Hilary Term 2020
Tuesday 11 February 12.30 - 2 pm (Magrath Room)
Patterns in Nebuchadnezzar II’s royal inscriptions: towards the understanding of the production and circulation of the imperial information in the Neo-Babylonian Empire, Peerapat Ouysook, University of Cambridge
With the new online database, it is now possible to revisit the royal inscriptions of Nebuchadnezzar II (612 – 539 BCE) that are currently preserved in the collections from throughout Western Asia, Europe, and North America to conduct a literary analysis using the most complete textual edition since 1912.
Among over 100 royal inscriptions that have been attested to the longest-reigning monarch in the Neo-Babylonian Empire, around 63 are considered ‘building inscription’ as they were created to commemorate the building activities conducted at important landmarks, such as temples, palaces, major streets, and fortification. Conventionally, the content of these inscriptions is divided into four sections: the royal titulary, the list of the royal projects, the construction details of the building commemorated by the inscription, and the prayer to the gods.
Combining the results of the comparative textual analysis of the ten longest building inscriptions with their archaeological data, I will argue that the strict adherence to the same composing principle regardless of the inscription’s provenance and material support indicates that there was a strong sense of control in both the kind of information and the way it was to be presented in this form of imperial media.
As part of the argument, I will also demonstrate that the composing principle of the inscriptions can be reconstructed through the identification of the thematic patterns which have been maintained in each of the same section in the ten inscriptions despite the inscriptions’ diverse provenance and physical format.
“Find me tales to read!”: Memoirs, Textual Circulation, and Social Dynamics in the Heian Court, Iris Tome Valencia, The Queen's College
During the Heian period (794-1185), with the development of the kana syllabary, the Japanese court saw an explosion of literary creation in which women occupied a central place as authors of nikki (diary, memoir), and monogatari (tale). However, women literary producers were often required to negotiate between expectations of domestic-oriented production and self-presentation, on the one hand, and the socio-literary adroitness and deference to courtly symbolic power required by imperial circles, on the other. Up to a point, every aristocratic woman creating texts—serving at court or not—participated of both of these spheres, requiring their work to examine and define the divisions and interplays between them in their authors’ life experiences and understandings of society. To illustrate this, I will discuss how textual circulation and creation of tales was portrayed in diaries as a tool that defined (or subverted) dynamics of dependency and patronage, using as an example Sarashina nikki (The Sarashina diary, ca. 1059) and other self-narrative texts written by 11th century middle-ranking women.
Thursday 6 February 12.30 - 2 pm (Magrath Room)
The re-shaping of the past in early-modern Muscovite chronicles, Alexandra Vukovich, British Academy Post-doctoral Fellow in Russian
I will discuss the chronicle compilations of Ivan III and Ivan IV (15th and 16th c.) and how they reshape the medieval past, introducing new notions of the medieval and medievalism via the interpolation of new sources and for the purpose of creating new political and cultural trajectories for the princes of Muscovy.
A Microhistorical Approach to Studying the Colophons of Medieval Armenian Manuscripts, David Zakarian, Associate of the Faculty of Oriental Studies
The practice of colophon writing in the Armenian tradition developed immensely in the early Middle Ages, transforming it into a separate genre with its own characteristic features. Amongst a large number of formulaic and repetitive colophon patterns there are many precious samples which allow us to observe snapshots from the daily life of Armenian monks, their students, neighbours, sponsors of the manuscript, and other people with whom they came into contact. These personal narratives and experiences of individuals at a given historical period have reached us more or less directly without the mediation of a third party, which is why the colophons are an invaluable primary source for the study of various aspects of the medieval and early modern Armenian societies.
For my research I have adopted the microhistorical approach, at the basis of which lies the analysis of the primary sources at a micro level. In many cases this approach has proven to be remarkably effective, for, in the words of one of the most important proponent of the microhistorical analysis Giovanni Levi, it allows us to “reveal factors previously unobserved. … Phenomena previously considered to be sufficiently described and understood assume completely new meanings by altering the scale of observation. It is then possible to use these results to draw far wider generalizations...” (1919, “On Microhistory,” pp. 97-98). In other words, the microhistorical analysis that I apply in my work involves an “intensive historical investigation of a relatively well defined smaller object” (I. Szijártó, 2013, What Is Microhistory? Theory and Practice, p. 4), which will enable us to draw wider conclusions about the society, the relations of its members, their everyday life and aspirations. This approach is based on the assumption that “people who lived in the past are not puppets on the hands of great underlying forces of history, but they are regarded as active individuals, conscious actors” (ibid., p. 5). This approach will be demonstrated by specific examples in the present paper.
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Michaelmas Term 2019
Manuscript Cultures of Mathematics: A Comparative Perspective, Alessandra Petrocchi
This paper examines movement of texts and mathematical ideas between India, the Arabic-speaking Mediterranean world, the Byzantine Empire, and medieval/early modern Europe. It aims to unveil East-West networks of knowledge and break new ground in elucidating the way South Asia has shaped one of the most fascinating episodes in history. The transmission of the Indo-Arabic numerals from medieval India to the West via Arabic sources in the 12th‒14th centuries represents, in fact, a truly global paradigm shift. This paper focuses on languages and numerals, and provides a comparative analysis of mathematical manuscripts written in variety of languages ‒ including Sanskrit, Greek, Arabic, Latin, and early Italo-Romance dialects ‒ which cover a period of approximately 700 years (800 CE‒1500 CE). I demonstrate processes of knowledge transfer and that texts moved in a fluid environment where linguistic boundaries could be easily crossed.
Double account books in Latin and Occitan in Montpellier in the 15th century, Xavier Bach, Trinity College (joint work with Pierre-Joan Bernard, Archives municipales de Montpellier).
In the 15th century, between 1440 and 1480, a bilingual series of account books for the City Council of Montpellier is preserved, with the same text copied in one book in Latin, and in the other in Occitan. The notaries of the Consulat (City Council) are keeping these two series of registers. The Latin one serves as a minute-book of the mandates and receipts, linked to a larger book containing the decisions of the consulate, while the Occitan one is for the use of the clavari (financial officer of the City Council, elected with the consuls). This archivistic specificity demonstrates the complexity of Montpellier's City Council administration, in particular the major role played by the notary of the Consulat at the very centre of the system. It also shows the games of power around the usage of different languages in the Council's written records, Latin being the language of the notary, while Occitan is the language of the consuls, and French the language of the King playing a disturbing role in that game of power.
Why Compare? David Hodgkinson
Scholars have long acknowledged the notion of epic literature, and often use the term relatively freely to describe a variety of different compositions from across the globe. This paper will explore exemplars from the Greek and Sanskrit traditions to consider what can be learned from comparing them, and why comparison is a useful tool in developing our understanding of such literature. It will focus in particular on what can be gleaned about the fundamental notion of epic, and how the developments in the Greek and Indic traditions may help to shed light on a fundamental conception of what epic is.
How to transform Buddhism into a stoic philosophy? The “Song of Senajit” from the Mahābhārata Valters Negribs
In this presentation I will focus on the “Song of Senajit” (Senajidgītā), chapter 12.168 of the Sanskrit epicMahābhārata, trying to understand how and why it was composed using verses found in other texts. The “Song of Senajit” has numerous textual parallels with other parts of the Mahābhārata and with early Buddhist literature. I will trace some of these parallels to show that the Senajidgītā is one among several texts that put forth different kinds of happiness or bliss (sukha) that a man can experience. In particular, I will compare the “Song of Senajit” with two Buddhist Jātakas in Pali, the Indriyajātaka and the Sīlavīmaṃsajātaka. A comparison with these Jātakas reveals that the “Song of Senajit” was created using concepts and verses from ascetic literature aimed at renouncers. I will argue that the goal of composing the “Song of Senajit” was to promise that householder kings too can experience happiness (sukha) that is independent of any external circumstance. This is achieved by substituting the Buddhist jhānasukha (bliss of meditation) with buddhisukha (bliss of wisdom). While the ultimate goal of monastic Buddhism is to achieve liberation (nirvāṇa), the “Song of Senajit” offers a stoic quest for avoiding suffering and achieving sukha in this life.
Hilary Term 2019
Reinventing tradition in a mid-13th century bilingual document from Sicily, Dr Nadia Jamil and Prof Jeremy Johns (Faculty of Oriental Studies/Wolfson)
We present a Latin-Arabic record of a boundary inquest, issued in 1242 by Obbertus Fallamonacha, head of the financial administration of Sicily for the emperor Frederick II. It belongs to a corpus of administrative and legal documents from 11th- to 13th-century Sicily now being studied by the ERC-funded project, Documenting Multiculturalism.
Using documentary, rather than narrative, sources, the project aims to study interaction between the subject communities of Sicily from the bottom up. The key objectives are to investigate the legal foundations upon which coexistence of the subject communities rested, and the nature, extent and results of cultural, linguistic and social interaction between them.
The five-year project began in October 2018 and the data at our disposal are still limited. We have therefore chosen to focus upon a single document which, despite its far from promising nature, illustrates the potential of the corpus as a whole, and of the project's approach to it, for the investigation of a wide range of questions touching upon multiculturalism in Norman Sicily, including relations between different administrative, legal and scribal cultures.
Flaminia Pischedda (Pembroke): The Shifa: a Reconsideration of Early Chinese Milfoil Divination in the Light of Recent Archaeological Discoveries.
In the last century, Chinese divination and archaeology have intersected several times. The first groundbreaking discovery occurred in 1928 with the identification of the oracle bones, which, according to palaeographers, were records of pyromantic divination performed on behalf of the sovereign during the Shang 商dynasty. In 1973, a copy of the Zhouyi 周易 (Zhou Changes), also known as the Yijing 易經 (Classic of Changes), was retrieved from the buried library at Mawangdui 馬王堆. Over decades, several other texts related to the Changes have been found. Among them, perhaps the most astounding one is the Shifa 筮法 (Method of milfoil divination). This text represents the single best preserved example of milfoil divination manual alternative to the Changes. Its most striking peculiarity is the presence of the so-called shuzi gua 數字卦 (numerical divinatory symbol), precursors of the more famous symbolic trigrams and hexagrams. In this paper, I will first introduce the topic of milfoil divination based on shuzi gua. I will then discuss more in detail the Shifa manuscript from a palaeographical and cultural perspective, in order to shed new light to its importance in the development of the Changes tradition during the pre-imperial China.
Extispicy and Decision-Making in the Archive of Mari, Parsa Daneshmand (Wolfson)
Extispicy, the act of observing the internal organs of a sacrificial animal, was the most expensive divinatory method in ancient Mesopotamia. The archive from Old Babylonian Mari (c. 1800 BC) contains hundreds of tablets that make reference to divinatory consultations using extispicy for difficult and strategic decisions. In this presentation, I will discuss how extispicy worked as a complicated mechanism of finding a coherence between the will of the gods and the desire of humans. The binary system of omens, and their dualistic terminology fitted the purpose of reaching a final result. My talk will explore factual and practical evidence of using extispicy for decision-making.
Michaelmas Term 2018
Tuesday, Week Two (16 October) 12.30-2pm (Magrath Room)
'The Avicennan Turn in Syriac Theology: Barhebraeus (d. 1285/6) and his Engagement with Islamic Metaphysics', Salam Rassi (British Academy postdoctoral fellow, University of Oxford)
The topic of my presentation centres on one aspect of my British Academy-funded project, namely, the impact of Avicennism on the metaphysical thought of Gregory Barhebraeus, a 13th century polymath who has often been compared to Thomas Aquinas and is of comparable significance to the Syrian Orthodox Church today. I will examine Barhebraeus’ doctrine of modulation of being in light of contemporary debates among his Muslim interlocutors. I wish to demonstrate that to understand Barhebraeus on this issue is not simply to understand his engagement with Avicenna; rather, it is necessary to understand the post-Avicennan tradition of commentary that had developed among Islamic thinkers in the 200 years after Avicenna’s death. Thus, my project seeks to show that a comprehensive history of the reception of Avicenna can only be written when we consider the evidence from Syriac sources – material that few scholars have systematically studied. In addition to discussing the philosophical background to these texts, I also wish to talk about the philological challenges posed by the several manuscripts that preserve them. No less than ten manuscripts survive of Barhebraeus’ work on metaphysics. As such, my talk considers the role of these texts’ scribal and codicological traditions in mediating the philosophical knowledge contained therein.
'Writerly Emancipation or Gendered Erasure? The Neglect of the Traditional Category ‘Female Poet’ in Contemporary Persian Literary Culture', Dominic Parviz Brookshaw, Associate Professor of Persian Literature and Senior Research Fellow (Wadham)
This paper will explore the question of the authenticity, importance, and potentially empowering nature of the traditional category of ‘woman poet’ (sha‘ira) as used in Persian literary texts through a close reading of biographical anthologies (sing. tazkira)produced in early modern Iran. Persian tazkiras were variously structured according to geography, time period, social class, and/or gender.In this presentation, tazkiras in which premodern and early modern female poets are listed alongside male poets will be compared to those anthologies in which women are treated as a separate writerly category. It will be argued that those compiling tazkiras in the sixteenth and nineteenth centuriesa) believed women poets constituted a distinct class that merited study in its own right, b) did not necessarily see women poets as less talented than their male counterparts and, c) that the term sha‘iracarried none of the pejorative or demeaning connotations it later accrued in the second half of the twentieth century. It will be argued that when we resist employing the traditional category of sha‘ira, we do an injustice to the millennium-long tradition of Persian women’s poetry.
Seen and not Heard: The Transformation of the Epic Heroine in Classical Indian Drama, Tara Heuzé (Queen's)
My presentation will explore how the conventions shaping dramatic composition transformed the characterisation of the heroine for the worst in dramatic adaptations of epic. In particular, I will examine the impact of the linguistic principles codified in the Nāṭyaśāstra (a dramaturgical treatise, circa 1st century CE) on dramatic composition. There, the regulations prescribed the use of multiple registers simultaneously in an attempt to differentiate gender and rank aurally. Though the provenance of and motives behind this phenomenon have been researched extensively, its impact on the process of dramatic adaptation has been overlooked.
Through a close analysis of two untranslated plays (Kṣemīśvara’s Naiṣadhānanda and Rājaśekhara’s Bālabhārata, circa. 9th/10th centuries CE), I will therefore attempt to address this issue. I will discuss the ways in which epic heroines such as Damayantī and Draupadī, who were empowered through their eloquence in Sanskrit during the Mahābhārata’s Nalopākhyāna and Dyūtaparvan episodes, experienced a significant degree of erasure in these plays, consigned either to speaking fragmentarily in ‘common’ registers, or excluded from the colloquy entirely. I will argue that such dramaturgical restrictions ultimately privileged the male protagonist, reducing the female protagonist to simplistic object of desire.
Illustrations an Interpretative Device: A Case Study of a Jain Cosmological Treatise, Digby 2012.395, Maria Thomas (St Anthony's)
This presentation is based on my Master’s thesis and explores themes and ideas that I would like to develop further in a doctoral research. The primary argument that I am making here is that images in Jain cosmological manuscripts, especially in a particular category of cosmological treatises known as Saṃgrahaṇi sūtras, have an interpretative function, in addition to the more traditionally recognized functions. I argue that images function as a hermeneutic tool to transmit the doctrines contained in these manuscripts in a holistic and accurate manner. To support my argument, I use examples from Digby 2012.395, a 16th century Saṃgrahaṇi sūtra manuscript, from the Simon Digby Collection, now at the Ashmolean Museum. A secondary aim of this presentation is to highlight the benefits of studying texts and images in a Jain manuscript in conjunction with each other, whereas scholarship on this material has neglected such an inter-disciplinary approach.
Trinity Term 2017
'A new Sumerian poem of the 20th century BC: An illustrated talk', Dr Christopher Metcalf (Queen's)
This talk will present the results of a research project on an unpublished Sumerian literary text from ancient Mesopotamia, dating to ca. 2000 BC. The text, which is today in the collections of the British Museum, describes the relationship between the goddess Inana, one of the main deities of the ancient Mesopotamian pantheon, and a king of the dynasty of Isin. The talk will explore the rich mythological conceptions that lie behind this fascinating but difficult poem, which will be edited for the first time in a forthcoming joint publication on which I have worked for three years with a colleague at SOAS, University of London.
‘Seals and their impressions in the Ancient Near East’, Jacob Dahl (Wolfson)
Four core datasets constitute the main material and intellectual remains of one of the world’s most important early civilisations, that of the Ancient Near East (ANE): cuneiform tablets, remains of architecture, pottery, and seals and their impressions on clay artefacts. Although seals have attracted much interest as objects of art, no project has attempted their systematic documentation and study, and fundamental questions regarding seal use and manufacture remain unanswered. In this presentation I will outline a project I am starting, and which was generously funded by the Fell Fund in the first instance, and which aims at building and testing an innovative new image capture system for use in imaging several key-collections of seals. Based on the sample dataset I hope to pilot the use of innovative methods for sorting and tagging the dataset, ultimately leading to a new approach to the study of ANE seals that is not based on traditional art historical methods. In my project I address one single, but fundamental question: why have scholars failed to match up more than a handful of physical seals and impressions? I consider this to be either a data problem—relationships exist in published data but have gone unrecognized due to flawed data-mining capabilities or strategies—, or an historical problem—the physical seals we have in our collections are from a different dataset than those whose impressions we find on tablets and sealings, or seals were continuously re-carved, thereby reducing the likelihood of finding a matching seal and impression. I will replace the traditional art-historical typology with IT-driven image-analysis. This data-driven typology will facilitate pathways to data of hitherto unseen magnitude, allowing for a multitude of research questions to be addressed, and will, I hope, have a transformational effect on the study of seals and sealing practices in the ANE, and rich applications to other projects across the humanities at Oxford and beyond.
'Transmission and Sectarianism: the Manuscript Tradition of Bal'ami's History', Fuchsia Hart, (Wolfson College)
We have been left with some 160 manuscript copies of Bal’ami's (d.974) tārīkh-nāmah-yi buzurg (The Great History), a Persian adaptation of Tabari’s (d.923) tārīkh al-rusūl wa'l-mulūk (The History of Prophets and Kings). With such a large number of copies, one would think the reconstruction of an urtext might be possible. However, great divergence is found among the texts preserved in these copies. In this presentation, I will focus on one copy of the text, Bodleian MS Elliott 376, copied in 1537, which presents a clearly Shi'i rendering of the text. We will investigate this version, in comparison with a number of other copies, to explore what effect sectarianism can have on textual transmission.
'Encountering Wrath: Texts and the History of Practice in Mediaeval India and Tibet', Aleksandra Wenta, (Queen’s)
This presentation focuses on Sanskrit manuscripts and Tibetan xylographs associated with the cycle of teachings centered on the Buddhist deity Vajrabhairava who embodies ‘wrath’. The talk will explore the use of these texts to determine the textual practices in which people engaged and examine the ways in which active engagement in performative textuality had decidedly soteriological goal. By following a text-historical method, I intend to show that these textual practices were formulated in a language that ‘spoke’ to specific audiences situated in a particular ideological and historical milieu associated with the tantric culture of the cremation grounds characterized by rituals involving contact with impure substances.