Pasts Imperfect (5.4.23)
Histories of Philosophy, Urban Monasticism, Finding Buddha at Berenike & More
This week, Peter Adamson discusses doing the history of philosophy without any gaps. Then, a new book on monasticism in late antique cities, an inquiry into how the climatic changes of the Medieval Warm Period (900-1300 CE) had an impact on Precolonial America, the backlash against Black pharaohs, a new Buddha statue discovered at Berenike, new ancient world journals, upcoming lectures, and more.
Expanding the History of Philosophy: One Podcast at a Time by Peter Adamson
Many philosophers think that their discipline is like, say, biology or physics. The current state of the art is “real” philosophy, and though they are aware that philosophy has a history, this history is not really of properly philosophical interest; just as the history of physics and biology is not part of proper physics and biology. It might be interesting, in an antiquarian way, but the history of philosophy is ultimately a history of wrong or fruitless ideas that were replaced by more up-to-date, sophisticated ideas, the way scientists gave up on phlogiston or heliocentrism.
Historians of philosophy like me don’t much appreciate this attitude, and have come up with a battery of standard arguments in response. For example, that one can often find discussions in remote times and places that are startlingly similar to contemporary philosophical debates, or even incite new interventions in those debates. While this sounds like a rather remote prospect (in every sense of the phrase), examples are not that hard to find. For instance, a whole branch of contemporary ethics, “virtue ethics,” explicitly took inspiration from the ethical writings of Aristotle.
While I fully endorse that motivation for doing the history of philosophy, I don’t think it needs to be the only motivation. Having now spent more than a decade producing a podcast that covers “the history of philosophy without any gaps,” and looked in the course of this project at European, Islamic, Indian, Africana, and (in preparation) Chinese philosophy, I’ve been struck at the sheer diversity of philosophy across an enormous geographical and chronological span. It’s certainly true that thinkers of other places and times produced ideas that can speak to the concerns of contemporary philosophers in Europe and North America; actually those virtue ethicists could have been inspired by Confucianism just as well as by Aristotle. But I find it more exciting when they were asking different questions and having different debates than the ones familiar today.
Contemporary philosophy exists not just in Europe and North America. You’d be hard pressed to understand philosophy in today’s Iran or China, for example, without delving into the history of philosophy in those regions. Furthermore, it seems obvious that the only person who would be in a position to reject all of this as valueless – as so much phlogiston – would be a deeply informed historian of philosophy, who has spent decades sifting through the ideas of all these times and places and coming to understand them. But of course, such a person is bound to have found along the way that many of these ideas are far from valueless.
It seems to me that one of the best things about philosophy is that it embraces both a contemporary enterprise (or rather many contemporary enterprises, across the globe) and the study of its own history, and that it can continually bring these two into dialogue with one another. Just as a contemporary debate might benefit from some ideas from Aristotle, Confucius, or a far less famous thinker, so historians of philosophy stand to gain much by applying the sharp analytical tools of the modern-day philosophers. This means applying distinctions or concepts to texts produced in distant places and times and not just to problems that seem urgent in the here and now.
Filling in the Gaps: There are now over 600 episodes of the History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps podcast. These serve as the basis for the (inexpensive) print series from Oxford University Press. Volumes in the Oxford History of Philosophy offer a similar, detailed approach to specific periods and regions, while the edited collections in the Oxford Philosophical Concept series trace the histories of significant philosophical ideas. A series of posts on the American Philosophical Association blog provide helpful advice and bibliography on incorporating Chinese, Indian, Africana, and Islamic texts into syllabi. And more of Peter Adamson’s contributions can be found here.
A Global Antiquity in the News
The new monograph, Monasticism and the City in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge UP, 2023), is open access until May 9, 2023. Authored by Mateusz Fafinski and Jakob Riemenschneider, the book looks at monasticism within late antique cities from 400-700 CE. As the authors note, “By comparing Latin, Greek and Syriac sources from a broad geographical area, the authors gain a birds' eye view on the enduring importance of urbanism in a late and post-Roman monastic world.”
At New Books Network, Timothy R. Pauketat, discusses his recent book Gods of Thunder: How Climate Change, Travel, and Spirituality Reshaped Precolonial America (Oxford UP, 2023) with Sarah Newman. The book explores the transformations of Indigenous American society and culture spurred by the climatic changes of the Medieval Warm Period.
Classics professors Ayelet Haimson Lushkov and Pramit Chaudhuri—along with a team of UT-Austin students, librarians, and community members—have launched an exhibition on Black Classicists in Austin and Central Texas. The exhibition, “Black Classicists in Texas” is up in person at various locations in Austin and is also available online. You can also listen to a story about it on KUT, the NPR station for Austin.
Back in March, predating the Netflix casting controversy, Penn grad student Razan Idris discussed the Egyptological roots of the Egyptian backlash to the portrayal of Black pharaohs: “Why is Egyptian social media against black pharaohs?” at Africa is a Country.
In epigraphy news, the Corpus inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae: Volume V: Galilaea and northern regions. Part 2: 6925-7818 (Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2023) (CIIP) edited by Walter Ameling, Hannah M. Cotton, Werner Eck, Avner Ecker, Benjamin Isaac, Jonathan Price, Peter Weiß, and Ada Yardeni, is now in print. A note that many of the previous inscriptions (around 10,000) of Israel/Palestine are online and searchable through the IIP at Brown University. Additionally, the Supplementum epigraphicum Graecum. Volume LXVII (2017) (SEG 67) (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2022), edited by Angelos Chaniotis, Thomas Corsten, Nikolaos Papazarkadas, and Eftychia Stavrianopoulou is now out. Searchable volumes of the SEG are online at the Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum Online by subscription, with older volumes searchable for free at the PHI. Finally, the creation of a digital repository called the BharatSHRI with an online epigraphic museum out of Hyderabad was announced. The database will house digital records for over 100,000 ancient inscriptions previously published in the Annual Report on Indian Epigraphy (ARIE).
The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has issued a press release about the 2ndC BCE statue of Buddha found at Berenike (or Berenice) on the Red Sea:
The joint-American Polish-American archaeological mission in Bernicki on the Red Sea coast has successfully unearthed a statue of a Roman-era Buddha during excavations at the archaeological city temple. [This was said by] Dr. Mustafa Waziri, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council for Archeology, citing the fact that the archaeological mission has been operating at the site since 1994 under the supervision of the Supreme Council, confirming that its current excavation season at the site witnessed much important evidence of the existence of trade relations between Egypt and India during the Roman era, where Egypt was a central location on the trade route that connects the Roman Empire to many regions of the Ancient World including India… The statue is 71 cm high and depicts a Buddha standing and holding part of his clothes in his left hand, and around his head there is a halo with sunlight depicted on it, indicating his radiating mind, and beside it is a lotus flower.
An Indian language (Sanskrit) inscription dating to the period of Philip the Arab (244 – 249 CE) was also found along with two 2ndC CE coins from the central Indian kingdom of Satavahana.
In Roman archaeological news, 36 intaglios were discovered in an ancient bathhouse within Carlisle (England). They likely dropped out of the signet rings of bathers in the 3rdC CE. A ceramic statuette likely made by the Avili family of ceramicists, depicting Eros riding a dolphin, has been discovered at Paestum in Southern Italy. And at Neapolis, archaeologists are using muography—a method that tracks sub-atomic particles referred to as muons—to uncover buried hypogea and early Christian catacombs. Finally, there is “New evidence of Roman temporary camps in northern Arabia” as discovered through a remote sensing survey done in southern Jordan.
New Antiquity Journal Issues (by @YaleClassicsLib)
Augustinian Studies Vol. 54, No. 1 (2023)
Ariadne = Αριάδνη Vol. 28 (2022) #openaccess
L'Année épigraphique (2022) 2019
Phronesis Vol. 68, No. 2 (2023) NB Aistė Čelkytė, “The Medico-oikonomic Model of Human Nature in Bryson’s Oikonomikos”
Polis Vol. 40, No. 2 (2023)
Archai Vol. 33 (2023) #openaccess Gender and Antiquity Dossier: problems and method
thersites Vol. 16 (2023) #openaccess
Mnemosyne Vol. 76 , No. 3 (2023)
The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition Vol. 17, No. 1 (2023)
Classical Receptions Journal Vol. 15, No. 2 (2023) NB Nebojša Todorović “Between Bacchae and Bahanalii—balkanizing classical reception”
Histos Suppl 15 (2023) Andrew G. Scott, ed., Studies in Contemporary Historiography
Early Medieval Europe Vol. 31, No. 2 (2023) NB Michael Wuk, “Constructing clandestine communities: oaths of collective secrecy and conceptual boundaries in the late antique Mediterranean”
Cahiers des études anciennes Vol. 60 (2023) #openaccess Lectures du Panathénaïque d’Isocrate : de l’éloge à l’œuvre ouvert
Journal of the History of Philosophy Vol. 61, No 2 (2023)
Hugoye Vol. 26, No. 1 (2023) #openaccess
Upcoming Lectures, Performances, and Conferences
On Friday, May 5, at 6:00 pm EDT for the NYU China Project Workshop, Ziliang Liu will present on “Perpetual Flow: Drain Systems in Western Han Rock-Cut Tombs.” The discussion will be moderated by Alain Thote. RSVP here
On Monday, May 15, 2023 at 4 pm EDT will be “The Wounded World: W.E.B. DuBois and the First World War.” In the lecture, Chad Williams, David Blight, and Michelle Moyd discuss Williams' new book The Wounded World: “In his book, Williams offers the previously untold account of Du Bois’s failed efforts to complete what would have been one of his most significant works. In doing so, Williams sheds new light on Du Bois’s struggles to reckon with both the history and the troubling memory of the war, along with the broader meanings of race and democracy for Black people in the twentieth century.” More information here
On Wednesday, May 17, 2023 at 3:00 pm EDT, there will be an online performance of Seneca's Medea for the “Reading Greek Tragedy Online” series. This reading will be live-streamed on the CHS YouTube Channel. It is directed by Paul O'Mahony and hosted by Joel Christensen, with special guest Angela Hurley.
The deadline for submitting abstracts to the online conference “Perceptions of Writing in Papyri. Crossing Close and Distant Readings” has been extended to May 31, 2023. The conference is online from Lausanne & Basel (CH), December 7-8, 2023 and is organized by Claire Clivaz and Isabelle Marthot-Santaniello. As they note: “This online conference will analyze how digital culture has changed the perceptions of writing styles in papyri. Studies conducted by modern scholars have always been the main way of evaluating papyri, determining their dates and content…We will evaluate the current ways scholars view the aesthetics of papyri in a world where close and distant readings are intersecting more every day.” Submit your paper proposals of ca. 300 words by May 31, 2023 to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
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