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Institute for the Study of the Ancient World



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12/12/2017 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

NYU Shanghai Lecture: Dreaming in Common

China ca. 300 BCE – 700 CE

Robert Campany

Around 500 BCE, the Ionian thinker Heraclitus is supposed to have said: “For those who are awake there is a single, common universe, whereas in sleep each person turns away into his own, private one.” This fragment captures what seems to be an uncontroversial, common-sense observation and a view of dreaming that is dominant in modernity. What I will argue in this talk is that views of dreaming recorded or implied in a wide variety of texts in early and medieval China offer a strong contrast to this view of dreaming as private. There, the very experience of dreaming itself was understood as an encounter with someone or something other than oneself.
12/07/2017 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

The Silent Fall of an Empire in 1200 BCE

Lorenzo d'Alfonso

The events causing the end of the Hittite empire at the end of the Late Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean are still unknown, but while its causes have been widely discussed, little to no attention has been devoted to the lack of memory of it, as well as the lack of a clear attempt by later polities to claim the legacy of the Great Kings of Hatti. The talk will focus on the perceptions of the fall of the empire, and the non-uniform trajectories of its aftermath. The lack of central power allowed local groups to develop several political experiments. By the 9th century these were transformed into regional monarchies. Phrygia and Urartu are widely known to the great public. The talk will present evidence in support of the existence of a third one: the Land of Tuali.
12/06/2017 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

NYU Shanghai Lecture: From Scripture to Literature

The Culture of Travel and the Making of Early Medieval Chinese Societies

Zhao Lu

From the first century BCE to the second century CE, China experienced a wax and wane of zeal for the so-called “Confucian” Classics. For example, in 72 CE, the court sacrificed to Confucius and his seventy-two disciples. But by 165 CE, the sacrifice was to Laozi 老子, supposedly a Daoist figure. While Yang Xiong 揚雄 (53 BCE–18 CE) believed that rhapsody writing was a minor and childish skill compared to classicism, Cao Pi 曹丕 (187–226 CE) two hundred years later claimed that literary writing was a grand, everlasting accomplishment, as opposed to the narrow-minded practice of interpreting the classics. What caused these seemingly opposite phenomena and attitudes, and was there any underlying relationship between them? This talk will explore how in the first two centuries CE China, classicism encouraged people to travel and in turn shaped their social relationships, material lives, and certain intellectual trends such as erudite learning and literary writing.
12/05/2017 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

The History of Eighth-century Khotan as Seen from Khotanese Documents

Zhan Zhang

Khotan is an oasis on the southern rim of the Taklamakan Desert in Xinjiang, China. Viewed as an entrepôt along the “Silk Road,” Khotan is famed as a source of high-quality jade (in China) and musk (in Iran). Apart from sporadic mentioning in Chinese historical sources, however, we know next to nothing about the history of Khotan in pre-Islamic times. Fortunately, explorations and excavations in Xinjiang in the late 19th and early 20th centuries yielded a large number of manuscripts written in Khotanese, an Eastern Iranian language akin to modern Pashto in Afghanistan. These manuscripts, many of which are administrative documents directly from the offices of Khotanese officials, open up for us a rare window into the everyday life in Khotan during the late eighth century, when Chinese, Arabs, Tibetans, and Turks were all vying for supremacy in Central Asia.
11/30/2017 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

The Prehistory of Crete

Malcolm H. Wiener

The lecture will first summarize quickly the history of Crete from the first known settlement in Crete c. 6900/6600 BC at Knossos to the collapse at the end of the Bronze Age c. 1200–1150 BC and the population nadir c. 1025 BC. We will then return to c. 1600 BC in order to focus on the nature and role of Knossian-controlled Minoan Crete and its seaborne empire at its zenith, considering among many other aspects the dependence of Minoan Crete on overseas sources for the copper and tin needed to create the bronze of the Bronze Age, the nature of the colonies, trading stations and ports of call required, and the cultural impact of Minoan Crete on the Mycenaean civilization of mainland Greece. Please note: This lecture is now fully subscribed; we are no longer accepting RSVPs or names for our wait-list.
11/28/2017 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

Monumental Art and Political Change in Ancient Syria

Alessandra Gilibert

In the 12th century BCE, when the dissolution of the Hittite Empire released the Eastern Mediterranean communities into times of profound change, the polities of ancient Syria began experimenting with monumental art on public display. Exploring new communicative practices, local rulers decorated city gates and ceremonial squares with colossal statues and cycles of bas-reliefs with an increasingly manifest political content. In doing so, they initiated a unique tradition of public art that lasted five centuries and exerted a significant influence on neighboring regions. This talk will focus on the city of Carchemish between 1200 and 700 BCE and explore how monumental art was used to reinforce political practices, negotiate power struggles, express changing civic identities, and challenge the status quo.
11/21/2017 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

NYU Shanghai Lecture: A Tale of Two Tombs

Tang-Turkic Diplomacy and Ritual in Mongolia

Jonathan Skaff

Burial goods and an epitaph recently excavated from two contemporary Tang-style tombs in central Mongolia provide a rich record of political and cultural interactions between Tang and Turkic political elites in the mid-seventh century. One tomb contained the Chinese-language epitaph of a Tang ally, Pugu Yitu (635-678) and the scattered remains of some grave goods left by looters. The other tomb, only eleven kilometers away at Ulaan Khermiin, lacked an epitaph, but was undisturbed, retaining a full complement of rich burial objects. Though the epitaph’s rhetoric provides a conventional Tang-centered narrative of Pugu’s subservience to the dynasty, a careful examination of the epitaph and contents of the two tombs provides evidence of reciprocity and cultural compromises in the political relationship. On one hand, the design of the tombs, funerary ritual described in the epitaph, and many burial goods were typical of the Tang. On the other hand, both funerals have signs of local practices and tastes including cremations, a gold hoard in the coffin of the Ulaan Khermiin tomb, and some unusual wooden and terracotta figurines.
11/16/2017 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

Exhibitions Lecture: Photography and the Early Excavations at Knossos

A Closer Look in the Sir Arthur Evans Archive

Dr. Senta German

Sir Arthur Evans was not alone among pioneering archaeologists in his use of the important new technology of photography in his excavations at Knossos on Crete at the beginning of the 20th century. However, as it has recently been noted, Evans was unique in his frequent modifications of these photographs. This talk will discuss these modifications as well as recent work in the Sir Arthur Evans archive at the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology at the University of Oxford which point to the methods he used and some of his motivations. Ultimately the talk will reflect on Evans' broad interest in restoration of the site and its finds and how we might understand this today.
11/13/2017 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

Ancient World Research and Tools in Synergy

Mark Depauw

Starting from the example of Trismegistos, Depauw will discuss how digital tools are transforming antiquity research. Heuristics used to be the most time-consuming task of the scholar, but are increasingly a matter of a few mouse-clicks. This implies that scholars of the ancient world will have more time to do what lies at the core of the humanities: asking questions and studying ancient society and culture critically. On the other hand, some of these new questions can only be answered by developing new tools.
11/07/2017 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

Language and Deception in the Gilgamesh Flood Story

Martin Worthington

The Flood story in the eleventh Tablet of Gilgamesh includes a mysterious message from the god Ea, featuring a rain of cakes and wheat. Since 1890 scholars have suspected some deliberate ambiguity (a forecast of the Flood disguised as a message about something else), and while the different proposals for how this may work make for a fascinating case study in the history of Akkadian philology, none of them quite work. A new solution is offered in this paper, and its broader implications are explored.
11/02/2017 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

Eleventh Annual Leon Levy Lecture

The Roman Caesars in Modern Art: Missing Persons and Mistaken Identities

Mary Beard

Please note: the Leon Levy Lecture is now fully subscribed; we are no longer accepting RSVPs or names for our wait-list. This lecture will explore the representations of The Twelve Caesars (from Julius Caesar to Domitian) in western art since the Renaissance, aiming to show that they are a much more difficult, edgy, and contested art form than those standard line-ups of busts on museum shelves would suggest. Examples will range from ceramic to waxwork, stone to silver, and they will include the extraordinary set of sixteenth-century Silver Caesars (known as the Aldobrandini Tazze), which are shortly to feature in their own show at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. One underlying question (often taken far too much for granted) is why generations of dynasts, autocrats, the old and the new rich, chose to decorate their homes and palaces with this collection of (largely) monsters.
10/24/2017 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

Theology of Liberation in the Second Millennium BCE

The Hurrian Song of Liberation

Eva von Dassow

Around 1400 BCE, Hittite scribes recorded a Hurrian epic poem entitled “Song of Liberation” in a bilingual Hurro-Hittite edition, in cuneiform script on clay tablets. Fragments of these tablets were discovered in 1983 CE in the excavations at Hattusha, capital city of Hatti. The poem tells a mytho-historical tale turning on the gods’ demand that the city of Ebla release the people of another city, Igingallish, whom they have subjected. The storm god promises prosperity and military success if the Eblaites release the people of Igingallish, and threatens to annihilate their city if they do not. But the senate of Ebla refuses to grant release, exercising their liberty as a body of free men to deny liberty to those who serve them. The city of Ebla was indeed destroyed around 1600 BCE, and this poem explains why. What was the condition of liberty to which the gods demanded that the subjected people be released, and why did this interest the scribes of Hatti two centuries later?
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