How to frame the relationship between Greece and Rome?

“The Romans inherited the story-world of the Greeks’ myths, absorbing and expanding it with their own distinctly flavored narratives.”

Last night, I started reading The Greek Myths: A New Retelling by Charlotte Higgins. I’ve only read the introduction and invocation of the Muses, but so far, the writing is lovely and lyrical. The theme Higgins chooses to organize the collection around is weaving and its connection to storytelling, a topic I‘ve been consumed with lately. I’m looking forward to seeing how Higgins executes it.

Apparently, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t also point out something uncomfortable (according to a beloved source close to me). That is the sentence at the top of this post, from Higgins’ introduction. To be fair, this tends to be how the relationship between Greece and Rome is framed in the Anglophone texts I read, so I am not picking on Higgins in particular. But it was jarring in this instance because Higgins seems elsewhere to be very sensitive to the ways language can “flatten-out” violence.

“Inherited” seems an exceedingly gentle word for a process that was, at times, not gentle at all. Conquest tends not to be. Besides that, one inherits something via another’s bequest, typically after the latter has passed on. But Greek culture did not die, post-Roman conquest. Greek sovereignty died, but Greek culture continued. Also worth considering: Greek and Roman cultures had been in conversation prior to the conquest, not only after it. Though Rome’s transition to an empire seems, in a way, to have worked as a kind of Muse on the imaginations of Roman poets, providing a space in which to explore and question what Rome was becoming.

Is “inherited” quite the right conceptual framework for the complex relationship between ancient Greece and Rome? I don’t know. It got me thinking, and I wanted to chat about it, have my views challenged and my understanding deepened. 👇

2 thoughts on “How to frame the relationship between Greece and Rome?

    1. It really is. It makes it seem as if there was a seamless transition from Greece to Rome, which is how myth anthologies typically make it seem. It was not seamless or peaceful, and while Greek cultures evolved, inevitably in conversation with Roman imperialism, they still retained their Greek identities.

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