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Research: Past, Present, Future


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Lucian and the Atticists: A Barbarian at the Gates (Abstract here)

Professor William A. Johnson, Director



(click underlined titles for abstract)





"Sophists vs Fascists: Purism and Pluralism in the Language of Rome"

Classical Association of the Middle West and South Annual Meeting, Winston-Salem, NC

"Lucian, Aristophanes, and the Language of Intellectuals."

Society for Classical Studies Annual Meeting, Washington, DC


"Intro Linguistics for Latin and Greek."

Teaching and Learning Conference, Elon, NC


"Cringing at Favorinus: Lexicography and the dismantling of a legacy."

Society for Classical Studies Annual Meeting, San Diego CA

"Laughing at Lexicomania: Lucian and the language of Old Comedy in the Second Sophistic."

Northeast Modern Languages Association 50th Anniversary Convention, Washington, DC

"Cutting Both Ways: Culture, grammar, and usage in Lucian's dialogues on language."

Classical Association of the Middle West and South Annual Meeting, Kitchener ON

"Readership and Remembrance in Pannonian Verse Epitaphs."

9th Annual Graduate Conference in Classics, City University of New York, New York NY


and Reviews


Lucian and the Atticists: Linguistic Satire in the Second Sophistic

(monograph, under advance contract with Bloomsbury Academic)

“Lucian, Aristophanes, and the Language of Intellectuals.”

Classical Philology 118.1


Review: Olson, Douglas S. (ed.). Athenaeus Naucratites. Deipnosophistae. Vol. 4.A-B, Libri 12.-15.

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2021.07.24 (link)


“Cringing at Favorinus and Scoffing at Menander: Imperial Greek Intellectual Communities in Lexicography.”

Past Research

Much of my research to date has revolved around Roman and Greek self-representation. This line of inquiry was initially spurred on by the speech of Claudius in Tacitus’ Annals, the Lyons tablet, and the speech of Canuleius in Livy, the study of which formed the basis for my final MA paper. I had been most attracted to Tacitus’ version because of the explicit contrast it draws between multi-ethnic Roman citizenship and the homogeneity of the Greek polis, and I have followed this rhetorical divide (especially when focalized through Roman perspectives) into other genres. Juvenal’s ironic articulation of Roman cultural chauvinism in Satire 3, for instance, has strongly influenced the third and fourth chapters of my dissertation.

I have kept this subject in view throughout my graduate work. At Duke my experiences in epigraphy and papyrology have led to a fruitful new avenue of inquiry, focusing on the Roman inscriptions from the provinces of Pannonia. Despite these provinces’ location on the Latin side of the Jireček line, ample evidence has emerged for an active production of Greek inscriptions in the denser Roman settlements of the region such as Aquincum and Carnuntum. This corpus includes a small selection of Greek verse amongst the predominantly Latin poetry recorded there, including bilingual texts. My research has explored the way that verse epitaphs function as both literary artifacts and social tokens to control the posthumous narrative, especially with regards to ethnicity and social status. The gulf between the Latin in active use in the second century CE and the comparatively conservative Latin (or even Greek) of verse epitaphs suggests a literary (or quasi-literary) project markedly different from the late Republican/early Imperial poetry that forms the Roman canon. I presented a version of my project at the CUNY graduate conference in 2016 describing how even the most generic and metrically suspect verse inscriptions serve to create an idealized connection with the deceased, regardless of whether they were intelligible to the audience.

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Dissertation Project

My dissertation, Lucian and the Atticists: A Barbarian at the Gates, examines the works of Lucian of Samosata in the context of the linguistic ideologies advocated by Greek and Roman lexicographers, grammarians, and other contemporary authors. Using theoretical frameworks developed in the field of sociolinguistics, I illustrate how different writers establish expertise and authority and how they conceive of the relationship between language use and cultural identity. This research into Greek and Latin language ideologies has been supported through Duke Graduate School fellowships that allowed me to the Vatican Library and the British Library to access manuscripts of Second Sophistic lexicons that contain crucial textual variants. Much of Lucian’s work has these various writers’ models for language standards in view, and in my project, I demonstrate how he molds his satirical perspectives to engage in mocking dialogue with them. I conclude that a significant theme in Lucian’s body of work revolves around articulating his vision of Attic Greek as a vehicle for both imitation and innovation. I further argue that, by asserting his Syrian identity and contrasting his virtuosity in Attic with an array of deficient linguistic ideologies and practices, he seeks to challenge assumptions in Imperial language ideologies about language use and cultural identity.

This project deepens understanding of the connections between Lucian, a satirical writer and innovator in new genres of Greek literature, and the lexicographical and grammatical programs being worked out contemporary to him. Lucian’s work has received an increased amount of attention in recent scholarship given the current interest in Classical reception and genre studies, and these fields comprise a significant component of my project. I address Lucian’s use of Old Comedy in a cultural climate where New Comedy and mime were predominant, for instance, and discuss the ways different Atticizing lexicographers develop their own canons of literature from which to prescribe Attic usage. However, where previous studies on Lucian make occasional reference to the linguistic activities around him, my work emphasizes how integral language issues are to his humor and suggests new ways to read Lucian’s work in the context of contemporary discussions from other authors. In addition, my research shows how Lucian pushes back against the assumption—held by many in his period and in current scholarship—that Greek intellectual practice requires a Greek identity.


Related Projects

I presented an early version of one of my dissertation’s key sections at CAMWS in 2017, discussing how in several of his dialogues on language Lucian adopts ironically pedantic personae for the sake of undermining them and their viewpoints. At the SCS meeting in January 2019 I presented on the early findings of a project developed from my dissertation work, focusing on the second-century CE lexicographer Phrynichus and Favorinus the Gallo-Roman orator and philosopher. Favorinus was immensely popular in the early- and mid-second century CE, and as the teacher of Aulus Gellius he appears throughout the Attic Nights as a Socratic figure. Phrynichus, however, uses Favorinus as a rhetorical punching bag in his short lexicon, excoriating him for his supposedly deficient Greek. My study considers these sharply contrasting representations from a sociolinguistic perspective, concluding that Phrynichus’ work negotiates his expert status in an Atticizing community of practice via sustained attacks on popular figures, including Favorinus and even Menander. This talk forms the basis for an article currently under review, which expands the scope to include detailed examinations of other representations of Favorinus alongside fuller discussion of Phrynichus’ possible relationship with Greek rhetoric in the Roman social and political spheres.

In addition, I presented at the March 2019 regional MLA conference in Washington DC, on topics developed in later sections of the dissertation. This study focuses on reception of Aristophanes in Lucian and argues that Lucian’s language-focused cultural criticism draws inspiration from Aristophanes, with the Clouds and Frogs serving as models for his treatment of second-century CE Atticism. The lexica of the Second Sophistic draw heavily from Aristophanes and other Old Comedy but engage with Classical Athenian comedies primarily as repositories of words and phrases. My discussion emphasizes the significance of linguistic humor in Aristophanes and explains how the Old Comedic echoes themselves function as a critique of Atticizers in Lucian’s time. By reworking Aristophanic ideas about the use and abuse of language into complex, deeply ironic treatments of Imperial Attic, Lucian subjects his contemporaries to a twofold mockery—highlighting both their flawed language and their deficient reading practices, using motifs they ought to recognize from their study of Old Comedy, but do not because of their superficial engagement. I presented a condensed version of this argument at the 2020 Society for Classical Studies Annual meeting as part of the Second Sophistic panel, and a full version of it is forthcoming in Classical Philology in 2022.

Future Directions

My current book project develops the dissertation into a monograph by streamlining the background and supporting material to allow for a fuller discussion specific to Lucian’s contributions and the linguistic theory I employ in examining them. Tightening the scope of the study will allow me to rework this other material into the basis of a subsequent book project, focused on the works of Aulus Gellius and Athenaeus of Naucratis, whose contributions to our understanding of Greek and Roman intellectual life far exceed the treatment I can provide in the current project. These authors’ works and their aims in writing them resist categorization; consequently, they have struggled for readership outside of the specialists who study them. In my view, each deserves a wider audience because both present fascinating scenes of inter-linguistic exploration and speculation. I see my project complementing the pioneering research of J.N. Adams into bilingualism in the ancient world, building on my dissertation work to develop a sociological model for the linguistic ideologies underlying the Attic Nights and Deipnosophists. Such a book promises to improve understanding of relationships between language and identity by illustrating how variations in the reception of ancient works result from differing assumptions about such relationships.

For the immediate future, I am focused on journal publications and conference presentations that improve the picture of Lucian's reception of Aristophanes and Old Comedy, by illustrating how Lucian's satire on language and linguistics draws on Aristophanic models--as well as Aristophanes himself as an effectively enlisting Aristophanes himself as an ally in his humorous project. At the same time, I am continuing my investigation into Favorinus' treatment at the hands of Phrynichus the lexicographer. As a flamboyant and famous ancient figure, Favorinus has attracted a considerable amount of attention for his depiction in Philostratus, Aulus Gellius, and Polemon. My focus on his appearance as a cautionary figure in Phrynichus' Selection of Attic Words and Phrases, on the other hand, makes two significant contributions: first, it illustrates the negative reception that Favorinus and similar popular figures likely faced among the lettered class, and second, it demonstrates the considerable utility of lexicons and grammars in reconstructing the social world of elites (and aspiring elites) in Attic intellectual circles.


Other future projects will involve revisiting the epigraphic material from my earlier research, to investigate further the intersection of literary and material culture. Inscriptions, whether Latin or Greek, play the dual roles of text and artifact to make cultural statements beyond the written word and as such they relate to their audience in a fundamentally different way from literary texts. As I develop in my roles as teacher, mentor, and researcher I also intend to join the academic conversation on best practices in pedagogy, which has been one of my primary areas of professional development as a graduate student and instructor. The major area on which I plan to concentrate is the adaptation of linguistic theory from the fields of syntax, historical and comparative linguistics, and sociolinguistics for undergraduate Classics curricula. While Classical languages can often serve as gateways to further linguistic exploration, students who appreciate the diversity of register, dialect, and historical stages within Latin and Greek can make more meaningful connections with the traditions in which they exist. I am also eager to develop epigraphy-based materials for elementary ancient language learning, to help students make the most of encounters with Latin or Greek “in the wild” as well as to help them appreciate the life of ancient languages outside of literature. 

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