Spring 2016 issue of Dædalus on “What’s New about the Old”
Essays offer insight about new developments in the classics that are reshaping our understanding of the ancient world—and its relevance to today
|Jean-Joseph Taillasson (France, 1745–1809),
Virgil Reading the Aeneid to Augustus and Octavia (1787)
Fascination with Greco-Roman culture continues to drive academic curricula and popular interest, in spite of recent data signaling a decline in the study of the humanities. New developments in the study of the ancient world—integrating methodological, philosophical, and technological advances—have, in some cases, revolutionized our understanding of the past, opening up a new realm of classical studies for the twenty-first century.
In the Spring 2016 issue of Dædalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, , guest editor Matthew S. Santirocco (New York University) has curated a series of essays that explore the notion that “the past is still very much alive in the present,” as described in his introduction to this issue.
“What’s New about the Old,” the American Academy’s latest issue of Dædalus, is now available for order through MIT Press. Learn more in the Table of Contents immediately below.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Reassessing Greece & Rome by Matthew S. Santirocco (New York University)
Recent developments in the study of the ancient world have dramatically altered our understanding of the past. Matthew Santirocco’s overture to the issue introduces some of these methodological, philosophical, and technological advances, and argues that twenty-first-century classicists—being an increasingly multidisciplinary and interconnected group of scholars—are reshaping our interactions with Greco-Roman culture.
Tragedy in the Crosshairs of the Present by Brooke Holmes (Princeton University)
At the same time that Greek literary studies have broken down boundaries of canon and genre, opening up for analysis previously ignored families of texts, the rise of reception studies has raised new questions about how our present cultural and historical position shapes our interpretations of them. These developments are explored through the case study of Greek tragedy, the most canonical of genres.
Roman Literature: Translation, Metaphor & Empire by Shadi Bartsch (University of Chicago)
Having adopted as their own the literature of a conquered empire, the Roman elite self-consciously sought to translate the Greek canon into a thoroughly Roman form of expression, leaving behind the pleasurable, poetic, and sensual language of the Greeks. Could the Romans protect their militaristic and masculine integrity in this transference, or did the Greeks get their revenge, ultimately “conquering” Rome through literary influence?
Reception Studies: The Cultural Mobility of Classics by Emily Greenwood (Yale University)
Classicists have turned to reception studies to understand the unique encounters that various historical audiences have had with Greek and Roman literature. This essay explores the cultural mobility of the classics through a Malawian reception of Sophocles’s Antigone.
On Translating Homer’s Iliad by Caroline Alexander (Author and Journalist)
Having published her celebrated English translation of the Iliad in 2015, Caroline Alexander is uniquely positioned to reflect on the process (and challenges) of rendering a modern translation of Homer. She analyzes her work, and that of previous translators, using the principles outlined by the Victorian poet and critic Matthew Arnold.
Philosophy & Its Classical Past by Phillip Mitsis (New York University)
Though some recent philosophical schools have rejected their classical past, attempting to set their arguments on wholly new foundations, a renewed philosophical engagement between the old and new has elsewhere initiated major new debates. Focusing on the philosophy of death, Phillip Mitsis shows how ancient philosophy both inspires new ideas and new modes of public discourse and criticism.
The Matter of Classical Art History by Verity Platt (Cornell University)
Greco-Roman visual art is often isolated within the larger discipline of art history, which focuses increasingly on the modern and non-Western. But recent scholarship has built on archaeological and literary studies to situate Greco-Roman visual art within the dynamic contexts that produced them. Using Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, Verity Platt raises questions about the artist’s relationship with his materials, models of perception, and “the slippage between medium and representation.”
Materializing Ancient Documents by Roger S. Bagnall (New York University)
Texts written on stone and metal (including coins), ostraca (potsherds), wooden tablets, and papyri have become critical documents for twenty-first-century historical researchers of the ancient world. Two “materializing revolutions” have signaled this shift in papyrology, moving from predominantly literary and philological approaches toward a broader cultural history of the ancient world built on collaboration with archaeological methodology.
Memory, Commemoration & Identity in an Ancient City: The Case of Aphrodisias by Angelos Chaniotis (Institute for Advanced Study)
Using the case study of the ancient city of Aphrodisias in modern-day Turkey, Angelos Chaniotis explores how civic, religious, and social identities competed and overlapped in ancient Greece. By analyzing the content, context, and changing uses of stone inscriptions in Aphrodisias, Chaniotis constructs a centuries-long narrative of shifting identities, concluding in the mid-seventh century CE, when the “City of Aphrodite” was rechristened as Stauropolis, the “City of the Cross.”
The Environmental Fall of the Roman Empire by Kyle Harper (University of Oklahoma)
Revisiting that classic problem of ancient history—the fall of Rome—Kyle Harper uses new scientific data and approaches to argue that a cascade of environmental disasters, more than any single event, pushed Rome’s resilient economy and agricultural system to the breaking point. The effects of climate change, including food crises in Egypt resulting from the Nile’s failure to flood, and the devastating Antonine Plague and Plague of Cyprian were, in a sense, “the revenge of [Rome’s] giant imperial ecology.”
What is Ancient History? by Ian Morris (Stanford University) and Walter Scheidel (Stanford University)
Two competing models of ancient history have dominated academic discourse for the last three centuries: the classical model, which regards ancient Greece and Rome as the beginning of human history that “matters,” and the evolutionary model, which is global in outlook and goes back to the origins of humanity. But the new evidence and methods available to scholars in the twenty-first century may finally push the conversation in a new direction, forcing the schools to engage with each other more deeply; this essay proposes such a comparative approach and considers its potential.
Classics: Curriculum & Profession by Peter T. Struck (University of Pennsylvania)
With undergraduates increasingly pursuing vocational studies, what can the classics offer prospective students? The field’s experimentation and diversity of thought (literary, historical, philosophical, archaeological) remain its strengths, and its proponents should advocate for pure research, as do the sciences, by disseminating knowledge of the past through popular media and online courses, which can reach a broader public and make classical teaching a public good.
Greco-Roman Studies in a Digital Age by Gregory Crane (Tufts University)
What responsibility do classicists have to share their research with the general public? And how can classicists justify their existence if they isolate themselves from non-specialists? Gregory Crane considers the role of classics in modern society, and looks to the future by way of the transformative power of technology, the “extent to which the shift from print to a digital space changes how the classics can contribute to society as a whole.”
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Dædalus was founded in 1955 as the Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. It draws on the enormous intellectual capacity of the Academy, whose members are among the world’s most prominent thinkers in the sciences, humanities, arts, and social sciences, as well as the full range of professions and public life.
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