Essays offer insight about new developments in the classics that are reshaping our understanding of the ancient world—and its relevance to today
CAMBRIDGE, MA | April 8, 2016 — 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.
This period of discovery is due in large part to a new generation of classicists who are reshaping our access to and understanding of Greco-Roman culture. Innovative, multidisciplinary approaches that often apply cutting-edge science and technology to the study of the ancient world are yielding new questions and altering our engagement with the past. For example, not only have novel technologies enabled the discovery of new literary papyri, but methodological changes have altered which texts scholars might use to piece together ancient worldviews. This “new science of antiquity”—including multispectral imaging, 3D laser scanning, and bioarchaeology—is enabling researchers to reconstruct previously inaccessible data and documents, revealing, for example, mysteries about ancient ecosystems and deciphering papyri carbonized during the eruption of Vesuvius.
As guest editor Matthew S. Santirocco (New York University) observes in his introduction to the issue, “the past is still very much alive in the present.” This is evidenced by the major themes explored by the contributors to the Spring 2016 issue of Dædalus on “What’s New about the Old,” including:
- The relevance of the old amidst the new—a continued focus on classical texts, whether literary or technical, that demonstrates the value of philology and other specializations (archaeology, translation) to recover and contextualize these works.
- The methodological approaches and theoretical underpinnings offered by a diverse, multidisciplinary network of scholars studying Greco-Roman experiences.
- The role of technology in expanding the ways in which new knowledge or theories are established.
In “What is Ancient History?” Ian Morris (Stanford University) and Walter Scheidel (Stanford University) offer two competing models of ancient history that have defined academic discourse for the past three centuries: the classical model, which recognizes ancient Greece and Rome as the starting point of human history; and the evolutionary model, which takes a more global approach in looking at the origins of humanity. They propose that the new evidence and methods available to scholars today may allow these two schools of thought to engage with each other with renewed coherence, in turn offering comprehensive new models of ancient history.
Verity Platt (Cornell University), in “The Matter of Classical Art History,” presents a new lens with which Greco-Roman art may be studied. Typically relegated to the larger discipline of art history—which increasingly focuses on modern and non-Western art—Platt explores how the “material stuff of antiquity can be most effectively yoked to the thinking and sensing of the bodies that inhabited it.” She argues that closer study of these materials can yield discoveries related to practices of art production, sense perception, and interpretation.
In “Greco-Roman Studies in a Digital Age,” Gregory Crane (Tufts University) considers the role of classics in modern society and looks toward the transformative power of technology as a way in which “the shift from print to a digital space changes how the classics can contribute to society as a whole.” And using new scientific data and approaches, Kyle Harper (University of Oklahoma) proposes that a cascade of ecological disasters led to “The Environmental Fall of the Roman Empire.” He illustrates how the effects of climate change, including food crises in Egypt resulting from the Nile’s inability to flood, and the Plague of Antonine and Plague of Cyprian were, in a sense, “the revenge of [Rome’s] giant imperial ecology.”
Essays in the Spring 2016 issue of Dædalus include:
- Introduction: Reassessing Greece & Rome by Matthew S. Santirocco (New York University)
- Tragedy in the Crosshairs of the Present by Brooke Holmes (Princeton University)
- Roman Literature: Translation, Metaphor & Empire by Shadi Bartsch (University of Chicago)
- Reception Studies: The Cultural Mobility of Classics by Emily Greenwood (Yale University)
- On Translating Homer’s Iliad by Caroline Alexander (Author and Journalist)
- Philosophy & Its Classical Past by Phillip Mitsis (New York University)
- The Matter of Classical Art History by Verity Platt (Cornell University)
- Materializing Ancient Documents by Roger S. Bagnall (New York University)
- Memory, Commemoration & Identity in an Ancient City: The Case of Aphrodisias by Angelos Chaniotis (Institute for Advanced Study)
- The Environmental Fall of the Roman Empire by Kyle Harper (University of Oklahoma)
- What is Ancient History? by Ian Morris (Stanford University) andWalter Scheidel (Stanford University)
- Classics: Curriculum & Profession by Peter T. Struck (University of Pennsylvania)
- Greco-Roman Studies in a Digital Age by Gregory Crane(Tufts University)
Additional contributions to this issue of Dædalus include:
- The New “Brothers Poem” by Sappho by Rachel Hadas (Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey–Newark)
- Explicating Catullus by Michael C. J. Putnam (Brown University)
- The Scientific Study of Antiquity by Malcolm H. Wiener (Institute for Aegean Prehistory)
Print and Kindle copies of the new issue can be ordered at: http://www.amacad.org/publications/daedalus.
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Chief Communications Officer