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UC Classicist Wins Prestigious Rome Prize Fellowship

Winning the American Academy in Rome’s prestigious Rome Prize fellowship is the ‘honor of a lifetime,’ says UC classicist Lauren Donovan Ginsberg.

Date: 4/27/2017
By: Rachel Richardson
Phone: (513) 556-5219
Lauren Ginsberg holding a copy of her book
Photo by Andrew Higley/UC Creative Services

After publishing her first book last year Lauren Donovan Ginsberg was walking in the clouds. Now after winning the American Academy in Rome’s prestigious Rome Prize this month, she must be roping the moon.  

The assistant professor of classics at the University of Cincinnati was one of six scholars awarded a Rome Prize fellowship in the field of Ancient Studies.

The academy, the oldest American overseas center for independent study and advanced research in the arts and humanities, awarded a total of 31 fellowships in a variety of disciplines at a ceremony held April 20 in New York City.  

The Rome Prize is awarded each year to scholars and artists who represent the highest standard of excellence in the arts and humanities in the U.S. Recipients receive a stipend, workspace and room and board for a period ranging between six months to two years at the academy’s 11-acre campus in Rome.

“It is an honor of a lifetime,” said Ginsberg. “It is, quite literally, a dream for anyone who works in Roman or Italian studies.”

Ginsberg plans to spend her year in Rome laying the foundations for what she hopes will become her second book, focusing on the epic poem “The Civil War” by the Roman poet Lucan, who wrote during the reign of Nero. The poem chronicles the bloody internal civil war between Caesar and Pompey that gave rise to an empire and the Julio-Claudian dynasty.  

The work takes on new significance when you consider its historic context, says Ginsberg. Rome’s civil wars were taboo topics, with some emperors even charging authors who dared to write about them with treason for fear it would somehow reignite revolutionary passions among the populace.

Illustration showing ancient Romans fighting in battle
An illustration from "The Civil War" by the Roman poet Lucan

“Rome was always and forever afraid that civil war would come back,” she explained.  

Ginsberg also plans to examine how Julius Caesar’s own earlier account of the civil wars influenced the facts, language, structure and interpretation of history included in Lucan’s work. The work would be the first book-length study of the relationship between the poet and the Roman general and statesman, she said.

“It is a study of two very different authors writing at two very different times — one in a Republic at the time and one under Nero in the empire 100 years later — about the exact same subject. How has the memory of that subject changed and how has it stayed the same?” explained Ginsberg.  

Breaking new ground in an area of history is familiar territory for the UC classicist, whose first book released last year by Oxford University Press is the only book-length study of the Roman play “Octavia.”

Staging Memory, Staging Strife: Empire and Civil War in the Octavia,” Ginsberg’s first effort, examines how the play uses the dramatization of the three-day period in which Nero divorces and exiles his popular wife Octavia — a move that launched riots among Romans loyal to their beloved empress — as a wider lens to expose the dark legacy of Rome’s first imperial family.

Ginsberg says she’s most looking forward to being able to immerse herself in a collaborative and interdisciplinary environment where she can tap the expertise of Italian Renaissance scholars, who may offer new interpretations of how Lucan’s epic was later received and translated by Renaissance-era authors.

Many of those historic manuscripts, translations and early editions are not digitized and exist only in libraries in Rome and across Italy, she explained.  

“I suspect there is a treasure trove of information in those texts that will allow me to not only look at the relationship between Lucan and Julius Caesar as historians of civil war, but will also let me see how the Renaissance conceived of that relationship,” said Ginsberg.  

“Time in this place will surely lead me to questions for future research that would occur in no other setting,” she added. “It’s like a fairy tale.”

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