There’s a story I’d like to tell you about my choice to become a Classics professor. In that story I sit as a child at my father’s knee listening to tales of Greek gods and heroes, practice conjugating Latin verbs at the dinner table, and dream of the day I could travel to Greece and Rome to see the fabled lands of Plato and Caesar. I’d like to tell that story, but the truth is very different.
When I was a boy, I cared much more about comic books than Homer or Virgil. My father was stationed in Italy for a year when I was twelve. I spent the whole time earning Boy Scout merit badges and bowling with my friends rather than trekking around the country looking at Roman ruins. When I got back to the states and entered high school, I signed up for French rather than Latin because a dead language was the last thing I was interested in.
When I started my first year of college I thought Latin might be fun (and not too hard). I lasted a week before I dropped the class. I just couldn’t understand the notion of declensions, verb-final syntax, and the dreaded ablative case. But I eventually gave it another try and persevered. Then I ended up adding Greek, mythology, and archaeology classes to my schedule until I figured out I might as well be a Classics major. By the time I was nearing the end of my undergraduate years, I decided that I wanted to teach in college even though I had never taught anything to anyone up to that point.
After finishing my degree at the University of Texas, I applied to a number of Ph.D. programs. At the last minute, I sent in an application to Harvard. I couldn’t believe it that spring when I got the letter from them saying I was accepted.
There’s nothing quite as much fun as standing in front of a group of college students and opening new worlds to them. It’s such a privilege that I would probably do it for free (don’t tell the dean I said that). There’s nothing better than sharing stories with bright young people about Achilles and how anger can destroy a person’s life; or Odysseus and why he gave up immortality; or Dante and how the worst sin you could ever commit isn’t murder, but betrayal of someone who loves you.
I’ve taught at Boston University, Washington University, Luther College, and now Pepperdine University in beautiful Malibu, California. I’ve also been a visiting scholar at the Harvard Divinity School, the American Academy in Rome, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. I’ve given talks on the ancient world at the Smithsonian Institution and interviews on National Public Radio, but my best audience ever was a class of enthusiastic elementary school students in St. Louis.
A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to share stories about the ancient world with an audience beyond my students, so I started writing books for anyone with a library card. I still teach full time, so most of my writing is done during the summers and college breaks, or at spare moments between classes.
I hope you enjoy the books as much as I enjoyed writing them.