Aileen Das

Text:
Increase font size
Decrease font size

BA 2008, Combined Greek and Latin
Nims Scholarship, 2006
Assistant Professor of Classical and Mediterranean Studies, University of Michigan

This spring marks eight years since I graduate from UNC-Chapel Hill with a BA in Classical Languages.  After leaving Chapel Hill, I obtained my masters from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and then left the US to pursue my doctoral studies in Classics at the University of Warwick in the UK.  I am now an Assistant Professor in Classical Philology and Mediterranean Studies at the University of Michigan.

Even before I matriculated as an undergraduate at UNC-Chapel Hill, I became well acquainted with Murphey Hall as a local high school student.  My twin sister and I–collectively (and affectionately) known as the ‘Das twins’ during our time at UNC–took summer courses on Greek myth and history.  Our myth Professor, Peter Smith, made us feel welcome in the classroom, although we were still nervous at being in a class with college students.  We were thrilled to have him as our elementary Greek teacher when we entered UNC as freshmen in fall 2004.  My sister, who went on to earn a PhD in Classics from the University of Washington-Seattle in 2015, and I received a rigorous training in Greek and Latin languages at UNC.  Being twins, we are naturally competitive, and some faculty members witnessed in-class spats between the two of us over the rendering of Latin phrases etc.  The Department awarded us both a Eunice and Luther Nims scholarship to help with study abroad costs.  We spent the fall of 2006 at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome, where we realized that we wanted a career in Classics.  In the final year and a half of our undergraduate education, we studies the Pre-Socratics, Plato, and Aristotle with James Lesher and had the pleasure–I can say this now retrospectively as it was intimidating at the time–of speaking ancient Greek in Peter Smith’s Greek prose composition class.

This education provided me the skills to cope with the large amounts of Greek and Latin texts that one has to plow through during graduate school.  It also freed me up to start learning Arabic when I was writing my masters at UW-Madison.  At UNC, James Lesher had mentioned to me that a number of philosophical and scientific texts, which are lost in Greek, are preserved in Arabic.  Interested in the prospect of uncovering ‘lost’ Greek texts, I began studying classical Arabic and familiarizing myself with the medieval Arabic reception of Plato, Aristotle, and Galen.  To pursue this line of study in more depth, I accepted a post-graduate fellowship at the University of Warwick to write my PhD under the supervision of several experts in the field of Greco-Arabic studies.  In England, I was also able to work with medieval manuscripts held in collections in Oxford, Cambridge and London, and thus acquired knowledge of codicology and paleography.

My doctoral and current research examines medieval Islamicate authors’ engagements with the classical traditions of medicine and philosophy.  In particular, I explore the various ways in which Islamicate thinkers from all three Abrahamic faiths respond critically to the medical and philosophical texts of Claudius Galen (d. 217).  Moving away from my initial interest in discovering lost Greek texts, I am more fascinated by the ways in which medieval Islamicate authors adapt and adopt the ideas and rehtoric of their ancient sources for their own authorial agendas.  Even so, I do occasinally come across fragments from lost or partially extant sources: I have discovered new fragments of Galen and a colleague and I have edited an Arabic treatise on cheese, which seems to contain material from a lost book on milk by Rufus of Ephesus.

In my teaching at Michigan, I try to stress the global nature of the classical tradition in that it crosses geographical, ethnic, linguistic, and religious boundaries.  By offering courses on the transmission of Greek science from the Mediterranean basin to the Near East and beyond, I aim to challenge the idea that Classics is a ‘Western’ discipline and to encourage students from non-European backgrounds to study it.

August 2016