Theses Doctoral

Bad Readers in Ancient Rome

Lambert, Cat

This dissertation traces the literary and cultural phenomenon of “bad readers” across a range of Greek and Latin texts from the late first to late second centuries CE. By jointly engaging the framework of book history with the insights of feminist, queer, critical theory, it offers a methodology for understanding why certain readerly embodiments and modes are stigmatized for deviating from the hegemonic norm, and how the contested space of reading intersects with negotiations of power, embodiment, and identity. I argue that “bad readers” are not “bad” in any inherent or universal sense, but rather that “bad readers” intersect with particular literary, cultural, and ideological agendas.

I also show how “bad readers” help illuminate the broader material, social networks that are adumbrated by books as objects in antiquity, thus contributing to recent work that has emphasized the importance of situating “reading” within its ancient, sociocultural context. At the same time, this study lays bare how such work has also tended to leave the question of modern readerly poses and politics to the side. Ultimately, this study shows how literary representations of “bad readers” offer a powerful locus for telling a different story about books and reading in the ancient Mediterranean, as well as a lens for theorizing how certain hermeneutic modes in the discipline today participate in and reproduce hierarchies of power.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Worman, Nancy
Howley, Joseph A.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 22, 2022