Pasts Imperfect (8.25.22)
Thales of Miletus, Ancient Octopus Traps, Andromeda of Aethiopia, and More
Was Thales the First Philosopher?
While an affirmative answer has become a commonplace in Western histories of philosophy, Lea Cantor (Oxford), documents in “Thales – the ‘first philosopher’? A troubled chapter in the historiography of philosophy” British Journal for the History of Philosophy Vol. 30 No. 5 (2022) that such a response only became the received view in the late 18th Century. The Greeks themselves predominantly located the origins of philosophy before Thales and outside Greece.
Pre-Aristotelian sources do not claim Thales as the first philosopher, and, read carefully and in context, Aristotle himself does not claim any philosophical primacy for Thales. Hellenistic and later Greek thinkers , with few exceptions, continued to see the beginning of philosophy in the distant past and beyond Greece. This understanding dominates European historiography throughout the Middle Ages and early modern period. In fact, it is not until the Enlightenment and the work of Christoph Meiners (1747–1810) that the commonplace emerges as part of an attempt to deny philosophical and scientific achievements to non-Greeks in the context of racist anthropology that Meiner develops explicitly in other works. Hegel’s history of philosophy subsequently cemented this view.
Cantor’s article reflects a broader trend questioning the concept of “Western philosophy” as a distinct and privileged tradition. This concern will be the focus of an upcoming conference: Questioning ‘Western Philosophy’: Philosophical, Historical, and Historiographical Challenges, organized by Cantor and Josh Platzky Miller (KwaZulu-Natal / Cambridge) in collaboration with Philiminality Oxford. It will convene in Oxford, April 28-30 and is currently inviting abstracts (due Oct. 30).
For more on this issue, see Christoph Shuringa @chrisschuringa, “On the Very Idea of Western Philosophy,” and Lucy Allais “Problematising Western philosophy as one part of Africanising the curriculum.” A more detailed treatment is on the way in a book co-authored by Cantor and Platzky Miller, tentatively entitled The Myth of Western Philosophy.
Public Scholarship and a Global Antiquity
The Ethiopian artist collective known as Yatreda ያጥሬዳ has taken on the story of Andromeda of Aethiopia. You can watch a 4 minute clip via Twitter:
In epigraphy news, the Daily Sabah reports that in the ongoing excavations at Gordion in modern Turkey, an inscription has been discovered with the name of the city on it. Umut Alagöz, deputy director of the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, along with historian of the ancient Near East Rostyslav Oreshko, claim this may be the first epigraphic evidence for the city name:
The inscription is the very first and only inscription in which the name Gordion is mentioned…The team found a Phrygian stone inscription in the area called "the outer city" in Gordion this year. The inscription, dated to the years when Greek King Antiochus I (281-261 B.C.) reigned in the Hellenistic Period, is the first and only inscription in which the name Gordion is mentioned.
On the SCS Blog, Lindsay Herndon reflects on her MA thesis (Kent State, 2021) in an essay on, “Furor and Elegiac Conventions in Vergil’s Depiction of Female Characters in the Aeneid." Note also that editors Chris Francese and Meghan Reedy have a handy online commentary for the Aeneid over at Dickinson College Commentaries.
An article in World Archaeology by Mike T. Carson and Hsiao-chun Hung focuses on the use of ancient octopus lures (1500-1100 BCE) and demonstrates the human adaptations made by those living on the seashore within the Mariana Islands.
When people first lived in remote tropical seashores, they developed novel adaptations for living in these extreme environments, including the use of a specialized octopus lure device. The evidence for this fishing tradition now can be traced back as early as 1500–1100 BC in the Mariana Islands of Western Micronesia. New research has examined the artefacts of these compound lure devices, especially concerning the cut and drilled dorsum pieces of cowrie (Cypraea spp.) shells. Without this archaeological evidence, octopuses would have been undetected in the ancient deposits, and therefore a significant portion of past diet, innovative technology, and traditional practice would have been hidden from modern knowledge. The findings portray a broader and more realistic scene of ancient coastal communities, with implications beyond the confines of the specific island societies of the Pacific.
Along Hadrian’s Wall, Housesteads has a new, temporary, and quite colorful art installation. As The Guardian reports, this is “part of a year-long series of events celebrating 1,900 years since building on Hadrian’s Wall began in AD122, under the instruction of the emperor Hadrian.”
Lectures, Conferences, and Reading Groups
From October 6-7, 2022 at Johns Hopkins University, there is a hybrid (in-person and Zoom) conference on “Prescription to Prediction: The Ancient Sciences in Cross-Cultural Perspective.” The organizers note that, “The collaborative research project Scientific Papyri from Ancient Egypt in Cross-Cultural Perspective (SciPap) is pleased to announce its 3rd international conference – an interdisciplinary, cross-cultural event facilitating new research into the sciences of the ancient Egyptian, Near Eastern, and Graeco-Roman worlds, focusing on medicine, astral sciences, and divination.” Register for free here.
Over at the Women’s Classical Caucus, there will be a reading group on September 6, 2022 at 6:00-8:00 pm ET on “Job Market Session 4: September Reading Group (Joy Connolly’s Guide to Going on the Market).” This has been planned by the WCC Job Market Series Planning Team: Amy Pistone (lead), Erika Weiberg (lead), Eunice Kim, Suzanne Lye, Cassandra Tran, and Adriana Vazquez. It is free for members and $5 for non-members. Register here.
New Online Journal Issues @YaleClassicsLib
Pallas Vol. 112 (2020) #openaccess Political Refugees in the Ancient Greek World
Greek and Roman Musical Studies Vol. 10, No. 2 (2022) NB: Timothy J. Moore, “Ancient Plays: Are They Musicals?”
Gnosis Vol. 7, No.2 (2022)
Helios Vol. 49, No.1 (2022)
Classical World Vol. 115, No. 4 (2022)
Religion in the Roman Empire (RRE) Vol. 8, No.1 (2022) Georg Wissowa on Roman Religion of the Imperial Period
New England Classical Journal Vol. 49, No. 1 (2022) #openaccess Special Issue In Honor of Jacqui Carlon
American Journal of Philology Vol. 143, No. 2 (2022) Diversifying Classical Philology, Vol. 1 edited by Emily Greenwood
Historika Vol. 11 (2021) #openaccess
Phronesis Vol. 67, No. 3 (2022) NB: Wenjin Liu, “Ignorance in Plato’s Protagoras”