A Facultea with Professor Emily Greenwood
By Riley Glickman
On Monday, November 14, the second Facultea of the fall semester took place. Faculteas are an informal sit down with a Classics faculty member hosted by the Undergraduate Classics Advisory Board. While sipping on tea and munching on Insomnia Cookies, students have the opportunity to learn more about a professor and their research. Though the events are targeted towards majors, they are open to anyone in the Penn community who is interested in learning more about the classics. This Facultea, students met with visiting lecturer Emily Greenwood to ask the hard questions. Why is classics still important? It’s complicated. What do you make for dinner in a pinch? Bulk-prepared and then frozen soups. Greenwood is a professor of Classics and Comparative Literature at Harvard University and is currently here for a semester as part of Penn’s Classics visiting lecturer program. She also gave a series of lectures open to the community titled The Recovery of Loss: Ancient Greece and American Erasures.
Greenwood started the conversation with her background and how she discovered her interest in the classics. She believes it is important to explain how one gets started in the field, as that introduction to material helps shape one’s outlook on it in general. Greenwood was born in the Cayman Islands but grew up in Malawi, where the President, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, attempted to recreate the classical ideal of a philosophical school. He gathered a few hundred of the brightest students in the country to attend. In addition to having to learn English, students had to study both Latin and Ancient Greek. The dictator, believing that the classics were quintessential to higher education, brought in instructors from around the world. Greenwood’s father was one such teacher, and therefore she grew up on this campus surrounded by the classics. She went on to attend boarding school in England where Latin and Ancient Greek were vital to the curriculum. With classicism thrust upon her, Greenwood started to think about how the classics play a role in different cultures and populations around the world. Today, her cross-disciplinary interests have led her to research a multitude of topics such as Greek prose and the different classicisms that exist in different communities, especially among minority groups.
After sharing about her early start in classics, Greenwood spoke more about the idea of classicisms within other communities and how the classics have become relevant to so many different cultures, and of course, the age-old question: why do we still care? Greenwood is particularly interested in historiography, the study of how history is written. She has explored how the history and politics of the time have shaped how we talk about the classics. This is the leading question in one of her lectures where she explores the stories of two black women who graduated in 1884 from Oberlin College with classics degrees and how they went on to interpret classics in their careers.
Another element of historiography is how you view your own work. Each piece of scholarship about the classics can be viewed through the eyes of a historiographer to analyze the period’s biases. We can look at articles and books on the classics written in the nineteenth century and recognize that there are inaccuracies in what was once considered fact. Greenwood was asked if she thinks her work would be treated as fact or broken down as a biased product of the twenty-first century in the future. Her response to this question was an idea by a translator which he calls the “fifty years to rule.” The idea is that when writing a translation, this translator hopes that someone from both fifty years ago and fifty years from now would be able to recognize it as accurate. Greenwood hopes the same applies to her work. She doesn’t know if people will still relate to it in the future but proposed that in a hundred years, her work may be used as a part of the history of classical scholarship.
This Facultea provided a setting for undergraduate students to interact with a professor with whom they otherwise might not have crossed paths. Greenwood was unfortunately only at Penn for a semester—in addition to this Facultea and her lecture series, she taught a graduate seminar, Black Classicisms. To learn more about Dr. Emily Greenwood, check out her profile here.
Riley Glickman (College ’25) is a student at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Classical Studies.