Ph.D., University of Chicago
Areas of Focus:
Greek social and intellectual history, with focus on mythology, religion, magic, and Platonic philosophy
I love teaching in the atmosphere of Bryn Mawr: the small community of earnest and eager graduate and undergraduate students, the faculty's mix of disciplines and perspectives, the fantastic resources for research, not to mention the idyllic setting and beautiful traditions that surround us all.
My research and teaching interests center on Greek social and intellectual history, with particular focus on mythology, religion, magic, and Platonic philosophy. I enjoy the opportunity to teach courses on some of the less familiar aspects of ancient Greek culture, such as ancient Greek ideas of sexuality, magic, and mystery cults, as well as courses on the language, mythology, and history of ancient Greece. I have published on eros and midwifery in Plato, on Orphism and the mysterious gold tablets, and on magical techniques in the “Mithras Liturgy.”
My current research interests include the history of myth interpretation and the marginal categories of magic and Orphism within Greek religion, and I have just published a study entitled Redefining Ancient Orphism. Orphism was taken by 19th-century scholars to be a particular, ancient Greek religious tradition, with a doctrine of original sin and a focus on practices of purification to expiate it, but I argue that we can't understand ancient Greek religion using modern Christian models; we can only make sense of the evidence within the dynamics of ancient polytheism. To the extent that 'Orphism' existed, it was not a coherent movement but a label given to a variety of religious practices that deliberately departed from the norm, elaborating on and altering traditional myths and rituals in innovative ways, while appealing to the authority of tradition by invoking the name of Orpheus, the greatest of poets.
My new projects include a survey of the ideas and practice of magic in the Greco-Roman world, entitled Drawing Down the Moon, and an edited volume of essays on Plato and the Power of Images.
In addition to scholarship here, I have been enjoying directing the Greek Plays on May Day and singing with the Bryn Mawr Renaissance Choir.
- Redefining Ancient Orphism: A Study in Greek Religion, Cambridge University Press, 2013.
- The Orphic Gold Tablets and Greek Religion: Further Along the Path, Cambridge University Press, 2011. [editor, also contributed introduction, critical edition of texts with translations, and an article for a collection of articles on the ‘Orphic’ Gold Tablets]
- Myths of the Underworld Journey: Plato, Aristophanes, and the ‘Orphic’ Gold Tablets, Cambridge University Press, 2004.
- Whip Scars on the Naked Soul: Myth and Elenchos in Plato's Gorgias” in Platonic Myths: Status, Uses, and Functions, ed. Collobert, Destrée & Gonzalez, Brill (2012), pp. 165-186.
- “Magic in the Ancient Greco-Roman World.” In Oxford Bibliographies Online: Classics. Ed. Dee Clayman. New York: Oxford University Press.
- “Dionysos in Egypt? Epaphian Dionysos in the Orphic Hymns”, in A. Bernabé, M. Herrero de Jáuregui, A. I. Jiménez San Cristóbal, R. Martín Hernández (eds.), Redefining Dionysos, Walter De Gruyter, Berlin / Boston, (2013), pp. 415 – 432.
- “The Ephesia Grammata: Logos Orphaikos or Apolline Alexima pharmaka?” in The Getty Hexameters: Poetry, Magic, and Mysteries in Ancient Selinous, ed. Christopher Faraone & Dirk Obbink. Oxford University Press (2013), pp. 97-106.
- “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered: Erotic Magic in the Greco-Roman World” in Blackwell Companion to Greek and Roman Sexualities, ed. T. Hubbard. John Wiley & Sons (2013), pp. 282-296.