Between Time and Culture: Anthropology and Historicity in the Study of Ancient Literature

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Abstract

Since several decades the use of an ethno-anthropological approach has met with considerable success among classical scholars. The comparative analysis of ancient and 'primitive' cultures and the application of anthropological models to the interpretation of classical texts have stood out as a powerful alternative to traditional philology. This paper reassesses the complex relationship between cultural anthropology and classical studies, highlighting the relevance of historicity and diachronic factors as basic dimensions of both fields. Indeed, classicists referring to ethno-anthropology and its methods have sometimes inclined to see Graeco-Roman antiquity as a stereotypically homogeneous and isochronic world. They have created the illusory and uniform image of an 'ancient culture' ranging from Homer and Cicero to Boethius and Nonnus of Panopolis – an image which ultimately confirmed the clichés of the nineteenth century Altertumswissenschaft. After pointing out the origins and enduring influence of traditional classicistic approaches (from Renaissance Humanism to Positivist idealism), the present paper recalls some of the most significant steps in the history of the dialogue between classics and anthropology. It argues that the intellectually stimulating contribution of social sciences to the renewal of classical scholarship should always be supported by the use of a comprehensive historical perspective, including a self-critical consideration of one's own situated standpoint and aims.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalTHERSITES
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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