Faculty Directory

Karen L Bassi
  • Pronouns she, her, her, hers, herself
  • Title
    • Professor
  • Division Humanities Division
  • Department
    • Literature Department
  • Affiliations Classical Studies, Feminist Studies Department, Critical Race and Ethnic Studies, Cowell College
  • Email
  • Website
  • Mail Stop Cowell Academic Services
  • Faculty Areas of Expertise Classical Studies, Ancient World / Classics, Literature, Visual Culture, Museum Studies, Classics, Critical Theory, Drama, Gender Studies, Death/Mortality Studies

Summary of Expertise

Classics; Greek and Latin literatures; gender; literary and cultural theory; pre- and early modern studies; historiography; visual and performance studies; mortality studies; tragedy; museum studies. 

Research Interests

Greek and Latin literatures; gender; literary and cultural theory; pre- and early modern studies; historiography; visual and performance studies, mortality studies. 

Biography, Education and Training

I received my BA in Classics from UCSC in 1980 and my Ph.D. in Classics from Brown University in 1987. I have taught at UCSC since 1989 where I am Professor of Classics and Literature. I served as chair of the Literature Department (2008-2012), as Director of the Classics Program, and as director of the EAP Program in the Netherlands. I have also served as Chair of the Senate Committee on Faculty Welfare, as Senior Co-Chair of the Women's Classical Caucus of the American Philological Association, and on the Program Committee of the American Philological Association.  I have been a member of the editorial board of Classical Antiquity and the Greek editor for the American Journal of Philology (2014-2017) My principal areas of research and teaching are ancient Greek literature and historiography, death studies, and critical theory. My most recent book, titled Traces of the Past: Classics Between History and Archaeology, was published by the University of Michigan Press in 2016. The book is a study of visual perception as a source of knowledge about the past in ancient Greek epic, history, and drama. It explores how the visual experiences of characters and narrators in these genres provide insight into the process of accessing and giving meaning to the past. The book is aimed at opening up a dialogue between Classicists who study texts (philologists and historians) and those who study material or visual sources (archaeologists). It also engages with topics of general importance for humanities research; the dominance of vision in making truth claims, the role of language in distinguishing fiction from fact, and the criteria for establishing the reality of the past. My current research focuses on the significance of human mortality in ancient Greek literature and culture. I was awarded the T.B.L Webster Fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of London in spring 2017 and a Faculty Research Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2017-2018 for a book project titled Imitating the Dead: Facing Death in Ancient Greek Tragedy. I was the Principal Investigator for an NEH Summer Institute on Facing Death in Ancient Greece in Athens in 2014 and for an interdisciplinary Residency Group on the History of Mortality at the University of California Humanities Research Institute in fall 2015.

Honors, Awards and Grants


National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute: "Museums: Humanities in the Public Sphere" ($200,000), summer 2019. 

National Endowment for the Humanities, Faculty Research Fellowhip: "Imitating the Dead: Facing Death in Greek Tragedy," 2017-18.

T.B.L. Webster Fellowship, Institute of Classical Studies, University of London (spring 17)

National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute: "The History of Mortality: Facing Death in Ancient Greece" ($200,000), summer 2014.

UCHRI Group Residency: "The History of Mortality from Antiquity to the Digital Age: Interdisciplinary Approaches," fall 2014.

Faculty Research Fellowship, Institute for Humanities Research, UCSC (2002)

Associate Research Fellow, Center for Hellenic Studies, 1999.

UC President's Fellowship in the Humanities, 1992.



Selected Publications


  • Traces of the Past: Classics Between History and Archaeology (University of Michigan Press 2016). Reviews: L. Canevaro in Classics for All; J. Grethlein inThe American Journal of Philology; R. Osborne in Phoenix; C. Witmore in Cambridge Archaeological Journal; K. Caraway in Journal of Hellenic Studies. 
  • Acting Like Men, Gender, Drama and Nostalgia in Ancient Greece (University of Michigan Press, 1998). Reviews: S. Goldhill in Phoenix; P. Wilson in Classical Philology.
  • 2010 When Worlds Elide: Classics, Politics, Culture. Co-edited with Peter Euben (Rowman and Littlefield.
  • 2003 Special volume of Parallax (Routledge) titled De-Classifying Hellenism, Cultural Studies and the Classics, with Peter Euben.
  • Articles in Professional Journals
  • 2013 "Euphemisms, Efficiencies, Interdisciplines," in Occasion, an online journal edited by David Palumbo-Liu.
  • 2011 "Seeing the Past/Reading the Past," in edd. Jonathan Carson and Rosie Miller, Image [&] Narrative 12, No. 3 (2011) pp. 29-50. Online journal: www.imageandnarrative.be.
  • 2007 "Spatial Contingencies in Thucydides' History," Classical Antiquity 26, (2007) 171-218. 2005 "Things of the Past: Objects and Time in Greek Narrative." Arethusa 38 (2005) 1-32.
  • 1999 “Nostos, Domos and the Architecture of the Ancient Stage,” South Atlantic Quarterly 98 (1999) 415-449.
  • 1997 "Orality, Masculinity and the Greek Epic," Arethusa (1997) pp. 315-340. 1995 "Male Nudity and Disguise in the Discourse of Greek Histrionics," Helios 22 (1995) 1-20.
  • 1993 "Desired Silence: Mors and Amor in Tibullus 1.1," Classica Syllecta 5 (1993) pp. 1-9. "Helen and the Discourse of Denial in Stesichorus' Palinode," Arethusa, 26 (1993) pp. 51-76.
  • 1989 "The Poetics of Exclusion in Callimachus' Hymn to Apollo," Transactions of the American Philological Association 119 (1989) pp. 221-231. "The Actor as Actress in Euripides' Alcestis," Themes in Drama 11 (Cambridge University Press, 1989) pp.19-30.
  • 2022 "Literature and the Performning Arts," ed. David Wharton. Volume I of A Cultural History of Color, edd. C.P. Biggam and Kirsten Wolf. Co-authored with David Wharton. Bloomsbury Academic Press.
  • 2022 "Hecuba: The Dead Child, or Queer for A day. In Sarah Nooter and Mario Telo, edd. Queer Euripides: Re-reading Euripidean Tragedy.  Bloomsbury Academic Press, 167-175.
  • 2018 "Morbid Materialism: The Matter of the Corpse in Euripides' Alcestis. In edd. Melissa Mueller and Mario Telo, The Materialities of Greek Tragedy: Objects and Affect in Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. Bloomsbury Academic Press, 35-48.
  • 2017 "Mimêsis, Mortality, and Re-performance: The Dead among the Living in Hecuba and Hamlet." In edd. Richard Hunter and Anna Uhlig, New Approaches to Ancient Reperformance. Cambridge University Press, 138-159.
  • 2016 "Fading into the Future: Visibility and Legibility in Thucydides History." In ed. Alexandra Lianeri, The Futures of Greek Historiography. De Gruyter, 215-241.    
  • 2014 "Homer's Achaean Wall and the Hypothetical Past." In ed. V. Wohl, Probabilities, Hypotheticals, and Counterfactuals in Ancient Greek Thought. Cambridge University Press, 122-141
  • 2014  "Croesus' Offerings and the Value of the Past in Herodotus' Histories." In edd. James Ker and Christoph Pieper, Valuing the Past in the Greco-Roman World. Brill, 172-195.
  • 2010 “Making Prometheus Speak: Dialogue, Torture, and the Power of Secrets in Prometheus Bound.” In edd. Karen Bassi and Peter Euben, When Words Elide (Rowman and Littlefield) 77-110.
  • 2009 "Zeus' Stone: Objects and Time in the Delphic Landscape." In edd. L. Athanasakis, J. Miller, R. Martin, Apolline Politics and Poetics (European Cultural Centre of Delphi) 109-126.
  • 2009 "Epic Remains: Seeing and Time in the Odyssey." In ed. Tyrus Miller, Given World and Time: Temporalities in Context. (Central European U. Press 2009) 25-46. 2007 "The Eye of Helen: Autopsy and the Gendering of Emotions in Early Greek Poetry." In edd. Verena Meyer and Daniela Rippl, Gender Feelings (Fink Verlag, München) 193-213.
  • 2005 "Visuality and Temporality: Reading the Tragic Script." The Soul of Tragedy. Eds. Steven Oberhelman and Victoria Pedrick. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005. 251-270.
  • 2003 "The Semantics of Manliness in Ancient Greece." In Andreia,Studies in Manliness and Courage in Classical Antiquity, edited by Ineke Sluiter and Ralph Rosen (Brill 2003) 25-58.

Selected Presentations

  • 2024 Princeton University: Title, "Haunted Plato."
  • 2024 Leiden University: Title, "The Fear of Death, the Noble Lie, and Men Made of Metal: Post-Truth in Plato's Republic."
  • 2023 Autonomous University of Madrid: Title, "Domesticating Death: The House of Hades."
  • 2023 Leiden University: Title, "Ontological Debt in Thucydides' History.
  • 2021 Series on Memory, The Humanities Institute, UCSC: Title, "Memory, A Brief History."
  • 2020 UC Berkeley, Dept. of Classics:"The Fear of Death, the Noble Lie, and Men of Metal: Post-Truth in Plato’s Republic."
  • 2018, Leiden University, "Eschatology and Innovation in Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus."
  • 2017 University College London, T.B.L. Webster Lecture: "Tragedy: The Art of Facing Death."
  • 2017 Oxford University and the University of Reading: "Domesticating Death: Living in the House of Hades."
  • 2017 University of Edinburgh: "What gets left behind: Objects and death in Euripides' Alcestis."
  • 2015 American Comparative Literature Association: "Living in the House of Hades."
  • # 2013 UCLA, Classics Department: "Homer's Achaean Wall and the Hypothetical Past." (March 2013)
  • # 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Philological Association: "Croesus' Offerings and the Value of the Past in Herodotus' Histories."
  • # 2012 Leiden University, Penn/Leiden Conference on Ancient Values: "Croesus' Offerings and the Value of the Past in Herodotus' Histories."
  • # 2011 Kings College London, Classics Seminar: "Tragedy in the Time of Reading."
  • # 2014 UC Working Group in the Philosophy of Perception: Awareness of Space. UC San Diego: "Fading into the Future: Visibility and Legibility in Thucydides History."

Teaching Interests

My teaching areas are principally in Greek literature and culture; I also teach Latin literature. I am interested in social and temporal relations and questions pertaining to the meaning of the past, both in its ancient forms and in contemporary disciplines. Other teaching interests include the causes and justifications of war in the ancient historians, the relationship between gender and the emotions in Greek epic and tragedy, and human mortality as a factor in ancient cultural production.