Miriam Bay

Miriam Bay

Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology
Doctoral researcher

Contact details


Title of thesis: Cultivating Narrative and Composing Landscape: Reading Ovid in the Italian Renaissance Garden

Supervisor: Professor Diana Spencer

Source of Funding: Midland3Cities, AHRC


  • MA Classics & Ancient History - Distinction, University of Exeter
  • BA (Hons.) Classics & English Literature - First, University of Exeter


I graduated with a first BA (Hons.) in Classics and English Literature from the University of Exeter in 2010. In 2011 I received an AHRC Research Preparation Masters Studentship to undertake my MA in Classics and Ancient History at Exeter. My thesis Ovid’s Wonderland: Recreating the Garden of Flora sought to reconstruct the garden of Ovid’s Fasti and I graduated with a distinction.

After two years working in local government as PA to the County Treasurer for Devon, I gained an AHRC M3C Doctoral Studentship Award and began my PhD in the Classics & Ancient History department at University of Birmingham, researching the reception of Ovid in Italian Renaissance gardens, supervised by Professor Diana Spencer.


  • Age of Nero seminars - Autumn Term 2015, 2016
  • Age of Cicero seminars - Spring Term 2016, 2017
  • Introduction to Greek and Roman History seminars - Autumn Term 2016, Spring Term 2017

Doctoral research

PhD title
Cultivating Narrative and Composing Landscape: Reading Ovid in the Italian Renaissance Garden
Professor Diana Spencer
Classics and Ancient History PhD/MA by Research (On-Campus or by Distance Learning)


My thesis presents a reconstruction of the Villa d’Este’s narrative experience, tracing the way in which geographical and mythical themes were intertwined to reconfigure the site as a new Garden of the Hesperides, where visitors followed the footsteps of Hercules’ heroic endeavors through a microcosmic vision of the surrounding Tiburtine landscape. I explore how archetypal mythic landscapes and locales of Ovid’s Metamorphoses shaped this narrative, and the intersection of text and site within the garden’s horticultural programmes. My research foregrounds the previously overlooked integrality of the planting schemes to the Villa d’Este’s ideological programmes. Whilst iconography remains significant, this thesis recenters attention on the botanical elements of the garden’s design, enabling a new interpretive approach to the garden’s narrative. My research sheds light on the experiential quality of visits to and encounters within the garden, focalised through both the semiotic and somatic experience of the strolling visitor. This results in a new understanding of how its physically immersive sensescape engaged visitors as active participants in the unfolding drama.

As part of my research I am working in partnership with Grade II listed Arts & Crafts villa Winterbourne House and Gardens to recreate an Italian Renaissance garden based upon plantings inspired by Ovid’s botany, designed by acclaimed landscape designer Kathryn Aalto. By adopting a phenomenological approach recreating the plantings of the past, I will define the garden encounter through its somatic experience, examining how the senses evoked a specific response in the visitor and are intrinsically linked with the semiotic elements of garden design.

Other activities

Academia.edu: https://bham.academia.edu/MiriamBay

Research Blog: http://nasossong.wordpress.com

  • Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences Rome Study Tour 2016 (and upcoming in 2017) - co-leader of LANS student study tour of Rome with Professor Diana Spencer
  • Rosetta Journal - Specialist Editor
  • Winterbourne Project: Ovid’s Garden - Recreation of an Italian Renaissance garden based upon plantings inspired by the botany of Ovid in partnership with Winterbourne House & Gardens.
  • Classics Kitchen - a pop-up kitchen giving an interactive experience of food in the ancient world through cooking demonstrations, food samples and ancient recipes at educational outreach projects.



  • "The Tiburtine Sibyl at the Villa d'Este: Oracular Encounters and Prophetic Locales", CAHA Research Seminar 2017, University of Birmingham
  • "The Transformation of Flora: Landscaping the Female Body", CAHA Colloquium 2016, University of Birmingham
  • "Botanical Bodies: Ovid's Gendered Floriculture", Classical Association 2016, University of Edinburgh
  • "Daedalus’ Legacy: Classical Invocation & Arboreal Invention in Italian Renaissance Garden Labyrinth Design", AMPRAW, University Nottingham, 15th December 2015
  • "The River Charmed by Ilia: The Aniene’s Ancient Origins at the Villa d’Este, Tivoli," CAHA Colloquium, University of Birmingham, 5th May 2015

Panel Convener:

  • "Ancient Botany in Text and Practice", Classical Association 2016, University of Edinburgh


  • The Monster in the Garden: The Grotesque and the Gigantic in Renaissance Landscape Design, by Luke Morgan. Landscape History Journal 38 (1), Spring 2017.