Date of Award

Winter 12-15-2021

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Comparative Literature

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Comparative scholars of the ancient Mediterranean and East Asian worlds have recently taken a serious interest in the unprecedented and simultaneous emergence of two classical empires: Rome and China. The trend, invigorated by the contemporary geopolitical development of China’s rise as a world empire challenging the post-World War II Western hegemony, has yielded new insights into the many divergences and convergences of the world’s two most enduring political and cultural systems. However, preoccupied with describing the political, cultural institutions and grand narratives of empire, scholarship has largely ignored the detractors of empire, whose ingenious expressions are as enduring as these imperial forms, and integral to their cultural legacies. My dissertation Satirizing Empire: Comparing Ancient China and Rome takes up four iconic works of satire of the ancient world: the writings of Juvenal, Yang Xiong, Lucian and Zhuangzi. The satirical representations of empire not only tell us specific stories about our imperial pasts, but also expose a core issue at the heart of writing literature, namely its complicity in political and cultural forms and institutions. Although modern scholarship largely equates the genre of satire with its political potency and radically democratic notions, the capacious and varied forms of ancient satires are identifiably imperial products. Wielding rhetorical, philosophical, dramatic, and literary tools acquired from classical learning, ancient satires represent the imperial “way of life” in all its absurdities.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Robert E. Hegel

Committee Members

Wiebke Denecke