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Greek Epic of the Roman Empire: A Cultural History

Project Outline

This project will provide the first systematic analysis, in cultural terms, of the large and challenging corpus of Greek epic poetry composed between the 1st and the 6th centuries CE. Epic was, for Greeks throughout antiquity, the most prestigious literary form, the apex of the hierarchy of genres. Through it they articulated their conceptions of war, empire, mortality, religion, gender, the natural order, psychology and cultural identity. Given the immense transformations that this era saw – the emergence of Rome as the head of a world empire, the subsequent shift to Constantinople, Christianisation, the laying of the social foundations for mediaeval Europe – its epic poetry offers an invaluable dossier, an unparalleled opportunity to explore the worldview of a highly erudite culture that was at once saturated in the literary paradigms of the distant past and facing a rapidly changing future.

Contact: Tim Whitmarsh ()



EmmaEmma Greensmith is a PhD student at the University of Cambridge and a member of Peterhouse. She received a first-class degree in Classics from the University of Cambridge, and recently completed her M.Phil, also at Cambridge, on an AHRC scholarship. Having initially focused on Homeric epic for her M.Phil, she then became interested in the Posthomerica of Quintus Smyrnaeus, a fascinating epic from the late Imperial period which poses as a sequel to the Iliad. During the project she will expand on this interest, and will write her PhD thesis on religious dynamics in the Posthomerica. She is particularly concerned with unlocking the cultural significance of Quintus’ (ab)use of Homer’s gods when set against the backdrop of wider religious change in late antiquity.

EmilyEmily Kneebone is a Co-Investigator on the project and Director of Studies and College Lecturer in Classics at Newnham College, Cambridge. She has published articles on imperial Greek poetry and prose, and is currently writing a monograph on Oppian’s Halieutica. She is particularly interested in the dynamics of ancient didactic poetry, in the cultural geography of later Greek epic and in representations of the non-human animal in imperial Greek literature.

LauraDr Laura Miguélez-Cavero is Co-Investigator on the project and a Junior Research Fellow at Balliol College (Oxford). She specialises in late antique Greek epic and is particularly keen on Triphiodorus, Nonnus and fragmentary poems extant on papyrus. Laura is currently working on different aspects in which the Imperial hexametric production reflects the socio-cultural atmosphere which produced it. For a complete list of publications click here

TimTim Whitmarsh is Principal Investigator of the project, and A. G. Leventis Professor of Ancient Greek Culture in the University of Cambridge, and a fellow of St John’s College. He has previously held professorial positions in the universities of Exeter and Oxford. A specialist particularly in later Greek literature, he has published a number of books including Greek Literature and the Roman Empire: The Politics of Imitations (Oxford, 2001), Ancient Greek Literature (Cambridge, 2004), The Second Sophistic (Cambridge, 2005), Narrative and Identity in the Ancient Greek Novel (Cambridge, 2011), Beyond the Second Sophistic (Berkeley, 2013) and Battling the Gods: The Struggle against Religion in the Ancient World (London, 2015).

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