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Martha Taylor

Department Chair, Professor
Martha Taylor

Department Chair,

Phone: 410-617-2636
Office: Humanities Center 321B


Martha Taylor joined the faculty of Loyola in 1993 after teaching one year at Reed College in Portland Oregon. She received her B.A. in Greek at Bryn Mawr College (1983) and her M.A. and Ph.D. at Stanford University (1990, 1992). During college she spent a semester at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome, and she spent two years in Athens during graduate school as a fellow of The American School of Classical Studies in Athens. She has excavated in the Athenian agora, at the villa on the Via Gabina outside Rome, at Ancient Corinth, and at Panakton, a fort on the border between Athens and Boiotia.

Professor Taylor's research concentrates on the history of Athens and its empire. Her first book, Salamis and the Salaminioi: The History of an Unofficial Athenian Demos (Gieben, 1997) studied the people and community on the Athenian island of Salamis. Her second book, Thucydides, Pericles and the idea of Athens in the Peloponnesian War (Cambridge, 2010) investigates Thucydides’ subtle critique of Pericles’ radical redefinition of Athens. Professor Taylor has written articles on Salaminian coinage, the Peiraieus, the coup of the 400 oligarchs in Athens, and the honors accorded the heroes of Phyle. She has written a number of entries on Athenian history and cult for the Encyclopedia of Ancient History (forthcoming from Wiley-Blackwell) and is currently at work on a new student commentary to Thucydides’ account of the Sicilian Expedition (his books six and seven). Dr. Taylor’s teaching has included Latin and Greek at all levels, and courses on Greek and Roman Art, Classical Mythology, and Greek and Roman history. She has also taught “The Ancient World” in the Honors program for many years.

Why I Love Classics

One thing I love about Classics is the way that the Greeks and Romans, while being in many ways utterly different from us, nevertheless asked the questions, long ago, that continue to fascinate and trouble us today. Take Herodotus, Book 3, chapter 38. Herodotus claims that if given a chance to choose the best customs in the world, “each nation would certainly think its own customs the best.” He illustrates his claim with a story about Darius, King of Kings of Persia. One day, he called to his chamber some Greeks (who regularly ritually cremate their dead) and asked them “what would they take to eat their dead fathers. They said that no price in the world would make them do so. After that Darius summoned those of the Indians who are called Callatians, who do eat their dead parents, and, in the presence of the Greeks (who understood the conversation through an interpreter), asked them what price would make them burn their dead fathers with fire. They shouted aloud, ‘Don’t mention such horrors!’” (trans. D. Grene). Herodotus here raises the issue of what we today would call cultural relativism. Each group thinks its customs perfectly fine, and the other’s abhorrent. Who are we, then, to judge? Aren’t each societies' customs valid for them? Is anything, then, outside the realm of acceptance or can societies do whatever they want without outside condemnation? Because Herodotus strongly implies that we judge our own customs fine simply because they are ours, he raises the question of how anyone can truly know anything. Is there, then, any absolute truth? How could you tell? Herodotus doesn’t answer these questions in the passage. But they are ones we still wrestle with; and that’s why I like to read the Greeks.

Why I Got Involved in Classics—and Why You Can, Too

I had always loved history, and particularly ancient history. Then I spent a semester in Greece at the end of high school, and so decided to take Ancient Greek when I got to college. I planned to be either a lawyer or a physicist, but when I took an upper-level Greek class on Thucydides I was overcome by the clarity of his thought, the beauty of his text, and the fascinating questions he asked. I still think his account of the Peloponnesian War is the coolest book ever written. It is a delight to me that I get to spend my working life re-reading him (and other greats like Homer, Virgil, Catullus, etc.) and introducing them to new readers.