Alexander (Sasha) Nikolaev

Assistant Professor of Classical Studies

  • Title Assistant Professor of Classical Studies
  • Office STH 417. On sabbatical Spring and Fall 2017
  • Phone 617-358-4287
  • Education 2012 Ph.D. Harvard University
    2006 Kandidat philologicheskikh nauk Russian Academy of Sciences
    2003 B.A. University of St. Petersburg

Curriculum Vitae

I was born in St. Petersburg (Russia). Having developed an early interest in ancient languages, I took a hefty dose of Greek and Latin in high school and entered college in my home city with the intention of becoming a classicist of a traditional mold. But once I took a course in Indo-European linguistics in my freshman year, I became so fascinated by the prospect of bringing classical philology, historical linguistics, and comparative mythology together in the study of ancient texts that I ended up majoring in linguistics and classics. After stints in Germany, Austria, and Sweden I came to the U.S. for Ph.D. study at Harvard.

Now a classicist and a linguist by training, I am most interested in where language and literature meet and work across a number of disciplines that engage with the study of the past. I specialize in archaic Greek poetry and especially its origins and prehistory. The problems I am working on include, for instance, the dialect mix in the Homeric epics: are the non-Ionic elements of Homeric diction remnants of a preceding stage when the epics were sung in an Aeolic dialect, or, as I prefer to think, borrowings from a neighboring tradition? How does this Aeolic epic tradition, lost to us, correlate with the lyric monody of Lesbos that we know? A related research interest of mine concerns artificial poetic languages, for example the possible reasons for poets to have used dialectal, genre-inappropriate or even ungrammatical forms and the mechanisms by which such nonce forms were created.

I also work on several other ancient and medieval literatures and languages, such as Sanskrit (the Vedas, sacred texts of Hinduism), Avestan (the language of the sacred scripture of the Zoroastrians), Hittite (as well as other cuneiform literatures of Asia Minor), and Old Irish. A part of my research deals with the reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European, the common ancestor of Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, and many other languages of Eurasia. This language was presumably spoken by nomadic tribes, probably in the 4th millennium BCE, long before writing was invented. By using the comparative method it is possible to reconstruct not only the language itself, i.e. how they talked, but also what they talked about: mythology and elements of poetic diction. I am primarily interested in formulae and poetic devices, and in my work I study how the elements of the inherited poetic language shed light on the archaic Greek texts and help us understand the underpinnings of the Greek and Roman poetic traditions.

Research Interests

Early Greek literature (epic, lyric, iambic, and elegiac poetry); early contacts between Greece and other cultures of the Near East; historical grammar and etymology; comparative poetics and mythology

Current Projects

My current large-scale project, provisionally titled Lexilogus to Early Greek Poetry, is a lexicon of words that occur in the archaic poetry, but then go out of use in later Greek literature with the result that their meaning became obscure already in the antiquity. Such words often receive a disappointing label “meaning uncertain” in dictionaries and commentaries alike; in order to arrive to their meaning and appreciate the verbal art, the standard philological methods have to be augmented by etymology. (Examples include ἀάατον (Στυγὸς ὕδωρ) which I have shown to mean “the sunless waters of the Styx” or (σθένει) βλεμεαίνω for which I have proposed the translation “brimming with strength”). I am also working on several articles about Homeric Kunstsprache.

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Selected Publications

“Homeric σθένει βλεμεαίνων,” Glotta 93 (2017) 117–134.

“Luvian (SÍG)šūrita ‘balls of yarn’,” Usque ad radices: Indo-European Studies in Honour of Birgit Anette Olsen, ed. by Bjarne Simmelkjær Sandgaard Hansen (et al.), 567–574. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2017.

“Hittite yaya(i)i,” Indogermanische Forschungen 121 (2016) 63–68.

“Hittite wattaēš ‘birds’,” Münchener Studien zur Sprachwissenschaft 69 (2015) 257–267.

“Ten thousand eyes: The story of Ἄργος Μυριωπός,” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 55 (2015) 812–831.

“Homeric ἀάατος: etymology and poetics,” Die Sprache 50 (2012/2013[2015]) 182–239.

“The origin of Latin prōsāpia,” Glotta 91 (2015) 225–248.

“ἄτερπνος (Ibyc. frag. 328 PMGF),” Classical Philology 110 (2015) 64-68.

“Greek εἱαμενή, Vedic yávasa-,” Münchener Studien zur Sprachwissenschaft 68 (2014) 127–140.

“Greek ἀμαυρός and Indo-European *meh2- ‘great, large’,” Proceedings of the 25th Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference, ed. by S. W. Jamison, H. C. Melchert and B. Vine, 121-136. Bremen: Hempen, 2014.

“An epic party? Sober thoughts on νηφέµεν (Archil. 4.9 West),” Philologus 58 (2014): 10-25.

“Latin draucus,” Classical Quarterly 64 (2014) 316–320.

“The aorist infinitives in -έειν in early Greek hexameter poetry,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 133 (2013) 81-92.

“Showing praise in Greek choral lyric and beyond,” American Journal of Philology 133 (2012) 543–572.

“Avestan Haēcat.aspa-, Rigveda 4.43, and the myth of the Divine Twins,” Journal of American Oriental Society 132 (2012) 567–575.