Michelle Zerba | LSU Foreign Languages and Literatures

Zerba Headshot

Michelle Zerba 

Maggie B. Martin Professor of Rhetoric and Classical Studies

  • B.A., University of California, Irvine (English and Classics)
  • M.A., University of California, Berkeley (Comparative Literature)
  • Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley (Comparative Literature)

Phone: 225-578-3048
E-mail: mzerba@michellezerba.com
Office: 223A Allen Hall


Michelle Zerba is Maggie B. Martin Professor of Rhetoric and Classical Studies and has a split appointment in the Departments of English and World Languages and Literatures (Classics). Before coming to LSU, she taught in the Department of Classics at the University of Michigan. Her work explores the intersections of antiquity and modernity and focuses on topics that bridge literature and philosophy. She is currently writing a book entitled “The Origins of Mystery and Secrecy: A Cultural History of the Eleusinian Mysteries.” She has traveled widely in the Mediterranean and has directed study abroad programs in Greece and Turkey.

Area of Interest

  • Greek and Roman literature (especially Homer, Cicero, and Greek tragedy), philosophy (especially Aristotle, Plato, and skepticism), and rhetoric
  • Renaissance literature (especially Shakespeare and Montaigne), and political theory
  • Classical reception and global modernism
  • Greek religion and the mystery cults

Awards & Honors

  • Grant, Partnership University Fund (French Government), Teaching and Research Collaboration between LSU and University of the Antilles, Martinique, 2017-2018
  • Grant, National Endowment for the Humanities, American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2016-2017
  • LSU Distinguished Research Master Award, 2017
  • Robert Amborski Outstanding Faculty Award, LSU Honors College, 2016
  • LSU Erich and Lea Sternberg Professorship, Honors College, 2013-2014
  • Visiting Scholar, Columbia University, Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, 2014
  • LSU Regents’ Research Grant, 2007, 2014, 2018
  • LSU ORED Travel Grants, 2014, 2016-2017
  • LSU HSS Travel Grant, 2014, 2016-2017, 2021
  • Manship Summer Research Grant, 1999, 2013, 2021
  • LSU Teaching Enhancement Fund Grant, 2013
  • ATLAS Research Grant, 2010-2011
  • Phi Beta Kappa


  • Tragedy and Theory (Princeton)
  • Doubt and Skepticism in Antiquity and the Renaissance (Cambridge)
  • Modern Odysseys: Cavafy, Woolf, Césaire, and the Poetics of Indirection (Ohio State University Press)
  • Aristotle, Poetics, Norton Critical Edition

Articles (Selected)

  • “Eleusis at the Intersection of Antiquity and Modernity: The Mysteria, Altered Consciousness, and the Neuroscience of Transformational Experience.” Forthcoming in Beyond Eleusis: The Hybrid History of the Eleusinian Mysteries, Brill.
  • “Diaspora, hellénisme, négritude: la sexualité et la race dans la poésie de Cavafy et Césaire.” Forthcoming in Méditerrané-Caraïbe: Deux Archipelités de Pensées, Garnier.
  • “La Dialectique Méditerranée-Caraïbe d’Édouard Glissant.” In Édouard Glissant: l’Éclat at l’Obscur. Martinique: Les Presses Universitaires des Antilles, 2021.
  • “Renaissance Homer: Humanist Learning, the Visual Vernacular, and the Socialization of Bodies.” Renaissance Quarterly 70.3 (2017): 831-61.
  • “Reflections on Skepticism in Homer’s Odyssey and the Poetry of C.P. Cavafy.” Comparative Literature 67.3 (2015): 246-64.
  • “What Penelope Knew: Doubt and Skepticism in Homer’s Odyssey.” Classical Quarterly 59.2 (2009): 295-316.
  • “Odyssean Charisma and the Uses of Persuasion.” American Journal of Philology 130.3 (2009): 313-339.
  • “The Frauds of Humanism: Cicero, Machiavelli, and the Rhetoric of Imposture.” Rhetorica 22 (2004): 215-240.
  • “Love, Envy, and Pantomimic Morality in Cicero’s De Oratore.” Classical Philology 98 (2003): 299-321.
  • “Medea Hypocrites,” Arethusa 35.2 (2002): 315-37.

Work in Progress

  • Book Manuscript, “The Origins of Mystery: A Cultural History of the Eleusinian Mysteries.”
  • Book Manuscript, “Aimé Césaire and Caribbean Postclassicisms,” for Bloomsbury’s Studies in Classical Reception series.

Conferences, Lectures, Readings (Selected)

  • Invited Paper, “Diaspora, hellénisme, négritude: la sexualité et la race dans la poésie de Cavafy et Césaire,” Conference at the University of Limoges, France, October 2021.
  • Invited Paper, “Eleusis at the Intersection of Antiquity and Modernity: The Ancient Mysteries, Initiation, and Secrecy in the 21st Century,” Conference at University of Münster, Germany, October 2021.
  • Invited Paper, “Mystery and the Ancient Mysteria: Theorizing Cultural Translatio,” Conference sponsored by August-Herzog Bibliotheck and Harvard Center for Hellenic Studies, Wolfenbüttel, September 2020.

  • Paper, “Ethics and the Orator,”American Political Science Association, Boston, September 2018.
  • Invited Paper, “Édouard Glissant: l’éclat et l’obscur,” International Transdisciplinary Colloquium, University of the Antilles, Martinique, March 20-23, 2018.
  • Paper, “The Return Tale in Woolf’s Orlando and Homer’s Odyssey,” International Virginia Woolf Society, University of Reading, July 2017.
  • Paper, “Renaissance Homer: Reception at the Crossroads of Humanist Learning, the Visual Vernacular, and the Socializing of Female Bodies,” American Comparative Literature Association, Utrecht, The Netherlands, July 2017.
  • Paper, “Homer’s Odyssey, Humanist Learning, and Renaissance Painting: Rethinking Reception,” Renaissance Society of America,” Boston, March 2016.
  • Paper, “‘At the End of Daybreak’: Homecoming and the Journey into Memory in Homer’s Odyssey and Aimé Césaire’s Cahier d’un retour au pays natal,” American Comparative Literature Association, Seattle, March 2015.
  • Invited Lecture, “Reflections on Skepticism in Homer’s Odyssey and the Poetry of C.P. Cavafy,” Institute for Cultural Inquiry and the Freie Universität, Berlin, Germany, 2013.
  • Invited Lecture, “Homer’s Odyssey: Exile and Homecoming,” Department of Classics, Yale University, November 2013.
  • Paper, “Odyssean Comparatisms: Women, Sites of Passage, and Concepts of Home in Homer’s Odyssey,” International Comparative Literature Association, Paris, July 2013.


  • Shakespeare (graduate and undergraduate)
  • History of Literary Theory (graduate and undergraduate)
  • Tragedy, Ancient to Modern (graduate)
  • Rhetoric: Ancient and Modern (graduate)
  • Postclassicisms (graduate)
  • Ancient Western Civilization (undergraduate)
  • Greek Drama (in translation)
  • Ancient Epic (in translation)
  • Women in Antiquity (in translation)
  • Homer, Iliad and Odyssey (in Greek)
  • Virgil, Aeneid (in Latin)
  • Cicero, Catilinarians (in Latin)
  • Aristotle, Poetics and Nicomachean Ethics (in Greek)
  • Greek Oratory, Demosthenes and Lysias (in Greek)
  • Plato, Phaedrus (in Greek)
  • Thucydides, History of Peloponnesian War (in Greek)

Curriculum Vitae