Materia Conference at ISAW, April 5, 2019

By David M. Ratzan

ISAW and the ISAW Library is co-hosting the third MATERIA workshop on April 5, 2019. MATERIA: New Approaches to Material Text in the Ancient World is a series of workshops presenting new research on books and other media in antiquity. These events bring together speakers from across the country and variety of classical disciplines—history, literature, epigraphy, papyrology, archeology, manuscript studies, etc.—to explore the intersections of classical texts and material culture. The first two MATERIA meetings, held in 2016 at Columbia University and in 2017 at MIT, pursued a more traditional focus on the book and the literary in order to advance a broader understanding of the history of the book in the Roman world. This third meeting of the MATERIA workshop at NYU’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World seeks to extend this discussion to approaches to material text in Greco-Roman antiquity and other ancient civilizations between 500 BCE and 500 CE in terms of, but also beyond, the category of “the book.”



9:00am: Welcome and Opening Remarks

9:10am: Alexander Jones (ISAW), "Inscribed Science: Greek Astronomical Texts on Stone and Metal"

Abstract: The corpus of major Greco-Roman astronomical inscriptions, though modest in size, obviously represents an ancient tradition of using the medium of inscription to record and convey varieties of astronomical knowledge, to an extent that would be difficult to parallel for any of the other Greco-Roman scientific disciplines. My purpose here is to explore through the extant examples what kinds of astronomy were presented in inscribed form, and for what purposes. They turn out to fall into two major categories. One comprises ostensibly didactic documents, laying out theoretical knowledge, either connected with practical, social life or purely of intellectual interest. The other consists of texts inscribed on or accompanying instruments, which for present purposes means a wide range of objects fashioned to display some kind of data dependent on astronomy not in a purely static way but contingent on some kind of action, which can be manual manipulation, the daily and seasonal movements of the Sun in the sky, or a mechanism.

10:00am: Coffee Break

10:30am: Alexandra Schultz (Harvard), "Libraries in Stone: Book Lists and Literary Identity in the Late Hellenistic Polis"

Abstract: Though few material traces survive of the libraries that once dotted the Hellenistic world, a handful of inscriptions capture activities around these elusive book collections. In this paper I propose to examine the place of books in inscriptions from the second and first centuries BCE to suggest that books catalogued in public inscriptions became a new way of representing civic identity in the late Hellenistic period. My focus will be three inscriptions that contain lists of books and authors: from Rhodes (NSER 11), Athens (IG II² 2363), and Tauromenion (most recent edition in Battistoni 2006). Despite their importance to book history and the history of libraries in antiquity, these inscriptions feature rarely in scholarly treatments of these topics. In a recent article on Hellenistic libraries, Steven Johnstone has claimed that the increasing valuation of books as expensive and aestheticized objects without regard to their content led to the spread of libraries in the second century BCE (Johnstone 2014). Contrary to Johnstone's claim, I argue that these inscriptions not only attest the enduring importance of the content of books, but in fact suggest that books became a new vehicle for expressing local identity and civic pride in the late Hellenistic period. Each of these three inscriptions lists authors and books selected carefully to align with the literary history of each individual city. Furthermore, the fact that all three inscriptions use technologies and layouts often associated with books (e.g. alphabetization and indentation) urges us to consider what these features communicated to an audience when transposed to a radically different medium. In the case of the inscriptions from Athens and Rhodes, I also consider what it meant to inscribe a list of books on stone, to petrify a collection of books that was in fact mutable. By examining the content, layout, organization, and display contexts of these inscriptions, I argue that they allowed cities to transmute fragile papyrus rolls into durable public monuments in order to express local identity and civic pride. At the end of my paper, I then turn to another inscription with a bookish character: the Lindian Chronicle. This inscription, erected in 99 BCE at the temple of Athena on Lindos, records all the votive objects donated to the temple of Lindian Athena as well as her epiphanies to the people of Lindos – with lengthy and detailed citations of the authors, works, and specific books from which each piece of information was drawn. I suggest that, although it was not a library in any strict sense of the word, the Lindian Chronicle performs the library as an integral part of its meticulously researched records. The votive objects themselves were lost, but the library enabled and authenticated their recovery to the city's cultural memory through this durable and monumental stone inscription. I conclude that the spread of libraries, as new and important institutions in civic life, gave cities novel ways of representing themselves through public displays of book collections.

11:30am: Michele Faraguna (Università degli Studi di Milano), "Documentary, Epigraphic, Literary Boundary: Paragraphoi"

AbstractThis paper deals with administrative documents in Archaic and Classical Greece, both at Athens and in other poleis. Starting from the assumption that ancient literate habits were complex and that only some documents were selectively committed to writing in permanent form for display on stone in some public or sacred space, it shows how an approach focusing on writing media can bring new significant insights into the question of ancient literacy by exploring the interplay between documents on different writing materials. The first part of this paper will briefly deal, as an introduction, with the role played by public documents on perishable materials – first of all wooden tablets and papyrus – as a means for both temporary display and archival safekeeping. In the second part, I will focus on the early history of the paragraphos which appears in a number of public epigraphic lists and accounts, often (but not always) laid out in a columnar form, mainly on stone stelai but occasionally also on bronze and lead plates (and sometimes in surprisingly early texts) and suggest that its use in inscriptions could have reflected, and originated from, the formatting of the original copies written on perishable materials. 

12:30pm: Lunch Break

1:15pm: Heng Du (Univeristy of Arizona), "Making "Books" in the World of Slips and Scrolls: Paratext in Early Chinese Textual Culture"

Abstract: What constitutes a “book” in pre-imperial China (before 211 BCE)? Recently unearthed bamboo slip and silk scroll manuscripts suggest that early Chinese writings mostly circulated in small units ranging from aphorisms to chapter-length texts. Such new evidence challenges the integrity of canonical texts transmitted in book form. It is no longer clear whether texts such as the Analects of Confucius (trad. 551-479 BCE) can be read as single, unified entities. Similarly debated are questions such as how to determine textual boundaries within excavated manuscripts and when and how multi-chapter texts arose. To address these questions of textual identity, I expand Gérard Genette’s concept of “paratext”—the textual and material elements surrounding the main text such as titles, book covers, author names, and prefaces—so that it can serve as an analytical tool. While Genette insightfully analyzes paratext as a set of prescriptions regarding the interpretation of text, I argue for paratext’s additional function of prescribing the very boundary of the text itself. If among the characteristics of the modern book is its “unity between a work and an object, between a textual unit and a codicological unit," paratext’s “book-making” power—i.e. its ability to delimit textual and semantic units—manifests itself in the absence of such unity. When a single object contains a multiplicity of unrelated texts, or when a single text spans multiple codicological objects, paratextual elements are necessary for indicating where a text begins and ends. This paper proposes a matrix of criteria for identifying unfamiliar forms of paratext outside of modern print culture, which would shed light on what a certain (group of) textual producer(s) regarded as one textual and semantic unit. The case studies of my paper revolve around a zero-sum game between the author figure’s physical body and literary corpus. Building on Irene Peirano’s article on funerary motifs as paratextual elements in Roman poetic anthologies, I show that in the early Chinese context, the allusion to the author figure’s physical death or disappearance can similarly seal the boundary of a chapter-length text or a book-length compilation. These cases include both excavated didactic manuscripts and two received compilations, the Mozi (Master Mo) and Gongyang zhuan (Gongyang Commentary). Their paratextual elements reflect early textual producers’ attempt to transform sets of heterogeneous materials into self-contained book-like entities.

2:15pm: Grant Parker (Stanford), "Why inscribe obelisks?"

Abstract: A brief survey of the inscriptions carved upon and below Egyptian obelisks at Rome provides a surprising test case about the material functioning of texts. In the case of these monoliths we obviously have to make provision for the choice of language involved, whether Latin or Middle Egyptian. Nonetheless, the obelisks provide evidence inviting us to unpack the ways in which inscribed texts interact with the objects that host them, as perceived by viewers.

3:15pm: Coffee Break

3:45pm: AnneMarie Luijendijk (Princeton), "Cacata carta: actual and imagined use of manuscripts as toilet paper"

AbstractMy current research focuses on the life cycle of manuscripts, using insights from Arjun Appaduria on the “social life of things” and Igor Kopytoff’s “cultural biography of things.” I will follow the biography of ancient Christian books, from their preparation and inscribing to their use and eventually to their death - the disuse, destruction, and discarding of texts. This interest was sparked by the treasure trove of the perhaps as much as half a million papyrus fragments found at the ancient garbage heaps of the city of Oxyrhynchus in Middle Egypt. For this conference, I propose to give a paper on a particularly poignant peripheral  manuscript practice, namely, manuscripts used for what one might politely term “personal hygiene,” or stated more directly, toilet use. I will analyze Roman and late antique evidence, including an archaeologically attested manuscript used as ”toilet papyrus.” I will then examine the rhetoric of threatening to discard writings in latrines and the polemics of calling writings one dislikes cacata carta or “shitted sheets.” I bring these actual and imagined practices in conversation with later practices, Medieval and modern day. In my conclusions, I will reflect on the implications of these findings especially as they pertain to sacred scriptures.

4:45pm: John Ma (Columbia University), Response and Discussion

Conference organized by Joseph Howley (Columbia University), Stephanie Frampton (MIT), and David M. Ratzan (ISAW Library)

This conference is co-sponsored by ISAW, Columbia University Faculty of Arts & Sciences Lenfest Junior Faculty Development Fund, and NYU Classics.

Please check for event updates.