Pauline LeVen

Pauline LeVen's picture
Professor of Classics, Music Dept

Professor of Classics and (by courtesy) of Music; Chair of the Humanities Program

307 Phelps Hall / HQ 104

Born in Monaco and raised in France, Pauline LeVen studied at the Ecole Normale Supérieure (Paris), the Sorbonne and Princeton University, and earned a joint PhD from both in 2008. She was a Fulbright student in 2001–02 and the Phi Beta Kappa Sibley Fellow in Greek Studies in 2007–08.

Her first book, The Many-Headed Muse: Tradition and Innovation in Late Classical Greek Lyric Poetry, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2014 and was a recipient of the Samuel and Ronnie Heyman Yale College Prize for outstanding publication. The book is a study of the extant corpus of Greek songs composed between about 440 BC and 320 BC. Combining close readings of little-studied texts with attention to their intellectual and cultural context, it examines Greek literary history between the classical and Hellenistic periods and explores the vibrancy of musical culture in the late classical period.

LeVen’s second book, Music and Metamorphosis in Greco-Roman Thought (Cambridge University Press, 2021) considers Imperial Greek and Roman narratives devoted to the music of human-turned-non-human animals and natural phenomena (birds, winds, frogs, echoes, insects, marsh-reeds…). It argues that fantastic tales of animal metamorphosis are important loci of reflection on aesthetic and ontological questions. The seven readings it offers (including of Plato’s myth of the cicadas, of Ovid’s story of the origins of the echo, and of Achilles Tatius’ narrative of the nightingale myth) are windows onto a rich web of ideas about the beauty of music, appropriate responses to it, and the nature of the experience of sound and song.

In 2023, LeVen saw the publication of a volume co-edited with Sean Gurd – the first of the six-volume Cultural History of Western Music (Bloomsbury), devoted to Antiquity. The book represents an important step in opening up the dialogue between Classics and musicology; it comprises eight essays by established and emerging scholars in the field, devoted to the topics of society, philosophies, popular culture, politics, education, exchange, performance, and technologies.

LeVen is currently working on two projects. The first is a monograph entitled Reading Greek Poetry in the Anthropocene, in which she investigates the kind of claims that lyric poetry (from archaic song to imperial epigrams) makes about experiences of the non-human world (in particular about rocks, water, trees, and light). She argues that taking matter at face value leads to fundamental insights about the relationship lyric entertains with temporality, framing, and scale. The second project is a short book for a general audience co-authored with Sean Gurd, The Musician in Nine Greek Myths. The study retells ancient myths and explores features of the social history of ancient music, starting from interpretations of ancient mythical figures (among which Orpheus, Apollo, and the Sirens). It focuses on questions that have surprisingly rarely been asked, such as the paradoxical social status of musicians, the relationship between music and violence in the mythic imagination, or the famous but elusive relationship between music and therapy.

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