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Dr Michael Carroll

Lecturer in Greek Literature

Phone: 01334 462613

Room: S17

Research profile

Research Interests

  • Greek tragedy (especially Aeschylus)
  • Greek lyric (especially Pindar)
  • Cognitive approaches to literature and culture (and methodological issues raised by such approaches)
  • Figurative language
  • The lyric voice
  • Ethical and evaluative concepts in archaic and classical Greek thought
  • Belief in ancient Greek religion

The thread running through all of my research to date is an interest in the contribution that stylistic choices make to how and what works of literature communicate. I am certainly not alone in feeling that the distinction between form and content can be more misleading than helpful as a tool of literary analysis, but it is often difficult to be very precise about how style impacts on semantics. This, I think, is one area where insights from cognitive science can prove valuable, and my sense is that cognitive linguistics in particular has much to add to our understanding of how literary language creates meaning. So far, my research has focused on the densely figurative poetry of Aeschylus and Pindar, a stylistic mode particularly well suited to a cognitively inflected approach to close reading. 

Current Research

At the moment I am revising my PhD thesis for publication (the provisional title is Metaphor and meaning in the performance of Aeschylean tragedy). While a large number of studies have been devoted to patterns of imagery in Aeschylus’ tragedies, it seems to me that more remains to be said about the details of individual metaphors. I have decided to draw on theories of metaphor developed within cognitive linguistics in my close readings for two main reasons. In the first place, these theories help to bring out the rich thematic significance of the bizarre, paradoxical features so characteristic of Aeschylean metaphor. I am particularly interested in cases where paying closer attention to such features can shed fresh light on some of the key issues – such as the nature of justice, the boundary between force and persuasion, and the relationship between divine and human agency – that have preoccupied scholars of Aeschylus. Secondly, in light of the emphasis in these theories on the fundamentally embodied nature of metaphorical meaning, I argue that Aeschylean metaphor served as an important pivot between the physical and thematic dimensions of the action.

The focus of my next main project is the language of Pindar. Moving beyond metaphor but drawing again on cognitive linguistics, my aim is to investigate the semi-fictional poetic world that an audience listening to a Pindaric ode was prompted to construct. I hope to show that models from cognitive linguistics can advance our understanding of one of the most contentious issues in the scholarship on the poet – the Pindaric first person – and my starting point will accordingly be an investigation of the nature of the Pindaric speaker and the contribution his peculiar form of agency makes to the distinctive character of the poetic reality in the victory odes.  

I am eager to see classicists take a leading role in work at the intersection of literary and cultural studies and cognitive science, and in May 2016 I organised a workshop which drew together researchers from a range of disciplines to explore methodological issues raised by cognitive approaches to literature.



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Academic Career

I graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 2009 with a BA in Greek and Philosophy. After completing an MSt in Ancient Philosophy at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, I moved to St John’s College, Cambridge to do a PhD in Classics (2010-14). I then spent two years as a private Classics tutor in London and part-time editorial assistant at OUP, before taking up an IASH Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Edinburgh in October 2016. 

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