Pasts Imperfect (2.9.23)
Reconstruction and the Classics, Sumerian Taverns, Byzantine Iconoclasm, and More
This week, Patrice Rankine discusses Ancient Greece and Rome after the American Civil War. Then, the role of myth, elegy, and Ovid today; a new book comparing Classical India and China; a 4,700-year-old tavern is discovered in ancient Iraq; continued debate over iconoclasm and the classroom; a conference celebrating African studies in America; new ancient world journals; and much more.
Reconstruction and the Classics by Patrice Rankine
The period from 1865-1877 begins with the Union victory in the Civil War, rendering Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation a federally upholdable truth in the United States of America. The Federal troops remained in the secessionist states to ensure that the defeated, Confederate powers submitted to the terms of their defeat. Some next steps included the designs of the Freedman’s Bureau, which sought to enact such measures as the parceling of “forty acres and a mule” to the enslaved families who were now free.
One of the authors who most helps me to understand this period is Ralph Ellison. In his essay “Going to the Territory,” Ellison writes that during this period “for the first time Afro-Americans were participating as a group in political affairs and their right to do so was being protected by federal troops” (1986: 130). Resistance to these measures could be felt from the start, and after Lincoln’s assassination, President Andrew Johnson began to roll back many governmental efforts. Ulysses S. Grant, the leader of the Union during the war, succeeded Jackson and served two terms. We might expect glorious progress under Grant’s leadership, but his two terms as President from 1869-1877 were extremely violent in regard to Western expansion and military repression of Native peoples. These truths complicate Ellison’s idea of political gains for Black people during this period, his image of runaway slaves and Negroes “who accompanied the Indian tribes along the death march which took so many lives that it became known as the ‘Trail of Tears,’ a march initiated by Andrew Jackson in fulfillment of the treaty of Dancing Rabbit” (1986: 133).
Reconstruction is concomitant with a series of late 19th century historical events, which we might encapsulate in a word: modernity. Archaeological digs like those the businessman Heinrich Schliemann conducted in the 1870s in Turkey – in search of Homer’s Troy – solidified a dichotomy between past and present, ancient and modern. Finds in North and South America lead up to Hiram Bingham’s 1911 “discovery” of Machu Picchu. Within this context, the purported terra nullius of the Western expansion in the U.S., into “Indian territory,” is also an encounter with the past, and classicists have written about how these encounters influence the staging of such adaptations as the 1903 Iphigenia among the Taurians at the University of Pennsylvania (See The Oxford Handbook of Greek Drama in the Americas, edited by Kate Bosher, Fiona Macintosh, Justine McConnell, and Patrice Rankine).
By 1924, W. E. B. Du Bois would connect the Native American sites being excavated to a potential legacy of Black people in the U.S. before European colonialization:
The legend that the Negro race has touched America even before that day of Columbus rests upon a certain basic fact: First, the Negro countenance, clear and unmistakable, occurs repeatedly in Indian carvings, among the relics of the Mound Builders and in Mexican temples…The mounds of the “Mound Builders” were probably replicas of Negro forts in Africa” (The Gift of Black Folk, 1924).
In the U.S., confederates and unionists alike looked to the past for their raison d’être. Basil Gildersleeve expressed his hostility toward the Federal government in terms of Spartan resistance at Thermopylae. Thomas Dew, President of William & Mary College, used the same imagery in his inaugural address to students in 1836: “You are slaveholders, or the sons of slaveholders, and as such your duties and responsibilities are greatly increased…rally under our principles undivided and undismayed – firm and resolute as the Spartan band at Thermopylae.” These individuals were establishing antiquity in contradistinction to modernity; they were constructing the modern from their assimilation of the past. Theirs was a psychological, geographic, and temporal space or “territory,” as Ellison put it, and a frontier is a place where “process[es] of cultural integration” take place.
It is no wonder that the racial thinking of the twentieth century would emerge from this 19th century frontier, a meeting place between antiquity and modernity.
Patrice Rankine (he, his, him), Professor, Department of Classics, University of Chicago
This response was originally intended for the Society for Classical Studies panel: Reconstructio Americana: Ancient Greece and Rome after the Civil War, organized by Benjamin Howland and Sean Tandy. The papers within this panel:
Constanze Güthenke, “Classical Scholarship as a History of Disorientation”
Craig Williams, “A Native American Voice from the Reconstruction Era: Ely Parker and Greco-Roman Antiquity”
Casey Haughin-Scasny and Kendall Lovely, “American Women's Associations and Antiquity: Reconstructing Hierarchies through the Classical
Dylan K. Rogers, “Haec Olim Meminisse Iuvabit?: The University of Virginia, Classics, & Racialized Landscapes throughout the 19th Century”
Patrice Rankine, Response.
“In English, the very idea of the “West,” to name a heritage and object of study, doesn’t really emerge until the 1880s and 1890s, during a heated era of imperialism, and gains broader currency only in the twentieth century.” — Kwame Anthony Appiah, The Lies That Bind.
Public Scholarship and a Global Antiquity
If you missed the Classics Now conversation between Helen Morales, mythographer and author of Antigone Rising: the Subversive Power of the Ancient Myths and translator and classicist Stephanie McCarter, the author of the new translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, it is now available for viewing. Activist Tarana Burke noted that she started the #MeToo movement to achieve “empowerment through empathy.” Can reading and translating Ovid help us achieve this goal?
For her column at The Daily Beast, Candida Moss discusses the new research of Monica Green on the origins of the Black Death. As it turns out? Its origins are likely earlier and connected to a furry offender:
The primary reason that we date the Black Death to the 14th century is because our historical sources told us to. When Green came to work on this subject, she wondered how science might change the picture. She took genetic estimates and realized that the data points us to a century earlier. Moreover, they were leading her east. As she followed the genetic trail, she discovered that all four of the new Y. pestis strains that came out of a “Big Bang” centered on the Tian Shan mountains in Central Asia. At that point, she told me, she asked herself “Is there something we have been missing?” In answering the question, she struck upon a furry culprit: the marmot.
In numismatic news, ancient historian Michael Kulikowski writes in the London Review of Books, about two new books: When Money Talks: A History of Coins and Numismatics by Frank L. Holt and Coin Hoards and Hoarding in the Roman World, edited by Jerome Mairat, Andrew Wilson and Chris Howgego. What follows is a worthwhile overview of coinage and the history of numismatics as a field—in addition to a book review. As Kulikowski notes, “The closer we approach the present, the less coins tell us what other sources don’t tell us just as well or better, but coins from antiquity are uniquely valuable, both for the information encoded on their surfaces and for the light they throw on all sorts of questions that other sources cannot readily answer.” His harangue for greater respect for numismatics as a field and for coinage in general is to be heeded.
In Neos Kosmos, Homer expert Joel Christensen asks, “How do chatbots dream of electric Greek heroes?” Christensen asked AI program ChatGPT to pen a sea shanty about Odysseus and his travels. He ultimately concludes that those teaching and reading ancient languages may not have much to worry about—yet.
ChatGPT is not reading Homer–instead, it is “reading” a corpus that refers to Homer and predicting as significantly “Homeric” the details that achieve the most ‘hits”. Its products are about stats, not quality, or truth…ChatGPT and its ilk to help us understand what we do that can never be replaced, to clarify what we as humans actually are: beings who create tools that change the world as we know it, leaving us with questions about who we are now.
A new, open access book Bridging Two Worlds: Comparing Classical Political Thought and Statecraft in India and China (click on the Luminosa button at the link), edited by Daniel A. Bell, Amitav Acharya, Rajeev Bhargava, and Yan Xuetong is now available via UC Press. As they note, it is the first volume “that systematically compares ancient thoughts and theories about international politics between China and India.”
The most widely read review publication for the ancient world is the open access, born digital Bryn Mawr Classical Review. Over the past few months, a number of reflective essays have been published for BMCR’s 30th anniversary. The latest is by archaeologist Morag Kersel, “To Publish or Not to Publish? This is No Longer the Question.” It addresses important issues surrounding the ethics and approach for publishing papyri, manuscripts, and other types of material culture with specious provenance and acquisition histories. Other insightful essays from the series include, Jim O’Donnell, “BMCR: Thirty Years After”; James Zetzel, “Anatomy of a Book Review(er)”; Clifford Ando, “BMCR: A View Under the Hood”; Catherine Conybeare, “Is a Digital Review a Global Review?”; and Ralph Rosen, “On Reviewing Books in Classical Antiquity.”
In the digital pages of Penn Today, there is a report that at the excavations at the Sumerian city of Lagash in modern Iraq, archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania and University of Pisa have discovered a large “tavern.” As they note, it had all the trappings of a nice bar:
complete with benches, a type of clay refrigerator called a “zeer,” an oven, and the remains of storage vessels, many of which still contained food. “It’s a public eating space dating to somewhere around 2700 BCE,” says Pittman, a professor in Penn’s History of Art department, curator of the Penn Museum’s Near East Section, and the Lagash project director. “It’s partially open air, partially kitchen area.”
The discovery is a win for those interested in Near Eastern daily life and the history of taverns, which of course date far earlier than the colorful snack bars found at Pompeii.
In The Conversation, art historian Paroma Chatterjee discusses the firing of an adjunct professor at Hamline University for showing medieval images of the Prophet Muhammad in class after she had forewarned them about it on the syllabus and in class. A statement by Hamline’s president remarked that “students do not relinquish their faith in the classroom”—essentially encouraging classrooms to be tailored to certain religious beliefs. Chatterjee reacts to this statement by exploring Byzantine art and debates surrounding sacred images in the 8th-9th centuries CE.
I consider Miller’s statement a challenge to how students might study religious imagery at all. The very example of the debates in the Byzantine Empire shows how hard it is to design a space that caters exactly to the specifications of any particular faith…To demand that a discipline like art history maintain visual sanctity in the classroom is, I believe, tantamount to demanding the impossible.
As Hyperallergic reports, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake devastated Turkey and Syria this week, killing close to 15,000 and causing damage to a number of ancient cultural sites. The New York Times has an instructive guide for donating if you’d like to give to earthquake relief efforts.
New Antiquity Journal Issues (by @YaleClassicsLib)
Gnomon Vol. 95, No. 2 (2023)
Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia Vol. 28, No. 2 (2022)
Gnosis Vol. 8, No. 1 (2023) Sources of Gnostic Texts, Gnostic Texts as Sources
Mélanges de l’École française de Rome - Moyen Âge Vol. 134, No. 2 (2022) #openccess
Métamorphose, frontières linguistiques, communication écrite/orale (IVe-IXe siècles): du latin aux langues romanes
Mélanges de l’École française de Rome – Antiquité Vol. 134, No. 2 (2022) #openaccess
Studia Hercynia Vol. 26, No. 2 (2022) #openaccess
Journal of the History of Ideas Vol. 84, No. 3 (2023) NB William Theiss, “The Abbé d’Aubignac’s Homer and the Culture of the Street in Seventeenth-Century Paris”
Byzantinische Zeitschrift Vol. 115, No. 4 (2022) Bibliographische Notizen
Zephyrvs Vol. 90 (2022) #openaccess
Phronesis Vol. 68, No. 1 (2023) NB Lea Aurelia Schroeder, “Proportionate Atomism: Solving the Problem of Isomorphic Variants in Plato’s Timaeus”
Avar Vol. 2 No. 1 (2023) #openaccess Parenthood in the Ancient Near East
Revue Archéologique du Centre de la France Vol. 62 ( 2023) #openaccess
Cahiers « Mondes anciens » Vol. 17 (2023) #openaccess Transgresser pour mieux régner
Le Muséon Vol. 135, No. 3-4 (2022)
‘Atiqot No. 109 (2022) #openaccess
Journal of the History of Philosophy Vol. 61, No.1 (2023)
SIAC (Société Internationale des Amis de Cicéron ) Newsletter No. 212 (1Dec. 2022)
Conferences, Lectures, and Call for Papers
On February 16, 2021, Andrew Somerville & Marion Forest will speak to the Iowa AIA Society on the "Collapse of the Ancient City of Teotihuacan: A View from the Suburbs.” The abstract notes that: “Despite housing a population of about 100,000 people for over five centuries, the state of Teotihuacan underwent a collapse around A.D. 500 and the urban population fell by up to 80%. For decades, scholars have debated the reasons for Teotihuacan’s decline, invoking various causes including climate change, invasion, and revolt. This paper reviews evidence for the collapse of Teotihuacan and discusses our new excavations at the suburban neighborhood of Hacienda Metepec.” It is 7:00 pm CT on Zoom. Register here.
Bolchazy-Carducci’s webinars continue On Tuesday, February 21, 2023 — 5:00–6:00 pm CT, historian of ancient technology and science Georgia Irby discusses “Sea Monsters! O brave new seas that have such monsters in them.” In March, classicist Angeline Chiu, gives two lectures: on Tuesday, March 7, 2023 — 5:00–6:00 pm CT, she discusses, "Lord, what classicists these mortals be!" on the topic of “Plautus and Ovid as two classical influences on the storylines, characters, and timeless humor of Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors and A Midsummer Night's Dream.”
On Tuesday, March 21, 2023 — 5:00–6:00 pm CT, Chiu will then speak on “Friends, Romans, high school sophomore English classes!” This lecture “will explore how Shakespeare drew inspiration from Plutarch and brought his biographies to life in Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, a pair of vastly different yet intimately interconnected Roman tragedies.” You must register for online attendance here.
On February 25, 2023 from 11 am—4 pm ET on Zoom, there is a centennial celebration for William Leo Hansberry, “the first person to create and teach an African Studies curriculum in an American university 100 years ago.” Register here.
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