Mark Usher

Disciplines: EcologyLiterature
Title and home institution: Lyman-Roberts Professor of Classical Languages and Literature – French Institutes for Advanced Study Program (FIAS) Fellow
Category of Fellowship: Research residency
Residency length: September 2021 – June 2022

Research project

Urbs in Horto, Rus in Urbe: The Mediterranean Roots (and Future) of Living with Nature

Summary of the research project

My proposed research is two-pronged, but both prongs stem from the same source and form one research trajectory, namely the question: What relevance does the ancient injunction to live “according to Nature” have for modern societies? In Mediterranean antiquity there were multiple approaches to living “according to Nature” (secundum naturam in Latin; kata phusin in Greek). Building on my own recent work, I focus on two particular expressions: ancient Cynicism, and the agrarian ethos of ancient Rome. The first was an urban phenomenon, the second a rural ideal, but both were strong reactions sprung from dissatisfaction with then-contemporary life. I submit that not only do the pursuits of similar lifestyles in today’s societies—in the Mediterranean region and beyond—(i.e., “back-to-the-land” smallholding and various contemporary notions of “less-is-more” living) descend directly from these ancient cultural movements, but that an investigation and re-instantiation of some their signature features will enhance the lives we ourselves resolve to lead in the 21st century and disabuse us of our blinkered presentism. Indeed, I believe that Cynicism and Roman agrarianism, each in its own way, speak with some urgency to our current predicaments involving climate change, socio-economic uncertainty, and psychic malaise.


In addition to publishing books and articles in the field of Classics, I have written two opera libretti in Greek and Latin (for text, music, and video see neron-kaisar-the-opera.org) and children’s books. Non-academic interests 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, honey, and maple syrup on 125 acres; see www.worksanddaysfarm.com).

Appels à candidature

Les résidences de recherche que propose l’Iméra, Institut d’études avancées (IEA) d’Aix-Marseille Université, s’adressent aux chercheurs confirmés – académiques, scientifiques et/ou artistes. Ces résidences de recherche sont distribuées sur quatre programmes (« Arts & sciences : savoirs indisciplinés », « Explorations interdisciplinaires », « Méditerranée » et « Utopies nécessaires »).