Pasts Imperfect (9.9.21)

Ancient Astrology, Beer, and Much More

This week, Jason Nethercut provides starting points for research into ancient astrology, “magic” gets a much needed makeover in the study of early Christianity, two Maya monuments go on display at the Met, Holocene sites in China reveal ritual uses for ancient beer, and the link between classical and Byzantine poetry is demonstrated via a cameo appearance.

In times of uncertainty and fear, humans will look a lot of places for answers. In antiquity (as today) astrology offered an alluring way to organize and divine the future in the midst of suffocating chaos. Babylonians began developing astrology in the Ancient Near East around the third millennium BCE. Assyriologist Francesca Rochberg discusses the use of cuneiform tablets to reconstruct divination in her book, In the path of the moon : Babylonian celestial divination and its legacy. Additionally, Moudhy Al-Rashid often posts examples of cuneiform tablets focused on astrology along with translations and helpful contextualizing threads. For Ancient Egypt, Rosalind Park’s work (and her helpful lectures) are accessible for scholars and students alike hoping to explore the zodiac in the art and culture of Ptolemaic Egypt.

Within the Greco-Roman Mediterranean, a number of primary sources, such as Claudius Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos, Firmicus Maternus’ Mathesis, and Marcus Manilius’ Astronomicon provide a starting point for studying the Greek and Roman authors who wrote about astrology. Additionally, the Hellenistic Astrology Website and the Oxford Bibliography by Nicholas Campion provide a cache of resources, literature, and links to other ancient and early Christian sources. Without doubt, the best follow for Islamic astrology is Ali Olimi, whose threads on everything from angels to dream interpretation have racked up thousands of views. A start point for investigating the history of astrology in East and South Asia (Mongolia, Tibet, India, Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam, Japan and Cambodia) is the open access edited volume Les astres et le destin. Astrologie et divination en Asie orientale. As per usual, these are but a few entry points into the field of ancient astrology—Ad Astra per Aspera, y’all.

Seen on the Internet and in the Twitterverse

If you are interested in ancient magic, the new issue of the online-only journal Religion Compass has a significant contribution from Shaily Shashikant Patel providing “Notes on rehabilitating “magic” in the study of early Christian literature”:

Magic's very alterity gives it power to challenge and disrupt what we think of as “religion.” The real question, for me, is whether or not we can capture this resistive potential for the purpose of disrupting dominant historiographical narratives in the study of early Christian texts.

Dan-el Padilla Peralta announced the publication of a must-read edited volume focused on classical receptions across the western hemisphere (15th-19th centuries).

The SCS notes that Patrice Rankine and Sasha-Mae Eccleston will serve as guest editors of a future issue of TAPA with the theme of race, racism, and Classics (issue 153:1, to appear April 2023). Covid-19 and the global Movement 4 Black Lives have highlighted the extent to which racism is a public health emergency whose reach extends across the Black Atlantic and far beyond. In light of these deeply imbricated developments of 2020, this volume becomes even more timely. See the detailed call for papers, along with instructions and deadlines for submission in 2021.

Over at Hyperallergic, Shawn Graham and Damien Huffer address the insidious online trade in human remains and how digital humanists are helping stifle it:

As founding members of the Alliance for Countering Crime Online, we believe that we need to regulate the ways these platforms are being used for commerce, of all kinds…Starve the spectacle; turn your attention elsewhere. Return some measure of dignity to these ancestors by not participating in their dehumanization.

Also at Hyperallergic, Hakim Bishara notes that in New York City '“[t]wo 8th-century Maya stone monuments were unveiled Thursday, September 2, in the Metropolitan Museum’s Great Hall. The massive statues, known as stelae, will remain on view at the museum’s iconic neoclassical hall until 2024.”

In the open access journal PLOS One, Jiajing Wang , Leping Jiang, and Hanlong Sun report on the discovery of 9,000-year-old beer discovered in early Holocene southern China. Ritual uses for beer that go well beyond the ceremonial Big 10 football tailgate is certainly at the forefront of this research.

At Qiaotou, large numbers of the hu vessels and bowls (N>20) were found in pits associated with the human burials on the platform. The discard contexts suggest that beer drinking was critical for funerary rituals.

Classicist Tim Whitmashwhose article on a poetic cameo inscription has just been published in the Cambridge Classical Journal, discusses pop-culture, epigraphy, and new links between classical and Byzantine poetry in The Guardian. Later links to Byzantine poetry became clear after Prof. Whitmarsh tweeted out the cameo and got a response from a fellow scholar:

Whitmarsh came across the poem in a collection of inscriptions, digging into its history after a Cambridge colleague, Anna Lefteratou, a native Greek speaker, said it reminded her of some later medieval poetry.

New journal issues online, September 1st through 8th curated by @YaleClassicsLib

Manuscripts on my Mind No. 34 (Sept.2021) #openaccess
Digital Applications in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage
Vol. 22 (Sept. 2021)
Historiae No. 18 (2021) #openaccess
New Testament Studies
Vol.67, No. 4 (Oct. 2021)
Theoretical Roman Archaeology Journal Vol. 4,1 (2021) #openaccess
Vol. 80, No.1 (2021)
Journal of Early Christian Studies
Vol. 29, No. 3 (Fall 202)
NB: Candida Moss’ article on “Infant Exposure and the Rhetoric of Cannibalism, Incest, and Martyrdom in the Early Church
Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies
Vol. 45, No. 2 (Oct. 2021)
European Journal of Archaeology Vol. 24, No. 3 (Aug. 2021)
NB: Contemporary Archaeology and Anti-Racism: A Manifesto from the European Society of Black and Allied Archaeologists


The Public Books section "Antiquities" is now taking pitches for articles to be published in early 2022. You can also pitch to our “Pasts Imperfect” column at the LA Review of Books using this form. We hope to hear from you and we especially encourage emerging and historically underrepresented scholars to consider working with our mentorship network.

Thanks for reading and see you next week!

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