Fall 2023

Difference and Xenophobia in the Ancient Mediterranean

Listed in: First Year Seminar, as FYSE-125


Niek Janssen (Section 01)


This class explores the historical processes by which ethnic and cultural difference were made into “problems” in the Ancient Mediterranean. In reading Greek and Roman literary texts (in translation) alongside contemporary historical and theoretical scholarship, the class challenges the notion that xenophobia is an inevitable consequence of difference per se. Frequent interaction across linguistic, cultural, and ethnic divides was a simple fact of life in the Ancient Mediterranean. While the existence of difference was often considered a positive—a driver for growth and innovation—it was equally often seen as a threat. We will study under which specific social, political, and economic forces ancient xenophobia thrived, how this xenophobia was subsequently justified by Greco-Roman philosophers and (pseudo-)scientists, and how these processes compare to modern forms of racism, scapegoating, and othering. We will also discuss how Greco-Roman culture itself has been invoked in recent years to justify racist and white supremacist ideologies in Europe and the United States. Primary texts include Aeschylus’ Persians; Hippocrates’ Airs, Waters, Places; Aristotle’s Politics, Ezekiel Tragicus’ Exagoge; Plautus’ Poenulus; Cicero’s Pro Archia and Verrines; Virgil’s Aeneid; Juvenal’s Satires.

Professor Janssen

How to handle overenrollment: null

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: Reading Greek and Roman source documents in translation; reading contemporary historical and theoretical scholarship; close reading; guided research; writing and revising papers; oral presentation; giving peer feedback.

FYSE 125 - LEC

Section 01
Tu 11:30 AM - 12:50 PM SCCE C101
Th 11:30 AM - 12:50 PM SCCE C101


Other years: Offered in Fall 2023