Classics Threatened in Russian Universities!

This one’s potentially confusing as there are two petitions kicking around, one in Russian:

… and one in English (which, according to Boris Kaiatchev in the Classics International Facebook group, is specifically aimed at folks outside of Russia because one of the criteria affecting all this is ‘the degree of internationalization’):

The Russian one has a link to read the petition in Russian, and it seems specific to St Petersburg; the English one seems more general. It was suggested the English one might be better for folks like us to sign, but if one would like to sign the Russian one, here’s a guide (courtesy of Edith Hall) of what the various blanks on the side mean:

CJ Online Review: Parker, On Greek Religion

posted with permission:

On Greek Religion. By Robert Parker. Cornell Studies in Classical Philology. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2011. Pp. xiii + 309. Hardcover, $78.95/£48.95. ISBN 978-0-8014-4948-2. Paperback, $29.95/£18.50, ISBN 978-0-8014-7735-5.

Reviewed by Jon D. Mikalson, University of Virginia

On Greek Religion contains the seven Townsend Lectures Robert Parker delivered at Cornell in 2008, enriched with extensive notes, bibliography, index, and five appendices. It has all the virtues we have come to appreciate in his writings: a fruitful blend of the factual and theoretical; a simultaneous inclination towards and distrust of categories, schemes, and generalities; scrupulous attention to detail; an awareness of what we do and do not and cannot know about Greek religion; precise and generous but not uncritical discussions of others’ views; the integration of literary and epigraphical sources; common sense; and a lively style with touches of whimsy. Here the range in topics, time, locales, and sources will be familiar to those who know his articles, less so to those who know only his books.

Beginning from the fact that Greek religion did not have a sacred, “revealed,” book, Parker, in Chapter 1 (“Why Believe without Revelation?”), gives a number of “evidences” that led Greeks to believe the gods exist, the foremost being that pseudo-empirically they concluded that for their ancestors, and hence for them, “piety worked,” “pious behavior was rewarded.” And, through oracles, they did in fact have significant revelation, especially concerning cultic behaviors. And, of course, they had texts describing the gods, first Homer and Hesiod, and Parker describes how these and others did effect their religious conceptions. Here, somewhat surprisingly, he makes the claim that everything a Greek heard or saw and remembered about gods and heroes was part of his conception of the gods. The discussion of texts then segues into a fairly long (ca. one-half of the chapter) and sophisticated discussion of myth/religion and of ritual/belief.

Chapter 2 (“Religion without a Church”) is devoted to ascertaining the authority the polis and its institutions and magistrates held over religion, and is in many ways an elaboration and defense of the claims of the late Sourvinou-Inwood (to whom the book is dedicated) in her 1990 article “What is Polis Religion?,” an article strongly asserting the authority of the polis, an article Parker terms “probably the most influential single item in the study of Greek religion since the early studies of Burkert and Vernant.” Much of Parker’s discussion here focusses on the role and authority of priests vis-à-vis other components of the polis.

In Chapter 3 (“Analyzing Greek Gods”) Parker shows the possibilities and difficulties of the various schemes of classifying deities, through epithets, by type (natural forces, abstractions, human, etc.), and as chthonic vs. Olympian. He offers an excellent discussion of the usually futile attempts to find a single concept that unites the various manifestations and timai of each Olympian deity. Here he introduces seven propositions of the structuralist approach and, in a very Parkeresque way, describes both the contributions and limitations of each proposition. Most interesting is what he labels the “snowball” theory, one which he seems himself to favor, i.e., “the idea that as a god rolls down through history it picks up new functions and powers that need not cohere with its original nature or with one another.”

Chapter 4 (“The Power and Nature of Heroes”) explores the various natures and functions of heroes, encapsulated in the type of incisive statements and metaphors one happily finds often in Parker, “biographically dead mortals, functionally minor gods”; “The variations in cult are oscillations on the line between dead mortal and minor god”; and “The particularity of heroes made them an ideal focus for group loyalty, the rennet around which social groups coagulated.” Here Parker persistently questions the popular ascription of political purposes to ­all hero cults, not rejecting it completely but limiting it severely. He opens this critique with the sly “It would doubtless be crude to use the pious ancient understanding as a stick with which to chastise the unimaginatively secular assumptions of modern scholarship. … But it is certainly worth beginning from the evidence of Herodotus …” And so, rightly, he does.

The title (“Killing, Dining, Communicating”) of Chapter 5 nicely captures Parker’s major emphases on the topic of sacrifice. He features the “alimentary” sacrifice, that which is followed by a banquet and which contains elements of gift-giving to the god, communication with the deity, and the sharing of the victim between the deity and the human, all fully explored. Other forms of sacrifice (holocausts and moirocausts) he sees as variants on the alimentary (less food to the humans) and separates out only ritual killings, as in oath and purificatory offerings. He offers detailed criticisms of Vernant’s theory that the sacrifice and banquet marked the distinction between god and humans (for Parker they formed, rather, a bridge between them) and of the Meuli/Burkert theory of hunter-based ritual killing and comedy of innocence, of the “violence” of sacrifice. The varieties of sacrifice do not coalesce around one concept except for the killing of an animal, and for Parker there is no indication that the act of killing itself had major significance in the dominant and normative alimentary sacrifice.

After his usual caveats about what we do not know, Parker in Chapter 6 (“The Experience of Festivals”) attempts, in his own words, “to sketch some broad outlines, trace common characteristics, identify possibilities.” He begins with Greek associations with festivals—the pleasures of eating and drinking, refreshment, well-being, and such—and then takes up modern concepts of the “plots” of festivals, particularly those involving a god’s arrival, departure, search for, or even death. He severely limits or rejects old favorite “plots” of sacred marriage, new years’, and fertility festivals. Here and in the conclusion of the chapter he offers valuable insights on ancient aetiologies of festivals, some tied to the heroic age, some to historical events, some to both. He treats city festivals extensively, stressing that they were both an “honoring of a god” and a celebration of the city, with no contradiction between the two or between piety and spectacle. He concludes with those festivals, distinct from the above, that had weird modes of sacrifice, foul and abusive language, “dirty dancing,” social reversal, or mock battles. Every category is richly documented (as is, of course, everything), with, e.g., twelve festivals described in the three pages on festivals of social reversal. One complaint here: it is surprising that Parker, who is always so precise with religious terminology, is content with the unGreek term “festival” to cover this huge variety of rituals. He might, to begin, have separated out heortai as a category.

This whole lecture series is about variety in Greek religion, seeking patterns and categories into which to place the various elements and recognizing their exceptions, limitations, and overlaps. The last chapter (“The Varieties of Greek Religious Experience”) focusses on the variations by locale (different gods fulfilling different roles in different cities, with some truly unusual cases—Persephone at Locri Epizephyrii, Hermes and Aphrodite at Kato Symi), social position (noteworthy lack of class distinction in cults, usual exclusion of slaves and metics but with exceptions), and gender (role of women, men and women with different gods for different roles). Then the individual emerges more clearly, choosing among the state cults, joining private societies of orgiastic or other deities, initiation in, especially, Eleusinian and Samothracian Mysteries, participating in, or most usually not, a cult promising a special afterlife, and using “magic” or curse tablets. The final section, “What You Will,” emphasizes the amount of latitude open to an individual in his/her religious choices, and this last lecture closes with a “modest statement” of Greek religion’s virtues, the first and last of which offer (for me, at least) a telling contrast to our currently polarized religious world: “Greek religion provided a strong framework of social cohesion; it met a human need by opening channels of communication with that unseen world most humans believe to exist: but it did these things without insisting on any particular set of speculations about the character of that unseen world.”

JOB: Ancient Science/Medicine @ Carleton

Seen in the latest Canadian Classical Bulletin:

The Greek and Roman Studies program in the College of the Humanities at Carleton University invites applications for a tenure track appointment in Ancient Science and Technology, preferably with an emphasis in ancient medicine, at the rank of Assistant Professor. The appointment, which is subject to final budgetary approval, will commence 1 July 2013, by which time the candidate must hold a doctoral degree.

The successful candidate will be able to teach Greek and Latin at all levels, to undertake research leading to significant peer-reviewed publications, to demonstrate excellence in teaching, and to contribute effectively to academic life in the program, the College of the Humanities, and the larger university.

Complete application includes three letters of reference, sent under separate cover, at least one of which speaks to the candidate’s teaching abilities; a curriculum vitae; a statement of research interest, recent publications; a teaching dossier or other evidence of teaching excellence. All materials should be sent by 14 December 2012 to:

Professor Farhang Rajaee
College of Humanities
Carleton University
1125 Colonel By Drive
Ottawa, Ontario, K1S 5B6

Carleton University is committed to fostering diversity within its community and welcomes applications from women, visible minorities, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities, and persons of any sexual orientation or gender identity. All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply; however, the application of Canadian citizens and permanent residents will be given priority.

For additional information on the BA program in Greek and Roman Studies, please consult the web-site: For additional information on the College, and the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, please consult the following websites:;

CJ Online Review: Bagnall, Everyday Writing in the Graeco-Roman East

posted with permission:

Everyday Writing in the Graeco-Roman East. By Roger S. Bagnall. Sather Classical Lectures, Volume 69. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 2011. Pp. xi + 179. Hardcover, $49.95/£39.85. ISBN 978-0-520-26702-2.

Reviewed by Panagiotis Filos, University of Ioannina, Greece

This latest, small-sized but elegantly produced book by R. S. Bagnall is the revised form of the author’s Sather lectures at the University of California, Berkeley in 2005.

The book consists of six main chapters plus a short “Introduction,” brief “Conclusions” and lengthy “Endnotes.” The book topic, as indicated by the title too, is “everyday writing in the Graeco-Roman East.” But terms must be taken in a somewhat broader sense: “everyday writing” is defined as a subject larger than the “commonly denominated documentary texts” or the so-called “private” (vs. “public”) texts given that document type boundaries are not always clear; as Bagnall argues, “physical form and social usages are more important than content” (3). On the other hand, “Graeco-Roman East” may at times refer to places like Dura-Europos in Mesopotamia or even take into account data from remote areas like Bactria in modern-day Afghanistan (cf. Ch. 5).

The six book chapters may be read individually, but can also be grouped into larger “sections” (e.g. Chs. 1, 2–3, 4–5, 6) with several common thematic threads running through many of them (e.g. document corpora analysis, language contact, etc.).

The first chapter (“Informal Writing in a Public Place”) is the only chapter that focuses on a “medley” of epigraphic texts, i.e. graffiti from the basement of a Roman-era basilica in the agora of Smyrna. Of particular interest are two rare word/text types: Greek names (re-)written in numbers (isopsephism), e.g. ATH=1,308=ΤΥΧΗ (A=1000, Τ=300, Η=8, Υ=400, Χ=600); letter squares, i.e. palindromes read both horizontally and vertically, e.g. MΗΛΟΝ–ΗΔΟΝΗ–ΛΟΓΟΣ–ΟΝΟΜΑ–ΝΗΣΑΣ. But what matters most is the larger picture: ancient graffiti, be it in Smyrna, Pompeii or elsewhere, offer a completely different perspective on literacy in ancient societies from that provided by literature or public inscriptions: here, it is the wider “literate” public writing for the readership of “literate” passers-by.

The next two chapters (“The Ubiquity of Documents in the Hellenistic East,” “Documenting Slavery in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt”) are devoted to an impressive, in depth and breadth, discussion of papyrus corpora. The overarching point is that fluctuation in document numbers, both in absolute terms and per document category, century or area, is a common phenomenon; but no safe statistical conclusions are possible without prior analysis of the archaeological context. For instance, the numbers of surviving document corpora often relate to whether they were (not) meant to be preserved in antiquity (cf. e.g. discarded documents in rubbish heaps vs. contracts kept in habitation sites), the conditions of their subsequent preservation (cf. taphonomy) and finally, the conditions of their discovery (organized excavations, pillaging, chance discovery of troves). Similarly, changes in the number of certain types of documents, e.g. documents pertaining to slavery (slave contracts, land leases etc.), do not necessarily reflect social changes since statistical “distortion” is a common phenomenon for a number of factors: provenance and nature of document finds, e.g. troves, archives, but also modern editors’ priorities, etc. People keen on statistical counts of papyrus documents will find Bagnall’s learned and methodological analysis a stark reminder of the statistical hazards—even though I am somewhat sceptical whether such a detailed analysis of mass data is always practically feasible, however desirable.

Chapters 4–5 (“Greek and Coptic in Late Antique Egypt,” “Greek and Syriac in the Roman Near East”) touch upon language contact between a metropolitan language like Greek and native languages like Coptic and Syriac. Bagnall navigates through an ocean of corpora from Roman and late antique Egypt, the Near East, but also Mesopotamia (cf. Dura-Europos) and Bactria in an attempt to point out similarities and dissimilarities in document language usage between these two language areas. Despite some obvious differences between Egypt and the Semitic-speaking areas—for instance, written Coptic emerged under clear Greek and Christian influence in the late 3rd century AD, but flourished much later; by contrast, the predecessor of Syriac, i.e. Aramaic, had been used in public and private documents even before the Hellenistic period—there are also some unmistakable similarities: the use of Greek was probably more widespread in cities and towns and less common in the countryside even though Greek was not completely absent from villages either, particularly in Egypt. Once again, statistical figures may be impressionistic since e.g. a large archive find can distort the numbers for a particular document type, area and/or century. Nevertheless, unlike the unquestionable dominance of Greek in document types such as contracts, everyday documents like letters, however small their number, reveal the ever-increasing role of epichoric languages in writing alongside Greek and reflect their strong position in oral communication, even though with a certain degree of bilingualism in several places.

The last chapter (“Writing on Ostraca”) could be deemed a thorough overview of “Ostracology.” This ubiquitous type of texts from Graeco-Roman Egypt (and elsewhere) were meant to be ephemeral but turned out most durable. Bagnall rightfully underlines the importance of large ostraca corpora for the study of ancient society, economy, etc.; but ostraca can be of great importance in any numbers since their elliptic and often “ungrammatical” texts provide crucial evidence for everyday language use (cf. important linguistic data on ostraca from Bu Njem, Mons Claudianus, etc.).

In conclusion, this is an enjoyable, but also highly scholarly book, professionally produced (misprints are hard to spot), which will be of interest to both experts and non-specialists: the former will find an expert and up-to-date discussion of an inter-disciplinary subject, but above all will be prompted to (re-)think over various issues relating to chance and predilection in the discovery, publication and use of large document corpora, which may in turn affect statistical figures significantly; the latter will be initiated in an authoritative manner into the complicated and fascinating subject of everyday writing in the multilingual societies of the Graeco-Roman East.

Roman Burials from Somerset

From the BBC:

A Roman cemetery containing several human burials has been found during work on a new water mains in Somerset.

The finds were made by archaeologists during the laying of a four-mile (7km) long mains between Banwell and Hutton.

Among the skeletons, which have been exhumed for further study, there was one in a partially-preserved coffin.

A Bristol Water spokesman said the excavation had been described as “potentially the most important for 100 years in North Somerset”.

The cemetery was discovered “isolated from the surrounding landscape” in a curved water-filled ditch.

Roman cemeteries, according to Neil Shurety from Border Archaeology, are generally sited outside settlements and away from areas of human habitation.

Pottery and brooches

“In this case, the cemetery is evidently associated not with a town but with a villa site and it could thus represent a private burial ground serving a wealthy landowner and his immediate family,” he said.

The human remains were orientated north-south “with the head to the north, which suggests a pre-Christian burial practice,” said Mr Shurety.

“One of these individuals seems to lie within a partially-preserved wooden coffin – constructed from timber planking,” he added.

He said the site provided evidence of a “landscape almost continually in use for the last 5,000 years”.

“It covers a period ranging from an intriguing prehistoric timber structure to a Roman cemetery and defensive ditches through medieval land management features to today’s agricultural activity,” he said.

The finds, which include an estimated 9,000 pieces of pottery, brooches, a coin of Constantine the Great and a pin of Roman date are due to go on display at Banwell Village Hall on 19 November.