Promoted to Associate Professor
Languages and Cultures
Antonia Syson has been teaching Classics at Purdue since 2008. She studied Classics at U.C. Berkeley (M.A. and Ph.D.) and at Magdalen College, Oxford (B.A.), and held research and teaching positions at Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, and Dartmouth College before coming to Purdue.
Professor Syson's research asks what it means to know what a work of fiction tells us. Her preferred term for this is "fictive knowledge": imaginative communications may permeate their recipients' consciousness so deeply as to become "knowledge" in the fullest sense, while remaining irreducibly fictive. To what extent do constraints on our historical and cultural understanding delimit the fictive knowledge offered by any particular text? Her first book ("Fama and Fiction in Vergil's Aeneid," The Ohio State University Press, 2013) uses attentive close readings in the Aeneid to show how these questions are illuminated by Roman fama – talk that crosses the boundaries between mortality and divinity. Fama spreads news, makes and breaks reputations, and sustains traditions which can either perpetuate or obscure knowledge of the past.
Professor Syson is currently working on a new book project, provisionally titled "The Poetics of Pietas in Roman Epic." Pietas lies at the heart of Roman aristocratic ideology, yet it is notoriously unstable in its values. (In the Aeneid, for instance, pietas could be summarized as "ritual purity maintained through loyal remembrance," but each particular instance of pietas-vocabulary shifts its emphasis in different directions). The discourse of pietas envisages ethical expectations and social obligations taking shape in particular material forms. This interaction between materiality and metaphor gives pietas a special role in the fictive knowledge offered by Roman hexameter poetry.