Catching up with… Hans-Friedrich Mueller

Publication Date

Hans-Friedrich Mueller, the Thomas Lamont Professor of Ancient and Modern Literatures, grew up in Milwaukee, Wis., thinking sidewalks and walkability were a normal feature of the landscape. Eighteen years in Florida and North Carolina taught him that this was far from true, and he has been grateful during his 20 years at Union that Schenectady has offered a return to a walkable world. He generally walks the three miles to campus from Scotia while listening to novels on Audible (usually in foreign languages).

Hans-Friedrich Mueller, the Thomas Lamont Professor of Ancient and Modern Literatures, teaches ancient Greek, Latin, Roman history, ancient mythology and pre-Christian pagan religions, as well as a range of courses devoted to ancient literature in translation.

Hans-Friedrich Mueller, the Thomas Lamont Professor of Ancient and Modern Literatures, in December after the conclusion of a three-week mini-term with 29 Union students in Córdoba, Spain.

At Union, Mueller teaches ancient Greek, Latin, Roman history, ancient mythology and pre-Christian pagan religions, as well as a range of courses devoted to ancient literature in translation. He has collaborated with Daniel Mosquera in Modern Languages on developing a mini-term in Córdoba, Spain, which looks at the history of religion (paganism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) in that city from antiquity through the Middle Ages. He also co-directed, with Nicole Theodosiou in Biology, a seminar devoted to food and culture during a full term abroad to Australia. Mueller has also led full terms abroad in Italy, Germany and Greece.

Mueller is proud of his four daughters, all of whom attended Union, and notes that their majors show the breadth of what the liberal arts can offer. Sarah Mueller Gross ’09 majored in art history and classics, and now works in marketing in Charlotte, N.C. Anna Edwards ’11, majored in biochemistry and German, and serves as the director of curriculum for a public charter school in Lawrence, Mass. Paula Davis ’12, majored in psychology and works for the Office of the District Attorney in Schenectady, where she counsels children who have been the victims of domestic abuse or who have otherwise suffered from crime. The youngest, Laura Mueller ’17, majored in economics and works in private equity in Atlanta, Ga.

Catching up with...

Each week a faculty or staff member is profiled. Answering a series of short questions, the profiles are intended to be light, informative and conversational.

More catching up with...

Mueller began his undergraduate studies at Brown University but transferred to the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, where he could afford to pay his own tuition, thus freeing him to pursue languages rather than medicine. After earning his B.A. and a post-B.A. teaching certificate, he spent six years at a high school in Clearwater, Fla., where he taught Latin and German.

He earned an M.A. in classics from the University of Florida and his Ph.D. in classical philology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He then spent a year as a lexicographer at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences in Munich, Germany, where he contributed 15 articles for words beginning with the letter “p” to the “Thesaurus Linguae Latinae” (an encyclopedic Latin dictionary). This was followed by faculty posts at Florida State University and the University of Florida before he accepted a position at Union College in 2004.

Mueller is the author of “Roman Religion in Valerius Maximus” (Routledge), the editor of an abridged edition of Edward Gibbon's “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” (Modern Library), and the translator of Andreas Mehl's “Roman Historiography” (Wiley-Blackwell), as well as the author of “Caesar: Selections from his Commentarii De Bello Gallico”(Bolchazy-Carducci). He is also the author and instructor for three video courses available from Wondrium (aka The Teaching Company): Latin 101: Learning a Classical Language; Greek 101: Learning an Ancient Language; and most recently, The Pagan World: Ancient Religions before Christianity.

His current research focuses on social and religious aspects of life at night in ancient Rome.


I am addicted to news apps. I also subscribe to home delivery of two local newspapers. Call me old-fashioned. Even if I have to go to the end of my driveway to fetch them, I prefer printed papers to apps.


Two soft-boiled eggs and three or four shots of espresso


Teaching classics regularly requires that I reread great books, including, for example, last term when I assigned, and then read, for more than the 20th time, Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” a mythological history of the universe from primeval chaos to the assassination of Julius Caesar and the prospective apotheosis of the then still-living emperor Augustus. I do not, of course, confine myself to my own assigned readings, and although I will not venture to term it “great,” I can recommend “Le Mage du Kremlin” by Giuliano da Empoli. The story is told through an imaginary conversation between the author and “the wizard (le mage),” a producer of reality television shows in Moscow, who helped fashion and market Vladimir Putin’s image. Although historical fiction, the novel presents a plausible account of Putin’s rise to power. It has now been translated into English as “The Wizard of the Kremlin.”


Early in my career, when I was despondent about finding a permanent position, the director of my dissertation, Jerzy Linderski, advised, “If you can’t find a job teaching classics, console yourself by becoming rich.” I consider myself lucky. Fate chose to bestow classics rather than wealth.


I was 55 when I first set foot in Greece. (Finances, four daughters to raise and other feeble excuses had kept me at home.) Upon arrival, it quickly became apparent that had I visited earlier, I would have been a more effective teacher. For the last nine years, and with the help of Union, I have worked to make up for lost time. Why Greece? A brief list: the library of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, outstanding museums, significant archaeological sites, beautiful scenery, cities where diverse historical periods visibly emerge in odd juxtaposition to modern life. The people are friendly, they encourage any efforts to speak Modern Greek and the food is delicious.


Thanks to Jeff Jauregui’s recent recommendation in this very feature, my wife and I began watching Apple’s “For All Mankind, an alternative history of the space race.


Calligraphy. My third-grade teacher told me that I had the worst handwriting in the class. I have ever since striven, unsuccessfully, to improve it. Oddly, although she also told me that I could not carry a tune, and moved my seat from the front row to the back corner of the room so she would not have to hear me, I have made no subsequent effort to sing.

THREE DINNER PARTY GUESTS (living or deceased):

Three contemporaries of the first century BCE: Marcus Terentius Varro, the greatest scholar of ancient Rome and author of a lost work on Roman religion (Res humane et divinae); Publius Nigidius Figulus, second in reputation only to Varro and a scholar whose works on Roman religion survive in mere fragments; and Gaius Julius Caesar, famous, of course, as a politician, general and author of commentaries on the wars he fought (these do survive), but less well known as Rome’s pontifex maximus or chief priest. Why? I work on pre-Christian Roman religion, and I still have a lot of unanswered questions…


The Kinks in the fall of 1979 at the Providence Civic Center. I was 19 and a sophomore in college.


I fell head first from a garage roof the summer after second grade and was lucky to escape (after a month in the hospital) with two broken arms and a depressed skull fracture rather than a broken neck. My siblings claim that this mishap helps explain why I turned out the way that I did.