Looking at Mental Illness in Antiquity

From Columbia News:

The examination of mental disorders would seem to be the almost exclusive domain of psychiatrists and psychologists, not humanities scholars. Yet William V. Harris, the William R. Shepherd Professor of History, has spent his time in recent years studying his chosen field—the history of ancient Greece and Rome—through the lens of mental illness.

Harris, director of the Columbia Center for the Ancient Mediterranean, has explored subjects in ancient times ranging from war and imperialism to literacy and economic history. More recently, he began to focus on emotional states, in books such as Restraining Rage: the Ideology of Anger Control in Classical Antiquity in 2002, and Dreams and Experience in Classical Antiquity in 2009. “I’ve always been interested in psychiatry and psychology, which I see as a quite natural interest for historian,” he said.

Then, in 2008, Harris was, “struck by lightning by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation,” as he put it, which awarded him a three-year grant of $1.5 million for distinguished lifetime achievement. The selection committee said Harris transformed his field by “asking big, difficult questions and offering provocative answers that have generated significant debates beyond the confines of his discipline.”

Harris used the grant to promote research on the history of mental disorders in the classical world, and also on some other, not closely related, aspects of the classical world. “Mental illnesses are among the greatest challenges to understanding ourselves as human beings,” Harris said. Studying them, he added, improves our understanding of ancient lives and texts written thousands of years ago. All three great tragedians, Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides, staged scenes of madness in their plays. In Sophocles’ Ajax, for example, the title character slaughters sheep and cattle believing them to be Greek generals who disgraced him; he later commits suicide.

Harris soon realized that covering a subject so large would require help. So in 2010 he funded two conferences on the topic at Columbia, drawing classics scholars, psychiatrists and historians from around the world. Now the findings of those conferences have been published in a volume that Harris edited titled Mental Disorders in the Classical World.

Chapter titles contributed by many of the conference participants include, “The Early Greek Medical Vocabulary of Insanity” and “Plato on Madness and the Good Life.” Harris’ own essay focuses on hallucinations, which he chose in part because “describing a hallucination is not an impossible task, it tends to be relatively brief,” he said. “Try describing 20 years of depression. That is a very challenging task.”

He offers examples of ancient hallucinators, such as Pheidippides, the Athenian courier who saw the god Pan on his famous run to Sparta, which is the inspiration for today’s long-distance running event.

Another outcome of his conferences was sorting out ancient terminology and classifications, as he and his collaborators created a sort of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of ancient times. “The names of mental disorders that the very best ancient thinkers have used don’t often correspond to anything that exists in the modern world in a neat and tidy way,” Harris said. For example, the word “phrenitis” appears in ancient texts to describe illness characterized by delirium, fever and death. Today, some scholars think it refers to encephalitis.

But using modern-day medicine to understand ancient illnesses doesn’t always work, Harris said. “There’s always a temptation among historians of ancient medicine to do retrospective diagnoses and to say, for example, that so-and-so was a paranoid schizophrenic,” he said. “People have found this almost irresistible.” But ancient descriptions of cases are seldom complete enough to allow for a retroactive diagnosis, he added.

Nor did the ancients have anything approaching a scientific community of peers. The 2nd century Roman physician and philosopher Galen had colleagues and friends, Harris explained, but nothing comparable to the peer review or statistical support that present-day doctors get.

Despite the addition of the new volume on ancient mental maladies, there are many topics still to be plumbed, such as senility, demonic possession in Christianity and Judaism, and the ancient custom of seeking cures for mental (and other) illnesses by invoking the help of the gods. “I regard this book as a useful publication, but it’s a very long way from being the last word on the subject,” he said, perusing its cover, which depicts a 16th century woodcut of Galen. “We are left more with an agenda than a whole set of answers.”

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CJ Online Review: Brodd and Reed, Rome and Religion

posted with permission:

Rome and Religion: A Cross-Disciplinary Dialogue on the Imperial Cult. Edited by Jeffrey Brodd and Jonathan L. Reed. Society of Biblical Literature Writings from the Greco-Roman World Supplement Series, Vol. 5. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011. Pp . xiv + 261. Paper, $37.95. ISBN 978-1-58983-612-9.

Reviewed by Roberta Stewart, Dartmouth College

The collection Rome and Religion: A Cross-Disciplinary Dialogue on the Imperial Cult promises a dialogue, a “wide-ranging treatment of issues and interrelated themes” that brings together “classicists, biblical and religious scholars, historians, and archaeologists.” Part One addresses the definition of “religion” as an analytical category. Part Two studies the variously successful penetration of imperial ideology in the Eastern Mediterranean. Part Three the intersection of Roman imperial religious practice and thinking with Jewish and Christian communities. Part Four offers final comments on the importance of cross-disciplinary research.

Collectively the papers illustrate the use of literary, numismatic, epigraphic, and archaeological evidence to consider questions of religious policy, practice, and belief. A religious institution emerges as sets of historical actions, situated in place and time, and the product of historically situated actors,

In the opening essay, Galinsky emphasizes the need to study imperial cult not as a single monolith but as a “paradigm”; to conceptualize imperial cult as a negotiated product of “religious pluralism”-rather than a polarity of religious accommodation or resistance-embedded within distinct communities possessing their own political, religious and social histories in a diverse Roman Empire; and to evaluate “the Jesus movement” similarly within the “religious pluralism” of the Empire. Galinsky highlights the value of language (e.g. theos ek theou and soter) to locate “imperial cults more precisely within the associative spectrum” (10) and to understand the Christian appropriation of Roman ideas.

In Part One, James Hanges (“To Complicate Encounters”) reframes Galinsky’s claims in terms of post-colonial discourse: the processes of identity formation of subordinated groups; the concept of identity as multivalent and the product of an ongoing, negotiated interrelationship, with a salutary awareness of negotiation implying the views and actions of the subordinated; and the appropriation by the subordinated of the symbols of domination. He claims that local quarrels influenced the evolving character of ancient cult (31 n. 15, where one misses a discussion of comparative material for understanding the local negotiation) and concludes provocatively with the transformative function of myth and ritual to conjure up the ideal reality within the imperfect, mundane existence (33, which lacks citation of ancient evidence and Vernant’s analysis of Hesiod’s Myth of Prometheus).

Jeffrey Brodd (“Religion, Roman Religion, Emperor Worship”) considers the definition of “religion” with three interlocking premises: the need for “conceptual clarity,” for distinguishing modern and ancient definitions of religion, and for confronting theoretical definition with data. He surveys anthropologists and their critics grappling with definitions of religion and concomitant terms, both to illustrate the debate and to identify what is at stake in defining the categories.

Given the claims, I missed-perhaps revealing my Classical, disciplinary perspective-the philological bibliography on the Roman terms, especially A. K. Michel’s study of the term “religio” and its historical evolution (“The Versatility of Religio” in The Mediterranean World: Papers Presented in Honour of Gilbert Bagnani (1976) 36-77) and more recent treatments (R. Muth ANRW 2.16.1 (1978) 290-354; J. Rüpke Les Études classiques 75 (2007): 67-78).

Eric Orlin (“Augustan Religion: From Locative to Utopian”) uses Galinsky’s claim about religious pluralism to explore the religious context of the development of imperial cult and Christianity. He divides ancient religious practice into categories of “locative religion” or “religion of place” by contrast with “utopian” religious experience and traces a change in “religion of place” during the Augustan principate. Augustan religious reforms broke the traditional identification of place and cult: Augustus relocated the Republican rituals of Roman militarism from the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus to the new temple of Mars Ultor and removed the Sibylline books from there to the new temple of Apollo on the Palatine, so that “the chief deity of the Roman Republic was dislodged from his position theologically, ritually, and physically.” The expanding political definition of the Empire transmuted the definition of locative religion, as Roman cults were adopted beyond Rome and peninsular Italy throughout Roman Mediterranean. Imperial cult emerges as another example of the extended locative religion.

In Part Two, Barbette Spaeth (“Imperial Cult in Roman Corinth”) illustrates the utility of Galinsky’s ideas of “religious pluralism” and the interpenetration of religious and political/social life, in order to think about imperial cult in Corinth. Coins pairing obverse portraits of Nero with reverse images of deity (the Genius of the colony, Fortuna) and inscriptions giving gods the adjective “Augustus/a” illustrate the “‘intertwining’ of the cult of the emperor with those of other gods in the city” (67). The particular configuration of imperial cult at Corinth emerges as stamped by the religious and political history of the Roman colony.

In “Embedding Rome in Athens,” Nancy Evans delineates an Athenian local history to appraise cult from the perspective of the Athenian, the Roman, and the non-Athenian tourist at Athens. Evans locates imperial cult at Athens on a religious continuum that included rare cult to the Hellenistic successors of Alexander and to the late Republican generals, and deliberate revocation of cult for those subsequently deemed unworthy, by contrast with the explosion of imperial cult locations (94 altars identified), whereby Athens demonstrated allegiance to “external authority” and garnered imperial benefaction.

For the Romans Augustus exploited the Athenian historical antagonism of Greeks v. Persians to formulate his own imperial policy v. Parthia, and Paul’s journey establishes a thinking man’s reactions to imperial cult at Athens in the first century. For this paper and the entire Part Two, Kantiréa’s book (Les dieux et les dieux Augustes. Le culte impérial en Grèce sous les Julio-claudiens et les Flaviens, 2007) and richly documented, comparative study of imperial cult at Pergamum, Athens, and Ephesus (“Étude comparative de l’introduction du culte imperial à Pergame, à Athènes et à Éphèse,” in More Than Men, Less than Gods. Studies on Royal Cult and Imperial Worship, 2011: 521-51) are useful and should be consulted.

Daniel Schowalter (“Honoring Trajan in Pergamum: Imperial Temples in the ‘Second City'”) illustrates Galinsky’s ideas of “religious pluralism” and a non-monolithic imperial cult with a discussion of the diverse honors given to Trajan at Pergamum. Pliny’s letters from Bithynia illustrate “how honors offered to the emperor (along with honors to the traditional gods) were a natural part” (100) of provincial existence. The enormous Trajaneum gave topographic and architectural emphasis to the emperor; the city’s second neokorate shows how a city and its wealthy elite affirmed their prominence through ostentatious civic deference to imperial power. Comparing the honors given to Augustus and Trajan reveals continuity and allowable change (Greek versus Roman temple architecture) in the imperial cult.

James McLaren (“Searching for Rome and Imperial Cult in Galilee”) follows Galinsky’s exhortation not to create a monolith of imperial cult or of local responses and provides a richly contextualized explanation of Galilean participation in the Jewish war of 66-70 ce. McLaren defines a maximalist approach to imperial cult that recognizes its ubiquity and assesses it as part of the broader Roman presence (administrative, military, and economic) in the region. Galilean participation in the Jewish war emerges within a context of minimal Roman intrusion in Galilean life, and so not as a direct result of Roman policy or action. Moreover, the diversity of perspective among different peoples in Galilee regarding relationship with Rome shows Galilean participation in the war, not as a product of zealotry but instead a recognized identity of interest among Jews and Galileans regarding the temple in Jerusalem, an action not a reaction (128).

Warren Carter (“Roman Imperial Power: A Perspective from the New Testament”) argues that Jesus’ followers “did not negotiate the empire and its cult in a monolithic manner” (142). He examines the characterization of “Jezebel” in Revelation: she engages in idolatry, eats sacrificial food, and, like Satan and Rome, deceives. The character and the critique represent the difficult negotiation of Christians in a Roman world, where “cultic activity was intertwined in socioeconomic activity” (144), required strategic decision-making, and produced a different theological point of view that “societal and cultic participation did not compromise faithfulness” (145).

The analysis and its development owes much to James Scott’s analysis of power relationships. Carter compares 1 Peter which similarly recommends accommodation to defuse criticism and conflict and shows that Jesus believers were deeply embedded culturally in a Roman world, although the logic of accommodation implied a simultaneous devaluation of imperial cult practice. Finally Carter considers scenes of worship described in John 4-5 to show the appropriation of Roman ceremonial and its reinscription as rightful worship of a Christian God.

Robin Jensen (“The Emperor as Christ and Christian Iconography”) examines the representation of the emperor and of Christ in fourth-century art. Analysis of the labarum, “chi rho,” crown, or seated captives in various media (sarcophagi, public architecture, coins) before and after Constantine suggests the multivalent meaning of iconography and a competitive appropriation and redefinition of Roman imperial symbols.

Michael White (“Capitalizing on the Imperial Cult”) looks at a series of inscriptions from Ostia, Cyrenaica, Lydia, and Phrygia that illustrate what he terms the “negotiated symbiosis” whereby Jews, despite their religious difference, appropriated and manipulated the Hellenistic and Roman systems of civic euergetism and patronage in order to attain and secure their status within their own hierarchical, local, Roman communities.

So Galinsky’s paper provides the focus for three distinct series of investigations about the nature of ancient religion, about the diversity of imperial cult at the local level, and about Christian and Jewish responses to imperial religious practices. The book emerges almost as a Festschrift that celebrates the work of Karl Galinsky.

Latest in the Riace Bronzes Saga

Okey dokey … this past week Gazzetta del Sud was telling us:

One of Italy’s best-loved cultural icons, a pair of ancient Greek statues called the Riace Bronzes, is back home in a Calabrian museum after four years lying on their backs in the seat of the regional government. “We are keeping a promise to give all the citizens of the world back one of its greatest treasures,” said Culture Minister Massimo Bray. He said the statues would be back on display in two weeks and that, given their “delicate” condition, the government would probably not try to have them moved to Milan in 2015 for the Expo world’s fair in the northern Italian city that year. Bray vowed to give the Bronzes “all the loving attention they need” to restore them to their full glory after the toll of undignified neglect in a store-room of the government offices in Reggio Calabria, on the other side of the southern Italian city. “Thanks to Bray, the bronzes will soon be back gloriously on display,” said Calabria Archaeological Superintendent Simonetta Bonomi. She hailed the news that the public can start flocking back to admire two of the most stunning works ever recovered from the cultural hotbed created by the ancient Greek civilisation in southern Italy called Magna Graecia (Greater Greece). A bigger, renovated showcase for the glorious warrior figures in Reggio Calabria’s Museum of Magna Graecia is expected to be unveiled early next year. Calabria’s culture chief, Mario Caligiuri, said the opening of the revamped site “could represent our Expo,” referring to the world’s fair in Milan which is expected to give the Italian business capital a significant economic and cultural boost. The statues were moved from the museum at the end of 2009 because the cultural institute badly needed restoration. But the work at the museum became a victim of budget cuts and red tape, leaving the statues out in the cold and spurring a national and international outcry. Leading Italian arts figures got a petition together and United Nations cultural organisation UNESCO branded the affair “a disgrace” in July. This prompted a renewed pledge from local officials this summer. “The situation is finally unblocked and will be remedied” said the managing director of Calabria’s department of cultural heritage, Francesco Prosperetti. “The Region of Calabria has given its fundamental contribution of five million euros, which will be used for building museum displays and completing installation work in the building, which should once more host the Riace Bronzes,” Prosperetti said. “If, as we hope, there aren’t snags or legal hold-ups… inauguration and opening to the public is conceivable…in the first months of next year”, Prosperetti said. Politicians had pressed Bray, since his appointment in April, to take fast action to protect the historically significant and priceless statues. He responded by saying moves would be hastened to get them back in their rightful place “by the first quarter of 2014”. On Friday he said “it turned out that this forecast was actually pessimistic and I am proud to say that these two old friends of ours are now back where they belong even sooner than we hoped”. Calabria takes the Bronzes so seriously that it has repeatedly refused permission for copies of the statues to be made and rejected pleas for Italian promotional events worldwide and for the 2001 G8 summit in Genoa. In a citywide vote in 2003, the people of Reggio Calabria came out overwhelmingly against the “cloning” of the statues, which have been the Calabrian capital’s biggest tourist draw since they were discovered. The bronzes were discovered in 1972 by a Roman holiday-maker scuba diving off the Calabrian coast and turned out to be one of Italy’s most important archaeological finds in the last 100 years. Their’ trip across town to the council site was supposed to be a brief one. When they left the archaeological museum on December 22, 2009, superintendent Bonomi said it was “just for a six-month restoration”. The move was the first time in 28 years that the priceless 2,500-year-old bronzes had left the Museo Nazionale di Reggio Calabria. The only previous occasion they were let out was in 1981, for a triumphant round-Italy tour, which sold out venues in Rome, Florence and Milan The statues are of two virile men, presumably warriors or gods, who possibly held lances and shields at one time. At around two metres, they are larger than life. The ‘older’ man, known as Riace B, wears a helmet, while the ‘younger’ Riace A has nothing covering his rippling hair. Both are naked. Although the statues are cast in bronze, they feature silver lashes and teeth, copper red lips and nipples, and eyes made of ivory, limestone and a glass and amber paste. Italy has the world’s biggest trove of archeological treasures but the Riace Bronzes attracted particular attention. This was partly due to their exceptionally realistic rendering and partly to the general rarity of ancient bronze statues, which tended to be melted down and recycled. Stefano Mariottini, the scuba diver who first spotted one of the statues some 300 meters off the coast and eight metres underwater, said the bronze was so realistic that he initially thought he’d found the remains of a corpse. A million people came to see them at various venues around Italy in 1981 and the pair were featured on a commemorative postage stamp that year. The statues pulled in an average 130,000 visitors a year during their time at the Reggio Calabria museum.

Please forgive my skepto-cynicism on this one, but we’ve been hearing about the impending ‘reappearance’ of this pair for years. You can catch up on the saga from our post from this past July: The Riace Bronzes Saga Continues … I’m also curious whether this work done a couple of years ago will be put into effect: Protecting the Riace Bronzes from Earthquakes

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d.m. James Isbell Armstrong

From the Valley News:

James Isbell Armstrong, President Emeritus of Middlebury College and Classicist, died on Monday, Dec. 16, 2013, at the age of 94 at his home in Hanover. Armstrong was born to William Park Armstrong, Jr. and Rebekah Sellers Purves on April 20, 1919, in Princeton, N.J. as the youngest of six children. His father was Professor of New Testament Greek and Exegesis at the Princeton Theological Seminary. He attended Miss Fine’s School, the Princeton Country Day School, the Taft School and Princeton University where he graduated with Phi Beta Kappa honors in 1941. Upon graduation, Armstrong served for five and half years in the Army, largely in the Pacific Theater beginning in Hawaii and ending in Manila. He participated in the landing at Leyte and was honorably discharged at the rank of Captain in 1946. After WWII, Armstrong assisted with the Returning Veterans Program at Princeton University where he was offered a teaching fellowship (early Woodrow Wilson Fellow) and received his Ph.D. in Classics (1949). He married Carol Penrhyn Aymar of Darien, Conn. on Nov. 1, 1942. In his judgment and that of many others it was the best venture of his life. She became the still point in the turning wheel for the rest of his personal and professional life. In 1947, Armstrong began a career in teaching and administration at Princeton where he was a member of the Classics Department and a Homeric scholar; there he rose to the rank of Associate Professor (1960) and served as Assistant and Associate Dean of the Graduate School (1958-62). These years were enriched by a year teaching at Indiana University (1949-50) and a Senior Fellowship at the American Academy in Rome (Prix de Rome, 1955-56). In 1951, Armstrong was recalled to active duty and served for a year in the Korean War.

In 1963, Armstrong was appointed President of Middlebury College where he and Carol served for 12 years. Under his leadership the College grew in stature and size, helping to create the international reputation as a premier liberal arts institution that Middlebury enjoys today. During these years Bates College, Grinnell College and his alma mater recognized his contributions to higher education, awarding Armstrong honorary degrees. Middlebury followed suit during his years as President and Director of the Dana Foundation (1975-81). Armstrong also served as trustee at Princeton University and the Hazen Foundation, as a member of the advisory council of the Braitmayer Foundation and as a director at Merrill Lynch.

Armstrong and his wife Carol moved to a continuing care retirement community in 1991 as early residents of the newly built Kendal at Hanover. They enjoyed joining with fellow residents to build and develop their community and improve Kendal’s facilities. Armstrong served as Interim Executive Director in 1995 and also on its Board of Directors. Their beloved farm and friends in Maine were their anchor to windward from the early years of their marriage. Nurturing three children, growing a vegetable garden, haying, wooding, flying a Cessna 150, baking apple pies in the wood stove, hooking rugs and caring for a 150-year-old farm house were the natural counterpoint to their educational pursuits.

Armstrong was predeceased by his daughter, Cary Tall Rothe. He is survived by his wife of 71 years, Carol Aymar Armstrong (Hanover, N.H.); his children, James I. Armstrong, Jr. (Williamsburg, Va.) and Elizabeth L. Armstrong (Lewisburg, Pa.); and six grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, at 2 p.m. at Kendal at Hanover. Memorial donations may be made to the Cadbury Fund of Kendal at Hanover (Brent Edgerton, Associate Executive Director, (603) 643-8900 or BEdger@kah.kendal.org) or Middlebury College.