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Undergraduate Research in Classics

Each summer, about 200 Pomona College students conduct research projects in various disciplines. Below are recent projects from students in the Classics Department.


Human Behavioral Ecology and Site Selection Processes in Ancient Sardinia

Phoeboe Thompson ’20; Advisor: Benjamin Keim​

The Ideal Free Distribution model (IFD) has been applied to studies of ancient settlement across the world to understand patterns of human movement and human-environmental interaction. The application of this model however has been very limited across studies of the ancient Mediterranean. This study investigates patterns of settlement and colonization during the Nurgaic, Punic, and Roman periods, of Sardinia, a traditionally understudied region of the Mediterranean, using the IFD model. This study seeks a new understanding of long-term settlement in Sardinia by examining metrics such as watershed size, a proxy for fresh water availability; net primary productivity, or environmental productivity; and the distance to administrative centers. Under the IFD model, patterns of settlement move from habitats of high suitability, as determined by the aforementioned metrics, to those of low suitability over time. Colonization, characterized by total control over a habitat and its resources, should create a different pattern of settlement, known as Ideal Despotic Distribution (IDD). I argue that settlement during the Roman period of Sardinia breaks from the IFD model and instead follows IDD, a product of the Romans’ desire to establish hegemony in the central Mediterranean. In conclusion, by examining patterns of movement on ancient Sardinia using IFD, this project adds new, broader, and environmentally-based evidence to ongoing discussions of ancient colonization in the Mediterranean.

Reason, Revelation, Miracles in Thomas Aquinas' Summa contra Gentiles

Glen Williams ’20; Advisor: Kenneth Wolf

Until recently, it was believed by tradition and by scholars that Thomas Aquinas (c. 1224-1274 CE) wrote the Summa contra Gentiles (SCG) (1258-1264) in response to a request from the Dominican Master General Raymond of Penyafort (1175-1275) for a missionary handbook to refute and convert the Muslims under Christian rule in the Kingdom of Aragon. Lately, this has been challenged by scholars, who question how the SCG, which never references the Qur’an, could be viewed even by Aquinas as effective for missionary purposes among Muslims. In order to help understand the intent of the SCG, this project explores the historical context in which it was written and compares it with Aquinas’ other clearly polemical text, De rationibus fidei (1265), which was written closely after the SCG and refers to the SCG for extended proofs behind its arguments. This project finds that Aquinas’ philosophical proofs for God create an epistemological environment in which revelation, proved by miracles, is necessary for a religion to be “true”. This necessity gives Christianity an advantage over Islam, as the former tradition is much more reliant on “revealed mysteries” and filled with “miracles” in its tradition. Due to this Christian advantage, Aquinas and his Dominican readers could have viewed his arguments as effectively “refuting” Islam through philosophy alone.

Alfonso X The Poet-King: How A Thirteenth Century King Protected Scholars In His Legal Code

Claire Dwyer ’20; Advisor: Kenneth Wolf

The Castilian King Alfonso X (1252-1284) used his legal code the Siete Partidas to promote intellectualism as an important quality for individuals of his court. In it he codified his belief that not only kings and nobles but businessmen and peasants should be well-spoken, educated, and intelligent. Alfonso X did of course have direct political goals which are reflected within the legal code—to expand his imperial control, become Holy Roman Emperor, and control his enemies. However, another important part of his legal policy was to protect Castile’s scholars of medicine, literature, language, science, and above all else, law, because he considered scholarship and general intelligence of the populace to be integral to Castile’s civic health. In doing so, he imagined a state which was both politically and intellectually powerful. This study explores how Alfonso X, through both his qualities as a civic leader and his own scholarly production, used the Siete Partidas to promote intellectualism as a political commodity, with particular emphasis on his notion the “ideal university.” 


A Monk and a Martyr: A Translation of the Life of Abbo of Fleury

Griffin Ridley ’19; Mentor: Kenneth Wolf

I have translated “Vita Abbonis,” or the “Life of Abbot Abbo of Fleury” by Aimoinus from the original Latin. Aimoinus of Fleury (death c. 1010) was a monk and author of various hagiographies, or lives of saints, as well as a popular history of the Franks. His works were designed not only to inspire Christian worship, but also probably to strengthen his monastery’s political position. If a past abbot of Fleury were recognized as a saint and a martyr, then the monastery could reap the benefits of his veneration. Abbot Abbo of Fleury (d. 1004) was one of the foremost intellectuals in Western Europe; he also was a powerful political player in a time of dynastic change in France. And unfortunately for him, but perhaps fortunately for Fleury, he lost his life to a spear thrust while reforming a renegade monastery in Gascony. This was a great chance for Aimoinus to test his hagiographical acumen. To make the case that Abbo was a martyr, he needed to show that the abbot lost his life in the cause of Christianity and to a pagan, just as the early Christians were thrown to the lions by the Roman polytheists. Yet Abbo’s killer was a French monk, a definite Christian. Aimoinus largely dealt with the problem by intimating that the Gascon monks were not real Christians at all, but actually quite like the ancient Roman pagans. By doing this, he implied that the apostolic age of Christianity had never quite been finished.
Funding Provided By: Aubrey H. & Eileen J. Seed Student Research Fund


Ethics in Petrarch's De Viris Illustribus

Max Aguero ’17; Mentor: Christopher Chinn

My research project revolved around Francesco Petrarch’s book De Viris Illustribus, a series of biographies about the great men of the ancient world. The first part of my research focused on translating certain sections of the work from the original Latin into English. In particular, I translated the biographies of Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome; Cincinnatus, a Roman farmer-turned-dictator; Alexander the Great, the leader of the massive Macedonian empire; and Hanibal, the great general of Carthage. I also translated the Prohemium, the introduction to the work. The second part of my research will be spent writing an ethical analysis of the book, investigating Petrarch’s own worldview and how he and many of his contemporaries understood the ancient world. Petrarch himself even remarks that this work was always intended to be an exploration of the vices and virtues of men, so an ethical analysis of the book should prove fruitful. Since no part of this book has ever been translated into English, I hope my translation will be helpful to future students, classicists, and historians. Furthermore, analyzing this particular work from an ethical standpoint has never been attempted, so perhaps in my investigation the subtle nuances of Petrarch’s moral views will be illuminated. I intend to complete the second phase of my project (i.e. the ethical analysis) during my senior year, with the whole project hopefully culminating into my senior thesis in classics.
Funding Provided By: NEH


Sicilian Culture and the Myth of Romanization

William Robinson (2015); Mentor(s): Benjamin Keim

Abstract: The island of Sicily was the first Roman territory on the Italian Peninsula. After defeating Carthage in the First Punic War in the first half of the 3rd Century BC, Sicily became a province administered by Roman authorities. However, though Rome controlled the island, was it also changed to become culturally Roman. Sicily already had a rich cultural tapestry stemming from Carthaginian and Greek inhabitants mixing with native Sicilians. So did the initial political and military domination by Rome also include cultural domination? What was Roman imperialism and how did it culturally affect the societies Rome ruled? In its growing power, it would seem that Rome left Sicily largely untouched after the end of the First Punic War. Archaeological surveys do not indicate a significant shift until after the Second Punic War. Analysis of historiography and secondary literature seem to corroborate the stability of the mixed Sicilian culture in the face of Roman rule. This research project involved a large survey of the history before, during, and immediately after the First Punic War in order to fully understand the cultural changes or lack thereof in Sicily. 
Funding provided by National Endowment for the Humanities

Translation and Commentary on Ovid's Tristia 4.10

Fiona Riley (2015); Mentor(s): Christopher Chinn

Abstract: Roman poet Ovid was banished from Rome in 8 CE by the emperor Augustus and driven to live in the town of Tomis, on the Black Sea. Ovid, famous for his Amores, Ars, Fasti, and Metamorphoses, continued writing in exile and produced Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto, his “Exile Poetry.” The reason for his banishment is unknown. Ovid is reticent about it in his poetry, attributing his exile to a mysterious carmen et error. Ovid’s Exile Poetry has received relatively little scholarly attention, but is rich for insight into the Ovid’s life and exile, specifically Tristia 4.10, as an autobiographical poem. This translation and analytical commentary serve as a modern English update to scholarship on Tristia 4.10 and incorporates new scholarly approaches to 4.10 since George Luck’s 1967 commentary in German. I have translated the poem into English prose, with an attempt to best maintain both the structure of Latin grammar and the nuance of the poetry. The commentary focuses on grammar, stylistic, metrical, and historical analyses, and takes into account the context of the poem within Ovid’s other works and Classical literature at large. I have researched other scholarship on the Tristia, employing both Luck’s commentary and Dejonge’s 1950 commentary in Latin for cross-referencing my own work and for expansion on their work. Tristia 4.10 gives an account of Ovid’s life and emotional state in exile, and tells us at least that he was banished for offending Augustus in his poetry. 
Funding provided by National Endowment for the Humanities


Honor and the Status of Women in Democratic Athens

Andrew Yost (2014); Mentor(s): Benjamin Keim

Abstract: The purpose of this research was to gain a better understanding of the social status of women within the classical Athenian democracy, with a particular emphasis on feminine engagement with matters of honor (Greek timê) First, I surveyed modern scholarship on ancient Greek honor and on women in ancient Athens. Next, I read through many texts written by fifth- and fourth-century B.C. authors, ranging from Sophocles to Xenophon, and across genres from philosophy to tragedy. I found that honor was connected to the concept and existence of order. Ancient Athenians considered order to be crucial for a functional society, and this order was achieved by placing both people and things in there correct places, or spheres. When people acted in a way that was expected of them based on what sphere they were in, they were rewarded with honor(s). When people acted in a way that was contrary to how people in their sphere were expected to act, these actions were viewed as dishonorable, and those individuals received shame. With regard to women, it was believed that the gods had assigned them to work indoors. Thus, their sphere was defined mainly by the oikos, or household. Honor was awarded to women based on how well they acted in accordance with their sphere. Although women in democratic Athens were not entirely constrained by men and the oikos, their presence within this sphere was a fundamental aspect of Athenian society and success.
Funding provided by Pomona College SURP