Pasts Imperfect (1.13.22)
Insurrections, Numismatist Badgers, and More
This week, Joel Christensen discusses the anniversary of January 6th and the ancient history of insurrection. Then, Daphne Martin looks at the ancient and modern history of the site of Sparta, a Spanish badger digs up a number of Roman coins, an online conference explores the Indian Ocean, and much more…
Reflecting on 1/6/21 (Joel Christensen)
One of the particularly knotty things about being a citizen educated and raised in the United States is our relationship to rebels. We praise the rejection of taxation without representation, learn to sing of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, and then express surprise at the stubborn associations of rebellion with the Confederacy, slavery, and the uncomfortable truths about our Republic so compellingly laid out by the 1619 project.
One person’s rebellion is another’s insurrection. To know this as an American academic, however, is to feel a deep emotional tension between observing history and living through the storming of the U.S. Capitol building and a year of mealy-mouthed prevarication about what happened and what we should do about it.
Ancient authors are pretty clear about the dangers of civil strife. As early as the Iliad, Nestor declares: “Brotherless, lawless, and homeless is that man, / Who desires ruinous civil war.” Plato has Socrates criticize Homer for making it seem possible to disobey a commanding officer and labels insurrection as essentially unjust (Rep. 444b). Later authors reflect on the severity of the threat. Aristotle reports in the Constitution of the Athenians that anyone involved in supporting a tyrant or creating a tyranny should be disenfranchised (17). Much later, Dio Chrysostom declares that insurrectionists should be exiled and barred from assemblies (24).
What do we do about the insurrectionists in our midst? The orator Lycurgus leads us to believe that after the reign of the thirty, it was made legal to kill anyone who attempted to establish a tyranny or overthrow the democracy (Against Leocrates 124), a sentiment echoed by Dinarchus (Against Philocles 110 14-15). But this flies in the face of what the Athenians actually did following the reign of the thirty: declare an amnesty in order to prevent further civil strife and endless lawsuits. As that unlikely champion Aeschines puts it, “Democracy is preserved by peace; [his opponents] struggle to find wars which bring about democracy’s end” (2.176)
Have we found peace? We can learn from mistakes, I guess. But the harder lesson for me is that an insurrection is not a one-time event. There are no mulligans or ‘whoopsies’ about it. The events of January 6th are rooted in our collective storytelling, in the continuing reach of white supremacy, and in a struggle over what it means to be an American that goes back decades if not centuries. Trump’s antics were prefigured by the Bush clan’s stealing of the 2000 election, by the paroxysm of fear and rage at the first black president that gave birth to Trump’s political fame as a birther, by the disappointing centrism and Wall Street-focused polices of the Obama administration, and by Americans’ refusal to see ourselves as anything but a force for good in the world.
How many of the claims just made sit easily with you? One of the hardest lessons to face is that half of our country—or at least the half authorized to vote—have sympathies with January 6th’s would-be revolutionaries. Homer and Aeschylus, among others, are pretty clear as to the choices here: a civil war that eliminates one half or the other, or a constant negotiation of tensions and oppositions aided by forgetting, and where possible, forgiving.
As several of us revealed last week—in an SCS blog series commissioned and edited by T. H. M. Gellar-Goad—forgetting is not in our natures as teachers and scholars of the past. Ayelet Lushkov’s piece on Sallust and insurrection, Amy Pistone’s digital ethnography of the experience, and my own raw reflection on the day show us making new memories, trying to make sense of what happened, and preserving our experiences for future reflection. And so we stand, like so many of those we study, trying to find a useful balance between memory and action, wondering if January 6th is an aberration — or a harbinger of things to come.
SCS Blog Insurrection Posts:
Christensen, Joel Perry. “Ista Tempora! ISTI Mores!: January 6th, a Year Later.” Society for Classical Studies Blog. SCS, January 6, 2022.
Lushkov, Ayelet Haimson. “Sallust at the Insurrection.” Society for Classical Studies Blog. SCS, January 5, 2022.
Pistone, Amy. “A Digital Ethnography of a Conference in a Crisis.” Society for Classical Studies Blog. SCS, January 7, 2022.
Nota Bene: A reminder for students and scholars alike that public scholarship—on blogs, through online magazines, in Eidolon, or elsewhere on the web—is citable within Chicago Style, APA, MLA, and all other accepted guidelines. There is no excuse for using an online source and not citing it. See the Citation Machine for help and do your part to credit and validate creators of born-digital content by citing them in your research and syllabi. If you are concerned about your digital content disappearing, you can save a copy in the WayBack Machine and then use the provided stable URL via Archive.org.
Public Scholarship on the Web
Over in Aeon, Daphne D. Martin asks in “Uncovering Sparta”: “What remains of the legendary town? A name? An archaeological site? A historical memory?” She explores the long history of the site to modernity, attempting to strip away some of the myth:
Rather, my point is that what we know of life in Sparta during the classical period is a reflection of what others, often in much later periods, thought, and so does not necessarily align with reality or how the Spartans conceived of themselves.
Congrats to Jinyu Liu, who is celebrating the second edition to her Introduction to the Study of Roman History (分的这本罗马史入门) in Chinese. The first edition of the book sold about 10,000 copies, which spoke to the need for an accessible and systematic survey of Roman Studies in Chinese.
Reports are coming predominantly from The Daily Mail (we await a more credible news source), but Smithsonian Magazine echoes their story that the workshop that may have created the famed “Sutton Hoo” treasure may have been discovered 3 miles away. However, cynical archaeologists and historians of early medieval Britain would caution that the discovery of slag from melting ore and jewelry made of copper alloy alone is not quite enough to pinpoint the seventh-century CE workshop site.
We are big fans of this archaeologist badger who found hundreds of Roman coins in Spain. Adopt a badger for the numismatist and/or Wisconsin fan in your life today!
Career Development and Conferences
At ISAW—NYU, there is a call for participation in an online seminar series this spring on “Indian Ocean Figures that Sailed Away.” If your area of research interest overlaps with this project, please fill out this registration form including a short abstract describing your research interests and key papers and/or publications. The organizers will be in touch with a confirmation and more details in early February. For additional information, or if you have questions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
New Online Journal Issues curated by @YaleClassicsLib
Classics Ireland Vol. 27 (2020), Platonic and Neoplatonic Thought – and Action Essays in Honour of Andrew Smith
History of Religions Vol 61, No. 2 (2021), History, Performativity, and Solidarity in the Study of Mahāyāna Sūtra Literature
New #openaccess journal: Revue Africaine des Sciences de l’Antiquité SUNUXALAAT Vol. 1 (December 2021)
magazén: International Journal for Digital and Public Humanities Vol. 2 (2021) #openaccess Consolidation
Lexis Vol 39 (n.s.) Fasc. 2 (Dec. 2021)| #openaccess
Mnemosyne Vol. 75, No. 1 (2022) Special Issue in Honour of Gerard Boter
Gnomon Vol. 94, No. 1 (2022)
Manuscripts on my Mind No. 35 (January 2022) #openaccess
Polis Vol. 39, No. 1 (2022) NB: Demagogues and Demagoguery in Hellenistic Greece by Matt Simonton
Bibliotheca Orientalis Vol. 78, Nos. 3-4 (2021)
Classical Philology Vol. 117, No. 1 (2022) NB: “The King and the Falcon: Euripides in an Egyptian Ritual” by Hanna Gołąb
HISTORIKA Vol. 10 (2020) #openaccess
Graeco-Latina Brunensia Vol. 26, No. 2 (2021) #openaccess
Ploutarchos Vol. 18 (2021) #openaccess NB: “Professor Philip A. Stadter In memoriam.”
Cambridge Archaeological Journal Vol. 32, No.1 (Feb. 2022)
The Public Books section "Antiquities" continues to take pitches for articles to be published in 2022. You can pitch to our “Pasts Imperfect” column at the LA Review of Books using this form and to the new JSTOR column here. Thanks for reading!