Mark Usher

The University of Vermont
Classical Studies
|
10 months
|
2021-2022

Research interests: Ancient Mediterranean world, sustainable systems, orality studies, environmental humanities, ancient ecologies

Research Project

Urbs in Horto, Rus in Urbe: The Mediterranean Roots (and Future) of Living with Nature

My proposed research is two-pronged, but both prongs stem from the same source and form one research trajectory, namely the question: What relevance does the ancient injunction to live “according to Nature” have for modern societies? In Mediterranean antiquity there were multiple approaches to living “according to Nature” (secundum naturam in Latin; kata phusin in Greek). Building on my own recent work, I focus on two particular expressions: ancient Cynicism, and the agrarian ethos of ancient Rome. The first was an urban phenomenon, the second a rural ideal, but both were strong reactions sprung from dissatisfaction with then-contemporary life. I submit that not only do the pursuits of similar lifestyles in today’s societies—in the Mediterranean region and beyond—(i.e., “back-to-the-land” smallholding and various contemporary notions of “less-is-more” living) descend directly from these ancient cultural movements, but that an investigation and re-instantiation of some their signature features will enhance the lives we ourselves resolve to lead in the 21st century and disabuse us of our blinkered presentism. Indeed, I believe that Cynicism and Roman agrarianism, each in its own way, speak with some urgency to our current predicaments involving climate change, socio-economic uncertainty, and psychic malaise.

About

Mark Usher is the Lyman-Roberts Professor of Classical Languages and Literature of the Un diversity of Vermont College of Arts and Sciences. He is a UVM alumnus and joined the UVM faculty in 2000. Before attending UVM as an undergraduate he apprenticed in Germany as a post-and-beam carpenter and later earned his Ph.D. in Classics at The University of Chicago. He became a member of the Geography faculty in 2021 and also a faculty member in The Environmental Program and the Food Systems Graduate Program. 

Mark Usher specializes in the ancient Mediterranean world, particularly the languages, literatures, and cultures of Greece and Rome. Usher interests include orality studies, ancient ecologies, and ancient philosophy. I am also deeply interested in the reception of classical texts in modern works of art, music, and literature. In addition to publishing books and articles about the ancient world, Mark Usher has written two opera libretti and children’s books. Non-academic pursuits include carpentry and farming. His experiences with farming have come to fruition recently as an anthology of texts translated from Greek and Latin about country living: How to Be a Farmer: An Ancient Guide to Life on the Land (Princeton University Press, 2021)