Congratulations to the three winners of the 2020 Charles J. Goodwin Award of Merit. The award recognizes outstanding achievement in classical scholarship. You can read the full award citations by clicking on the names of the winners below:
Paul J. Kosmin, Time and its Adversaries in the Seleucid Empire (Harvard University Press, 2018)
Kosmin’s book is a groundbreaking contribution to the study of the Hellenistic world and to the growing literature in time studies. A pendant to The Land of the Elephant Kings: Space, Territory, and Ideology in the Seleucid Empire (2014), which mapped the Seleucids’ conquest of territorial space, Time and its Adversaries flips the board and considers the Seleucids’ bold but ultimately failed effort to take command of historical time itself. Combining vast erudition on a breathtaking scale, a command of textual, inscriptional, and material evidence that stretches from Macedonia to Mesopotamia and Judea, fluency in contemporary theory, and a style capable of capturing and condensing complex analysis in memorable and quotable form, Kosmin’s book has the feel of an instant classic that will be cited and emulated for years to come, as much for its methods as for its findings.
The thesis is simple but also entirely original and compelling. Part 1 (“The Imperial Present”) takes up the imperial perspective, the view from above. Starting with Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander’s successors in the east, the Seleucids created a system for dating time that anchored their empire in a new Year 1 (311 BCE). With this move, time was effectively colonized, politicized, and commodified: it became a marker of the Seleucid empire and imperial property. Detached from regnal counting eras, the Seleucid Era announced a new, seemingly inexorable path forward into the future, one that presaged the beginnings of abstract, homogeneous, and countable time familiar to modernity. It was also an attempt to monopolize time as never before: the institution of a Seleucid Year 1, an arbitrary effort at establishing a political mythology, “made the empire historical in a radically new sense, perhaps even the first truly historical state.”
But time belongs to no one and everyone, and the Seleucid effort failed. Part 2 (“Indigenous Past and Future”) shows why, by presenting the view from below. The Seleucids oversaw a region that was ethnically but also chronographically diverse: it was filled with local, epichoric pasts and indigenous calendars and conceptions of time, a true heterochrony. The Seleucid Era acted as a formal administrative overlay but also as a stimulus to resistant insurgencies: the empire talked back. The most strident of these countervoices are found in contemporary Jewish apocalyptic eschatologies (the book of Daniel, 1 Enoch, parts of the Seder ‘Olam), which outbid the Seleucids by foretelling its demise. The Seleucids could not compete with the End Time. Other insurgent responses included conventional historiographies, for instance the Babyloniaca of Berossus, the Babylonian Dynastic Prophecy, Zoroastrian eschatological works, and 1–2 Maccabees, as well as a wave of antiquarian retrievals of local pasts that swept across Babylonia, West Iran, Armenia, and the Hellenized Levant and Cilicia. Collectively, these subaltern efforts constituted “a historiography of irreducible excess and affective immediacy, a dialogical history preceding, incorporating, and surpassing the Seleucid empire and exploding its logics of time.”
Time became weaponized in the Hellenistic East, partly on the Seleucids’ own model of “total history.” But it also became an object of fresh scrutiny in the Hellenistic period, as is shown by Eratosthenes’ diastemic chronology, Polybius’ universal history, and the personification of abstract time in texts and images, quite plausibly, as Kosmin suggests, in response to the turmoil sparked by the Seleucids. This burgeoning of approaches to time was their real legacy. “The Seleucid east opened the very age to which we belong,” namely our own plural sense of time. For this reminder and for paving the way forward to what will certainly prove to be a richer and more diverse past, the committee is pleased to recognize Paul J. Kosmin for his stimulating and exciting work.
Kelly E. Shannon-Henderson, Religion and Memory in Tacitus’ Annals (Oxford University Press, 2019)
Tacitus is a complex and pessimistic author who found a new audience in the dark days of the twentieth century, when his themes of looming autocracy and cowardice in the face of moral and political decay gained a special urgency; the voice of Ronald Syme often still sets the tone for Tacitean scholarship. Kelly Shannon-Henderson’s book Religion and Memory in Tacitus’ Annals offers an original and thought-provoking new way to read Tacitus’ narrative of the Julio-Claudians in the context of Roman social memory and religious practice. Her vision presents a bold corrective to Syme.
Shannon-Henderson’s book examines individual episodes in the Annals, at the same time as it traces important overarching themes that shape the narrative of the principate from the death of Augustus to the demise of Nero. She thoughtfully reimagines the experience of the ancient reader who encounters the narrative sequentially, as it develops the powerful themes of remembering and forgetting, of decline and fall, themselves linked to a complex and nuanced picture of how religion operated within Roman society.
Tacitus served as a Quindecemvir from an early stage of his career and displays considerable expertise in his understanding of the actual and potential role of religion within Roman society. Shannon-Henderson makes the case for taking religion seriously in Tacitus, whether in terms of his very detailed expositions of individual episodes, or on the level of the general patterns traced by the emerging principate as an autocratic system destructive of traditional cultic memory and ritual practice. Topics include many traditional religious practices and the actions of priests, the development of the imperial cult within city and empire, the role of fate and the will of the gods in Roman history, the system of prodigies, the rise of astrology and its powerful effects on members of Rome’s political elite, and above all the continual alterations to cultic memory produced by the very nature of one-man rule.
Tacitus begins the Annals with the death of Augustus. The promotion of the first princeps to the official status of divus in effect launched the religious phenomenon of the imperial cult, whose many effects shape Tacitus’ account of the Julio-Claudians. New portraits emerge of Germanicus (the man who was never emperor) and Claudius (his brother who had the least prospects of being elevated to that supreme position). Germanicus is revealed as a “theatrical opportunist” who tries to use traditional religion for his own purposes but is often ignorant of its form and content. The learned Claudius aims to restore traditional practices and rituals but is too weak and easily influenced to halt the decline inherent in Roman political culture by his day. Tacitus uses the themes of religion and memory to shape his analysis of the very nature of the principate.
The committee congratulates Kelly Shannon-Henderson on a distinguished first book, that sheds new light on how a literary text can represent religion as embodied in but also constitutive of Roman political culture.
Steven D. Smith, Greek Epigram and Byzantine Culture: Gender, Desire, and Denial in the Age of Justinian (Cambridge University Press, 2019)
The epigrams and other poems that form the core of the Greek Anthology were assembled in the tenth century, but that collection was based in part on earlier anthologies, beginning with Meleager’s Garland or Stephanos (it may sound ill-omened these days to mention the Latin name). Meleager’s florilegium dates to the first century BCE, and was followed by another, the Garland of Philip, compiled in the first century CE. Both these early anthologies have recently been the subject of considerable scholarly attention. But there was a third, still later collection or Cycle, this time the work of one Agathias and dating to the sixth century, containing poems contemporary with the reign of Justinian. These are the poems, full of wit and learning but little appreciated today, that Steven Smith brilliantly situates in their social environment. And what a world it turns out to be. With great elegance, charm, and impressive erudition, he shows that these early Byzantine epigrams were not merely an “inconsequential expression of classical paideia.” Rather, they were something much more odd and intriguing, “a collection of frivolous diversions totally irrelevant to the more serious concerns of the age, while paradoxically also an ultra-refined instrument of social ambition within an elite class of learned men.”
Here is Paul the Silentiary’s little ditty, in which the persona is an insatiably lusty woman:
"Kissing Hippomenes, I set my mind on Leander. And while planted on the lips of Leander, I bear in my heart an image of Xanthos. And while embracing Xanthos, I lead my heart back to Hippomenes. I spurn each one that’s in my grasp.... And if someone finds fault with me, let him be content with the poverty of monogamy."
This at a time when a woman’s highest virtue was thought to reside in virginity! But not just that. The speaker may be a woman, but the poet is a man. Making astute and nuanced use of modern theories of sexuality, Steven Smith observes that “the epigram is no less queer for its overtly heterosexual camouflage.”
Not that virgins fail to get their due. Agathias himself describes an intriguing arrangement:
"Prevented from kissing me on the mouth, divine Rhodanthe stretched out her virgin’s girdle between us and kept kissing that, and I, like one who conducts water through a channel, drew the water of desire to the other end, pulling her kiss back.... And this too beguiled my pain, for the sweet girdle was a passage between both our lips."
There is an element of servile submission here, not to mention a dash of fetishism, that Steven Smith cunningly connects with the subservience of conquered barbarians before the powerful king, symbolized, in another of Agathias’ poems, by the yoke of a leather strap. As he argues, the erotic world of Agathias’ circle was a refined metaphor as well for social relations between master and slave, superior and subordinate.
For bringing the rich treasures of this Cycle to our attention, and making manifest the multiple dimensions of contemporary reference and poetic play that inform the poems, we are pleased to honor Steven Smith with the Charles Goodwin Award of Merit.
Many thanks to the Goodwin Award Committee members for all their hard work in selecting winners and writing the citations. The committee members this year were Jeffrey Henderson, Carolyn Dewald, David Konstan, James I. Porter, and Harriet Flower.