Alumni Spotlight: Ashleigh Witherington

| Thu, 05/16/24
Ashleigh Witherington graduated in December 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in Latin and Greek from the Department of Classics. Photo by Kendall Cooper.
Ashleigh Witherington graduated in December 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in Latin and Greek from the Department of Classics. Photo by Kendall Cooper.

Ashleigh Witherington graduated in December 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in Latin and Greek from the Department of Classics, part of Florida State University’s College of Arts and Sciences. During her time at FSU, Witherington studied the path of ancient texts and their changes across history, and she presented two related papers at the Southeast Region of the American Academy of Religion and the Southern Section of the Classical Association of the Middle West and South.

Tell us a little about your background, where you are from and what brought you to FSU.

I am from Tallahassee, Florida. I was homeschooled from third through 12th grade, which allowed me to study a wide range of subjects I was interested in, including Latin and Greek. My parents are both FSU alumni, and growing up in Tallahassee, I was well acquainted with the school before I attended. I came here because of the strong classics department.

What inspired you to pursue a degree in Latin and Greek?

I started studying Latin in seventh grade, and I knew by high school that I wanted to pursue a degree in Latin and Greek. As a sophomore in high school, I took AP Latin, in which I read works by the Roman general and politician Julius Caesar and the poet Virgil. I became fascinated by the structure of ancient languages and excited to analyze works from the past, so I continued reading Latin texts and began to study Attic Greek, a dialect from the ancient Greek region, Attica. During this time, I was taught by a graduate student from the classics department, Mark Buzbee, who really inspired me with his passion for and knowledge of Latin and Greek and the ancient world.

What do you want the public to know about your research? Why are your topics important?

A lot of my research has focused on the textual transmission of ancient works. Ancient texts change over centuries, sometimes accidentally, sometimes due to the misunderstandings or agendas of individual authors or scribes, and sometimes for a variety of other reasons. This topic is important in trying to uncover the earliest form of a text and recognize how alternative forms of texts impact our understanding of figures and events of the past.

You presented at the annual meeting of the Southeast Region of the American Academy of Religion, AAR-SE. Can you briefly explain your paper and what its acceptance for presentation meant to you?

The paper I presented at the annual meeting of the AAR-SE examined how passages from Roman-Jewish historian Josephus’ “Jewish War” and “Jewish Antiquities” – which detail the reign of the Jewish King Aristobulus I of the Hasmonean Dynasty and the death of his brother Antigonus – changed over time. My paper analyzed these changes as Josephus’ Greek versions of the passages were translated into Latin versions, including a Christian adaptation with an elevated Latin style that was copied by hand into many manuscripts. The acceptance of my paper meant a great deal, as this was the first regional conference I attended. It inspired me to continue my work and present a related topic at the meeting of the Classical Association of the Middle West and South - Southern Section last November.

What is something people do not know about studying a discipline in the field of classics?

Classics is a very interdisciplinary field. Classics combines languages, literature, history, archaeology, art, anthropology, religion, philosophy, and countless other fields to provide as full of an understanding of the ancient world as possible.

What aspect of your areas of study do you find most rewarding?

The most rewarding aspects of studying classics are being able to understand ancient texts and to share my passion for classics through teaching and engagement. I have volunteered with the Latin tutoring service offered by FSU’s classics department and have taught as a private tutor. Being able to guide others in reading ancient texts and understanding Latin has been very fulfilling. I was also involved in Eta Sigma Phi, the Classics Honor Society, and served as president of FSU’s chapter last year. It is rewarding to connect with others interested in the ancient world and promote this subject.

What on-campus resources have helped you achieve success?

The University Honors Program, particularly the Honors in the Major program, helped me develop as a scholar and achieve success. Through these programs, I became a better researcher, I was able to work closely with knowledgeable faculty mentors, and I became more confident in my academic abilities.

Are there any faculty or staff who have helped or inspired you?

Associate professor of religion David Levenson really inspired me. He introduced me to textual criticism and the works of Josephus, both of which were topics I explored in my honors thesis and my conference presentations. His guidance and encouragement were incredibly valuable. He has been such an influential mentor in my research, and he served as my honors thesis director. Many other classics faculty also supported me a lot, especially associate professors of classics Trevor Luke and Jessica Clark, who is also the director of undergraduate studies in the department. They were both on my thesis committee.

What are you up to since graduation?

My plan is to attend graduate school and continue to study Latin and Greek with the eventual goal of becoming a professor, and I look forward to continuing my studies. Currently, I am expanding upon my undergraduate work with Levenson on a collation project, for which I am comparing manuscripts for different passages from Josephus' “Jewish War.”

What advice do you have for students at FSU?

Be aware of the opportunities you have, and do not be afraid to seize them. FSU has a variety of different resources and programs that allow you to explore your interests in great depth, pursue high-level research, and become prepared for wherever your path takes you. Do not hesitate to take advantage of these opportunities.