The Study Group On Religion and Myth in the Ancient World

This group, funded by the Department of Classical Studies and the Boston University Center for the Humanities, meets about three times per semester to discuss work in progress on, or important new developments in, any aspect of religion and myth in the ancient world. Discussion leaders are invited both from inside and outside Boston University. These discussion leaders typically send the department the work to be discussed in advance. Copies are made available two weeks before the meeting in the department or by mail to those who notify us they wish to attend.

Meetings are open to all faculty and graduate students and usually draw attendees from throughout New England.

UPDATE: Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the lectures scheduled for March 20th and April 9th have been cancelled. Please contact the Department of Classical Studies ( or 617-353-2427) with any questions or concerns. 

All meetings are held in School of Theology Building Rm. 409
(745 Commonwealth Avenue) from 4:00 – 6:00 p.m., unless otherwise noted.

There is no pre-registration required.

Presenters for 2019-2020 include:

Matt Christ
(Indiana University)
Thursday, April 9, 2020
School of Theology Rm. 409

John Schafer
(Wake Forest University)
Friday, March 20th 4pm-6pm
School of Theology Rm. 409
“Catullus Through His Books”

George Baroud (Emerson College)
Friday, February 21st, 4pm-6pm
School of Theology Rm. 409
“Tacitus’ Annals and the Aesthetics of History”

Nykki Nowbahar (Rutgers University)
Monday, November 18th, 4pm-6pm
School of Theology Rm. 409
“Quae Fugit a Sexu’: Understanding Gender though Female Transvestism in Roman Literature”

Sarah Derbew (Harvard Society of Fellows)
Wednesday, November 13, 4pm-6pm
School of Theology Rm. 409
“Sun-kissed Greeks: Theorization of Blackness in Ancient Greek Literature”

Yujhán Claros (Columbia University)
Monday, November 4th, 4pm-6pm
School of Theology Rm. 409
“Classical Coloniality; Marginality, Subalternisms, and Gender Trouble in the Hellenized Imperial Poetry of Alexandria and Rome”

Mark Janse (University of Ghent)
Wednesday, October 23, 4pm-6pm
School of Theology Rm. 409
“More Maculate Musings: New Wordplays in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata

Presenters for 2018-2019 include:

Nancy Rabinowitz (Hamilton College)
Wednesday, March 27, 3pm-5pm
School of Theology Rm. 409
“Gender and Sexuality: Lenses on the House of Atreus.”

Nicole Julia Giannella (Cornell University)
Monday, February 25, 4pm-6pm
School of Theology Rm. 409
“Who Ululates at the Temple of Bacchus? Inequality Before the Law in the Roman Empire”

Maria Youni (Thessaloniki and Institute for Advanced Study)
Monday, February 11, 4pm-6pm
School of Theology Rm. 409
“Donation to the Goddess: Worship, Law and Economy at the Sanctuaries of Roman Macedonia”

Nina Papathanasopoulou (Connecticut College)
Wednesday, November 28, 5pm-7pm
School of Theology Rm. 409
“Serpent Heart: Animality, Jealousy, and Transgression in Martha Graham’s Medea (Cave of the Heart)”

Martin Revermann (University of Toronto)
Thursday, October 4, 4pm-6pm
School of Theology Rm. 409
“Translation Prefaces”

Presenters for 2017-2018 include:

Dee Clayman (The City University of New York)
Monday, April 30, 4pm-6pm
School of Theology Rm. 409
“Astral Politics: Royal Catasterisms in Callimachus and Aratus”

Marco Formisano (Ghent University)
Monday, April 9, 4pm-6pm
School of Theology Rm. 409
“Seeing Double: The Contemporary and the Immemorial in Claudian and Colluthus”

Roberta Stewart (Dartmouth College)
Monday, March 12, 4pm-6pm
School of Theology Rm. 409
“Seeing Caesar’s Symbols: Religious Iconography on Caesar’s Civil War Coins”

Dr. Emily Hauser (Society of Fellows, Harvard University)
Monday, February 26, 4pm-6pm
School of Theology Rm. 409
“Women’s Myths, Women’s Voices: Recovering the Women of Greek Myth in Contemporary Fiction”

Gareth Williams (Columbia University)
Monday, November 13, 4pm-6pm
School of Theology Rm. 625
“Eschatology in Seneca: The Senses of an Ending”
What happens to us in death? Seneca, like many philosophical thinkers before him, reflected hard on what awaits us after we depart, and this talk seeks to illuminate some of the creative ways in which he broaches this time-honored topic.
Sponsored by the Boston University Center for the Humanities, the Study Group on Myth and Religion in the Ancient World, and the Boston University Department of Classical Studies.

Zacharoula Petraki (University of Crete)
Wednesday, November 8, 4pm-6pm
School of Theology Rm. 409
“The Heroization of Socrates in Plato’s Phaedo and of Oedipus in Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus.
Sponsored by the Boston University Center for the Humanities, the Study Group on Myth and Religion in the Ancient World, and the Boston University Department of Classical Studies.

Daniel Selden (University of California, Santa Cruz)
Friday, November 3, *4pm-6pm
School of Theology Rm. 625
“Guardians of Chaos: The Coptic Alexander Romance”
Sponsored by the Boston University Center for the Humanities, the Study Group on Myth and Religion in the Ancient World, the Boston University Department of Classical Studies, and the Boston University Department of World Languages and Literature.

Presenters for 2016-2017 include:

David Ferry
Monday, April 3
Reading from his forthcoming translation of Virgil’s Aeneid (University of Chicago Press, 2017)
Sponsored by Boston University Classics, The Study Group on Myth and Religion in the Ancient World, and BUCH

David Ferry is an acclaimed poet and translator. He is the recipient of the National Book Award for Poetry (Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations, 2012), a fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and of the American Academy of Poets, and is the Sophie Chantal Hart Professor Emeritus of English at Wellesley College. Ferry’s admired translations include verse renderings of Gilgamesh, The Odes of Horace, and The Eclogues.

Thomas G. Palaima
Monday, February 27
“Personal Agency and the Big Switch 1962-64: Thucydides, Bob Dylan and Stanley Kubrick.”
Sponsored by Boston University Classics, The Study Group on Myth and Religion in the Ancient World, BUCH, and Arion

Palaima is a MacArthur Fellow (1985-1990), and the Robert M. Armstrong Centennial Professor of Classics and Director of the Program in Aegean Scripts and Prehistory at the University of Texas at Austin. For 25 years he has taught seminars on the human response to experiences of war and violence. This semester he is teaching ‘Bob Dylan’s Social-Historical Imagination’ at UT Austin.

Presenters for 2015-2016 include:

Colin Wells
Wednesday, April 27, *5-7pm
School of Theology Rm. 625
Classics Is Dead. Long Live Classics!
How the New Classics Will Totally Rule Without Worrying About the “Greatness” or “Genius” of the Greeks or Anyone Else

Benjamin Altschuler (Harvard University; Center for the Study of Ancient Documents at Oxford University; Field Director of the Institute for Digital Archaeology)
Wednesday, March 2
School of Theology Rm. 625
“Cultural Heritage in Crisis: Digital Solutions for a Modern World”
Summary: Using digital technology to preserve archaeological artifacts and cultural legacy, Ben and his team have been called “The New Monuments Men” by Newsweek and at least 3,000 other articles to date.

Professor Peter Davis (University of Adelaide, Australia)
Wednesday, October 7
“Free Speech in Virgil and Ovid”
Sponsored by the Peter Paul Career Development Professorship

Dr. Frederick Baker (Cambridge University)
Friday, September 18
School of Theology Rm. 625
“Pitoti. Digital Humanities at the Barbarian Rock-face: Proto-cinema and tribal modernism in the classical art of the ancient Alps”
Summary: Dr. Frederick Baker of Cambridge University will present on his Pitoti project, Paleolithic rock carvings that he and his colleagues have studied with cameras under different lighting conditions. At different times of the day, they discovered that the carved figures are not static at all. Instead they seem to “move” and tell astonishing narratives. Dr. Baker is a senior researcher at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at Cambridge.
Related Event: BU Cinema and Media Studies and the BU Film Society will present a screening of Frederick Baker’s SHADOWING THE THIRD MAN, a documentary, with a Q&A session afterward. Please join us in CAS B36 at 7:00 p.m.

Presenters for 2014-2015 included:

Professor Mary Yossi (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens).
Thursday, March 5
‘”Human Rights” and Greek Tragedy”‘
Also sponsored by the Onassis Foundation

Ilaria Ramelli (Sacred Heart Major Seminary/Erfurt University)
Monday, March 2
“The Role of Asceticism in the Rejection of Slavery and Social Injustice in Ancient Philosophy, Ancient Judaism, and Early Christianity”
Also sponsored by the Onassis Foundation
Summary: Were slavery and social injustice leading to dire poverty in antiquity and late antiquity only regarded as normal, “natural” (Aristotle), or at best something morally “indifferent” (the Stoics), or, in the Christian milieu, a sad but inevitable consequence of the Fall, or even an expression of God’s unquestionable will (Augustine)? The lecture will show that there were also definitive condemnations of slavery and social injustice as iniquitous and even impious, and that these came especially from ascetics. It will be argued that this depends on a link not only between asceticism and renunciation, but also between (philosophical) asceticism and justice.

Lynn Huber (Elon University, NC)
Monday, February 23
“Revealing and Rejecting Imperial Family Values: Revelation as Social Critique”
Summary:  Sitting at the edge of the Christian canon the Book of Revelation has puzzled readers for centuries. Even early interpreters wondered whether it should be called a “revelation” given its otherworldly imagery and puzzling pronouncements. Understood within the tradition of Jewish apocalyptic writing and in relation to its first-century Roman context, Revelation can be understood as an “unveiling” of what John, the author, believes to be the corrupt, even evil, nature of Roman power. However, in calling his audience to resist the “whorish” appeal of Rome, John engages and even replicates the dominant social discourses of his day.

Athina Papachrysostomou  (University of Patras)
December 8, 2014
“Comic Money: The Case of Hetairai and Fishmongers”

Alessandro Barchiesi (Stanford)
October 23, 2014
“The War for Italia in Vergil’s Aeneid

Presenters for 2013-2014 include:

Mary Lefkowitz (Wellesley College)
March 21, 2014
“Piety and Impiety in Euripides’ Heracles.”

Nicolas Prevelakis (Harvard University)
November 12, 2013
“The role of the Ancients in contemporary Greece, in light of the current crisis”

Hanna Roisman (Colby University)
October 21, 2013
“Setting and Sense in Sophocles’ and Euripedes’ Electra”

Peter Rhodes (Durham University)
September 24, 2013
“Directions in the Study of Athenian Democracy.”

Presenters for 2012-2013 included:

Stephen Kidd (Brown University)
April 3, 2013
“How (not) to take mockery seriously: the case of Cinesias.”
Can we take ancient Greek comedy seriously? An old, contentious question, but in this talk with a new angle: what exactly does this interpretive process called “taking seriously” actually mean? Following the beloved komodoumenos / dithyrambic poet Cinesias (and his appearances in Aristophanes and the comic fragments), I will ask how, in Greek terms, Cinesias would have been able not to “take” comic mockery “seriously,” and offer a new picture of this peculiar hermeneutic habit.

Jay Reed (Brown University)
November 30, 2012
“Alexandria and the Aeneid.”
A discussion – with a combined reading – of the Aeneid‘s appropriation of Hellenistic ideas about kingship, especially from Ptolemaic poetry.

Stephen Halliwell (University of St. Andrews)
November 8, 2012 (* to begin at 5:30 pm in STH 625)
“Greek Gods and the Archaic Aesthetics of Life.”
This will be the second part of a two-part lecture and seminar event. The lecture (part of the Institute for Philosophy and Religion’s 2012-2013 Lecture Series) will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 7 at 5 pm at the BU School of Law Barristers Hall (765 Comm. Ave., first Floor). Commentator: Charles Griswold (BU). The Myth and Religion seminar will be a discussion of passages in Greek (with translations also available) related to Halliwell’s general talk the night before.

Gregory Bonnin (Université de Bordeaux)
October 31, 2012 (* to begin at 12:00 pm)
“Is the Athenian Empire controlling the Market? Megare and Melos in the heart of Athenian economic ambitions.”

Presenters for 2011-2012 included:

Christopher Krebs (Harvard University)
March 2, 2012
“Tacitus’ Germania. A short history of a most dangerous book.”
Tacitus’ Germania was admired through centuries as “a golden booklet,” “an admirable work,” and “an immortal text.” But in the second half of the 20th century, Arnaldo Momigliano, an erudite authority on the history of ideas, gave it high priority among “the one hundred most dangerous books ever written.” In this talk, Christopher Krebs will trace the history of Tacitus’ ethnography, showing how a golden booklet ultimately became dangerous.

Andrew Lear (New York University)
December 9, 2011
“Images of Ancient Greek Pederasty: The way Greek artists portrayed their culture’s homoerotic customs”
Pederasty – erotic relations between adult men and adolescent boys – was a central characteristic of ancient Greek culture. It is an important theme in Greek literature, from poetry to comedy to philosophy – and in Greek art as well. One of the best sources of information about this custom is Athenian vase-painting – the painted scenes that decorate clay drinking vessels produced in Athens between the 6th and the 4th centuries BC. In this talk, Professor Lear will examine the way vase-painters portrayed pederasty and what this tells us about ancient views of sex and sexuality.
Co-sponsored by the Boston University Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program.

Egbert Bakker (Yale University)
November 4, 2011
“Circe: Feasting in the Land of the Dawn”

Ian Storey (Trent University)
October 14, 2011
(*to begin at 3:00PM)
“Angling in Archippus”

Wendy Doniger (Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions, University of Chicago Divinity School)
September 23, 2011
“The Gold Ring as Witness to Fidelity, with reference to Terence’s ‘The Mother in Law”

Presenters for 2010-2011 included:

Kimberly Cassibry (Wellesley College)
March 4, 2011
“Insights from the Roman Empire According to the Celts: A Parisian Pillar, a Treveran Tombstone, and Souvenirs from Hadrian’s Wall”

Liz Young (Wellesley College)
February 18, 2011
“Toward a Poetics of Plunder: The Task of Translation in Catullus 64”

Ilaria Ramelli
November 15, 2010
“Platonic (Pagan and Christian) Responses to Stoic Allegory”
Showing how allegory functioned in Middle and Neoplatonic philosophy (Pagan and Christian), Ilaria Ramelli will argue that allegory was part of philosophy in Stoicism. Special attention will be paid to the narratives concerning the arkhe and the telos, the origin and the end of history, which are subject to special exegetical rules.

A talk by David Hillman and Carl Ruck
November 8, 2010
“A Woman Inspired: Founders of Greek Civilization and the Christian lens of Classics”
Does our post-Classical cultural perspective so distort our analysis of ancient evidence that Classical scholars misunderstand and misrepresent basic elements of Greek society? Dr. Hillman will consider such distortions in concepts like “homosexuality,” “sin,” “religion,” and even “virginity.”

Arthur Eckstein and Zsuzsanna Varhelyi
October 12, 2010
“Roman Human Sacrifice,” a conversation between Arthur Eckstein and Zsuzsanna Várhelyi on Roman warfare and religion.

Presenters for 2009-2010 included:

Christopher Star (Middlebury College)
November 9, 2009
“‘To accept a favor gladly is to have repaid it’: Exchange and Status in Seneca’s ‘De Beneficiis’ and Petronius’ ‘Satyricon.’”

Diskin Clay (Duke University)
November 11, 2009
“The Art of Hell: from Dante to Rodin- a look forward from antiquity’”

Evie Zachariades-Holmberg (Hellenic College and Boston University)
December 2, 2009
“How Far Can A Restoration Go? Art and Deception in Reconstructing the Beauty of the Past.”

David Sider (New York University)
February 26, 2010
“Ancient Views of the Book”

Deborah Boedeker (Brown University)
March 19, 2010 (*to begin at 3:30PM)
“Harems and Harridans? Gender and Narrative in Herodotus”

Marco Formisano (Humboldt University)
April 2, 2010 (*to begin at 3:30PM)
“On the Margins. Studying non-central authors in Latin Literature”

Presenters for 2008-2009 included:

Stephen Trzaskoma (University of New Hampshire)
December 2, 2008
“Interpretation and Intertexts in Chariton: The Case of Tragedy”

Frank Nisetich (UMass, Boston)
February 4, 2009
“Homer Aloud and Well: style and theme in recitation”

Miranda Marvin (Wellesley College)
February 20, 2009
“Remaking the Antique: Ancient Sculpture and Early Modern Imagination”

Rita Lucarelli (Research Fellow at the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies, Columbia University, and Professor, Universita degli Studi di Verona)
March 4, 2009
“Divinized Demons and Demonized Gods in Late Pharaonic and Greco-Roman Egypt”

Presenters for 2007-2008 included:

Gordon P. Kelly (Lewis and Clark College)
November 7, 2007
“The Trireme: Ancient and Modern”

Brien K. Garnard (University of Toronto, Scarborough)
December 5, 2007
“The Myths of Heracles and Busiris: The Geography, Ethnography, and Art of Human Sacrifice”

Frederick Ahl (Cornell University)
January 31, 2008
“Anchises on Roman Souls and the Roman Future”

Marc Mastrangelo (Dickinson College)
March 21, 2008
“The Decline of Latin Poetry in the Fourth Century”

Rainer Friedrich (Dalhousie University)
March 28, 2008
“de Sade and Nietzsche: The Third Sophistic, Nomos and Physis in the Age of Enlightenment”

Presenters for 2004-2005 included:

David Raeburn (Oxford University)
October 1, 2004
“Jupiter and Ovid’s Metamorphoses

Rainer Friedrich (Dalhousie University)
October 22, 2004
“Homer’s Two Illiads: Neo-analysis, Orality and Post-oral Literacy”

John Carlevale (Berea College)
December 3, 2004
“I Went to an Orgy and I Couldn’t Cut It: The Dionysian Revival in Sixties Fiction”

John Curtis Franklin (Independent Scholar)
March 25, 2005
“Lyre Gods: Near Eastern and Greek Musical Theory and Practise”

Michael Silk (University College, London and Visiting Professor of Greek and Comparative Literature, Boston University)
April 8, 2005
“The Invention of Greek: Poets, Macedonians and Others”

If you wish to be put on the Study Group mailing list or if you have further questions, please contact Peter Michelli (617-353-2427)