Stephanie Frampton Studies Authors and Inscription in Ancient Rome

February 3, 2014
Reconstruction of the Library of Trajan at the Fori Imperiali
Stephanie Frampton
Fascist-era inscription of Augustus' epitaph, the Res Gestae, at the Ara Pacis Museum
Vergil holding a scroll of the Aeneid, with the Muses Clio and Melpomene
A Latin letter on papyrus from Oxyrhynchus, Egypt
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Stephanie Frampton is the winner of the Andrew Heiskell Post-Doctoral Rome Prize in Ancient Studies and an Assistant Professor of Classical Literature in the Department of Literature at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

What part of the United States did you come from?

I am from Boston: born and raised. I teach at MIT in the Literature program and the Committee on Ancient and Medieval Studies.

Why did you apply for the Rome Prize?

I’ve been working on a book about the intersections of literature and material culture—especially with regard to writing media—in ancient Italy. Although there are important finds of papyri and writing tablets from the period of Roman occupation in places like northern Britain and Egypt, there is no better place to study the material remains of the Roman world than in Italy itself.

Describe a particularly inspiring moment or location you've experienced in Rome thus far.

Quite honestly, the Library of the American Academy is the place where I find the most inspiration. While I’ve been here, I’ve written about monuments, inscriptions, books, and libraries themselves in the ancient city. The busts of the founders in the Reading Room, the beautiful Latin dedication of the cryptoporticus (where I have a very well-used carrel!), the haunting fresco of the “Sleeping Academy” in the lower-level stacks, and the almost numinously storied book collection itself—all of this fills me with a sense of place and purpose as I set to my work each day, not only in terms of its obvious resonances with my research on writing and reading in the ancient world, but also in a very personal way, as a Fellow and a part of the deep community of scholarship that this space represents.

To what extent, if any, has your proposed project changed since your arrival?

The overall arch of the project hasn’t changed a lot, but certainly my conversations with fellows, advisors, and visitors to the Academy are productively informing my revisions and new work. I’m glad for the opportunity to present some of the new material at the shoptalk this week, on Vergil and his almost eccentric avoidance of representing the physical particulars of writing and inscription in any of his poetry, and look forward to hearing how my colleagues across fields—who include scholars of literature and history, but also poets, writers, and makers of all kinds—respond to this surprising fact about one of the ancient world’s most literate and well-read authors.

What aspect of your project are you most looking forward to?

Finishing! The best part of this year for me has been the unparalleled amount of time it has given me for focused research and writing. I thank the Academy for providing the home base for me to do this, but also MIT for supporting my leave this year. It is incredibly precious to have a year to finish my book in this setting.

How have you managed the balance between your work (time in the studio/study) and engagement with Rome and Italy (travel, sightseeing, interactions with locals)?

I studied Italian pretty intensively in the months before I came to Rome, and continued to study for several months after arriving here. One of the best things about living in Rome this year, compared to other times I have spent in Italy for study and research, has been the fact that I am much better able to understand and communicate with its people, who are lovely, warm, clever, and curious—and so many of them have studied Latin and Greek! It opens a world to me within the city itself, and I’d encourage everyone lucky enough to spend time here to learn as much Italian as they can before they arrive.

What is your favorite spot at the Academy? or in Rome?

Number 1 at the Academy: My carrel in the cryptoporticus! It’s where the magic happens. Number 1 in Rome: Inside the Ara Pacis museum. I know the building is controversial, and rightly so, but it is a perfectly monumental setting for one of ancient Rome’s most beautiful and complex monumenta. I love how the building sets up the juxtapositions of old and new, of natural and artificial, of city and citizen: some of the very ideas explored in the art of the altar itself. With the sunlight streaming in, between the sycamore trees that line the Tiber and the tall cypresses at the Mausoleum of Augustus, it is also an extremely tranquil place to be in a city that bustles endlessly around you.