Office Hours with … Erika Valdivieso

Valdivieso’s scholarly work takes the ways in which Greek and Roman material has been interpreted through time — and applies them to colonial Latin America.
Erika Valdivieso

Erika Valdivieso (Photo by Dan Renzetti)

Normally, Erika Valdivieso’s scholarly work takes her to far-flung corners of the globe, where she’s able to meet new people and delve into archival material. This is something the pandemic has deprived her of, and she looks forward to a time when she can have “a change of scene, a change of pace, and a change of language.” In the meantime, however, she is grateful to be enjoying the new scenery of New Haven and the Yale campus, where she is completing her first semester in the Department of Classics. We caught up with her for the latest edition of Office Hours, a Q&A series that introduces newcomers to the Yale faculty to the broader university community.

Title Assistant professor of classics
Research interest Latin poetry, book history
Prior institution Princeton University
Started at Yale July 1, 2021

How would you describe your scholarly interests?

Latin from Spanish and Portuguese America! My research takes classical reception studies — the ways in which Greek and Roman material has been transmitted, interpreted, and reimagined through time — and applies it to colonial Latin America.

What inspired your interest in antiquity?

Like many Peruvian families, our house was decorated with reproductions of Inca, Chimú, and Moche artifacts. For me, these pre-Columbian civilizations were ancient, and it was only later that I learned about Greeks and Romans. Growing up with these different frames of antiquity made me curious about points of contact between these worlds, which in turn led me to the colonial period.

We don’t typically associate Virgil with the Incas, but you’ve made this connection in your work. What is the connection?

After the conquest, the Spanish and Portuguese brought classical texts with them to their colonies. Virgil, for example, was an international bestseller in the early modern period, both in translation and in the original Latin. It’s only natural that Virgil had readers in the Americas, too, who then used his poetry to discuss topics as diverse as cannibal rites, Marian apparitions, and Nahuas [an Indigenous group of Mesoamerica].

What is the appeal of studying Latin for young students today?

Students can still study well-known authors — Virgil, Cicero, Livy — but with a twist; I’m thinking, for example, of [Yale classics] Professor Kirk Freudenburg’s class on ancient ecocriticism. At the same time, they can explore the full breadth and depth of the corpus of Latin texts, from late antique hagiography to sources written outside of Europe.

There is a lot of war and drama in the texts you study. What do you do to blow off steam?

There’s nothing that walking to East Rock or kneading bread can’t solve!

How has it been starting a new position during this challenging time of COVID-19?

This has not been a typical semester, but I am grateful to everyone who helped make this transition smooth. I particularly want to thank the students in my first-year seminar: Abigail Fossati, Jamie Latin, Fisher Marks, Gunnar Overstrom, Sarah Sparling, Rome Thorstenson, Tiffany Toh, and Rishika Veeramachaneni. Their enthusiasm was undampened by masks and drafty classrooms!


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