13-14 June 2016: Conference

The conference programme is available here.

This conference was the fourth in a series stemming from the Literary Interactions under Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian project. The first two conferences, held in St Andrews and Rostock, delved into literary interactions between a host of Latin texts and authors and addressed some core methodological questions. (What metaphors of intertextuality best describe the interactions we can see taking place? How do the interactions we can trace under Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian compare with the intertextual dynamics of other periods? How far can literary, social and personal interactions be disentangled? How can prosopography and social history help frame, and be informed by, our understanding of literary interactivity? Can methodologies of intertextuality help us unpick the dynamics of cultural interaction and exchange in the period?) The project’s third conference, held in Boston, expanded horizons by examining cross-cultural literary interactions between Latin, Greek, Christian and Jewish writers and writing traditions, and by probing more off-the-page, extra-textual interactions (as an extension of – and lens through which to review – more firmly textual cross-pollinations, parallels, exchanges and occlusions). This fourth conference built on the third’s widening scope, by inviting further discussion of interactions that cross linguistic, cultural and religious boundaries; it also continued to look behind and beyond purely textual interactions, to scrutinise the interactive dynamics between literary, social and cultural spheres of activity. Its extended chronological scope enabled deeper analysis of diachronic as well as synchronic trends.

Speakers were invited to consider interactions between literary, documentary, technical, religious, epigraphic and less tangible ‘texts’ (such as fables, collective memory, institutional rhetoric, reported rumours, shared creeds, and communal know-how), particularly with a view to the light which they can shed on dialogues – and gaps in dialogue – between different reading communities (Roman, Greek, provincial, near-Eastern, Christian, Jewish, elite, non-elite, intellectual, unlettered, administrative, professional, philosophical). Methodological reflections and innovations were particularly encouraged. Are traditional critical frameworks of intertextuality appropriate for analyzing interactions across linguistic, cultural and religious boundaries? How should we understand – and talk about – similarities in language and ideas between different communities: as conscious allusions, or as the reflection of a shared heritage or common influences? Conversely, why might contemporaneous writers from different traditions elide possible connections between their works? Our goal was not only to emphasize the interconnectedness of literary culture across the Roman empire, but also to identify and explore the fault-lines that fractured and divided it.

Additionally, we were keen to try out new ways of visualising and analysing the complex interrelationships between literary (inter)activity and wider cultural practices, especially bearing in mind the variation between the cultural practices of different communities and different parts of the Roman empire in this period. How might literary activity be engaging with practices such as symposium cultures, medicine, education, ethics, administration, technology, scientific thought or military ideologies – and how did inter-cultural (as well as intra-cultural) interactions feed into that? For instance, does an appreciation of interactions (on and off the page) between Greek and Latin military authors shed new light on the cross-cultural dimensions of contemporary military ideologies and practice – or vice versa? How did different or competing ethical or religious frameworks both shape and respond to textual production within and between different communities? What dialogues can be traced between scientific and technical developments and the literary imagination across the Roman empire? Papers explored movement between different bodies of knowledge within the one language and culture (e.g. the influence of Roman medical thinking on a contemporaneous Roman poet) as well as cross-cultural interaction (e.g., points of interaction between contemporaneous Greek and Roman medical writers and their intellectual circles).

In probing such themes, we sought to interrogate traditional definitions of ‘literature’ and ‘literary’; to deepen understanding of the cross-fertilisations between literary production/consumption and the cultural contexts in which that took place in different pockets of the Roman empire; and to trace trends and deviations in broader cultural interactions across the empire as its borders, rulers, peoples and ideologies changed over time, from the demise of the Flavians to the end of the Severan dynasty. The results of this conference will be published in the project’s second edited volume, along with contributions stemming from our third conference in Boston.

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