November 12, 1998
Vol. 18 No. 4

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    [shadi bartsch], by Jason Smith  Shadi Bartsch has written three books and is currently awaiting publication of her fourth, The Mirror of Philosophy: Specularity, Sexuality and Self-Knowledge in the Roman Empire.

    Duality surrounds scholar in her teaching, life

    By Theresa Carson
    News Office

    Shadi Bartsch, Professor in Classical Languages & Literatures, possesses a gift for seeing duality in life, not only in the lives of ancient Romans but also in her own. Bartsch, who came to the University last January as the George Walsh Memorial Lecturer, was recently featured in Crain’s Chicago Business as one of 40 professionals who has attained success before the age of 40. At 32, she is not only a full professor but also the author of three books.

    “I can’t think of anyone else in our department who has written three books, except a colleague who has just retired,” said Peter White, former Chair of the Classics Department.

    Bartsch’s current project, The Mirror of Philosophy: Specularity, Sexuality and Self-Knowledge in the Roman Empire, explores the ancient Roman notion of self-evaluation, the physiology of the eye and the role of eros in philosophy.

    “In general, I’m fascinated by the idea of self-knowledge–that one can look upon oneself and gain self-learning,“ she said. “It’s the premise of both ancient philosophy and modern self-help manuals.“

    Where does she find her inspiration? “The genesis of ideas comes from thinking upon one topic and the interaction with another topic. The next thing you know, you’re carrying around a bibliography,“ Bartsch said. “The final product never looks like the original idea.“

    Her first book began as her undergraduate thesis at Princeton University. Titled Decoding the Ancient Novel: The Reader and the Role of Description in Heliodorus and Achilles Tatius, the book was published in 1989. In 1994, she published Actors in the Audience: Theatricality and Doublespeak from Nero to Hadrian, and this year, she completed Ideology in Cold Blood: A Reading of Lucan’s Civil War.

    Bartsch’s academic accomplishments are not all that set her apart. When she is not teaching classes or pondering research, she enjoys rock climbing and playing the violin.

    Bartsch’s petite, almost fragile, appearance is deceiving. She does not mind hanging from cliffs and skidding on motorcycles. When she was younger, she owned a Honda Nighthawk 650. “I purchased it to show that I was independent, but instead it had the opposite effect,“ she said. Whenever she wiped out, she would have to wait with skinned knees for a man to stop and lift the bike for her. She said she would begrudgingly thank them. “They usually were big guys on Harleys.“

    When trying skydiving a few weeks ago, she took her life in her own hands. Thinking that the altimeter spun clockwise, she missed the moment at which she was to pull the rip cord. Fortunately, her nervous instructor pulled it for her.

    She described the experience of falling as one in which skydivers realize that they are descending, while at the same time, they mentally step away from themselves. “I was glad to still be three dimensional,“ she said about her landing.

    A sense of adventure runs in her family. Her father, an American of German and Swedish ancestry, worked for the foreign service. He was stationed in Iran when he met his future wife at a party being sponsored by an oil company. A few weeks later, when he was asked to leave the country, Bartsch’s mother went with him.

    Bartsch, who reads nine languages, grew up in Asia and Europe. Because of her father’s career, the family moved every two years. She said her interest in the Classics stems from her childhood.

    “In a sense, (when you move that often) you’re always an outsider. It’s a wonderful position from which to learn about a culture,“ she said. “I chose Classics because you have the opportunity to explore many facets of culture: architecture, literature, history, art history, language.“

    As an adolescent, Bartsch showed talent as a prolific writer. “I wrote heaps of bad poetry and an occasional short story,“ she said. These days her work is critically acclaimed. Given her history, Bartsch’s latest book will be published before long. Writing books comes naturally to her–perhaps more naturally than falling from a plane.