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Photo by Daniel Cronin

Emma McNeel ’21

Greek, Latin, and ancient Mediterranean studies

Hometown: Jackson, Mississippi

How Reed changed me: Reed made me a careful and critical reader, taught me how to advocate for myself and others, and how to create as part of a community.     

Thesis adviser: Prof. Sonia Sabnis

Thesis: “Conversing with Mute Ash: The Capacity of Classical Reception”

What it’s about: I explore how the works of three contemporary women poets—Anne Carson, Louise Glück, and Natasha Trethewey—transform Greek and Latin texts and myths. I argue that translations and retellings of ancient material both revise and explode the canon, and their inclusion in Greek and Latin classrooms can broaden the idea of what it means to study the ancient Mediterranean.

What it’s really about: How to demystify the canon and teach Greek and Latin in a more productive and fun way.

In high school: I was a nerdy overachiever who followed all the rules. Oh, and I thought I was a STEM major.

Influential class: Reading the Odyssey with Prof. Ellen Millender, the Aeneid with Prof. Sonia Sabnis, and the Christian mystic Dionysius the Areopagite with Prof. Mike Foat ’86 showed me the intimacy and knowledge you can create with a text through close study and dedication, as well as the total strangeness of the ancient world.

Influential book: I’ve encountered Apuleius’s The Golden Ass many times in my Reed career. It is a favorite of my thesis advisor, and the bizarreness, humor, and difficulty of Apuleius’ Latin makes this work utterly bewitching and rewarding.

Concept that blew my mind: Translation theory taught me to handle every word with care.

Cool stuff I got to do: I worked with prospies at the admission office, studied in Rome, ran an open mic, made art for the Grail and the Creative Review, mentored students in Spring Symposium, translated all the known works of the Roman poet Sulpicia, won the Mary Barnard Poetry Contest (twice), helped Prof. Foat reshape his introductory classes on ancient Christianity, and published an article on the reception of the myth of Cupid and Psyche with Prof. Sabnis thanks to a Ruby-Lankford Grant.

Challenges I faced: I experienced immense culture shock moving from Mississippi to Portland. I missed my family and city so much more than I expected to. Jackson faces very different struggles from Portland, and the distance from my hometown made me understand Jackson and myself more clearly. It’s definitely been weird and hard to be the only person from Mississippi I know at Reed, but that’s also taught me how to communicate my experience and connect with others.

Help I got along the way: The size and values of the Reed community allow us to see each other as fellows, so I have always felt the support of my classmates, professors, and coworkers. Very few doors at Reed are closed. I also received generous financial aid and tons of biology tutoring.                 

What’s next: Working in the admission office. And climbing!