Susannah Wright’s connection with the School of Humanities didn’t end when she walked out of the Sallyport on graduation day.
As an undergraduate, Susannah Wright participated in the university’s Center for Civic Leadership Century Scholars program, which matches select first-year students with faculty mentors. She chose Scott McGill, Professor of Classical Studies, as her faculty mentor and throughout her time at Rice, the two developed a research partnership founded on their shared interests in Latin literature, epic poetry, linguistics and translations.
Recalling her delight during Owl Days when she found other Rice students who shared her passion, Wright ’18, says: “I was sitting in on a four-person Latin class, and for the first time in my life I really felt that every one of those four people was fully engaged in the class, fully interested in the material, really excitedly talking about Latin poetry.”
A double major in Classical Studies and Medieval and Early Modern Studies, Wright assisted McGill in the publication of his translation of Juvencus’ Evangeliorum libri IV or The Four Books of the Gospels (Routledge Press, 2016), the first English translation of the entire 4th-century poem.
“One day, a freshman came to my door … and because I was working on this translation project, I said, ‘Why don’t I have you try your hand at some of this,’” says McGill. “So, I gave her 50 lines or so and sent her on her way for the week, and she came back the next week and I looked at it, and I said, ‘Hmm, this is a lot better than anything I’ve done actually in the last nine months working on it.’”
Today, Wright is a PhD candidate in Classical Philology at Harvard University. She and McGill are teaming up once again — this time collaborating on a translation of Virgil’s Aeneid that will be published by Norton Press likely in 2023, according to McGill.
This latest project evolved during Wright’s senior year from the researchers’ common interest and enjoyment in refining her translation of a passage from the Aeneid, a work that McGill calls the great canonical poem of Latin antiquity.
“Our hope is that this translation will make the Aeneid more accessible to English speakers of the present day, from specialists in Classics to general-interest readers,” Wright, a Brown College alumna, says.
“It’s nice to have an interlocutor, someone to bounce ideas off of and someone that you know will come back and refine your ideas,” adds McGill of Wright and their partnership.
The co-authors say that the translation process is sometimes maddening but remains ultimately satisfying. Over the next few years, they will continue working on the nearly 10,000-line poem with an incredible degree of patience and sustained effort.
Wright expressed that McGill is the exemplar of these particular qualities and steadily inspires her research efforts. “In him, I’ve gained a model and a mentor. He inspires me day after day with his dedication to nurturing undergraduates, his persistence in chipping away at big projects, his passion for his work, and his absolutely superhuman discipline.”
She recognizes that her current research efforts on the Aeneid will have great influence on the future of her academic career and that the specific skills demanded by translation will continually intertwine with elements of her graduate studies. She also acknowledges the indelible mark her research partnership with McGill has made — and continues to make — as she forges forward in her academic pursuits.
“It is the strong example Professor McGill so consistently sets that has had the greatest positive impact on me,” she says. “Without the encouragement and support that he and my other Classics professors at Rice provided, I highly doubt I would be pursuing my doctoral degree now.”