PhD Position

Anchoring Innovation in the New. The Poetae Novi and Catullus

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Anchoring Innovation in the New. The Poetae Novi and Catullus


Radboud University Nijmegen
Erasmusplein 1
6500 HD Nijmegen

Suzanne van de Liefvoort
+31(0)24 3611276

Anchoring Innovation in the New. The Poetae Novi and Catullus


Prof. dr. A.B. Wessels (Leiden), Prof. dr. M.A. Harder (Groningen)

Job description

At the beginning of the first century BC, a group of young energetic poets took to the literary stage in Rome: the so-called poetae novi. Catullus, the only representative whose texts have been transmitted by and large in full, presents his own collection as “new” (novus libellus); at the same time, he claims its innovative features to build on an earlier innovation, the alleged program of a Hellenistic ‘avantgarde’. In modern scholarship, it is still assumed that the poetae novi shared this agenda and that they more or less employed the same techniques. Yet, can the material we have on them actually support this view? Why was Catullus so successful, while the poems of the other poetae novi have survived as fragments? Did they just ‘fail’, and if so, why? Or did they aim at and succeed in something different?

Poets such as Calvus, Cinna, Furius Bibaculus, Varro Atacinus, exerted great influence upon the next generation of poets, such as Virgil and Propertius. At the same time, their own poetry seem not to have maintained much of a readership beyond their contemporary period. How can we describe this paradox? On the one hand, their reception of Hellenistic poetry contributed to the creation of an anchor that finally would be accepted in Roman society. On the other hand, they failed to promote their own poetry. What can this tell us about the techniques to anchor innovations and, more specifically, about the status of Hellenistic poetry in the Roman Republic and its career as an ‘anchor’ in Augustan poetry?

The poetae novi and their impact on Augustan poetry are highly understudied. While the last few decades have seen a boom in studies on Callimachus and other Hellenistic poets, the poetae novi besides Catullus have not benefitted from much re-evaluation. We know much more about the background to the poetae novi than ever before, but there is much work to be done on shedding light on the poetae novi themselves. Thus, there is an opportunity for a talented researcher to make a real impact on the field. The PhD candidate will also benefit from the knowledge and expertise shared across the wider Anchoring program, which includes other researchers working on innovation in the interactions of Roman poets with Greek literature.

The PhD candidate will study the fragments, testimonia and the early reception of the poetae novi and explore the Greco-Roman discourse in which they were involved (Hellenistic poetry, contemporary Greek literature) and to which they contributed (Late Republican, Augustan poetry). What was their background, agenda, impact and reception? How can we describe the specific processes of their reception, and are failure and success of the poetae novi related to specific techniques of anchoring their program? How do their techniques differ from the anchoring techniques employed by Catullus?

Candidates are invited to design a structured PhD proposal (title, research question, scholarly background, aims, method, corpus) around these questions. They are free to adopt a more literary or more historical perspective as they prefer. In their proposal, they should outline their suggested approach, main research question, and expected original contribution to the field.

Host institution

The Faculty of Humanities of Leiden University is a unique international centre for the advanced study of languages, cultures, arts, and societies worldwide, in their historical contexts from prehistory to the present. Our faculty is home to more than 6,000 students and 800 staff members. For more information see here. The Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society (LUCAS) is one of the seven Research Institutes of the Faculty of Humanities. LUCAS is dedicated to ground-breaking research that explores the multifaceted relationships between the arts and society. For more information see here.

Terms and conditions

PhD project, 4 years (1.0 FTE, 38 hrs per week), starting date to be agreed upon, with a preference for September 1, 2021. Initially the employee will receive a one-year contract, with extension for the following 36 months on condition of a positive evaluation. It is possible to extend the position over 5 years at 0,8 fte. The appointment must lead to the completion of a PhD thesis. Salary range from € 2.395 to € 3.061 gross per month for a fulltime appointment (pay scale for PhDs, in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities). Leiden University offers an attractive benefits package with additional holiday (8%) and end-of-year bonuses (8.3%), training and career development. Candidates from outside the Netherlands may be eligible for a substantial tax break. For more information, see here.

Tasks of the PD will include:
  • Completion of a PhD thesis within four years (1,0 fte) or five years (0,8 fte);
  • Participation in meetings of the project research group(s);
  • Presentations of intermediate research results at workshops and conferences;
  • Participation in the training program of the local Leiden Graduate School and the National Research School in Classics (OIKOS);
  • Participation in staff meetings of the Leiden Classics team and the intellectual life of the department and the institute;
  • Some teaching in the second and third years of the appointment
  • A Research Master, MA or MPhil degree in Classics, held by time of appointment, with an MA thesis of high quality with a grade of at least 8.0 on a ten-point scale, or comparable assessment (if the degree is not yet obtained at the time of application, a statement by the applicant’s supervisor should confirm that it will be obtained by time of appointment);
  • Well-developed research skills, including the ability to formulate relevant and creative research questions and hypotheses, descriptive and analytical skills, and a clear and persuasive style of writing
  • Excellent competence in ancient Greek and Latin, and English, as well as reading competence in French, German and Italian
  • Willingness to work with fragments
  • A strong cooperative attitude and willingness to engage in collaborative research

The Anchoring Innovation program is strongly committed to diversity within its team and especially welcomes applications from members of underrepresented groups.


Enquiries about the position can be addressed to Prof. dr. Antje Wessels, Do not hesitate to contact your prospective supervisor about the design of your research proposal. Questions about the procedure can be directed to Dr. Suzanne van de Liefvoort,


In order to be admissible, applications must include the following information (in the same order), in one PDF file (not zipped):

  • Cover letter;
  • CV, including contact information of two referees;
  • Transcript of records;
  • Research proposal of 1500 words. This does not include the bibliography and (if appropriate) an appendix containing a list of sources (together max. two pages A4);
  • Copy of relevant diploma or statement by PhD supervisor confirming that the applicant will hold the required degree at the time of appointment.

Please submit your complete application to Dr. Suzanne van de Liefvoort, the coordinator of the Anchoring-program via before April 24, 2021. Interviews will take place in the week of May 24-28, 2021 and will probably be held online.