Bad Emperors Obsessed with Foreign Cultures

with Yiqun Zhou (Stanford University)

Date: Wednesday, May 19, 2021
Time: 3:00pm EDT

Nero (r. 54-68 CE) and Emperor Wu of the Han (r. 141-87 BCE) were both known for their extravagance, exhibitionism, and fascination with foreign cultures (Greek, Parthian; Central Asian states), and both were widely criticized in Roman and Han historical sources for these traits. By comparing the criticisms the two rulers received, we gain insights into important similarities and differences between Han and Roman conceptions of the following: the relationship between self and cultural Others, the role of the emperor, and the role of classical ideals and ancestral ways in shaping the imperial office and guiding attitudes toward Others. The comparison, it is hoped, will generate some useful lessons for the comparative approach to the study of classical antiquity.   

Yiqun Zhou is Associate Professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, Stanford University. She is the author of Festivals, Feasts, and Gender Relations in Ancient China and Greece and has also written on the reception of Greek antiquity in modern China.

The Comparatism Seminar Series is organized by Lisa Raphals (University of California, Riverside and the Center for Hellenic Studies) and hosted by the Center for Hellenic Studies.