Classics Hosts Lecture on Native American Writing

Dr. Craig Williams explored the intersection of Native American writing and Greek and Roman classics.
Posted on October 7th, 2019 by

Craig Williams lectures at Gustavus on Thursday, October 3, 2019.

On Thursday, October 3, the Department of Greek, Latin, and Classical Studies hosted University of Illinois Professor Craig Williams for a public lecture on a highly understudied topic: Native American writings on Greek and Roman classics.

Williams’ talk, titled “Ere Egypt and Rome Were Born: Native American Writers on Greco-Roman Antiquity,” focused on various pieces of Native American writing that incorporate elements from the classics‒with the first known piece dating all the way back to 1663. Along with the literature, Williams pointed out themes to focus on when reading these kinds of historical works, as well as some of the challenges that come along with studying historical works.

“Finding the texts (is a challenge), but there’s great pleasure in archival research,” Williams said. “Trying to figure out where things might be‒it’s a challenge but it’s a pleasurable challenge.”

Williams also gave the audience a sense of the cultural implications that might be addressed through his line of work.

“Those who study classics are not blindly accepting European culture,” Williams said. “They remind us, implicitly or sometimes explicitly, that the classics have been a central pillar of the ongoing cultural assault, mental colonization, or cultural genocide.”

Jordan Johnson ’21, a theatre major with minors in classics and English, was able to take a lot away from Williams’ talk.

“I learned a lot about how the rest of the world has their own classics,” Johnson said. “I’ve only been exposed to the classics of the Greeks and Romans, so having this chance to see how other people take that into their own life, especially Native Americans, I think that is something really important for me to listen to.”

While the study of the prevalence of classics in Native American writing may seem extremely specific, it holds personal relevance in Williams’ life.

“It’s a parallel to a journey in my own life,” Williams said. “I’m Mohaken on my father’s side, and I didn’t grow up with knowledge about my culture. That’s been a powerful inspiration, to get to know these authors, respect them, and learn their history,” Williams said.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Luc Hatlestad


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