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Michael Fontaine

Professor and Associate Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education

Michael Fontaine

Goldwin Smith Hall, Room 121
439 Day Hall



Click here for my CV. My newest projects, on wine, jokes, and manuscripts of Plautus, are listed below. Next up: a trilogy of mental health books for Princeton University Press exploring classical ideas about grief and resilience, coping mechanisms, and wisdom literature. In the picture, I'm petting Lola at The Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York (credit: Jason Koski).


Latin Literature, Classics, ancient Rome, wine, jokes, resilience, grief, Cicero


  • Classics

Graduate Fields

  • Classics


  • Latin literature, classical Roman and Greek society, and the Renaissance. Humanism (forest), not philology (trees). Now investigating grief and resilience, coping mechanisms, break-ups, and wisdom literature in ancient Rome. Previous books on wine, swine, mind, and a good laugh. 

How to Drink cover animated The Pig War cover    


Fall 2020


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

New Books


The world's first guide to drinking. "Weirdly time-travelly” -- The Daily Beast. What's the buzz?

How to Drink cover animated     Vessels

Is there an art to drinking alcohol? Can drinking ever be a virtue? The Renaissance humanist and neoclassical poet Vincent Obsopoeus (ca. 1498–1539) thought so. In the winelands of sixteenth-century Germany, he witnessed the birth of a poisonous new culture of bingeing, hazing, peer pressure, and competitive drinking. Alarmed, and inspired by the Roman poet Ovid’s Art of Love, he wrote The Art of Drinking (De Arte Bibendi) (1536), a how-to manual for drinking with pleasure and discrimination. In How to Drink, Michael Fontaine offers the first proper English translation of Obsopoeus’s text, rendering his poetry into spirited, contemporary prose and uncorking a forgotten classic that will appeal to drinkers of all kinds and (legal) ages. Complete with the original Latin on facing pages, this sparkling work is as intoxicating today as when it was first published.

2. 2021. Marcus Tullius Cicero. How to Tell a Joke: An Ancient Guide to the Art of Humor.  Princeton University Press.

Cicero, standup guyCan jokes win a hostile room, a hopeless argument, or even an election? You bet they can, according to Cicero, and he knew what he was talking about. One of Rome’s greatest politicians, speakers, and lawyers, Cicero was also reputedly one of antiquity’s funniest people. After he was elected commander-in-chief and head of state, his enemies even started calling him “the stand-up Consul.” How to Tell a Joke provides a lively new translation of Cicero’s essential writing on humor alongside that of the later Roman orator and educator Quintilian. The result is a timeless practical guide to how a well-timed joke can win over any audience.

As powerful as jokes can be, they are also hugely risky. The line between a witty joke and an offensive one isn’t always clear. Cross it and you’ll look like a clown, or worse. Here, Cicero and Quintilian explore every aspect of telling jokes—while avoiding costly mistakes. Presenting the sections on humor in Cicero’s On the Ideal Orator and Quintilian’s On the Orator’s Education, complete with an enlightening introduction and the original Latin on facing pages, How to Tell a Joke examines the risks and rewards of humor and analyzes basic types that readers can use to write their own jokes.

Filled with insight, wit, and examples, including more than a few lawyer jokes, How to Tell a Joke will appeal to anyone interested in humor or the art of public speaking.

3. 2022. Marcus Tullius Cicero (?). How to Grieve: An Ancient Guide to Moving on. Princeton University Press.

"I even did something no one's ever done before: I wrote my way out of depression." (Cicero, March 45 BCE)

A lush once spied an amphora emptied out
on the ground, still gasping breaths of its aroma,
the dregs remembering the noble wine.
She snorted the fragrance up her nose and sighed:
“O lovely ghost! What goodness surely once
you had within, if this is what’s left over!”
This story’s point? My friends can clue you in. (Phaedrus)

4. 2023. Prudentius. How to Cope: An Ancient Guide to Tough Times. Princeton University Press.

Jeanne Hachette


Pop quiz! What do these four words mean?

  • psychology
  • psychiatry
  • psychotherapy
  • psychomachy

The first three are easy. But the last one stumped you, right? (Click here for the answer.)

5. 2023. Ovid. How to Get Over a Breakup. Princeton University Press.

New Articles

1. 2020. "Camerarius Camelarius: A New Salt Road to the Modern World." In Thomas Baier and Tobias Dänzer (eds.) Plautus in der Frühen Neuzeit. Tübingen: Narr Francke Attempto. (On the manuscript tradition of Plautus' comedies; allegory painted by Lucy Plowe)

2. 2020. Before Pussy Riot: Free Speech and Censorship in the Age of Plautus.’ In Sophia Papaioannou and Chrysanthi Demetriou (eds.), Plautus' Erudite Comedy: New Insights into the Work of a doctus poeta. Cambridge Scholars Press, 239-263.

3. 2020. ‘Joannes Burmeister.’ Frühe Neuzeit in Deutschland 1620–1720: Literaturwissenschaftliches Verfasserlexikon (VL17), vol. 2. Berlin: De Gruyter. Eventually online here.


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