The Penn Public Lectures on Classical Antiquity and the Contemporary World

The past is full of surprises.

Fall 2022 program, November 10-17, 2022:

Emily Greenwood

Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature, Harvard University

The Recovery of Loss:
Ancient Greece and American Erasures

The Penn Public Lecture Series will take place in Widener Lecture Hall at the Penn Museum, 3260 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104 and also via Zoom. Register below for tickets or the Zoom link.

In this series of three lectures, Professor Emily Greenwood of Harvard University will explore the ways in which the classical tradition of ancient Greece and Rome has been used both to perpetuate and to expose the displacement of different American communities and the erasure of their histories. The lectures will consider the ethical and epistemological challenges of studying what Judith Butler has described as “the loss of loss itself” and constructive ways in which the study of an expanded American classical tradition might contribute to epistemological redress.

Lecture 1: “Tecumseh and the Shadow of Thucydides” (with a brief response from Nancy Bentley)

Thursday, November 10th, 5-6:30 PM - Widener Lecture Hall, Penn Museum and via Zoom

In the first of her Penn Public Lectures on Classical Antiquity and the Contemporary World, Emily Greenwood will discuss the classicizing mythologization of the Shawnee leader Tecumseh in nineteenth-century accounts by white observers, focusing on the interpolation of rhetoric from Thucydides in the transmitted accounts of Tecumseh’s speech to a Choctaw Council in Mississippi in 1811. The lecture will consider the challenge that this example poses to the teaching of the history of American rhetoric and its implications for the horizons of knowledge for which we are responsible in the interdisciplinary Humanities. Greenwood will also reflect on her own lessons, as a non-native scholar, about the risk of redoubling loss by focusing on classicizing erasure in the archives to the exclusion of the living history of the Shawnee tribes.

Lecture 2: “Classics and the Grammar of Loss in the Black Feminist Tradition” (with a brief response from Kate Meng Brassel)

Tuesday, November 15th, 5-6:30 PM - Widener Lecture Hall, Penn Museum and via Zoom

In the second of her Penn Public Lectures on Classical Antiquity and the Contemporary World, Emily Greenwood will analyze the intricate grammar of loss in the writings of Anna Julia Cooper and Mary Church Terrell. Cooper and Terrell both took degrees in Classics and subsequently taught Latin: the lecture will suggest that close attention to their frequent use of conditionals has much to teach us about the need for sharper epistemological recovery in inventorying African American loss, and much to teach us about the scope of how Cooper and Terrell imagined Black womanist futurity.

Lecture 3: “Remembering Differently: Classical Alibis in contemporary fiction from Fran Ross to Ocean Vuong” (with a brief response from David Eng)

Thursday, November 17th, 5-6:30 PM - Widener Lecture Hall, Penn Museum and via Zoom

In the third of her Penn Public Lectures on Classical Antiquity and the Contemporary World, Emily Greenwood will examine the use of classical, mythological alibis to center marginalized, queer subjects in American fiction of the last fifty years. Tracing an arc from Philadelphia novelist Fran Ross to the works of Ocean Vuong, the lecture will consider these classical alibis as hopeful figures for the constructive role that the study of ancient Greek and Roman Classics can play in the recovery of loss in recent American history.

Emily Greenwood is Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature at Harvard University.
Born in the Cayman Islands to a Ugandan mother and British father, and educated in Malawi and the United Kingdom, Greenwood trained as a classicist at Cambridge University, where she earned BA, M.Phil., and Ph.D. degrees in Classics. From 2000-2002 she was a postdoctoral research fellow at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, before taking up a position as Lecturer in Greek literature at the University of St Andrews in Scotland (2002-2008). From July 2009 to June 2021, she was Associate Professor and then Professor of Classics at Yale University, and latterly the John M. Musser Professor of Classics. While at Yale, Greenwood served a three-year term as Chair of Yale’s Classics department, and a three-year term on the executive committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate (2015-2018). She was elected Chair of Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate in 2016-17. In 2021-22, she was Professor of Classics and the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University and began her current position at Harvard in July 2022.

Greenwood is a scholar of ancient Greek literature and history, and the plural histories of use that make up the classical tradition of Greece and Rome. At the heart of her research and teaching are the questions, by whom and for whom were the so-called classics of ancient Greece and Rome written, by whom and for whom have they been interpreted, and in view of which histories? Greenwood’s scholarship considers what these complex histories of use mean for our ethical responsibilities as students and scholars of Greek and Roman classical antiquity in the present. These questions inform her topic for The Penn Public Lectures on Classical Antiquity and the Contemporary World, which will be on the topic “The Recovery of Loss: Ancient Greece and American Erasures”.

She is the author of some forty book chapters and journal articles, as well as two books: Afro-Greeks: Dialogues Between Anglophone Caribbean Literature and Classics in the Twentieth Century (2010), joint winner of the 2011 Runciman Award, and Thucydides and the Shaping of History (2006). She recently guest-edited the first volume of a special issue of the American Journal of Philology on “Diversifying Classical Philology” (AJP 143.2, Summer 2022). She has also co-edited two volumes, Homer in the Twentieth Century: Between World Literature and the Western Canon (co-edited with Barbara Graziosi), and Reading Herodotus: A Study of the Logoi in Book 5 of Herodotus’ Histories (co-edited with Elizabeth Irwin). Her current book project is entitled Black Classicisms and the Expansion of the Western Classical Tradition and explores the critical difference that local and transnational black traditions of interpreting Greek and Roman classics make to existing conceptions of the classical tradition.


The Penn Public Lectures on Classical Antiquity and the Contemporary World aim to advance understanding of the many ways the past is put to use in building the present. They will be delivered by visionary scholars of ancient Greece and Rome, who will reimagine the role those ancient cultures have played over time in the building of later cultural forms, including the discipline of Classical Studies itself.

Some elements of ancient Greek and Roman cultures find echoes, and often deliberate citation, in U.S. politics, architecture, education, and culture. Histories can be traced with greater and lesser degrees of analytical responsibility, and in ways that sometimes enable and sometimes impede both a full understanding of the past, and the ongoing imperatives toward social justice in the present. A renewed engagement with antiquity will invigorate conversation on urgent topics of the day, including on questions of race, gender, freedom, empire, the uses of violence, the contours of personal and national identities, interactions between nature and culture, popular sovereignty, and the pursuit of happiness.

We aim for the series to bring wider publics into the dialogue between past and present, and deepen insight into the modes by which producers of culture fashion the present out of what precedes it.

The Penn Public Lectures aim to advance the public good in the United States through lively, rigorous, and timely engagement with the classical past.



The series is supported by the Arete Foundation in honor of Edward E. Cohen.