By Katherine LeClair
While completing her B.A. at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Dr. Stephanie McCarter’s first ambition was to become a high school English teacher. But as she took more classes in Latin, the more invested she became with classical studies.
In fact, McCarter can identify the particular moment when she felt a deep need to study classics. During her undergraduate years, while reading An Ode to the Death of Cleopatra by Roman lyric poet Horace, she knew she had become fully entranced by classical studies.
“I read Virgil and it threw everything, all of those plans away very quickly,” McCarter said. “And then I read Horace and that’s when I decided this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
McCarter became professor at Sewanee in 2008 after completing her PhD in classics from the University of Virginia in 2007.
Though she has always been interested in academic writing, McCarter also finds fulfillment in creative writing. “Translation is a way that I can bring those two avenues together and do a creative project that’s informed by scholarship but also by the classroom,” she said.
McCarter is currently working on a translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and is under contract with Penguin Classics. McCarter will be the first woman to publish a translation of this text into English.
“One of the reasons I got interested in translation was that I was really struggling to find translations I could teach from,” she says. “Often I found myself having to go back and say, ‘well what the Latin really says is this.’”
Because of McCarter’s interest in feminism, she desires to translate in a “socially responsible way.” Her goal for this translation of Metamorphoses is to stay true to certain aspects of this epic that other translators have attempted to cover up.
“To be responsible about the power implications of the text, the sexual violence of the text, we have to own that,” she says. “We can’t erase that part of the text.”
She writes about this topic in depth in one of her more recent essays, “Rape, Lost in Translation” published by Electric Literature in May of 2018.
In addition to being a scholar and professor, McCarter is also a mother of two. When asked about how having children has affected her work, she admitted with a laugh, “I’m very tired!”
McCarter continued by saying that, “I think people see [being a professor and a mother] as things that are somehow antithetical with one another, but I have found them to be exceedingly complimentary.”
McCarter also noted that being a mother has made her more aware of the implications of what she teaches. “I want to make the world a better place for my kids,” she said. “I don’t want my work to exist in a kind of vacuum that has no bearing on the outside world.”
Her ultimate goal as a professor is to see her students grow, become invested in what they study, and make connections between the material and their own lives. She wants to emphasize the relevance of classics through her teaching and have her students understand that these texts “are part of a conversation that we’re still having.”
As a classicist, McCarter not only desires to teach but also finds great joy in learning from her students. “Teaching has changed the kind of scholarship that I do,” she explained. “This is why I could never be a scholar isolated away from the classroom, because I learn so much from my students.”
McCarter also acknowledged how much she has learned from her mentors, particularly female classicists. “You have to see yourself reflected in the kind of jobs you want to have, and I’ve been lucky to have that,” she said.