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Pasts Imperfect (5.25.23)
Diversifying Classics, Desert Kites, Remembering Titus Pullo, and More
This week, Javal Coleman discusses two special volumes of the American Journal of Philology focused on diversifying Classics. Then, investigating Roman identity and the epigraphic use of the word ‘natio,’ the discovery of ancient “desert kites” to trap game in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, an Olmec sculpture is repatriated to Mexico, Monica Cyrino remembers Rome actor Ray Stevenson, new ancient world journals from Colin McCaffrey, upcoming lectures and conferences, and much more.
Diversifying Classics and the American Journal of Philology by Javal Coleman
Racism and the Classics have been the subject of much scholarship in the last decade especially. But today I want to underscore a significant special issue of the American Journal of Philology. Published in two volumes, both edited by Emily Greenwood, Diversifying Classical Philology gives us an opportunity to pause and think carefully about the state of the field, especially our pedagogical concerns.
After an editor’s note from Joseph Farrell, Volume I of this special issue features articles from: Sasha-Mae Eccleston, Dan-El Padilla Peralta, Craig Williams, Denise McCoskey, Heidi Morse, Rosa Andújar and Emily Greenwood. In their joint effort, Eccleston and Padilla Peralta reflect on the 2017 conference Racing the Classics. Both the conference and this article seek to challenge the way that classical pedagogy and knowledge production are typically done in the field. Williams’ article thinks about North American indigenous peoples’ interactions with Latin from the 17th century to the present. This article demonstrates not only that the so-called classical heritage, which is almost always associated with Europe, has a place in North American indigenous history, but that one should use caution and be more specific when it comes to using the term “antiquity,” since it should be understood that there are multiple antiquities.
Classical philology’s history is deeply rooted in racism. McCoskey’s article tracks how contemporary issues of race go hand and hand with the rise of classical philology in America in the 19th and 20th centuries. Using Basil Gildersleeve and John Scott as case studies, McCoskey demonstrates that scholars’ fraught views of race in antiquity are motivated by a specific discourse that informed modern racial ideas in America. Morse takes a close look at the issue of Black citizenship and education in the 19th century. During this period lessons from Quintillian’s Institutio Oratoria, helped Blacks prepare themselves for self-teaching and public civic engagement. Andujar’s piece then examines Francisco Chofre’s prose adaptation of the Odyssey, La Odilea. This article contextualizes the piece as a product of the Cuban Revolution and hones in on a specific Caribbean reception of the Odyssey.
Finally, Volume I concludes with Greenwood’s radical reassessment of one of Aristotle’s most popular passages in which he likens a slave to a tool imbued with a soul. Greenwood utilizes the “Black radical philology” of Toni Morrison, Hortense Spillers, and Christina Sharpe in order to argue that Aristotle’s attempt to normalize a discourse in which slaves were considered property had a large influence on American Slaveholders, and the writers of slave codes in particular.
Volume II includes further rumination from Eccleston, this time on, as she notes, “the idealism underwriting both the survival of Odysseus' family in Homer's Odyssey and hybridity in Suzan-Lori Parks' Father Comes Home from the Wars (2015).” In Katherine Harloe’s and Mathura Umachandran’s piece they use C.L.R. James’ 1963 memoir on cricket, Beyond a Boundary, and its investigation of knowledge-making in colonial Trinidad to think further about knowledge-making practices and possibilities in Classics. Next Adam Lecznar examines Polybian narratives of empire to shed light on how the Greek historian’s use of metaphors to describe imperialism. Lecznar then draws on Frantz Fanon’s Peau noire, masques blancs to better understand his critique of ancient history within the context of French colonialism.
Turning to travel and Black experiences in the ancient Mediterranean, John W. I. Lee then examines African American travelers to Greece in the 19th century, their connections to ancient monuments, and their connection with Greece’s early Christian history. This piece points out that the three African American travelers may have focused on different aspects of the classical world. However, what they had in common was the focus on the early Christian context, specifically the engagement with Paul and the Areopagus. In a final article, Erynn Kim draws on classical references in Monica Youn’s collection of poems, Blackacre, and her engagement with Asian American literature in order to point out the limitations of a “genealogical model of reception.” Further, Youn’s writings are used to question and resist the idea of the traditional classical canon.
These two volumes contain important articles and authors to engage with, to cite, and to reflect on as we address not only racism in the field, but also our continued mission to diversify it into the future.
Public Scholarship and a Global Antiquity
A revised version of ancient historian Kelly Nguyen’s Gruen Prize-winning article, “What's in a Natio: Negotiating Ethnic Identity in the Roman Empire” is out in the open access volume Roman Identity: Between Ideal and Performance, edited by Lautaro Roig Lanzillotta, José Luís Brandão, Cláudia Teixeira, and Ália Rodrigues. You can read the whole volume here. Nguyen will be joining UCLA Classics as of July 1, 2023. Her groundbreaking 2021 Brown dissertation, “Vercingetorix in Vietnam: Classical Inheritance and Vietnamese Ambivalence,” is—in our opinion—pretty awesome.
The Venice Biennale Architettura 2023 occurring this week features a multimedia video exhibition: The Nebelivka Hypothesis which presents a 6,000 year old site in Central Ukraine. The site of Nebelivka is comparable in scale to contemporaneous Mesopotamian cities but with no indication of centralization or monumental architecture. Developed by David Wengrow and the Forensic Architecture Team at Goldsmiths, University of London, the project challenges widely accepted accounts of the origins and nature of urban life.
A History of Big History by Ian Hesketh is out now in Cambridge University Press’s Elements in Historical Theory and Practice series. It traces the history of large-scale approaches to history from Sima Qian and Diodorus to the contemporary work of David Wengrow and David Graeber, David Christian, and Fred Spier. It’s free to download for the next two weeks.
“Desert Kites”—large-scale stone structures used to channel and trap game—are found throughout Southwest Asia (see the Globalkites project). In PLOSOne, Rémy Crassard, Wael Abu Azizeh, and their collaborators detail the discovery at sites in Saudi Arabia and Jordan of “The oldest plans to scale of humanmade mega-structures.”—stone engravings representing this structures. These carvings, dating from at least 7000 BCE, reveal sophisticated planning for structures whose overall design is only visible from the air.
The Associated Press (AP) reports that “a huge 2,500-year-old Olmec stone sculpture has been returned by the United States” to Mexico. As the AP notes, the “Monster of the Earth” sculpture is two meters in height and may be representative of an entrance to the underworld. Experts in Olmec art believe it was originally looted from the site of Chalcatzingo, south of Mexico City, in the 1960s.
In “Seeking Divine Answers in Ancient Christian Egypt” from the Harvard Art Museums’ Index Magazine, Tufts postdoctoral fellow and historian of early Christianity Chance Bonar, details the Gospel of the Lots of Mary, a 6th Century CE miniature Coptic Codex that served as something of a late antique equivalent of magic 8-ball.
In Memoriam: Ray Stevenson (1964-2023) by Monica Cyrino
This week, actor Ray Stevenson passed away not long after being hospitalized on the island of Ischia. He was best known to fans of antiquity as the soldier Titus Pullo in HBO’s Rome, but he had a long and diverse career. Pullo’s name came directly from Caesar’s Gallic Wars (BG 5.44), where he was cited as a centurion along with Lucius Vorenus. In a short in memoriam this week, Monica Cyrino, editor of ROME Season One: History Makes Television (2008) and ROME Season Two: Trial and Triumph (2015), comments on Stevenson:
Just one instance of Ray Stevenson’s big heart, his generous spirit, and his desire to share his gifts and experiences with young people was the day he visited our lecture class on HBO Rome at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque a few years ago. Ray just arrived in town to shoot the film, The Book of Eli, when I asked him if he’d be willing to make a surprise appearance in the class. Over the protestations of his PA (TBH it’s her job to limit his exposure), he said an enthusiastic, “Yes.” Ray showed up with an entourage – naturally! – including his partner and their toddler, and some other random folks, but as soon as he walked into the lecture hall filled with over four hundred undergraduates, the focus was all on him.
As the students realized that fan-favorite Titus Pullo was actually in their class IRL, the reaction was thunderous applause and excited “woo-hoos”! Ray, wearing a white button-down shirt with sleeves rolled up on his brawny arms, sat down comfortable as you like in the front of the lecture hall; then there was a total hush, as he talked about his work on the series Rome, and answered their questions for the full seventy-five-minute period: What was it like working in the city of Rome? Did he visit any ancient sites? How did he train for the fight scenes? Did he have a favorite episode? Ray told the students he most enjoyed making the penultimate episode of the first season “The Spoils” (Episode 11), where Pullo, condemned to die, fights a bunch of gladiators in a cramped urban arena, beats almost all of them, gets knocked down but is finally saved by his friend, Vorenus (Kevin McKidd). Ray’s eyes got a little teary as he described the powerful message of that scene, that the bond between the two brothers-in-arms was way too strong ever to be broken.
When a student asked about what still inspires him most from the series, Ray lifted up his right hand and showed the class a big gold signet ring on his index finger engraved with the Roman numeral XIII (a reference to Caesar’s famed Legio XIII Gemina) He shouted, “Thirteen forever!” in that caramel-coated roar of his—both sweet and sort of scary at the same time. After the lecture period was officially over, nearly the entire class lined up and waited patiently to greet Ray personally, share a few words, hugs, and handshakes, and take photos with him, and ask him to sign their books, ballcaps, and shirts… it was at least another hour and probably a lot more.
I get choked up now just thinking about how generous he was with his time, his magnanimity, his beautiful words spoken to each individual person. I’ll never forget overhearing one of my students, when his turn came in that long line, say to Ray, “Sir, I just want you to know,” he paused, “Pullo taught me what it means to be a man.” Ray smiled at him, “My friend,” he said, as he put his big hand with the gold ring on the student’s shoulder, “Pullo just let you see who you are already.”
New Antiquity Journal Issues (by @YaleClassicsLib)
Archäologische Informationen Vol. 45 (2022) #openaccess
Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus Vol. 21, Nos. 1-2 (2023)
Moreana Vol. 60, No. 1 (2023)
Byzantinische Zeitschrift Vol. 116, No. 1 (2023) NB
Classical World Vol. 116, No 3 (2023)
International Journal of the Classical Tradition Vol. 30, No. 2 (2023)
Classical Antiquity Vol. 42, No. 1 (2023) NB Judith Butler, “Fury and Justice in the Humanities”
Vetus Testamentum Vol. 73, No. 2 (2023)
Aries Vol. 23, No. 2 (2023) NB Paul Linjamaa “The Reception of Pistis Sophia and Gnosticism: Uncovering the Link between Esoteric Milieus and Contemporary Academia”
Revista de Estudios Clásicos Vol. 53 (2022) #openaccess
Dao Vol. 22, No. 2 (2023)
Ancient World Lectures, Conferences, and CFPs
On May 31, 2023 at 3:00 pm EDT, the Center for Hellenic Studies (CHS)’s 6th season of “Reading Greek Tragedy Online” concludes with The Battle Between the Frogs and Mice, as translated by poet and classicist A. E Stallings. You can tune in and stream it on YouTube, as per usual.
The Digital Orientalist 2023 Conference: Sustainability in the DH will take place June 3, 2023 on Zoom. Invited speakers include Alex Gardner and Catherine Tsuji on the Treasury of Lives (a “a biographical encyclopedia of Tibet, Inner Asia, and the Himalayan region”), as well asAnastasia Pineschi on the long-running International Dunhuang Project.
On June 8, 2023, David Wengrow will give a lecture at 6:00 pm PT, “Kairos: Reflections on The Dawn of Everything, and Prospects for a New History of Humanity” for UCLA’s Cotsen Institute of Archaeology. As they note, “David Wengrow reflects on his book, co-authored with David Graeber: The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, which is an attempt to see what happens when you put [archaeology and anthropology back together again, after a period of mutual estrangement.”
On June 13, 2023 at 6:00 pm EDT, The Society of Fellows of the American Academy in Rome will present an online lecture: “Following Hadrian: Photographer Carole Raddato with T. Corey Brennan.” In the lecture, photographer and Hadrian scholar Carole Raddato will present her Following Hadrian project and “show how she has planned, researched and is now realizing a 21-year project to document the wide-ranging journeys of the Roman Emperor Hadrian.” A conversation with ancient historian T. Corey Brennan will follow her presentation.” You can register here.
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