Lyman-Roberts Professor of Classical Languages and Literature

I am a UVM alumnus and joined the UVM faculty in 2000. Before attending UVM as an undergraduate I apprenticed in Germany as a post-and-beam carpenter and later earned my Ph.D. in Classics at The University of Chicago. For a profile of me and my work in Tableau, the magazine of The University of Chicago’s Division of Humanities, click here. For an interview with me with La pensée écologique, click here.

I became a member of the Geography faculty in 2021 and am also a faculty member in The Environmental Program,  the Food Systems Graduate Program and an affiliate of the Gund Institute for Environment. I teach a variety of courses about the ancient world and in environmental studies. I have also taught in the Liberal Arts Scholars Program (LASP), the Teacher-Advisor Program (TAP), and the Honors College. In 2013 I traveled to Ulaanbaatar on a Fulbright to draft the Humanities curriculum for the then newly formed American University of Mongolia. I also have close ties with Chancellor College at the University of Malawi in Zomba, where I served as a visiting professor in 2010-2011 and as an external examiner in 2015.

I specialize in the ancient Mediterranean world, particularly the languages, literatures, and cultures of Greece and Rome. My 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. My book Plato’s Pigs and Other Ruminations: Ancient Guides to Living with Nature (Cambridge University Press, 2020) traces modern ideas about sustainability and systems science back to their origins in antiquity, on which topic also I teach a course: “Sustainability: A Cultural History.” (See herehere and here for more information.) Since 2018, I have been overseeing research and a UVM internship in archaeology, paleobotany, sustainable agriculture, and food systems in Italy’s Sabine Hills. (See a video précis of this work, The Roman Villa Project, here.)

In addition to publishing books and articles about the ancient world, I have written two opera libretti (for text, music, and video see here ) and children’s books. Non-academic pursuits include carpentry (I built my own house and outbuildings) and farming (my wife Caroline and I own and operate Works & Days Farm in Shoreham, where we produce lamb, eggs, and maple syrup on 125 acres). My 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).

Publications

Academic

How to Say No: An Ancient Guide to the Art of Cynicism (Princeton University Press, 2022, forthcoming).

How to Be a Farmer: An Ancient Guide to Life on the Land (Princeton University Press,  2021)

Plato's Pigs and Other Ruminations: Ancient Guides to Living with Nature (Cambridge University Press, 2020)

A Student’s Seneca (University of Oklahoma Press, 2006)

Homerocentones Eudociae Augustae (B. G. Teubner/K. G. Saur, 1999)

Homeric Stitchings: The Homeric Centos of the Empress Eudocia (Rowman & Littlefield, 1998)

“Classics and Complexity in Walden’s ‘Spring’,” Arion, A Journal of Humanities and the Classics 27.1 (2019) 113-152

An African Oresteia: Field Notes on Pasolini’s Appunti per un’ Orestiade Africana,” Arion  21.3 (2014) 111-149

Teste Galba cum Sibylla: Oracles, Octavia, and the East,” Classical Philology 108.1 (2013) 21-40

“Diogenes’ Doggerel: Chreia and Quotation in Cynic Performance,” Classical Journal 104:3 (2009) 207-223

“Theomachy, Creation, and the Poetics of Quotation in Longinus Chapter 9,” Classical Philology 102:3 (2007) 292-303

“Carneades’ Quip: Orality, Philosophy, Wit, and the Poetics of Impromptu Quotation,” Oral Tradition 21:1 (2006) 190-209

“Satyr Play in Plato’s Symposium,” American Journal of Philology 123.2 (2002) 205-28

“The Strange Case of Dr. Syntax and Mr. Pound,” Classical and Modern Literature 16.2 (1996) 95-106

“The Sixth Sibylline Oracle as a Literary Hymn,” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 36.1 (1995) 25-49 [Reprinted in Greek Literature, Vol. 9, ed. by Gregory Nagy (Routledge, 2001) pp. 55-79]

Books for Children

POEM: A Mashup  Illustrated by T. Motley (Fomite Press, 2022)

The Golden Ass of Lucius Apuleius, a creative reworking of the classic comic novel for young readers of all ages, with illustrations by T. Motley (David R. Godine, 2011)

Diogenes (about Diogenes the Cynic philosopher, cast literally as a dog), with illustrations by Michael Chesworth (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009).

Wise Guy: The Life and Philosophy of Socrates, with illustrations by William Bramhall (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005)

Opera

NERON KAISAR: A Poetic Opera in 10 Scenes by John Peel, libretto in ancient Greek, Latin, and English by M. D. Usher. Commissioned, in progress; selections performed in Salem, Oregon and St. Hilda’s College, Oxford University. See www.neron-kaisar-the-opera.org

Voces Vergilianae, Latin libretto and English translation for an opera-oratorio by composer John Peel, selected, adapted, and arranged by M. D. Usher from the poetry of Vergil (Premiered March 10 and 14, 1999 at the Mary Stuart Rodgers Music Center, Willamette University, by the Willamette Chamber Choir, the Salem Chamber Orchestra and five vocal soloists.

In Progress

How to Think about Animals, : An Ancient Guide to Caring for All Creatures, an anthology of ancient passages about our complex relationships with non-human creatures (under contract and forthcoming from Princeton University Press, 2023)

Uneducated: Unusual Students, Unorthodox Teachers and the Ends of Education, a book of essays about educational theory and practice disguised as short biographies of famous persons throughout history who have received, or have provided, unusual educations.

How to Say No: An Ancient Guide to the Art of Cynicism, under contract and forthcoming from Princeton University Press.

Oral Landscapes: The Worlds of Ancient Epic, an interpretation of some of the world’s great epics using a method that combines oral-poetic theory and landscape studies (with chapters on Gilgamesh, the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Kalevala of Finland, the Icelandic Vinland Sagas, the Ramayana, and the Sundiata epic from medieval Mali).

Plato's Pigs and Other Ruminations
Ancient Guides to Living with Nature

POEM
A Mashup

How to be a Farmer
A Work of Many Hands

 

Shot of Mark Usher on his farm, Works & Days Farm

Areas of Expertise and/or Research

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

Education

  • Ph.D. in Classical Languages and Literatures, University of Chicago (with distinction)
  • M.A. in Classical Languages and Literatures, University of Chicago
  • B.A. in Greek and Latin, University of Vermont (summa cum laude, ΦΒΚ)

Contact

Phone:
  • (802) 656-4431
Office Location:

Old Mill, Room 215

Office Hours:

Spring 2022: On leave

Courses Taught

GRK 001/002 - Elementary Greek

CLAS 024 - Myths and Legends of the Trojan War

CLAS 145 - D2: Comparative Epic

GRK 051/052 - Intermediate Greek

GRK 206 - Greek Epic

HCOL 185 - D2: Comparative Epic

LAT 001 - Elementary Latin

LAT 102 - Survey Latin Literature