Virginia (Ginna) Closs is an Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her research focuses primarily on Latin literature and Roman cultural history during the early imperial period, with a particular interest in how Latin texts reflect notions of material culture, urban space, and temporality. Her first book, entitled While Rome Burned: Fire, Leadership, and Urban Disaster in the Roman Cultural Imagination (University of Michigan Press, 2020), examines the role of fire as a metaphor for political instability in literary texts from the mid-first century BCE through the early second century CE. She also recently completed work on a co-edited volume entitled Urban Disasters and the Roman Imagination (De Gruyter, 2020). The 2020-21 Spain-Greece Joint Teaching/Research Award will support research and teaching related to her next book project. Tentatively entitled Urbs/Orbis/Turba: Time, Space, and Text in Martial’s Poetic Empire, this book investigates the related issues of time, urban space, and textuality within the work of Martial, the prolific Latin poet most famous for his epigrams chronicling the highs and lows of life in the sprawling metropolis of imperial Rome.
During Martial's lifetime, more efficient modes of communication extended Rome’s influence in the provinces, drawing an increasingly diverse range of ambitious strivers (including Martial himself) to the capital city. Ginna’s research highlights the cultural contributions that ancient Spain and Greece made to Martial’s formulation of his quintessentially “Roman” poetry. A major motif of this study is Martial’s complex layering of the temporal and cultural landscapes of Rome, where he lived and worked for over three decades; the Greek literary tradition, which profoundly influenced his poetry’s style and content; and his native Spain, to which he returned at the end of his life after losing favor in Rome. Martial’s poems adapt the Greek tradition of literary epigram, a genre with deep connections to the physical environment, to the urban topography of first-century CE Rome as well as to the landscape of his home territory, the province of Hispania Tarraconensis.
To enhance her understanding of these regions, Ginna plans to spend time visiting and studying the Greek and Spanish locations that Martial mentions in his poetry, as well as examining examples of art and inscriptions related to his subject matter. Exploring the landscapes of ancient Spain and Greece is central to Ginna’s research, but she also very much looks forward to meeting and exchanging ideas with a number of distinguished scholars of imperial Latin literature at Greek and Spanish institutions. Two such scholars, Rosario Moreno Soldevila (Universidad Pablo de Olavide, Seville) and Sophia Papaioannou (National and Kapodistrian University, Athens) have generously invited Ginna to conduct her research and to present related material in classes and lectures at their institutions. She looks forward to this collaboration, and is eager to experience life in her two host countries.