Mary McHughFaculty

Professor in Classical Studies

Mary McHugh began her undergraduate career at Mt. Holyoke College as a pre-med major. However, a course on ancient philosophy in her first semester changed her plans.  Interest blossomed into a special major, ancient Greek and philosophy. And a course on 19th century Russian poetry, taught by the Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky, underlined the importance of knowing the origins of so much great world literature. Familiarity with the works of Classical antiquity, especially in their original language, allows one to glean so much more from the works of later artists and authors who found inspiration there.

During her years in graduate school, stints at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens and the American Academy in Rome offered unique opportunities to view art and monuments in situ, lending fresh appreciation to the complex interplay between literature, art, and material culture, and what these sources can tell us about antiquity.

Mary's doctoral dissertation, Manipulating Memory: Remembering and Defaming Julio-Claudian Women, examined the influence of the commemorative practices of the Hellenistic/Ptolemaic dynasties on the Roman portrayal of four Julio-Claudian women: Livia, Octavia, Agrippina Maior and Agrippina Minor. These women featured prominently in the advertisement of dynastic succession promoted by their male relatives. When their spouses, brothers, or sons lost favor in the public eye, the savagery directed at these men also found expression in the strategies employed to disgrace the women connected to them. Several of the imperial women who had been given extraordinary honors, commemorated in art, text, and monument, later experienced public smear campaigns recorded by the very same media.

An interest in Tacitus' historiography led to Mary's first publication in 2004. Her essay, "Historiography and Freedom of Speech: the Case of Cremutius Cordus," delivered as a conference paper at the Penn-Leiden Colloquium on Ancient Values, was published by Brill in a volume of the conference proceedings, Free Speech in Classical Antiquity, edited by Ineke Sluiter and Ralph Rosen. This essay argues that the digression at Annals 4.32-33, rather than being a break in the narrative (common opinion in previous scholarly publications), instead provides the frame and context to read correctly the account of the treason trial of Cremutius Cordus which follows.

Her essay on the satirical use of Plautus’ Amphitruo by the German film maker, Reinhold Schünzel, is a fascinating description of the way in which a Jewish director was able to satirize Nazism in the middle of the Third Reich. “The Art of Safe Speech: Schünzel’s Amphitruo", delivered as a conference presentation in Brazil in 2012 and invited as a keynote lecture at a conference in Poland in 2014, was published by Cambridge Scholars Press (2016) in a volume of the Polish conference proceedings entitled Antiquity in Popular Literature and Culture. 

Mary participated in a 2008 NEH Summer Seminar in Italy on St. Francis of Assisi and the Thirteenth Century. "The Wolf of Gubbio in Context: From Assisi to Pampulha, Brazil", also published by Brill (2015) in the Festschrift The World of St. Francis of Assisi: Essays in Honor of William R. Cook, traces some of the prominent motifs in Franciscan art beginning with the Legenda maior of St. Bonaventure, the thirteenth century Franciscan philosopher and Doctor of the Church. Mary traces motifs found in the Franciscan church at Assisi to their twentieth century reappearance in the Igreja Sao Francisco de Assis in Pampulha, which was commissioned in 1940 by the future president of Brazil, Juscelino Kubitschek and created by the architect Oscar Niemeyer and the artist Candido Portinari. Mary explains how the perennial motifs associated with Franciscan hagiography, namely engagement with the natural world, trust in the divine through embracing poverty, and conflict resolution through compassion, are translated from the medieval setting to what one might call a modernist creation of a sacred building, in the context of mid-twentieth century political and cultural struggle. 

Mary's article on the historian Tacitus' representation of Agrippina Maior was published in Helios (Spring 2012), and her essay on the posthumous reputation of Agrippina Minor appears in the Bristol 2010 conference proceedings, entitled Seduction and Power: Antiquity in the Visual and Performing Arts published by Continuum (Fall 2012).

Mary's interest in investigating Roman social history from the perspective of food and food ways led to the development of a popular January term course, "A Taste of Roman Food," complemented with a cooking class "lab", taught several times as a January term class at Gustavus. Students prepared a Roman banquet at the end of the term, inviting friends and colleagues to the festivities, where they shared with their guests what they had learned over the course of the term. The intellectual richness of Mary's investigations into food in antiquity led to an invitation for her to write the entry “Epicureanism and Food”, published in the Encyclopedia of Food and Agricultural Ethics, Springer Verlag (2014). Her research on indigenous food sources in antiquity, conducted in Rome, southern Italy and Sicily during her 2012-13 sabbatical year, led to the development of a popular presentation, “Modern Palermitan Markets and Street Food in the ancient Roman World,” first delivered as a conference paper in 2015 at the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery at St. Catherine's College at Oxford University, England. She has since been invited to share this research with the Classical Summer School at the American Academy in Rome in July 2015, as a Watkins Invited Lecture at DePauw University in Fall 2015, and at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Fall 2017.

Mary currently has several other essays under review by peer-reviewed, scholarly journals. She is currently working on a Tacitus Reader, a textbook intended to make this notoriously difficult historian accessible to advanced Latin students at the undergraduate level. Her current research interests include street food in antiquity, women in the context of their relationships with Roman soldiers, and the reception of Hellenistic science in the Islamic world.


B.A. cum laude Mt. Holyoke College; M.A. Tufts University; M.A. and Ph.D University of Wisconsin, Madison

Courses Taught

CLA-298 (Chal Sem: Free Speech Power) and LAT-202 (Ovid: Myth & Power)

Synonym Title Times Taught Terms Taught
LAT-101 Beg. Latin I 10 2021/FA, 2020/FA, 2013/FA, 2011/FA, and 2008/FA
CLA-101 Myth and Meaning 8 2023/FA, 2023/SP, 2022/SP, and 2014/SP
CUR-100 Historical Perspective I 8 2016/FA, 2015/FA, 2009/FA, and 2007/FA
LAT-102 Beg. Latin II 6 2016/SP, 2011/SP, and 2010/SP
FTS-100 FTS:Burning Books 5 2021/FA, 2020/FA, and 2019/FA
GRE-101 Beg. Greek I 5 2017/FA, 2015/FA, 2010/FA, 2009/FA, and 2007/FA
CLA-398 Honors Thesis 5 2017/SP, 2016/SP, 2015/SP, 2014/FA, and 2014/SP
CLA-399 Classics Capstone 4 2021/SP, 2017/SP, 2015/SP, and 2011/SP
LAT-202 Ovid: Myth & Power 3 2023/SP, 2022/SP, and 2009/SP
GRE-102 Beg. Greek II 3 2018/SP, 2012/SP, and 2008/SP
LAT-301 Roman Historian-Livy 3 2016/FA, 2014/FA, and 2010/FA
LAT-304 Roman Drama 3 2014/SP, 2012/SP, and 2008/SP
CLA-211 Art & Archeol Greece 3 2012/SP, 2010/SP, and 2008/SP
CLA-106 A Taste of Roman Food 3 2011/JN, 2009/JN, and 2005/JN
GRE-244 ST:Plato's Symposium 2 2016/SP
CLA-212 Art and Archeology of Rome 2 2015/SP and 2009/SP
CLA-202 Roman Hist/Culture 2 2014/FA and 2008/FA
GRE-201 Plato and the Intellectual Revolution 2 2013/FA and 2011/FA
LAT-112 Latin II 2 2005/SP
LAT-111 Latin I 2 2004/FA
LAT-303 Women/Pwr/Persecution 1 2022/FA
LAT-201 Augustus/Poets/Empire 1 2022/FA
LAT-344 ST:Roman Comedy 1 2021/SP
GRE-211 Life & Death in Homer 1 2021/SP
GRE-311 Life & Death in Homer 1 2021/SP
LAT-244 ST:Roman Comedy 1 2021/SP
LAT-302 Horace and the Roman Poets 1 2017/SP
GRE-344 ST:Plato's Symposium 1 2016/SP
NDL-268 Career Exploration 1 2012/JN
CLA-112 Great Books of the Greek and Roman World 1 2005/SP
GRE-111 Greek I 1 2004/FA