s. Do you have a favorite among the members of the Roman Senator chapter you cover in the book, and if so, why?
a. This is not very original, but I must say Cicero. Not only is he the one we know the most about, but to me he remains—in his wit and wit, his emotional ups and downs, and his unparalleled mastery of language—the most human and human of mankind.
s. Are there any lessons for today’s politicians and/or cultural leaders that can be drawn from those Roman senators who have confused politics with culture?
a. Hmmm. I would say something good if today’s politicians were also scientists, like these ancient Romans. Then again, nearly everyone I discuss in the book ended up in exile or assassination, or suicide to avoid a worse fate. So I’m not sure there is a lesson there.
s. What are some recent books you read that you might recommend, and why?
a. Over the summer, I read two modern novels that tell engaging stories, which are also verbal masterpieces, in very different styles: James McBride Good Lord Bird (a picaresque romp) and Colson Whitehead’s Harlem Shuffle (Perfect noir).
s. What is on your night stand now?
a. A silly and very interesting Italian puzzle, Gaetano Savatteri’s The murder of Colympetra, which takes place at an archaeological site in Sicily, and some readings for my current chapter on friendship, including Tennyson in remembrance and Sigrid Nunez the friend.
s. Are there any classic novels that you only read for the first time?
a. I am a huge fan of Anthony Trollope’s novels and am about to read all 47 of them. Trollope also wrote a biography of Cicero, which I plan to read one of these days.
s. What do you study this semester and in the spring?
a. I am currently teaching a new class, “Friendship from Antiquity to the Present”, where we started with Epic of Gilgamesh And you’ll end up with Elena Ferrante, who takes a lot of old friendship philosophy in the way. The idea came to me because I am now writing a commentary on Cicero’s book about friendship (With my husband, Professor James Zitzel at Columbia Classics Emeritus), the class has been a lot of fun so far. In the spring, I will teach an advanced Latin class on Roman Epicureanism, with more from Cicero, as well as Lucretius, Catullus, and Horace.
s. You are hosting a dinner party. Who are the three academics or scientists you would like to invite, dead or alive, and why?
a. I had to call A.E. Housman, one of the greatest Latin linguists and of course also a great poet. It might be a little gloomy, so perhaps Cambridge University Roman historian Mary Beard will spice things up. As for the third, he’s not really a scientist, but what about Montaigne? I love him ArticlesHe knew his classics, and I bet he’d be a good talker.
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