Biggs Residency Reunion 2018

On April 11-13, 2018, a nearly thirty-year tradition of community engagement with Classical scholarship at Washington University was honored in a three-day public symposium

John CampStavros Niarchos Foundation Professor of ClassicsRandolph-Macon College; American School of Classical Studies at Athens

The Aristocratic Democracy: Cult and Art in Classical Athens

Aristocrats had to be nimble to maintain their preeminence in democratic Athens. In the 5th and 4th centuries BC, power was at least nominally widely shared and available equally to all, with most civic positions filled by allotment rather than election. Only a handful of positions were available by election rather than the luck of the draw. Perikles, for instance, never held the (allotted) annual position of Eponymous Archon, the highest civic office. Rather, he dominated Athenian politics by being elected as general of his tribe for many successive years. This paper will explore the evidence for the use of cult by the aristocracy in Athens as another means of acquiring and maintaining privilege and prestige in what was ideally an egalitarian society. The traditional and embedded control of religious activity by aristocratic families may well have been among the most difficult for democratic Athenians to control or eradicate.

Ross Holloway, Elisha Benjamin Andrews Professor Emeritus, Brown University

Archaeology, Yesterday and Tomorrow

Archaeology, if we mean, purposeful research devoted to the physical remains of the past, was born in the Renaissance. The stimulus was the Catholic Counter Reformation and the desire to find physical evidence of primitive Christianity in Rome. Leading this work was Antonio Bosio and his explorations of the Roman catacombs. In fact, the age of field archaeology was ushered in by Bosio. Far from covering the immense range of archaeology across the globe, my remarks today are limited to the Mediterranean and Classical Antiquity. Here, as in other areas of archaeological research, the last half century has seen field archaeology entering a new era, that of remote sensing, beginning with aerial photography and vastly expanded application of the physical analysis of excavated remains. We are in the era of “Dig less, find more.” And so today there is a question to be faced: how should we conduct research in Classical Greek and Roman sites? My answer is “Plan carefully with definite goals in mind and remember that no excavation is complete until it is published.”


Mary T. Boatwright, Professor of Classical Studies, Duke University

Above the Law? Crimes and Punishments of Imperial Women

Domitia Longina is notorious as sexually unfaithful and complicit in the assassination of her husband and emperor Domitian in AD 96 (Suet. Dom. 3.1, 14; Dio 67.15.2), yet inscriptions reveal her wealth and influence through 126 (CIL IX 3432, XIV 2795). The data raise numerous questions about imperial women’s standing in Roman law. Did proximity to the emperor liberate these elite wives and others from at least some of the Roman laws incapacitating women? The Digest notes the princeps could grant an Augusta the impunity he enjoyed himself (Dig.1.3.31). But propinquity had disadvantages: adultery with an imperial woman was considered treason (Plin. NH 7.149-50), and often wives were murdered alongside their imperial husbands (as Caesonia and Caligula). My paper explores the alleged crimes and punishments of imperial women, to illuminate Roman women, law, and power in the principate.


David Konstan, Professor of Classics, New York University

The Invention of Sin

The word “sin,” and similar terms in other modern languages (French péché, German Sünde, Spanish pecado, etc.), have a religious resonance, as opposed to words like “fault” or “error” or “crime.” But what if we did not have such a charged word as “sin”? In ancient Greek, the word translated as “sin” in the Bible is hamartia, the same word that meant “fault” (as in Aristotle’s “tragic flaw”) or “error” in other literature of the period. How do we determine that it should be rendered as “sin” in the Bible but not in pagan texts? Did Adam and Eve perhaps commit an error, or Oedipus a sin? In my talk, I will consider what distinguishes “sin” from “error,” and when and whether hamartia should be rendered as “sin” – even in the Bible.


James Lennox, Professor of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh

Eroteticism: Aristotle on the Epistemic Centrality of Curiosity

In this paper I want to “dig into” a feature of Aristotle’s thought which is familiar to anyone with even a passing acquaintance with his philosophy – the centrality of “questions and answers” to it. I shall refer to this as the erotetic character of Aristotle’s thought, or his “eroteticism”. I think of this topic as a historically oriented exercise in ‘meta-philosophy’, since it has to do, not so much with the content of Aristotle’s philosophy as with his philosophical method. In particular, I want to discuss what I will refer to as the ‘erotetic frameworks’ that shape his distinctive philosophic method. This is, in my view, one way in which Aristotle is at least as much an heir to the Socratic method in philosophy as is Plato.


James Redfield, Edward Olson Distinguished Service Professor of Classical Languages and Literatures, University of Chicago, Emeritus

Plato’s Euthyphro: Socratic Piety

This paper examines the plot of Plato’s Euthyphro, the character of Socrates’ victory in the dialogue, and a question about Socrates that the dialogue leaves unanswered.


Robert Wallace, Professor of Classics, Northwestern University

Thucydides the Moralist

Thucydides is often considered the first “realist” or Machiavellian political analyst, a sceptic on the applicability of ethical norms to international and even domestic politics, hard hitting, truth-telling, scientific, and with no romantic element as he himself said. Paul Shorey once called him “a cynic devoid of moral sensibility.” According to S. Forde (1992), “The general law that ‘the strong do what they will and the weak suffer what they must’…is the proposition that Thucydides’ History as a whole supports…A general law of the expansion of power, driven by honor and self-interest as well as fear, makes for a much more virulent realism than one based simply on fear…The Athenians insist that the impulse of power to dominate is a universal necessity (5.105).” I shall argue that this view is almost entirely wrong. It echoes and is largely based on the Melian dialogue at the end of Book 5, but the Athenians who pronounce such views are punished. In Book 1 the Athenians behave with strict propriety. In Book 3 they spare the Mytileneans but for selfish reasons, while the Spartans brutally execute the Plataians to curry favor with the Thebans. In Book 4 the Spartan Brasidas plays an important role (Thucydides liked strong generals); henceforth we hear little bad about the Spartans. The end of Book 5 marks the nadir of Athenian morality. Their army is then wiped out in Sicily, in Books 6 and 7. Book 8 remained unfinished because Thucydides’ story has been told, of good followed by increasing moral outrage and then crushing defeat. So far from the truth, that story is also almost entirely wrong. In recent years, the idea that the sophists were immoral has also been revised.


Kathleen Coleman, James Loeb Professor of the Classics, Harvard University

Material Opulence and Verbal Economy in the Siluae of Statius

The poems that Statius wrote for his patrons in the Siluae capture their material surroundings in a striking combination of the vivid and the succinct. My paper attempts to illuminate this aspect of his poetry by juxtaposing relevant passages with some of the material objects surviving from the early Roman Empire.


Erich Gruen, Wood Professor Emeritus, Department of History, University of California at Berkeley

Jewish Appropriation of Greek Mythology

Greek mythology would not appear to have much attraction for the Jews of antiquity. The divine and heroic figures on the Hellenic legendary scene were somewhat dubious characters, their avarice, jealousy, lust, and a host of misdeeds, not especially models to be emulated. And indeed various Jewish writers, most notably Josephus, issued some harsh statements about the follies of those who believed in the Greek myths, paid homage to false idols, and worshipped a multitude of deities who engaged in immoral acts, fought with each other, and regularly deceived human beings. This paper, however, examines a number of authors and texts that complicate this picture. Hellenistic Jewish writers like Cleodemus, Artapanus, and Eupolemus, far from rejecting Greek myths, brought them into the fabric of Israelite tradition. It endeavors to show that intellectual Jews who had benefited from the paideia of the gymnasia in the diaspora could manipulate, finesse, and reframe Hellenic myth to make it serve Jewish purposes.


Daniel MendelsohnCharles Ranlett Flint Professor of Humanities, Bard College

How Greek Drama Saved the City

Daniel Mendelsohn regrets that he will not be able to attend the Biggs Residency Reunion. In his absence, Joseph Loewenstein, Professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis, will read Daniel Mendelsohn’s “How Greek Drama Saved the City,” first published in the New York Review of Books on June 23, 2016.


Richard Martin, Antony and Isabelle Raubitschek Professor in Classics, Stanford University

Panhellenic Poetry, Local Religion: Cults of Zeus in the Iliad

For Herodotus, Homer and Hesiod played a major role in shaping Greek religion, offering for the first time an account about the forms and titles of the gods and the honors due them. While we may at first find it unlikely that oral poetry deeply influenced the actual religious practices of people in archaic Greece, it can be argued that the performance of hexameter verse, and the religious notions held by local Greek communities were mutually enriching and symbiotic. Their dynamic interaction can be illustrated by an examination of several cults of Zeus overtly alluded to – or latent yet still resonant – within the Homeric Iliad. Articulating this phenomenon can lead to a new appreciation of theological poetics, ancient and contemporary.


Josiah Ober, Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis Professor in Honor of Constantine Mitsotakis, Stanford University

The Original Meaning of ‘Democracy’ and Why It Matters Today

The early 21st century has been hard on democracy. Prominent political scientists explain why participatory democracy is impossible under the conditions of modernity. Economists write books “against democracy,” urging us to reject political equality and turn over our government to educated elites. Meanwhile, populist-nationalists rail against elites and seek to overturn the rule of law, claiming that constitutional limits violate the unfettered power of the people. So it seems worth asking: What did democracy mean and how did it work at the beginning, in ancient Athens? To its Greek inventors, democracy meant “collective and limited self-government by citizens.” Greek history underscores the duties that democracy demands of participatory citizens. It shows that democracies can fail. But it refutes modern elitists and populists by proving that ordinary people do have the capacity to govern themselves, and that popular rule need not be majority tyranny.


David Sedley, Emeritus Laurence Professor of Ancient Philosophy, University of Cambridge

The Pompeian Mosaic of the Philosophers

The mosaic’s complex symbolism, I shall argue, reveals Plato choosing his true philosophical heir: it is to be neither his official successor Speusippus, nor Aristotle, but Xenocrates, who is thereby canonized as the founder of Platonism.


Andrew Stewart, Nicholas C. Petris Professor in Greek Studies, University of California at Berkeley

Bathing Beauties: Hygiene, Hydrotherapy, and the Female Nude: An Early Hellenistic Bronze Case-Mirror from Elis

A Greek bronze case mirror made around 300 BC, found in a woman’s grave at Stafidokampos (Elis) in 1993, and currently on display in the local museum, features a repoussé relief showing a unique scene of four naked women bathing in a rocky grotto under a waterfall. The setting is a healing spring some 40 miles away at Elean Herakleia, dedicated to four nymphs and visited and described by the traveler Pausanias around A.D. 170. This talk presents the results of a study of the grave and its contents undertaken in 2016 by the author and Maria Liston, Professor of Physical Anthropology at the University of Waterloo (Canada), situating them in the context of ancient Greek hydrotherapy, reconstructing the woman’s treatment, and describing its outcome. Despite the fact that over 200 fourth- and third-century BC mirrors of this type are known, this is the first such in-depth study of one and its context ever undertaken.


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