Pollution of many forms was a grave concern in the ancient world. In defining pollution, we take as our starting point Mary Douglas’ conception of pollution as a culturally defined phenomenon involving disorder, taboo, and the “improper” (Purity and Danger, 1966). However, while Douglas’ theoretical framework is a useful heuristic tool for instances of miasmic pollution, our conference is also concerned with the physical contamination of the environment through human activity, especially given its contemporary cultural relevance. Thus, we define pollution as any activity which corrupts or defiles on physical, moral, environmental, and even material levels.
The aim of our conference is to uncover and discuss ancient and modern conceptions of and responses to all forms of pollution in the ancient world. Examples of moral, ecological, and religious pollution in antiquity can be found in a wide range evidence and sources. From the plague of Thucydides, to the miasma of Orestes, to the greenhouse gas-releasing silver mines of Spain, pollution was, and remains, a ubiquitous phenomenon across culture, time, and region, and genre. Indeed, pollution has also been a focus of recent scholarship, such as Andrej and Ivana Petrovic’s recent publication, Inner Purity and Pollution in Greek Religion (2016) and Hunter Gardner’s forthcoming book, Pestilence and the Body Politic in Latin Literature (2019). Even the material from the ancient world with which we interact has undergone some form of pollution, be it the loss or corruption of papyri, the deterioration of infrastructure, or the general wear-and-tear which comes over the course of two thousand years. The study of pollution can offer a refreshing framework which enables us to study the interactions between peoples and their environment, between individuals and their community, and between human beings and their own bodies.
Possible topics include but are by no means limited to:
- Literary, visual, and historical responses to religious pollution (instances of miasma, cannibalism, human sacrifice, curses, etc.)
- Investigations into the pollution of ancient ecology (environmental [mis]management, deforestation, overhunting, and species extinction, etc.)
- Pollution and the city (moral corruption, epidemics, urban squalor, political responses)
- Hereditary pollution (instances of matricide, patricide, familial violence, etc.)
- Bodily pollution (sexual disease, gluttony, reactions to corpulence, effects of polluting foods, drugs and alcohol, etc.)
- Contamination and corruption of texts and materials
- Hygiene, quarantine, and containment of pollution
We welcome papers from critical perspectives old and new, including those informed by anthropological, ecocritical, and postcolonial theories and invite submissions from graduate students specializing in Greco-Roman classics and related disciplines (history, religious studies, philosophy, art history, archaeology, Near Eastern studies, Jewish studies, et al.), especially those employing interdisciplinary approaches.
Anonymous abstracts of 300 words or fewer, along with an optional bibliography, should be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org in .pdf format no later than August 31, 2019.
Notifications of acceptance will be sent during the first half of September. Please include your name, affiliation, and the title of your paper in the body of your email. Papers should be no longer than 20 minutes. Questions about the conference should be addressed to the conference co-organizers, Ben Nikota, Figen Geerts, and Joshua Ziesel, at the same email address.