Pasts Imperfect (12.15.22)
Ancient Animals, Late Roman Bathing, Aksumite Churches, and More
This week, Hpone Myint Tu discusses the study of animals in antiquity. Then, new research on the decline of Roman imperial bathhouses, excavations of early Christian churches at the Aksumite site of Adulis, Classics books for young readers, the ancient Mesoamerican calculation of leap years, a new conference on Etruscology, new ancient world journal issues, and much more.
Animals in the Ancient Mediterranean by Hpone Myint Tu
We have always loved, slain, and thought about other non-human animals. We train them to work with us, rear them as pets, write them into our stories, and read them as cultural symbols (the fearless lion, the timid sheep, the Myanmar Peacock, the Chinese Panda or Dragon, the US Eagle). Our human counterparts in the Ancient Mediterranean maintained a relationship with non-human creatures just as philosophical, practical, and complex. When we as scholars examine the records of this relationship in the Ancient Mediterranean, we discover some interesting ideas. For instance, pets were considered erotic companions rather than filial (it was strange for the Greeks and Romans at least to call themselves ‘parents’ of their pet as we perceive them from a contemporary Western framework) (Franco 2014). In the literary sphere, wise lawgivers like Solon were hybridized as human and animal, and pigs philosophized to Odysseus about their superior nature to humans.
To explore this field in Greco-Roman thought, there are two good starting points: the Oxford Handbook of Animals in Classical Thought and Life and Interactions between Animals and Humans in Graeco-Roman Antiquity. These hefty volumes include a series of fascinating standalone articles that discuss animals in the Ancient Mediterranean. Julia Kindt, in Capturing the Ancient Animal, gives a good overview of the scholarship done on animal studies in Classics. For all the passages in Graeco-Roman texts that are relevant to animals, see Newmyer’s Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook. Within this broad subject, there are several directions a researcher could take: animals in fable, the animalizing of women and enslaved persons, philosophies about creatures, animals in warfare, and many more. For my own research, I tend to focus on elephants in the Ancient Mediterranean as symbols of cultural interactions between the Greek and the Indic worlds, as well as the Romans and the Carthaginians. From allegory to imperialism to religion: ancient animals were written about and commemorated in fascinating ways.
Abbreviated Reading List
Aston, Emma. (2011). Mixanthropoi. Animal-Human Hybrid Deities in Greek Religion. Liege.
Bradley, Keith. (2000). “Animalizing the Slave: The Truth of Fiction,” The Journal of Roman Studies, 90, 110–125.
Campbell, Gordon L. (2014). The Oxford Handbook of Animals in Classical Thought and Life. Oxford University Press.
Fortenbaugh, W.W. (1971), “Aristotle: Animals, Emotion and Moral Virtue.” Arethusa 4, 137–65.
Fögen, T. & Thomas, E. (2017). Interactions between Animals and Humans in Graeco-Roman Antiquity. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter.
Franco, Cristiana, and Matthew Fox. (2014a). Shameless: The Canine and the Feminine in Ancient Greece. 1st ed., University of California Press.
_____(2014b) Franco in The Oxford Handbook of Animals in Classical Thought and Life
Kindt, Julia, et al. (2017). “Capturing the Ancient Animal: Human/Animal Studies and the Classics.” The Journal of Hellenic Studies, vol. 137, pp. 213-25
Newmyer, S.T. (2010). Animals in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook (1st ed.). Routledge.
Olyan, Saul M. and Jordan D. Rosenblum, edd. (2021) Animals and the Law in Antiquity. Brown Judaic Studies 368. SBL Press.
Scullard H. H. (1974). The Elephant in the Greek and Roman world. Cornell University Press.
Shelton, Jo-Ann. (2006). “Elephants as Enemies in Ancient Rome.” Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies 32.1: 3-25.
A Global Antiquity Online
Over at Hyperallergic, Sarah E. Bond looks at new research from archaeologist and environmental historian Jordan Pickett on the reasons behind the disappearance of large Roman imperial bathing structures in Late Antiquity. The essay addresses his new article in the Journal of Late Antiquity, which supports banishing the long-rejected myth that Christianity’s attitude towards nudity was a reason for the closing of Roman baths. Instead, he looks at environmental factors such as expensive fuel sources and the dust veil that descended after 536 CE. Pickett then proposes we look at more understudied, social factors such as baths providing spaces for social tension and violence.
In a new article published by Gabriele Castiglia in Antiquity, the excavations at the Aksumite city of Adulis, in modern Eritrea, are reported to have revealed two of the three currently-known early Christian churches at the site, radiocarbon dated to the 6th and early 7th centuries CE. The material examination of these churches, placed in context, has important implications for modern revisions of our understanding of early Christian “conversion” and how we might move beyond it in order, as Castiglia says, “to develop an archaeology of cosmopolitanism” that is more nuanced.
All of these issues lead us to the final question: can we go beyond an archaeology of conversion? Across the Horn of Africa, religious change was never a top-down process, nor did it result in a clear-cut break with the past and loss of the vernacular. Instead, different religions acted as both innovative and conservative factors. Churches monumentalised a new religion but, at the same time, perpetuated the architecture and building techniques of the pre-Christian Askumite tradition.
On the SCS Blog, Krishni Burns looks at various “Classics Books for Young Readers.” As Burns notes, over at Calliope’s Library: Books for Young Readers, they “are busy collecting beloved books from our own youth and new exciting publications to share with younger generations.” Check these suggestions out for possible gifts for the holiday season, or just to enjoy over the winter months.
Over at The Digital Orientalist, Henry Jacobs’ first and second parts in their series reviewing the new Yinxu Oracle Bone Inscription Digital Database 殷墟甲骨文數據庫 (YOD) are now up. The YOD is a subscription-only database which contains over 143,000 Shang dynasty (c. 1600-1046 BCE) oracle bone inscriptions.
Shang oracle bone inscriptions refer to the inscriptional records of pyromantic divinations conducted by the religious elite of the ancient Chinese Shang 商 dynasty. During divination, hollows drilled into one face of a bone plate (see below, right) – typically a turtle shell or ox scapula – were subjected to intense heat. The rapid expansion of the bone produced cracks on the reverse face (see below, left), which were then interpreted as auspicious or inauspicious omens in relation to a “charge” (e.g., “It will rain tomorrow”). However, it was not until the reign of King Wu Ding 武丁 in the late Shang (c. 1200 BCE) that records of these divinations were first inscribed onto the divination bones themselves. Indeed, these records are the earliest known examples of Chinese writing proper.
An important article in The New York Times summarizes the newly published research in PNAS penned by ecologists and conservationists Exequiel Ezcurra, Paula Ezcurra, and Ben Meissner regarding how the ancient Mesoamerican inhabitants of the Basin of Mexico kept track of an agricultural calendar and specifically calculated leap years. They didn’t need European technology to calculate it.
These results confirm that, even without the celestial instruments used by Europeans at the time of their arrival (e.g., gnomon, compass, quadrant, and astrolabe), the people in the Basin of Mexico could maintain an extremely precise calendar that would have allowed for leap-year adjustments simply by using systematic observations of sunrise against the eastern mountains of the Basin of Mexico.
Lectures, Conferences, and Workshops
Applications are now open for a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Institute for Higher Education Faculty on "The Performance of Roman Comedy," co-directed by T. H. M. Gellar-Goad and Christopher B. Polt. The Institute takes place July 9–August 4, 2023, on the campus of Boston College. The application deadline is 11:59pm Eastern on March 3, 2023. For more info and eligibility criteria, go here.
The SUNY Buffalo Classics Graduate Student Association’s Spring Symposium will be hybrid, online and in-person. It is looking at new and exciting perspectives in “Etruscology.” Questions about the symposium and abstracts of 300 words or less can be submitted by February 1, 2023 to email@example.com.
The ENCODE team is pleased to announce the ENCODE Project Conference “Artificial Intelligence and Ancient Writing Cultures” (January 26, 2023, 9:15AM–1:00PM CET), which will be held in presence at the University of Bologna and online. To participate in the conference, please register before Thursday, January 19th, through the ENCODE website here. The detailed program is here.
New Antiquity Journal Issues (by @YaleClassicsLib)
Scrinium Vol. 18. No. 1 (2022)
Altorientalische Forschungen Vol. 49, No. 2 (2022)
Historia Vol. 72, No. 1 (2023)
Chinese Archaeology Vol. 22, No. 1 (2022)
Journal of Ancient History Vol. 10, No. 2 (2022) NB Jason Linn, “Snuggling with your identity: beds and the sense of touch in Roman culture.”
Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und Vorderasiatische Archäologie Vol. 112, No. 2 (2022)
Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists Vol. 59 (2022)
Elenchos Vol. 43, No. 2 (2022)
Archiv für Papyrusforschung und verwandte Gebiete Vol. 68, No. 2 (2022) NB Minas Papakostas, et al. “Facial Scars in the Greek Papyri”
Klio Vol. 104, No. 2 (2022) NB Olivier Hekster, et al. “The Fame of Trajan: A Late Antique Invention.”
Emerita Vol. 90 No. 2 (2022) #openaccess NB Alba de Frutos García Banquets, “Reputation and Social Obligation in Roman Egypt: Some Notes on the Dinner Invitations in Papyri”
American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 127, No. 1 (2023) NB Sarah E. Beckmann, “The Naked Reader: Child Enslavement in the Villa of the Mysteries Fresco”
Journal of Egyptian History Vol. 15, No. 2 (2022)
Revue de philologie, de littérature et d'histoire anciennes Vol. 94, No. 1 (2020/1)
Incontri di filologia classica Vol. 21 (2021-2022) #openaccess
Antiquity Vol. 96, No. 390 (2022) Climate Change and Heritage
Journal of Early Christian Studies Vol. 30, No. 4 (2022)
Britannia Vol. 53 (2022) Themed Section: Hadrian's Progress through the North-Western Provinces in A.D. 121–12
Ancient Philosophy Today Vol. 4 Suppl. 2022) The Normativity of Law: Ancient and Contemporary Perspectives
Libyan Studies Vol. 53 (2022) Special Section: North African Architectures and Urban Spaces across the Roman, Late Antique, and Islamic Eras
Erudition and the Republic of Letters Vol. 7, No. 4 (2022)
Classical Antiquity Vol. 41 , No. 2 (2022) Forum on Bonnie Honig’s A Feminist Theory of Refusal
Synthesis Vol. 29 No. 2 (2022) #openaccess
Near Eastern Archaeology Vol. 85, No. 4 (2022) The Environment We Share: Human–Nonhuman Animal Interactions in the Ancient Near East
Studies in Late Antiquity Vol. 6, No. 4 (2022)
Bibliographie analytique de l’Afrique antique Vol. 51 (2017) #openaccess
Revue de philosophie ancienne Vol. 40, No. 2 (2022)
Forum Classicum No. 3 (2022) #openaccess
History of Philosophy Quarterly Vol. 39, No. 4 (2022)
Moreana Vol. 59, No. 2 (2022)
Thanks for reading Pasts Imperfect! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support our work to see a Global Antiquity.