Graduate Interdisciplinary Seminar

Graduate Interdisciplinary Seminar – 15.11.2013

After a week’s break, the GIS was back with two stimulating talks! Robrecht Decorte gave a paper on ‘Latin legal syntax: identifying the core structures’. Rob started by showing us that although Latin syntax is generally considered quite complicated, because of its freedom in certain syntactical structures such as word order, Latin legal syntax has its own unique register, being very strict and formulaic. What is quite interesting, Rob claimed, is that different types of legal documents exhibit certain formulaic features that distinguish them from each other. Rob’s presentation focused mainly on the lex and the plebiscite, showing that they exhibit a unique structure of a conditional protasis followed by an apodosis.

The next question to consider is the origin of this casuistic core structure. Rob claimed that this is not a Roman innovation, as it is also observed in Greek and Hittite documents (the Hittite examples provided us all with a haunting insight on Hittite laws concerning sex with animals…apparently cows are a no-no, but horses are perfectly fine!). In the discussion that followed many attempted to help Rob with this question, but the answer is still pending. One thing that can be said for sure is that this unique syntactical structure of the different types of legal documents can be of great help in identifying the nature of epigraphic texts.

We next heard Ruth Allen’s paper entitled ‘Gemmed Gods’. Ruth started her presentation by lamenting the lack of scholarly interest in gemstones in Greek and Roman art. Ruth went on to claim that the value of gemstones in statues extends far beyond their ornamental purposes and becomes a way in which the ancients explored their relationship with the divine. Ruth’s main interest lies in the material aspect of the gemstones. One thing that makes gemstones interesting is their shifting nature: their colour, their general appearance, and the effect they have on the statue they are part of can change based not only on the position of the light, but also that of the viewer. In that sense, Ruth showed us how gemstones can be quite problematic in viewing. Therefore, their use in statues of divine figures can be interpreted as a way of demonstrating the slippery and intangible nature of divinity. In the lively discussion that followed we focused, among other things, on the similarities and differences in the use of gemstones for the portrayal of divine and human figures.

As always, the seminar was followed by drinks and dinner at the pub. We look forward to next week, which promises to be extremely interdisciplinary. Jenny Zhao will be talking on ‘Comparative Studies and Classics in China’, followed by Caroline Musgrove and ‘Hymens and Integritas: the ‘Especially Closed’ Virginal Body in Latin Antique Medicine’.


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