Bio and Research
Niek Janssen is a scholar of Latin and Greek literature, with a special interest in the ways parodic, satiric, comedic, humorous, and invective texts interrogate social and aesthetic norms.
As a Banting Postdoctoral Researcher, Niek will be revising his dissertation, “Appropriate Transgressions: Parody and Decorum in Ancient Greece and Rome” for publication as a monograph. This project puts parodic literature–from Hegemon of Thasos’ “paroidiai” and the “Batrachomyomachia” to Ovid’s “Ars Amatoria” and Statius’ “Achilleid”–in conversation with ancient philosophical, rhetorical, and literary-critical writings on “decorum” (“appropriateness”). It argues that parody, as a mode of imitation that transgresses against but nevertheless remains invested in norms of propriety, exposes the weaknesses and limitations of theoretical accounts of “decorum” in e.g. Plato, Cicero, and Quintilian.
Niek’s second monograph-length project, tentatively titled “Madmen, Friends, and Cynics: Comic Free Speech in Greco-Roman Antiquity,” turns to comedy as a traditional limit case for norms around free and frank expression (“parrhesia”). This project is an intervention in recent debates about the alleged rise of “cancel culture” and “political correctness,” which center around the capacity of speech to do or undo harm. The license that comic speech enjoys to speak beyond conventional limits of appropriate utterance is often defended, in antiquity and today, on the grounds that comedy’s importance consists in “telling it like it is” and “speaking truth to power.” Yet comedy often fails to deliver on this promise, by punching down instead of up and by reaffirming rather than contesting the status quo. This project interrogates comedy’s investment in and practices of free speech by asking in which sense speech can be called “free” in the first place: free from what, and free for whom?
Beyond these projects, Niek maintains active interests in many areas of Latin and Greek literature, especially in relation to rhetoric, law, the emotions, translation studies, and reception. Works in progress cover the reception of Virgil’s angry Juno; the paradox of “Stoic anger” in Persius; foreign language interpreters in Aristophanes and Plautus; an unusual take on the heap paradox by the jurist Trebatius; two 18th-century forgeries of Horatian Odes; and Franciscus Plante’s Neolatin colonial epic “Mauritiados Libri XII.”
Before coming to Toronto, Niek received his PhD in Classics from Yale University, with the support of an ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship. He received his MA in Literary Studies/Classics and BA in Classics (both summa cum laude) from Radboud University in Nijmegen, The Netherlands.
Parody, satire, and comedy; Decorum and normativity; Greek and Latin literature