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James A. Francis

Ph.D. in Classical Studies 1991, Duke University
B.A. (Hon.) in History & Philosophy, 1976, Villanova University
Professor Francis has specialized in the cultural history of the later Roman Empire, specifically focusing on the 2nd-4th centuries C.E. His particular interest has been the broader cultural context in which early Christianity developed, the interrelations between Christianity and pagan thought and culture, and the relationship between verbal and visual representation, and how image making and the dynamics of seeing permeate literature, the exercise of power, and conceptions of divinity. His earlier research on asceticism and pagan philosophical culture culminated in the publication of his book Subversive Virtue. He is the author of various articles and reviews which have appeared in classics, history, and religion journals, and has taken an active part in learned societies in all of these disciplines. Professor Francis retired in December 2018.

Previous Positions

  • Assistant Professor, then Associate Professor of Classics, University of Kentucky, 1995-2018
  • Interim Director of the Program in Classics, Rollins College, Winter Park, FL, 1993-95
  • Visiting Assistant Professor of Classics, Rollins College, 1991-95
  • Instructor in Liberal Studies, St. John's University, Collegeville, MN, 1980-81
  • Assistant Director, N.E.H. Christian Humanism Project, St. John's University, 1978-81
Selected Publications:

Subversive Virtue: Asceticism and Authority in the Second-Century Pagan World.  University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995.

Early Monastic Rules: The Rules of the Fathers and the Regula Orientalis. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1982.  (Co-translator)


"Classical Conceptions of Visuality and Representation in John of Damascus’ Defense of Holy Images," Studies in Late Antiquity 4 (2020): 284-308.“

“Seeing God(s): Images and the Divine in Pagan and Christian Thought in the Second to Fourth Centuries C.E.”  Studia Patristica 59 (2013): 5-10.

“Late Antique Visuality: Blurring the Boundaries Between Word and Image, Pagan and Christian.” In David Brakke, Deborah Deliyannis, & Edward Watts, eds., Shifting Cultural Frontiers in Late Antiquity, 139-149.  Farnham, Surrey & Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2012.

“Living Images in the Ekphrasis of Homer and Hesiod.” In Papers of the Langford Latin Seminar 15: 113-141.  Prenton: Oxbow Books, 2012.

“Biblical Not Scriptural: Perspectives on Early Christian Art from Contemporary Classical Scholarship.”  Studia Patristica 44 (2010): 3-8.

“Metal Maidens, Achilles’ Shield, and Pandora: The Beginnings of ‘Ekphrasis.’”  American Journal of Philology 130 (2009): 1-23.

“Verbal and Visual Representation: Art and Text, Culture and Power in Late Antiquity.”  In Philip Rousseau, ed., A Companion to Late Antiquity, 285-305. Oxford: Blackwell, 2009.  This volume  has received the Association of American Publishers 2009 PROSE award ("Professional and Scholarly Excellence") for Best Single-Volume Reference in Humanities and Social Sciences.

“Living Icons: Tracing a Motif in Verbal and Visual Representation from the Second to Fourth Centuries, C.E.” American Journal of Philology 124 (2003): 575-600.

“Clement of Alexandria on Signet Rings: Reading an Image at the Dawn of Christian Art” Classical Philology, 98 (2003): 179-183.

“Truthful Fiction: New Questions to Old Answers on Philostratus’s Life of Apollonius.”  American Journal of Philology, 119 (1998): 419-441.