Casper de Jonge: ‘By broadening canon we keep antiquity modern’

On 1 May, Casper de Jonge will be appointed Professor of Greek Language and Literature. ‘Greek literature did not come from Athens alone: authors from Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor also wrote in Greek.’

Casper de Jonge

‘Leiden already has a professor of Greek language and literature, namely Ineke Sluiter’, says De Jonge. ‘Because she started combining this position with the presidency of KNAW, there was room to appoint another professor alongside her. I am happy that I get to do this job, also for the continuity of the study programme.’

Greek as lingua franca

As a professor, he wants to give a new impulse to his research. ‘I focus on Greek literature in the Roman world. When we think of Greek literature, we often think of Homer, classical tragic poets or Plato and Aristotle, but in the period of the Roman Empire (first century BC to sixth century AD) a lot was written in Greek as well.’

‘In that period we can see an exciting cultural interaction between Greece and Rome. At the time, Greek more or less had the function that English has now. It was spoken throughout the Mediterranean, but Rome was the place to be for literature. Many Greek-writing authors from Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor also moved to that city, for example Nicolaus of Damascus and Timagenes of Alexandria. On the one hand, they tried to integrate in Rome by writing about the emperor and the Roman Empire, for example, but on the other hand, they kept an outside view, if only because they continued to write in Greek. The fact that their literature moved between cultures creates an interesting tension, which we can still see in migrant literature today. In order to be able to tell more about this, I use modern theories. In this case, a postcolonial approach.’

Joining the discussion

This approach appeals to the students. ‘In the master’s course Migrant Literature in the Early Roman Empire we talked a lot about diversity of the Roman world. Students like to look at antiquity from a modern perspective. Because a lot of these texts have not been studied in depth, they feel they don’t need to read ten books before they can say something about it. That makes the discussions vibrant. One of the things I’m most looking forward to in the coming years is to continue working with them on similar topics.’

Administrative cooperation

De Jonge also looks forward to closer cooperation within the Centre for the Arts in Society (LUCAS), where he is a member of the management team. ‘The various disciplines are growing closer together. Where we used to stay in our own little boxes, we now exchange tips and literature more often. When I am working on my research about migration, I discuss it with specialists who focus on the twentieth and twenty-first century. Such forms of cooperation make research fun and informative.’

Casper de Jonge teaches in the Bachelor’s programme Greek and Latin Language and Culture, he developed the Minor Rhetoric with colleagues and he is programme director of the Master’s programme Classics and Ancient Civilizations. He studied in Leiden, obtained his PhD there and then worked there as a university lecturer and associate professor. As a researcher he also worked in Washington DC, Princeton and Heidelberg.

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