Phaedrus, the Roman Aesop: A Quantitative Effort to Situate Phaedrus in Latin Literary History




Professor of Classical Studies

Project Summary

From mid-May to the end of July, I studied the ways in which the writings of Phaedrus, a Roman writer of fables, compare to the work of previous Latin authors. I focused on two aspects of the texts: their linguistic texture (specifically the distribution of common two-word phrases in the work of Phaedrus across the corpus of earlier Latin authors) and allusions Phaedrus makes to other writers. Phaedrus has not been intensively studied, so my project filled an important gap in classical studies.  I concluded that Phaedrus alludes more often to poets than to prose authors, and that his language, on average, remains prosaic and distinctly colloquial despite his references to poetry.

The project required me to synthesize information from two databases of Latin literature: Packard Humanities and Tesserae. Packard Humanities is designed to search for certain words and phrases within its database, while Tesserae finds allusions by assigning similarity scores for phrases across selected texts. Using Microsoft excel, I combined and analyzed information from the two search engines to come to meaningful conclusions. The strategies I used for analysis included searching for word stems within strict distances of one another, counting the frequency of certain words and phrases, and creating visual representations of the data. Working with Packard Humanities, Tesserae, and excel has prepared me for projects and research that I might do in undergraduate courses, graduate school, and future jobs.  Using these tools has also helped me understand the importance of quantitative approaches, even in the context of the humanities.      

My fellowship as a PURM researcher allowed me to expand upon my problem-solving and leadership skills. In taking ownership of a project, I gained a greater appreciation for the methods researchers employ and their reasons for choosing specific tactics. At each critical point in my project, my mentor and I debated the best ways to define the subjects we were investigating (such as colloquial language), the most efficient ways to collect data, and the most comprehensive ways to present the data. The result was a project I thoroughly enjoyed that allowed me to contribute meaningful data to the field of classics.