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Late Ancient Knowing

Late Ancient Knowing: Explorations in Intellectual History

Catherine M. Chin
Moulie Vidas
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Late Ancient Knowing
    Book Description:

    In this collection of essays, scholars from a range of disciplines explore the activity of knowing in late antiquity by focusing on thirteen major concepts from the intellectual, social, political, and cultural history of the period. They ask two questions about each of these concepts: what did late ancient people know about them, and how was that knowledge expressed in people's actions?Late Ancient Knowingintegrates intellectual history, post-structuralist literary theory, and recent trends in cognitive science to examine the ways that historical thought-worlds both shaped individual lives and were in turn shaped by the actions of individuals. Each chapter treats its main concept as a problem both of knowledge and of practice or behavior. The result is a richly imagined description of how people of this time understood and navigated their world, from travel through the countryside and encounters with demons to philosophical medicine and the etiquette of imperial courts.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-96092-3
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction Knowing
    (pp. 1-14)
    Catherine M. Chin and Moulie Vidas

    This is a book about knowing as a historical practice. It is not strictly about the content of late ancient knowledge, in the sense of answering questions likeWhat did late ancient people know about geography or astronomy?orWhat did people living in fourth-century Rome know about India?Instead, it is about how the process of knowing shaped a variety of historical actions in late antiquity, and in turn how a variety of historical actions and circumstances produced what became the content and practice of knowing. In this book, we consider late ancient knowing to be both the intellectual...


    • 1 Artifact
      (pp. 17-35)
      Mira Balberg

      In the book of Leviticus we find a lengthy description of the procedure for inspecting an afflicted house—that is, a house in which mildew was seen in one of the walls. Once a house has been rendered impure on account of such affliction, the Pentateuch stresses, everything that is in it is immediately rendered impure as well. Thus, in order to protect one’s property from impurity, prior to official inspection by a priest the house should be cleared of all its contents—namely, furniture and utensils, clothes and bedding, cushions and boxes, and everything else a person may own.¹...

    • 2 Animal
      (pp. 36-57)
      Beth Berkowitz

      According to one early rabbinic law, a person who makes an oath about the ridiculous is punished with flogging:¹

      A vain oath: one incurs flogging for [taking] it intentionally but is exempt for [taking] it accidentally. What is a vain oath?

      … He swore regarding a matter that is impossible to him:

      He said, “If I have not seen a camel flying in the air,” or “If I have not seen a snake like the beam of an olive press.”

      Given that there are almost infinitely many ways to imagine the impossible, it is interesting to see what is conjured...

    • 3 Language
      (pp. 58-79)
      Jeremy Schott

      In the late sixth century, the East Syrian scholar Barhadbeshabba described the creation of the cosmos:¹

      God … wrote a scroll of imperceptible light with his finger of creative power and with [his] command, [a scroll] that he had them [i.e., the angels] read with an audible voice:Let there be light, and there was light[Gen. 1:3]…. In a similar manner we have a practice after which we have a child read the simple letters and repeat them; we join them one to another, and from them we put together names that he may read syllable by syllable and...

    • 4 Medicine
      (pp. 80-98)
      Heidi Marx-Wolf

      This chapter begins with a case of mistaken identity, a historical confusion over the authorship of a work entitledTo Gaurus: On the Formation of Embryos. Between 1840 and 1845, Minoïdes Mynas purchased the twelfth-century manuscript that was to become Parisinus supplementarius graecus 635 on behalf of Abel-Francois Villemain, French minister of public instruction, while on a trip to Mount Athos. The manuscript contains three works attributed to Galen:On Marasmus,¹ Introduction to Logic,²andTo Gaurus. The attribution of this last work to Galen was eventually questioned by Karl Kalbfleisch in 1895, when he produced the first and, to...

    • 5 Cosmos
      (pp. 99-116)
      Catherine M. Chin

      The art historian Esther Pasztory describes a return from abroad as follows:¹

      When I returned my apartment looked all wrong to me. I hated it. The morning after arrival I got up all exhausted and jet-lagged and before doing anything else, I started taking the pictures and textiles off the walls and moving them. A couple of hours later I found that I had rearranged everything, including the sculptures…. After a long absence the apartment did not reflect me in some way, and I was not comfortable in it until I brought us into accord.

      Late ancient knowledge of the...

    • 6 Angel
      (pp. 117-133)
      Ellen Muehlberger

      The material remains of the culture of late antiquity—the art, the texts—locate angels as exceptional creatures existing with and among human beings yet different from humanity in ways that expand and complicate the range of possibilities available to both species. Late ancient cultural products of all sorts conveyed the message that angels were special but also familiar. When a person attending a Christian ritual in late fourth-century Ravenna looked up, he saw the faces of human figures looking back at him from the mosaics on the walls of his church. He also saw the faces of angels, in...

    • 7 God
      (pp. 134-152)
      Lewis Ayres

      At first glance this chapter may seem to be a conservative outlier in a collection showcasing new questions: a historian of early Christian doctrine writes about Augustine’s understanding of the relationship between God and creation! And yet, through exploring the complexities of just a few texts, I hope to show that historians cannot hope to grasp the dynamics of knowing in late antiquity without attending to how Christians viewed Christian belief as implying particular conceptions of knowledge and shaping habits of seeking understanding. Christian theology should be seen not as a separate branch of late antique knowledge, with a content...


    • 8 Emperor
      (pp. 155-174)
      Matthew Canepa

      The rise of the Sasanian Empire (ca. 224–642 c.e.) and its constant rivalry with Rome introduced a political phenomenon that the ancient world had arguably never experienced before on such a scale: two powerful and stable imperial structures that both claimed universal status coexisting over the course of centuries in intimate communication with each other.¹ By the age of Husraw I (r. 531–79) and Justinian I (r. 527–65), the courts considered the ritualized diplomatic equilibrium that had developed to be not only the established order of things but, when it suited them, primordial and divinely ordained. Many...

    • 9 Ordo
      (pp. 175-196)
      Michael Kulikowski

      Outside the governor’s palace in Constantina, the provincial capital of Numidia, in the interior of modern Algeria, or possibly in the city’s forum, a bronze tablet was erected at some point between late 361 and mid-363. In it, thevir clarissimusUlpius Mariscianus,consularis(governor) of Numidia, laid out the order in which the population of the medium-sized provincial town of Thamugadi (modern Timgad) could salute or greet the governor when he made his formal entry into town. Thisordo salutationisshaped the way all involved knew what to make of their world, and it was vitally important to all...

    • 10 Christianization
      (pp. 197-217)
      Edward Watts

      In the twenty-first century it is deceptively easy to think that Rome’s move from a pagan empire to a state in which Christianity played the dominant role followed a clear and well-defined path. In truth, in 312 it was as easy to conceive of a Christian Roman Empire as it was to imagine a Roman imperial rail network. Both these things are, after all, the products of innovative technologies imagined by bright thinkers and then implemented over time by a determined, capable, and sophisticated political and social system. Though Christianity’s eventual dominance of the Roman state is often seen as...

    • 11 Cleric
      (pp. 218-239)
      Kristina Sessa

      Studies tell us that the emergence of the cleric as a distinct late ancient figure of authority was an organic and uneven process, shaped by gradual institutional development and social change.¹ As these studies point out, some of the first texts produced by Christian writers and communities refer to bishops (“overseers”), presbyters (“elders”), and deacons (“ministers”), whose roles were undefined but whose positions within their churches were recognized as special offices or as entailing special duties, at least some of the time. By the third century, the monoepiscopate had definitively emerged, and with it both the rise of the bishop...

    • 12 Countryside
      (pp. 240-258)
      Cam Grey

      Among the papers found in the estate of the late Keith Hopkins is a curious text that bears many of the hallmarks of late antique literature. It reveals both classicizing tendencies and a self-conscious awareness of present Christian concerns. It defies easy categorization into one genre, sitting instead amid the epistolary, technical, hagiographical, and panegyrical forms. It demonstrates also a robust sense of the literary and cultural merit of its present, while at the same time seeking to consciously reconstruct and remodel its past.¹ Unfortunately, the names of both the addressee and the author are lost, and nothing further is...

    • 13 Demon
      (pp. 259-284)
      Dayna S. Kalleres

      For this essay I was asked to examine and imagine (or reimagine) the word and the category “demon” in late antiquity. In the spirit of this book’s mission, I began asking questions intended to place the word in an experiential (and thus knowledge-producing) context. What meanings did “demon” express in late antiquity? What rituals, behaviors, beliefs, and discourses did “demon” indicate? What systems of knowledge were generated through the rituals, behaviors, beliefs, and discourses tied to the word “demon”? In what ways did “demon” contribute to the construction and management of a late antique person’s identity, community, or environment? How...

  6. Afterword
    (pp. 285-292)
    Maud W. Gleason

    The chapters of this book are true essays, in the original sense of the term: attempts, explorations, provocations. They range widely over what is now known as late antiquity, from Augustine (“God”) to the rabbis of the Mishnah (“Artifact”), from the court of Justinian to the court of his Sassanian contemporary (“Emperor”), from dueling interpreters of oracles in fourth century Antioch (“Language”) to the rioting of Peter Valvomeres in Rome (“Ordo”). Picture them as soundings, probing for the configuration of the ocean floor, or as core samples from which we may hope to construct a three-dimensional picture of geological deposits....

    (pp. 293-294)
    Catherine M. Chin and Moulie Vidas
  8. List of Contributors
    (pp. 295-298)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 299-306)