Graduate Interdisciplinary Seminar

Graduate Interdisciplinary Seminar – 22.11.2013

Last week we had the pleasure to hear two very interesting – and extremely interdisciplinary – talks. First was Jenny Zhao, whose PhD is a comparative study between Aristotle and the Chinese philosopher Xunzi. Her talk was entitled ‘Comparative Studies and Classics in China’ and provided us with a unique insight in the reception of Classics in Modern China. Jenny focused mainly in the developments throughout the past century and commented on the present revival of interest in China for what was (generally and for the sake of convenience) labelled ‘Western Culture’. Interestingly, Jenny showed that this revival of interest goes hand-in-hand with a deeper engagement with the country’s own history. Jenny went on to defend the value of comparative studies as a way of not only unmasking assumptions about each individual field but also of introducing different methodologies and scientific inquiries that can lead to trans-cultural perspectives and to a renewed engagement with both cultures. The conversation that followed was equally illuminating, with Jenny and two fellow Chinese classicists answering all our questions about the role that Classics play in modern Chinese education.

From modern China we moved to late antique medical texts, and specifically gynecological ones. Caroline Musgrove gave a presentation entitled ‘Contextualizing Medical Representations of the Parthenos in Late Antiquity’. Caroline’s talk focused on the representation of the hymen in medical commentaries. She observed that, interestingly, the hymen was alien in early medical discourse. In his treatise Gynaecology the Greek physician Soranus (2nd century AD) denied its existence by claiming that if such obstruction existed then menstruation would not be possible. Caroline went on to show that exactly this obstruction that the hymen implied was even considered pathological during that time. However, a change is observed in the next centuries, when the hymen starts to be included in medical commentaries. The physician Stephanus even attempt to answer the problem of menstruation by claiming that a special bypass mechanism existed that allowed blood to flow even when the hymen was intact. Caroline claimed that this new development of the inclusion of the hymen in gynecological treatises reflected the cultural changes that Christianity had brought upon the conception of the female virginal body as something closed and veiled. Once again, discussion was lively and continued with equal enthusiasm in the trip to the pub that followed.

We look forward to seeing all of you tomorrow, in our second to last session of this term’s GIS, with a special opportunity to hear our new MPhils and first year PhD students talking about their research. Come hear them out and give them your valuable feedback. The program is as follows:

Emma Greensmith – Zero to Hero: the Magnetism of Anti-Heroes in the Odyssey and Beyond
Natalie Skorupska – Hephaistos on Red-Figure Vases
Tom Foxall – Encounters with Witches
K Gabriel – Foucault’s History of Sexuality and the anxiety of sexual dynamics in archaic Greek verse
Lucy Edwards – Technical Language in Vitruvius
Bram van der Velden – Ancient Ideas on Poetic Ambiguity

As always, a trip to the pub will follow for pizza and drinks.

Until then, valete!


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