Classics Department

Nigel Nicholson

Walter Mintz Professor of Classics
Greek and Latin literature, critical theory.

Courses Taught
Publications and Papers
Outreach Programs
Study Abroad in Sicily Blog


Present Projects

My main focus is Greek athletic culture in the 6th and 5th centuries, particularly the wonderful poetry written to celebrate athletic victories, and particularly the poetry that was written for athletes in Sicily and Italy, the home of a number of Greek cities. Mostly I trace the ways that athletics was used to support particular regimes or classes.

One of the temples in Agrigento
One of the temples in Agrigento (ancient Acragas), Sicily

A couple of recent papers fit squarely into these interests: "Greek Hippic Contests," in The Oxford Handbook of Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient World, eds. Allison Futrell and Thomas Scanlon (Oxford University Press), and forthcoming soon maps out the complex world of equestrian athletics and the different hierarchies it reflects and sustains, and  "Four Reasons not to have an Epinician," Papers of the Langford Latin Seminar 16 (2016): 3-38 fulfils an old ambition of mine to talk about why and where one might not commission a poem to celebrate one's Olympic wins. A third paper, currently under review, fulfils another old ambition of examining the memorial record of one of the great boxers of antiquity, Diagoras of Rhodes, who unlike other athletes, represented himself as a family man: "When Athletic Victory and Fatherhood did Mix: The Commemoration of Diagoras of Rhodes," for Sport and Social Identity in Classical Antiquity, a special issue of the Bulletin for the Institute of Classical Studies, eds. Sinclair Bell and Pauline Ripat, and under review.

One of the Greek temples in Poseidonia
One of the Greek temples in Poseidonia, near Naples, Italy

These are side projects, however, I am presently engaged in something of a project that is new for me in variety of ways: it is on Greek and modern medicine, rather than athletics, involves a collaborator from a different field, Prof. Nathan Selden of Oregon Health Sciences University; and is pitched at broader audience.

The book is provisionally entitled The Rhetoric of Medicine, and it aims to examine various issues of contemporary medical ethics with the help of the historical study of medicine in the late archaic and classical periods. Prof. Selden and I wrote a piece some years ago now in Neurosurgery (64.1 [2009]: 179-88), on the way in which payment was dealt with in the late archaic period, and the ways in which money is problematic in modern medicine (big Pharma etc), and the idea snowballed from there. There are many interesting connections between athletics and medicine, so it turns out to be not so different a field, and I have published on some of these—twice with Reed student collaborators—while exploring the subject: the lack of interest in athletic injuries in commissions by athletes ("The Athlete's Body and the Rhetoric of Injury," Classics@ 13 [2015], Greek Poetry and Sport,ed. Thomas Scanlon,; the competitive relationship between doctors and athletic trainers ("Doctors, Trainers and Athletes in Bacchylides Ode 1," Nikephoros 25 (2012) [2014]: 79-114, jointly authored with Reed undergraduate Arien Gutierrez; and the depiction of aging in athletes ("Aging, Athletics And Epinician ," Nikephoros 23 (2010) [2012], 105-38, jointly authored with Reed undergraduate Elizabeth Heintges). The book is under contract with Oxford University Press, and a manuscript is expected this year.

Bridge of Trajan, Tunisia
Bridge of Trajan, Tunisia


My most recent book, The Poetics of Victory in the Greek West, published by Oxford University Press in 2016, examines the relationship between epinician and the heroizing narratives about athletes that circulated orally in Sicily and Italy in the late archaic and early classical period. Drawing on the colorful stories told about athletes in later sources, and the surviving contemporary poetry, it argues that epinician was formed in opposition to orally transmitted narratives and that these two forms—epinician and the "hero-athlete narrative"—promoted opposed political visions, with epinician promoting the empire of the Deinomenid tyrants that ruled in Sicily and its structures and the hero-athlete narrative opposing Deinomenid rule. Combining an intimate knowledge of the material culture of the Greek West with an innovative use of available source material, The Poetics of Victory in the Greek West exposes the rich intersections between athletics and politics in Sicily and Italy, offering a new and compelling account of Deinomenid self-promotion and of the varied and complex communities that operated under Deinomenids' control or within their shadow. Further, by establishing models of production and interpretation for the orally transmitted narratives and bringing them into dialogue with epinician, Poetics of Victory in the Greek West reveals much aboutepinician as a form, how it developed in the West, what meanings it already carried and what meanings it accrued as it was appropriated by Hieron after Gelon's death.

A piece of this, focusing on its method, appeared in a journal: "Cultural Studies, Oral Tradition, & the Promise of Intertextuality," in special issue of American Journal of Philology, entitled Intertextuality,eds. Yelena Baraz and Christopher van den Berg, 134 (2013): 9-21

Mosaic from Roman Africa
Mosaic from Roman Africa

My first book focused on the commemoration of athletic victories in the late archaic period, and their representation of certain figures who are crucial to these victories, but are paid wages, a problematic relationship for the archaic Greek aristocracy. These figures are the charioteers, mule-cart drivers and perhaps jockeys (the prizes actually went to the owners of the horses, which themselves were for sale), the trainers (who trained young men in the combat sports, boxing, wrestling and pancration, as well as the running and the pentathlon). The book was published by Cambridge University, and is entitled, Aristocracy and Athletics in Archaic and Classical Greece. A paperback edition (reasonably priced!) came out in 2011.

Temple in Selinus
Temple in Selinus, modern Selinunte, Sicily

I also recently edited a collection of essays for a special issue of the Paedagogus section of the classical journal Classical World [108.2 (2015): 157-279] on "Literary Theory and Graduate and Undergraduate Classics Curricula," a subject dear to my heart. I have regularly taught theory classes for classics undergraduates since joining Reed. The collection brings together scholars from liberal arts colleges (Amherst, Haverford, as well as Reed) and research universities (Berkeley, Chicago, Johns Hopkins, South Carolina, UNC Chapel Hill) to describe ways to may literary theory a more central part of a classics education.

Other Projects

During the academic year 2008-09 I served as the Professor-in-Charge of the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies (ICCS) program in Catania, Sicily. As someone who works on Pindar, I could not pass up the chance to teach Pindar's odes in the city that Hieron founded for himself in the shadow of Etna! More generally, I hope to play some role in shifting our thinking about Greece westward, that we will think of Sicily as much as the mainland when we talk of Greece.

ICCS Sicily students in the Amphitheatre at Carthage
ICCS Sicily students in the Amphitheatre at Carthage where Augustine saw games

The ICCS program no longer runs in Sicily, but it still runs in Rome, and we send many students to enjoy its riches. A recent volume traces its fascinating history: The Centro at Fifty: The History of the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies, 1965-2015, eds. Mary Boatwright, Michael Maas and Corb Smith (Centro Press, 2015). Reed has been a significant part of its history for a long time, and the volume contains essays by several Reed faculty, including my own on "ICCS Sicily."