You are here

Michael Fontaine

Professor and Associate Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education

Michael Fontaine

Goldwin Smith Hall, Room 121
439 Day Hall



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


  • Classics

Graduate Fields

  • Classics


  • Latin literature, classical Roman and Greek society, and the Renaissance. Humanism (forest), not philology (trees). Wine, swine, mind, and a good laugh. 

How to Drink cover animated The Pig War cover    

I'm a big proponent of teaching Latin as an active, living (spoken) language, which is how I learned it. 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.

I'm a columnist at Psychology Today, where I try to show the relevance of ancient insights to modern life. Click here for the latest.

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

Click here for my CV. My newest projects are listed below.

In the picture, I'm petting Lola at The Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York. Download a high-resolution copy here (credit: Jason Koski).


Spring 2020


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

New Books


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.

Revolt The Pig War cover  Rejoice

All proceeds from the sale of this book go to benefit student scholarships, with a directive to promote diversity, access and inclusion at the Paideia Institute. 

Or, as Placentius might put it,

Potential patrons! ’Pon purchase, publication proceeds—pennies, pounds, pesos—pay pupils’ programs - provisions - pilgrimages, produce perks, promote participation, push progress!

In 1530, amid the ferment of the Reformation, the strangest poem in all of Latin literature appeared. Written by one John Placentius, it consists of 248 verses in which every word begins with the letter p. The poem—titled Pugna Porcorum—is a satirical tale of a conflict between the corrupt hogs, who are hogging all the privileges, and the piglets, who want in on them. It devolves into open war. In The Pig War, Michael Fontaine offers the first critical Latin text and dtranslation into any language, and original illustrations by David Beck bring the story to life. In an afterword, Fontaine establishes the poem’s authorship and explores its possible influence on Orwell’s Animal Farm,. (More here.)

3. 2021. Cicero and Quintilian. How to Tell a Joke: An Ancient Guide to Humor and How to Use It. Princeton University Press. 

Cicero, standup guy

New Articles

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

4. In progress. 'The Twisted Tale of the Pugna Porcorum: A parable of privilege, oppression, and pent-up passions.' (Supplement to The Pig War.)

5. In progress. 'Is Humor a Teachable Skill?' (Supplement to How to Tell a Joke)


Related Articles