Cultural (Re)constructions

MHJ Special Issue 2: Cultural (Re)constructions

Melbourne Historical Journal

No. 2 2011 (Special Issue) 

Cultural (Re)constructions: Proceedings from the 2009-2010 AMPHORA Conference Meetings

This special issue of the Melbourne Historical Journal comprises articles drawn from the 2009 and 2010 iterations of the Annual Meeting of Postgraduate in Hellenic Or Roman Antiquities (AMPHORA).

The themes of AMPHORA III and IV were ‘Cultural Capital: Constructions and Reconstructions’, and ‘Breaking Down Borders: Transgressing Boundaries in the Ancient World’ and each were interpreted in a multitude of ways at the meetings themselves, reflecting the great breadth and depth of scholarship among postgraduates in Australia and New Zealand.

This variety is well represented in the articles that are presented in this volume. Spanning multiple disciplines, continents and millennia, the five articles collected here are joined by a collective recognition of the ways in which societies and authors constructed institutions, works and even aetiological myths as an expression not simply of their contingent circumstances, but also as a way of negotiating and challenging the boundaries of who they considered themselves to be.


David Rafferty (U Melbourne): ‘Princeps Senatus.’ [PDF Rafferty 2(2011)]

Sarah Gador-Whyte (U Melbourne): ‘Self-construction: ‘Auto-Ethopoeia‘ in Romanos’ Kontakia.’

Jay McAnally (UWA): ‘Constructing and Deconstructing Carian Identity: Xanthus of Lydia, Felix Jacoby and Herodotus.’

Sarah Midford (U Melbourne): ‘Constructing the ‘Australian Iliad‘: Ancient Heroes and Anzac Diggers in the Dardanelles.’

Stevie Schafer (U Melbourne): ‘The Reading Endeavour: (Re)constructing Senecan Thought.’

The Editors would like to thank David Konstan for launching the journal, Eva Anagnostou-Laoutides for her assistance with organising the launch and the Classical Association of Victoria for funding this publication.


A transcript of the launch of Cultural (Re)constructions by David Konstan

Classics is clearly on the move.  A wise colleague of mine (an anthropologist) once said to me: If you are any good as a scholar, then within ten years someone will overturn your ideas; and if you are any good as a teacher, your students will overturn them.  It is thus particularly inspiring to see our students advancing their research in so active a way, with conferences and now the launching of a special issue of the distinguished series, the Melbourne Historical Journal.

We can see new approaches flourishing in the papers that have been collected for publication in the first issue of Amphora.  We have come to realize, for example, that identities, whether personal, religious, ethnic, or national, are not given by nature but are constructed, the product of narratives in which we play roles and understand our individuality and at the same time our connectedness to others.  In this issue of Amphora, we can see this new awareness of selfhood at work, from early Anatolia down to modern Australia. Again, we have begun to understand that institutional history is often a function of personal identities: an office may thrive or fail not because of some act or law, but because there is no one suited to fill it.  Finally, we have become accustomed only recently to seeing that reading is not a passive process, in which the author creates and the reader absorbs; rather, reader is, in the words of Plutarch, a partner or koinônos in the creation of the text; ancient readers, trained in rhetoric, were particularly conscious of the manipulation of received texts, and show us how to read them.

Jay McAnally, of the University of Western Australia, takes us into early Anatolian myth and history.  In his paper, ‘Constructing and Deconstructing Carian Identity: Xanthus of Lydia, Felix Jacoby and Herodotus’, McAnally examines in detail a fragment of the historian Xanthus, in which this lost historian identifies an ancestor of the Carians.  Xanthus’s genealogy does not agree, however, with that reported by Herodotus, and historians have been puzzled and have sought to emend and supplement what appears to be a lacunose text.  But by taking into consideration the historical relations between Caria, Lydia, and other populations, McAnally concludes that, ‘without dependence upon any questionable textual additions, and by acknowledging only the genuine ancient information, Carius and the Carians, along with Torrhebia and the Torrhebians, are not forced into a non-existent genealogical relationship with Manes and Atys as descendants’.  But what of the alternative tradition?  Mr. McAnally explains: ‘The mythological variants discussed here are evidence of an active restructuring of Carian mytho-genealogical identity, and highlight a “fracture point” between two variant strands of mythology. The value of this “fracture point” is as a form of cognitive artifact which both circumscribes and restructures an aspect of identity. The fracture point thus plays a role in the discursive construction of Carian ethnicity’.  This is the kind of attention to self-construction, and, I might add, to how the ancients wrote and read, that is at the forefront of modern studies of ideology.

David Rafferty, of the University of Melbourne, takes us to Rome, in his paper, ‘Princeps Senatus’.  Rafferty argues that the office did not come to an end by decree in 86 BC, as is commonly supposed, but lived on after Sulla.  The office was a powerful one, at least potentially: for it was held for life, and the holder, who was called upon to speak first in the Senate on any issue, could exploit it as a way of asserting an exceptional auctoritas, if – and here’s the catch – he possessed it to begin with.  But when no one held sufficient authority, then the position could be undermined and become subject to politics, as we would say: ‘after the death of L. Flaccus’, Rafferty explains, ‘some presiding consul took the liberty of calling first on another consular in place of M. Perperna [the man second in rank].  Perperna lacked the standing within the senate to challenge this new state of affairs’.  What Rafferty shows is that history can be personal, and we need to look at how people interact, not just how institutions come and go: ‘We have seen how the demotion of the princeps senatus in the 70s was not simply a matter of “abolishing” the office, but was rather a process with several steps.  This process did not occur in a hermeneutically sealed world of institutional development, but was largely a function of the relationship between the small number of consulars present in Rome.  In the absence of a generation of leaders, dead in the disturbances of the eighties, the new consuls of the 70s were able to sideline men such as M. Perperna who carried little political influence’.

With Stevie Schafer’s paper (the University of Melbourne), ‘The Reading Endeavour: (Re)constructing Senecan Thought’, we move to the Roman empire.  How did the ancients read?  The answer is: creatively.  Thus, when Seneca takes a line from the Aeneid about bees making nectar, he is both recalling the busy construction of Carthage, which is analogized to the work of bees in the poem, but also the so-called Republic of Bees in the fourth book of the Georgics, which Virgil himself had subsequently adapted to a new context in the Aeneid.  Indeed, writers must do what the bees do: collect their materials and lend them their own new form and inspiration or spiritus.  The bees are not only models of literature, however: if in the Aeneid they are ideal builders, working in harmony, the Georgics shows how they can be wiped out.  As Schafer notes, those same Stoics who saw a universal harmony and reason operating throughout nature also held that this same universe would someday perish in a total conflagration.  This tension is introduced into Seneca’s heuristic epistle by way of his subtle use of allusion and his reasonable expectation that an increasingly sophisticated Lucilius – trained to read by his study of Seneca’s own epistles – will cotton to it.

Sarah Gador-Whyte, also of the University of Melbourne, explains in ‘Self-construction: “Auto-Ethopoeia” in Romanos’ Kontakia‘, how the early Byzantine Christian Romanos brings to life characters in his hymns as a way of getting the flavor of dialogue and conversation across to his congregation.  The form, that of the hymn, and Christian content are new, but the method of ethopoeia harks back to the rhetorical schools.  But Romanos takes this traditional technique a step further, by introducing himself into his narratives as a character: that is, he uses ethopoeia to represent himself, just as he represents others.  This self-conscious split between the poet and the narrator would seem to reflect a new, Christian sense of a division between the present sinful self and the vision of a self perfected in the eschaton or the final days.  As Gador-Whyte puts it, ‘the best form of Christian identity is a penitential self’, which at the same time looks forward to and participates in the eschaton.

Sarah Midford, of the University of Melbourne, takes us still further into the future, with her paper on Constructing the “Australian Iliad”: Ancient Heroes and Anzac Diggers in the Dardanelles’.  She seeks to show how ‘the Anzac Campaign provided the opportunity for the newly formed Australian nation to compose a meaningful story which would be relevant to the nation’s past, present and future’, concentrating especially on ‘allusions to antiquity … used in Australian literature’ before, during, and after the war.  ‘Just as the Iliad served to unite the Greek people’, Midford writes, ‘the composition of Australia’s own story of origin, the Australian Iliad, provided a narrative which created a bond of shared sacrifice around which the nation could rally’.  It is evidently no accident that Gallipoli is near the site of Troy.  We come round here to mythic creation of identity, not far different, perhaps, from the process that McAnally identified among the ancient Carians.

Graduate students today are becoming professionals earlier than they did in my day.  They give talks at professional meetings like this one, run their own graduate student conferences, submit and publish articles in respected journals – and organize and publish their own journals, too.  This is an important occasion, and I salute the fine young scholars who are engaged in this promising project.

‘Cultural (Re)constructions’ was kindly launched by David Konstan (State University of New York and Brown University) at the opening of the Thirty-Third Australasian Society for Classical Studies Conference, Sunday 5 February 2012 at the Hellenic Museum, Melbourne.

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