me for my current position. Last spring, I taught a course on early Christian monasticism and pilgrimage, which was well received by students. This experience helped me realize myself and demonstrate to others that I can teach successfully in a liberal arts environment.
How do you feel you have benefitted most from Bryn Mawr’s unique academic environment?
The interdisciplinary atmosphere of the Graduate Group, which is further enriched by Bryn Mawr’s proximity to other institutions in Philadelphia and the east coast more broadly (e.g. Princeton, New York, and Washington, DC). My time at Bryn Mawr has shown me the importance of collaboration and dialogue across the disciplines, and I like to believe that it has had a real effect on my work. Just a couple week ago, I co-organized a panel on the literary and material evidence for a Christian cult-site in Roman Syria, and I’m currently working on a Syriac (Aramaic) rhetorical text with an Arabist from Georgetown University.
Any exciting new research projects we should look forward to?
Last spring, I became interested in the Greek biography of a woman named Euphrosyne who disguised herself as a man and lived in an Egyptian monastery for almost forty years. I translated this text for my students, and our discussion of it during class further piqued my interest, particularly how the text uses language that represents the protagonist as transgender. I am currently reading the Latin and Syriac translations of this text to gain a better understanding of how this biography was received throughout the Mediterranean world. This summer, I gave a short paper about this project at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library of St. John’s University, where I was on a fellowship from Dumbarton Oaks to study Syriac. I am hoping to present on this at greater length sometime next year.