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Department of Classics

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Fontaine, Michael

Associate Professor

phone: 607/255-5541
room: Goldwin Smith Hall, Room 121

Department Appointments

  • Fontaine, Michael
  • Classics (CLASS)
  • Office of the Provost

Graduate Fields

  • Classics


Latin Literature


  • Latin literature and classical Roman society. Special interests include ancient comedy and jokes, Virgil, and classical ideas about the mind, psychiatry, or mental illness. I am increasingly interested in the application of social psychology to classical texts. The first fruit of this approach is a paper to be called "The Lucifer Effect in Plautus' Captives: How the Stanford Prison Experiment was scooped by an ancient comedy." A second project uses the DSM to illuminate Greek tragedy, and vice versa. In my spare time, I'm working on a new translation of Ovid's Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love) for the millennial generation.

Beyond Cornell, I'm the associate editor for Latin literature at Classical World, an editorial board member of Eidolon, and an advisory board member of Electryone, Anales de Filologia Clasica, and The Paideia Institute.

In summer 2016 I'll lead Paideia's Living Latin in Rome program again. If you want to get good at Latin--really good--this is the best way to do it. (Read more about it here, and have a look at my ten hacks for getting better at Latin).


Fall 2016
Introduction to Ancient Rome (CLASS 1615)
Intermediate Latin (LATIN 1205: Legends and Lore from Rome, the Eternal City)

Conversational Latin FLAC (LATIN 3212: Ancient Philosophy)

Spring 2016 Office Hours:

By appointment

Spring 2016
Wine Culture (CLASS 2810/VIEN 2810), which offers an optional section conducted entirely in Latin (LATIN 3212).
Graduate Seminar in Latin (LATIN 7272: Plautus' Captivi)

Fall 2015
Introduction to Ancient Rome (CLASS 1615)
Latin Prose (LATIN 2201: Sallust's Bellum Catilinae)

I mostly teach Latin. In the last five years, graduate courses covered Plautus, Sallust, Lucretius, Suetonius, Ovid, and the survey of Latin literature; undergraduate courses covered Virgil, Catullus, Cicero, Sallust, Livy, and Tacitus.

Selected Publications


c. 2017. (ed.) Quasi Labor Intus: Ambiguity in the Latin Language. Co-edited with William M. Short and Charles McNamara. This is a Festschrift and will be published by Brill as a Mnemosyne supplement

2015. (ed., tr.) Joannes Burmeister:  Aulularia and other Inversions of Plautus.  Leuven University Press (Bibliotheca Latinitatis Novae). (See here; BMCR review here)

2014. (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Comedy. Co-edited with Adele Scafuro.  Oxford University Press. I wrote the main chapters on Plautus and Terence.

2010. Funny Words in Plautine Comedy. Oxford University Press. The book got a mammoth 88-page review essay by Ephraim Nissan titled "Doing Justice to Plautus, a Master of Comedy, a Master of Wordplay" in International Studies in Humour, 4(2), 2015, pp. 2-89. Jim Tatum's BMCR review is here.

Newer articles and greatest hits

  • On Roman and Greek society:

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

2015. "American Bacchae." Eidolon.

2015. "Straight Talk about Gay Marriage in Ancient Rome." Eidolon.

  • On Greek and Roman comedy:

(in progress). "The Lucifer Effect in Plautus' Captives: How the Stanford Prison Experiment was scooped by an ancient comedy."

(in progress). 'Sick Humor in Plautus' Gorgylio (Curculio).' To appear in Quasi Labor Intus: Ambiguity in the Latin Language. Detects and explains several new jokes.

2016/7. 'O Maravilhoso Mistério de Mater-Virgo de Joannes Burmeister'. Anfitriões e Sósias. San Paolo.

2016. Reconsidering Some Plautine Elements in Plautus (Amphitryo 303-7, Captivi 80-4). Classical Journal 111.

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

2015. 'Von Athen nach Rom: Von dem Griechischen ins Lateinische Komödie,’ in Fragmente einer Geschichte der griechischen Komödie/Fragmentary History of Greek Comedy, Verlag-Antike.

2014. ‘Dynamics of Appropriation in Roman Comedy:  Menander’s Kolax in Three Roman Receptions (Naevius, Plautus, and Terence’s Eunuchus),’ in Ancient Comedy and Reception. De Gruyter.

2014. ‘The Reception of Greek Comedy in Rome’ in The Cambridge Companion to Greek Comedy.

  • On Virgil:

2016. 'Freudian Bullseyes in Classical Perspective--The Psycholinguistics of Guilt in Virgil's Aeneid.' Wordplay and Powerplay in Latin poetry, de Gruyter. (This essay brings to light a new reason why Aeneas kills Turnus at the end of the Aeneid.)

2015. 'Aeneas in Palestine.' Eidolon.

  • On psychiatry or mental illness:

(In progress). "Bipolar Ovid?"

(in press). "The Myth of Paranoid Schizophrenia in Classical Perspective: Aeschylus' Libation Bearers and the Legacy of Thomas Szasz." For an edited volume on the Legacy of Thomas Szasz. (an oral version here.)

2016. 'Schizophrenia in The Golden Ass.' Electryone 4.1, reposted at

2016. 'Joachim Camerarius on Witches, Witchcraft, and Criminal Responsibility, Or, How to Philologize with a Witches' Hammer.' The proceedings of the Camerarius Polyhistor Neolatina conference (Wuerzburg, 2015).

2015. Review essay of W. V. Harris (ed.), Mental Disorders in the Classical World (Brill 2013). Electryone 3.2, reposted at

2014. 'On Religious and Psychiatric Atheism: The Success of Epicurus, the Failure of Thomas Szasz.' (August 26).

2013. ‘On Being Sane in an Insane Place—The Rosenhan Experiment in the Laboratory of Plautus’ Epidamnus,’ Current Psychology. (reposted at; an oral version here, a summary here.)


For golden oldies, B-sides, and book reviews, see here.