Erich S. Gruen, Wood Professor Emeritus of History and Classics at the University of California-Berkeley, will deliver the seventh annual McKibben Lecture at Grinnell College at 4:15 p.m. Thursday, April 19, in the Forum South Lounge. His talk, “Identity Theft in the Ancient Mediterranean,” discusses the intertwinings and overlappings in traditions among diverse peoples in antiquity — Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, and Jews.
This topic reflects Gruen’s most recent scholarly work, in which he argues against a consensus of classicists who assert that the Greeks, Romans, and Jews maintained their sense of collective identity by denigrating other peoples through negative stereotypes, caricature, and prejudice. Gruen argues that the Greeks, Romans, and Jews, rather than cultivating a rigid dichotomy between self and the “Other,” freely appropriated both the features and traditions of other cultures and fashioned their own cultural identities in nuanced and creative ways.
Gruen has a bachelor's degree in history, Greek and Latin from Columbia University and a doctorate in history from Harvard University. He was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University where he took a bachelor's in ancient history and philosophy. He taught briefly at Harvard University and then spent his academic career at the University of California-Berkeley, where in 2007 he received the Berkeley Citation for distinguished achievement and for notable service to the university. In addition, Gruen has been a visiting professor at numerous universities, including Princeton, Cornell, and Stanford.
Gruen, a recipient of many academic honors including the Guggenheim Fellowship, is the author of eight books about the late Roman Republic and about cultural interaction in classical antiquity. His publishing career spans more than 40 years, from the appearance of Roman Politics and the Criminal Courts, 149–78 BC in 1968 to Rethinking the Other in Antiquity in 2011. In addition he has edited and co-edited four collections of essays on cultural identity. Gruen has also published more than 90 articles and more than 90 reviews in scholarly journals and collections.
The McKibben Lecture is sponsored by the Department of Classics, and honors Bill and Betty McKibben, whose combined service to Grinnell College and to the greater Grinnell community totaled more than a century.
The lecture is free and open to the public.