I'm a Latinist with broad interests in Ancient Rome, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment. In recent years I've held a variety of leadership roles in Cornell's central administration. My latest work is a trilogy of mental health books for Princeton University Press on classical ideas of fortitude, resilience, and adaptability. Previous books covered wine, swine, mind, and a good laugh -- and in particular, the effective use of humor in diplomacy. Next, I'll be working on the philosopher Celsus and the satirist Lucian. Oh, and I was also recently parodied on Saturday Night Live (really! see it here.)
If you've come looking for the huge page on Cicero's Consolatio, click here.
Students: click here for current course syllabi.
Latin literature, classical Roman and Greek society, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment. Forest, not trees. Lots of comedy, and lately, Lucian.
1. 2022. Inspired by Marcus Tullius Cicero. How to Grieve: An Ancient Guide to the Lost Art of Consolation. Princeton University Press. Secret decoder-ring data set online here.
"I even did something no one's ever done before: I talked myself out of depression." (Cicero, March 45 BCE)
In 45 BCE, the Roman statesman Cicero fell to pieces when his beloved daughter died from complications of childbirth. But from the depths of despair, Cicero fought his way back. In an effort to cope with his loss, he wrote a consolation speech—not for others, as had always been done, but for himself. And it worked. Cicero’s Consolation to Himself was something new in literature, equal parts philosophy and motivational speech. Drawing on the full range of Greek philosophy and Roman history, Cicero convinced himself that death and loss are part of life, and that if others have survived them, we can, too; resilience, endurance, and fortitude are the way forward.
Lost in antiquity, Cicero’s Consolation was recreated in the Renaissance from hints in Cicero’s other writings and the Greek and Latin consolatory tradition. The resulting masterpiece—translated here for the first time in 250 years—is infused throughout with Cicero’s thought and spirit.
Complete with the original Latin on facing pages and an inviting introduction, Michael Fontaine’s engaging translation makes this searching exploration of grief available to readers once again.
2. Marcus Tullius Cicero. How to Tell a Joke: An Ancient Guide to the Art of Humor. Princeton University Press. Translation: Korean.
- Overview and backstory: Cornell Chronicle
- Cornell Executive Education online courses: Using Humor for Influence; Using Humor in the Workplace
- Op-eds: Classic Insights into the Art of Humor in the Workplace; Thirteen Dad Jokes from Ancient Rome for Father’s Day.
- Webinars: eCornell Keynote; Cornell Library
- Radio/Podcast: Newstalk (Ireland); Ad Navesam
- Reviews: The Wall Street Journal; The Times; Classical Wisdom; Journal of Classics Teaching; Classics for All; The Fence; Inside Story; Pennsylvania Literary Journal; Australasian Humour Studies Digest
Can 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.
Pop quiz! What do these four words mean?
The first three are easy. But the last one stumped you, right? (Click here for the answer.)
"Step right up, all you naive victims: come to my dictums, if you're a fool for love." (Ovid)
1. In press. "Ut Pictura Po(e)sis? Wine, Women, and Song in Plautus' Gorgylio (Curculio)."
2. In press. "The Stanford Prison Experiment of 200 BCE: The Lucifer Effect in Plautus' Prisoners."