Office Hours: (Why) Were Romans So Greek? with Professor Niek Janssen

Host Priscilla Lee ’25 and classics professor Niek Janssen discuss Greek and Roman cultural exchange and the birth of Latin literature through translation.

When Livius Andronicus put on a play “in the Greek style” and translated the Odyssey into Latin, Roman literature was born — at least, that’s the story later Romans liked to tell themselves. But is this story true? And why did the Romans want to position themselves as the cultural descendants of classical Greece? In this episode, Visiting Assistant Professor of Classics Niek Janssen sits down with Host Priscilla Lee ’25 to break down the history of Greek and Roman interactions, the Greekness of Roman origin myths, and the word-by-word translation choices of the first Latin Odyssey. To use an anachronistic term, they explore how Roman national identity is constructed both in proximity to and against the Greeks, whose culture the Romans seemingly cannot help but imitate, yet mock and push away as foreign.

Edited and produced by Priscilla Lee '25.