A New Spin on an Old Tale: Vergil in China

Dr. Jinyu Liu, associate professor and chair of the Classics Department at DePauw University.

Before the summer began, I had the good fortune to listen to a talk about a familiar topic in a seemingly unusual setting.  Dr. Jinyu Liu, chair and associate professor of Classics at DePauw University, spoke about the reception of the Classics in China.  Specifically, her talk was “Graeco-Roman Classics in China (1600-1949): The Case of Virgil.”  Dr. Liu began her presentation by demonstrating that the Classics actually have a hold on the popular imagination in China.  She showed pictures of a full-scale replica of Trajan’s Column in Macau, “the Chinese Las Vegas”, and a Colosseum made of beer bottles at a museum in Taiwan.  Apparently, Jesuit missionaries first introduced the Classics to China around 400 years ago.  The question which Dr. Liu’s talk then addressed was what values did the Chinese people and Chinese scholars see in the Classical world and how did their views influence their decisions to translate certain texts and not others.

One first notices that the Chinese people have clearly favored the works of Homer over those of Vergil.  Since the early twentieth century, Homer has been translated into Chinese multiple times while the first full translation of the Aeneid in that language did not become available until 1984.  Why this slanted view of the Classics?  According to Dr. Liu, in the early part of this last century the Chinese drew on examples such as those of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae and the fierce Greek warriors in Homer’s epics to inspire themselves to stand firm as a nation.  By contrast, the Chinese viewed the Romans as archetypical conquering warriors, an image that threatened Chinese nationalism.  In accordance with this Greek-Roman dichotomy, the Chinese found support for their nationalistic views in the works of the poet Lord Byron, who wrote about Greek culture and advocated for the independence of the modern state of Greece, a movement with which many Chinese in the early 1900s could identify themselves.  On the other hand, many Chinese scholars, when they finally began translating small portions of Vergil’s work, rendered the character of Aeneas as more of a conquering villain than his familiar role as the pious pawn of destiny.

Fortunately for the lovers of Vergil among us, Dr. Liu says that Vergil’s reputation in China is

A replica of Trajan’s Column near the Sands casino in Macau, China.

currently enjoying a bit of revival.  Apparently, as China begins to embrace more and more globalization, the figure of Aeneas has become more appealing.  As a sign of this resurgence of interest, a book about the Aeneid by esteemed Classicist Eve Adler became the first ever such work received favorably in China.

While the details of Dr. Liu’s research proved interesting in themselves, I found that, after her talk, the audience was struck by the fact that her research has barely scratched the surface of a field that few have analyzed because few have possessed the necessary skills to do so.  Dr. Liu’s interdisciplinary approach which requires her to examine both modern Chinese and ancient Latin and Greek sources and to view them in the light of Chinese history appears to me to be a wonderful example of the power of the Classics to bring sources and viewpoints together.  As the Chinese people have demonstrated, the Classics can mean different things to different people.  Thanks to Dr. Liu for helping us see that in such a vivid way!


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Classics Alumnus Wins Microsoft Competition

Michael Carper, ’13, a Classics major, recently won the grand prize in Microsoft’s Power BI demo contest.  To see what Classics majors can do, follow the link.


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Stroud Wins Fulbright

The Classics Department is proud of Patrick Stroud, ’14, who just recently was awarded the college’s third Fulbright fellowship this year.  Stroud is Classics minor.  Follow the link for the full story.


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Magic and the Classics Tomorrow

It’s less than twenty-four hours until the big Suovetaurilia tomorrow.  I hope everyone is getting their togas, and appetites, ready.  In the midst of all the excitement, I have one last blog to write about the schedule of events for tomorrow.  Since so many Classics classes this semester are focused on religion and magic in the ancient world, what better way to showcase this theme than with some actual ancient Greek and Roman magic?  Tomorrow, the Suovetaurilia planners will set up several stations including:

  1. Making your own dedication to the gods (with Play-Doh)
  2. Designing your own curse tablets
  3. Reading the sortes Vergilianae (an ancient method of divination in which the person reading the fortune picks a random passage from a work of the ancient Roman poet Vergil).

Tomorrow guests at the Suovetaurilia will be able to make their own curse tablets, like the ancient Greek one shown here.

Do you have a grudge against someone that you’d like the gods to handle?  Do you want to thank them for handling it? Do you want to learn what Vergil has to say about your fortunes?  Then come to the Suovetaurilia tomorrow.  Even if the gods don’t hear your prayers, the Classics Department and Eta Sigma Phi will make sure you’re well-fed.   

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Delicious Food!

Wabash amici,

The Suovetaurilia is in exactly one week! As that day approaches, I thought it would be

The first Wabash Suovetaurilia will be held behind right field between the two baseball games (approximately 3:15pm) on Saturday, April 26.

appropriate to post the menu for the day on this blog.  The event is meant to be a Classically-themed feast after all.  Without further ado, here’s the food which Dr. Leslie Day’s “Food in the Ancient World” class will be preparing for our enthusiastic consumption.


Cooking meat (Dylan Mayer)

Duck (Wes Adams, Zach Sticher)



“Bread” (Francisco Huerta, Austin Jarrett, Austin Heise, Harrison Slater)

Roman barley maza cakes (Jordan Fenton, Jacob Scherb)

Emmer bread and barley bread (Josh Jones)

Barley cake maza with cheese (Bradley Wise, Matt Schramm, Arturo Granados, Jake




Porridge (Andrew Tutsie, L.V. Bowden)

Spartan barley porridge (Matt Gibson, Michael Putko, J.T. Henning)



Roasted leeks and apples (Clay Lengerich, Chris Beardsley, Gabe Di Feccio)

Ancient bean soup (Mitch Singleton, Pat Singleton, Reid Smith, Tyler McCullen)

Honeyed mushrooms (Luke Walker)



Pasteli (honey and sesame sweet) (Nathan Bryant, Austin Myers, Jonathan Anleitner)

Pancakes with honey and sesame seeds (Bauer Schmeltz, Levi Kinney)



Greek pizza  (Dan Miller)

Olives (John Vosel, Patrick Kroll, Hayden Williams)

Cheese (Daniel Purvlicis, Ryan Gross, Adam Antalis, Sean McGrath, Luke Holm)



Mead (Chris Rai, Drew Songer, Wade Miller, Andrew Wilson)

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More Exciting News on the Suovetaurilia

Professor Wickkiser’s class will be symbolically performing a sacrifice as described in the pages of Homer.

As promised, I have more information on the program for the Suovetaurilia which will occur in just over a week.  Professor Wickkiser’s Ancient Greek Religion and Magic class will begin the festivities with a reading, in English, from Book 1 of Homer’s Iliad.  This particular passage actually describes, in great detail, the process of an ancient Greek sacrifice.  It should be fun to hear some of the words of the oldest work of Western literature and see them symbolically re-enacted.  Additionally, I’m especially excited about this portion of the program because I will be playing the part of the priest from the Iliad. Following this reading, several students will then conduct a burning of the bones and fat from the animals, just as the ancients would have done.  What better way could there be to learn about the ancient world than to see its oldest and most fundamental rituals performed?  Don’t forget that this event is open to everybody.  Come join the fun and join me in getting into the spirit of the ancient world!


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