Seminars

  • Founded
    1957
  • Seminar Number
    441

This seminar exists to further, in the New York area, the study of the literature, art, archaeology, and history of the ancient world. Seven meetings are held each year attended by twenty to sixty members drawn from universities and colleges within reach of New York. There is no set theme to the seminar for a given semester or year.


Co-Chairs
Professor Marcus Folch
mf2664@columbia.edu

Professor Joel Lidov
joel.lidov@qc.cuny.edu

Professor Katharina Volk
kv2018@columbia.edu

Rapporteur
Lien Van Geel
lv2371@columbia.edu


Meeting dates and locations are subject to change. Please confirm details with the seminar rapporteur.


Meeting Schedule

09/19/2019 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:30 PM
Roman teamsters: muliones (muleteers) and the (dis)organization of land transport in the Roman empire
John Bodel, Brown University
Abstract

Abstract

In a consumer-driven economy the transport of commodities (one element of distribution) links producers to markets and markets to consumers and thus provides a vital mechanism of connectivity that ties the system together. To what extent the economy of the Roman empire resembled such a market-based system has long been debated. Demographic modeling and New Institutional Economics have established new parameters of inquiry and provided theoretical insights but have not resolved the essential question. Nor does this paper do so. Instead it attempts to shed light on the operational infrastructure that undergirded the system by investigating the role of land transport workers in moving goods around the empire and offers a new approach, based upon a comparative historical sociology, to understanding their place in the Roman economy.





10/17/2019 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:30 PM
Sappho’s Aphrodite: A Reparative Reading
Melissa Mueller, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Abstract

Abstract

This talk focuses on several poems (Sappho 1 and fr. 44V, as well as the Kypris Song) where Sappho’s reception of Homer can best be understood as a form of reparative reading. Traditional critique, including intertextuality, examines relations of power, competition, and mastery. With its focus on the body, affect, and sensations both inside and outside the text, reparative reading (developed initially by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in dialogue with Melanie Klein’s notion of the reparative) encourages attentiveness to moments of shame, weakness, and vulnerability. Sappho’s Aphrodite emerges, I argue, from the traumatized (but also cruel) Aphrodite of Iliad 3 and Iliad 5. The Homeric goddess’s experiences of both shaming and being shamed are key to understanding the Aphrodite of Sappho’s lyrics and exemplify the generative force of negative emotions.





11/21/2019 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:30 PM
Impotence, Castration, and Talking Penises: A New Reading of Catullus 17
Leah Kronenberg, Boston University
Abstract

Abstract

Catullus 17 is a bizarre poem in the Priapean meter in which an unknown speaker complains to an unspecified and personified town about an anonymous fellow townsmen’s (municeps) inability to prevent his wife from cheating on him and the speaker’s resulting desire to throw him off a bridge to wake him from his lethargy. There have been three general approaches to this poem: 1) attempts to figure out what religious rituals are alluded to in the poem 2) biographical readings that link the wife to Clodia Metelli 3) analysis of the sexual imagery and Priapic elements in the poem. This paper builds on the last two approaches and proposes that the poem contains a central riddle pertaining to the identities of the speaker and the municeps. I argue that the speaker is Catullus’ penis, which is complaining about the passivity of the soul of Catullus (the municeps) and fantasizing about a separation from it or quasi-castration. The poem might be read as a sequel to Catullus 8, in which Catullus has a dialogue with himself about the weakness of his will and his failure to move on from his puella. Catullus 17 invokes and plays on several poem types: self-addresses to the soul/heart, harangues of the impotent penis, talking penis poems, and the closely related talking Priapus poems. It thus ties into the larger themes of the “divided self” and personified body parts in Catullus’ oeuvre.





01/30/2020 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:30 PM
TBA
Lisa Mignone, Independent Scholar




02/27/2020 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:30 PM
Aztec Latinists: Classical learning and indigenous legacies in sixteenth-century Mexico
Andrew Laird, Brown University
Abstract

Abstract

Soon after the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1521, missionaries began teaching Latin, classical rhetoric and Aristotelian philosophy to youths from the native Nahua or ‘Aztec' nobility. This talk will explain the nature and purpose of that training, and show some unexpected ways in which indigenous scholars used and connected their knowledge of Greco-Roman literature and history to Mexico’s pre-Hispanic world as well as to the colonial environment in which they lived.





03/26/2020 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:30 PM
Fact and Fiction in Athenian Oratory
Peter O’Connell, University of Georgia
Abstract

Abstract

Inspired in part by the contemporary concern with “fake news,” I will consider the role of facts and fiction in Athenian political oratory. How did the Athenian public know what to believe about current events and the recent past, and how did speakers try to take advantage of those beliefs? Did the Athenians have concepts analogous to our “news” or even “facts”? My response to these questions begins with Thucydides’ Cleon’s criticism of the assemblymen as “spectators of speeches and hearers of actions,” who evaluate actions based on they hear rather than on what they have seen. I will address (1.) the rhetorical manipulation of current events and the recent past to “create” facts and (2.) the way speakers appeal to the audience’s sight and imagination to make them metaphorical witnesses of a version of current events and the recent past that accords with the speakers’ own ends. Another issue that may be included is the tension between experience and emotion in determining what seems to have happened and how to respond to it.





04/23/2020 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:30 PM
The agency of enslaved people and historical change in antiquity
Kostas Vlassopoulos, University of Crete (Greece)
Abstract

Abstract

Ancient historians usually conceptualize slavery from a unilateral and top-down perspective. Slavery is seen as a relationship defined exclusively by the masters: slaves were human property or socially dead. Accordingly, slaves are usually approached as passive victims of exploitation and domination. Based on this approach, it is not accidental that ancient historians have so far failed to see slaves as active historical agents and explore their role in processes of historical change in antiquity. This paper will start from an alternative approach to slavery, which no longer conceives it as a unitary and monolithic entity, but as a historical conglomerate composed by different symbolic systems, slaving strategies and dialectical relationships. The concept of ‘enslaved people’ allows us to capture the various forms of individual and collective identity of people in slavery. As a consequence, it is possible to visualize in new ways how slaves shaped the course of ancient history in important ways, even if they always had to act in conditions not of their own choosing.