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Michael Fontaine

Professor and Associate Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education

Goldwin Smith Hall, Room 121
439 Day Hall



Latin Literature, Classics, ancient Rome, ancient Comedy, Plautus, Terence, jokes, puns, Virgil, neo-Latin


  • Classics

Graduate Fields

  • Classics


  • Latin literature of all time periods and classical Roman society. Special interests include ancient comedy and jokes, Virgil, classical ideas about the mind, psychiatry, or mental illness, and the application of social psychology to classical texts.

Beyond Cornell, I'm the associate editor for Latin literature at Classical World and an advisory board member of The Paideia Institute. I'm a big proponent of teaching Latin as an active, living (spoken) language (see here).

I regularly consult on Latin for museums, institutions, dealers, and collectors. I've exposed forgery in Renaissance and Dutch Golden Age paintings, discovered the forgotten provenance of a major manuscript, and I interpret manuscripts, books, maps, and engravings of all kinds. Please email me if you need help.

In 2016 I received the Thomas S. Szasz Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Cause of Civil Liberties.

***Upcoming free webinar!***

From Democracy to Authoritarianism: The Death of the Roman Republic
Thursday, March 29, 2018   7:00–8:30 pm EDT
Leader: Michael Fontaine, Professor of Classics, Cornell University

Comparisons between ancient Rome and the United States are suddenly all around us. Why, and what do they portend? Right around the time Jesus was born, ancient Rome’s 500-year-old republic failed. Its traditions of representative elections, checks and balances, tolerance, and freedoms of movement and expression were swept away, never to recover. In their place rose the Roman Empire, an increasingly authoritarian and Orwellian structure that saw state-sponsored persecutions of minorities, artists, and dissidents at home, endless foreign wars abroad, and, eventually, even the requirement for all citizens to believe certain theological propositions. How did Rome transform in this way, and why did it never go back? This webinar will highlight political institutions, imperial expansion, the breakdown of republican institutions, the civil wars, and a few personalities whose names, 2000 years on, are still familiar to us all.

Click here to register for this free webinar!



    For a complete list, click here. Book reviews are here.

    New Books

    1. In progress. How to Fall in Love (a translation of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria for the millennial generation). For Princeton University Press.

    2. In press. (co-ed.) Quasi Labor Intus: Ambiguity in the Latin Language (Essays in Honor of Fr. Reginald Foster, OCD) (co-ed. with Charles McNamara and William Short).

    Recent Articles:

    (in progress). 'Psychiatry in the Sistine Chapel.' (On sibyls, exorcists, Catullus, Diogenes, and the DSM)

    (in progress). 'Title IX Problems: Rape and Responsibility at UVA and classical Athens.' (On Plautus' Aulularia).

    (in press). 'The Myth of Ovid's Exile.' Electryone (in English, and will appear elsewhere in Chinese translation.)

    (in press). ‘Before Pussy Riot: Free Speech and Censorship in the Age of Plautus.’ (On Sotades as the "barbarian poet" in Miles Gloriosus)

    (in press). 'A Cute Illness in Epidaurus: Eight sick jokes in Plautus' Gorgylio (Curculio).' Quasi Labor Intus: Ambiguity in the Latin Language.

    2017. 'Schizophrenia, then and now: The Libation Bearers of Aeschylus.' Thomas S. Szasz: The Man and His Ideas.

    2017. ‘O Maravilhoso Mistério de Mater-Virgo de Joannes Burmeister.’ A comédia e seus duplos: o Anfitrião de Plauto. (English translation here)

    2017. 'Joachim Camerarius on Witches, Witchcraft, and Criminal Responsibility, Or, How to Philologize with a Witches' Hammer.' Camerarius Polyhistor.

    2016. 'What Rome Can Teach Us Today: Ancient Lessons for Modern Politics.' Foreign Affairs.

    2016. 'Reconsidering Some Plautine Elements in Plautus (Amphitryo 303-7, Captivi 80-4).' Classical Journal.

    2016. 'Is the Story of Susanna and the Elders based on a Greek New Comedy? The Evidence of Plautus' Casina and Burmeister's Susanna.'  Roman Drama and its Contexts.

    2016. 'Freudian Bullseyes in Classical Perspective--The Psycholinguistics of Guilt in Virgil's Aeneid.' Wordplay and Powerplay in Latin Poetry.

    2016. 'Schizophrenia in The Golden Ass.' Electryone &