How a Classical Studies Professor Writes

Quick Facts

Pen or pencil?

Both, I’m a Gemini.  

Favorite word?


Favorite music to write to?

Italian opera

Maria Marsilio, Ph.D.

Professor, Director of Classical Studies


SJU Writes: What kind of writing do you do within your discipline? 

MM: I’m essentially a classical philologist, meaning I work principally with literary texts and publish scholarly articles for a number of journals. I also publish pedagogical texts in An Online Companion to the Worlds of Roman Women, where I write Latin text commentaries. Classics is highly interdisciplinary, incorporating Greek and Roman literature, gender studies, social history, material culture, religion, philosophy, law, economics. And so, when classicists are asked, “What is it like to write as a classicist?”—where do we start explaining? I team-teach a class with Dr. Robert Daniel, and we like to say we’re always playing in other people’s gardens. We love to explore other disciplines and learn from them.

SJU Writes: When you have a writing task, how do you approach it?

MM: Approaching a writing task means I don’t want to simply repeat what everybody else has said and say it in a different way. At the end of the day, I wouldn’t be advancing the conversation, so I try very hard to present a truly innovative argument. It’s hard to do with classic texts that have been read for thousands of years. But that’s where the interdisciplinary approach can help illuminate otherwise hidden aspects of a text. I won’t write something unless it contributes to the discussion. Writing is not solitary, for me. I can’t write in a vacuum. 

SJU Writes: What’s your revision process like?

MM: I’m always revising, even as I compose. One of my favorite resources to have while I’m writing is a thesaurus because I get stuck in the “spin-cycle” and I don’t realize I’m using the same word or the same expression repeatedly. So, the thesaurus comes out. And when I revise, I become more articulate, but I also think in terms of economy. How can I make this piece of writing more concise, direct, and to-the-point? 

SJU Writes: What advice do you have for students who are learning to write in your discipline? 

MM: The more you write, the better you get. Keep writing. I think the other thing that’s important to learn is that—and I was not so good at this when I was younger—you can’t be thin-skinned. You have to accept that if you’re going to ask people to read things, you’re not asking them to return it with “Swell! Everything looks perfect! I wouldn’t change a thing!” Seek assessments from people outside the discipline. I try to write in a way that would satisfy the specialist but also in a way that was comprehensible, engaging, and thought-provoking to somebody who is completely outside the discipline. To me, that’s great writing.



Olivia Giannetta ’22