Graduate Interdisciplinary Seminar

GIS report – 03/03/17

This week at GIS we had two excellent presentations by Ester Salgarella and Robert Rohland, respectively talking about the Bronze Age Aegean writing systems and the perception of time in archaic Greek literature.

In her paper “Mind the gap! Investigating the Linear A to Linear B Transmission Process”, Ester investigated the process of script transmission between two Aegean Bronze Age writing systems, namely Linear A (notating the still unknown Minoan language) and Linear B (notating an archaic form of Greek). As in this context scholars are truly faced with an apparent ‘time gap’ when neither script is attested, the question that arises is whether this should be interpreted as absence of evidence or evidence of absence. Starting from this, Ester’s talk explored the issue of the genetic relationship between these two scripts, which is also the topic of her PhD research. Unfortunately, we do not have any ‘Rosetta Stone’ to lend a merciful hand to us trying to understand the language behind Linear A and disentangle the complex intricacies involved in the process of script transmission. As such, equipped only with the tools offered by linguistic and palaeographic analyses, Ester has tried to give a comprehensive assessment of the structural characteristics underlying both systems and the relationship of their graphic and phonetic components in an attempt at throwing some new light on how the Linear B script was created out of its template, Linear A.

In the second part of the seminar, Robert gave a presentation with the  title “Getting a grasp on time. The emergence of a haptic conception of time in archaic Greek literature”. Though we cannot perceive time with our senses, Greek and Latin texts regularly speak of grasping time as if it were a haptic object. In his paper, Robert analysed how a haptic conception of time emerges in archaic Greek literature. The key text for his discussion was the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. Already in antiquity authors noted that the abduction of Persephone and her alternating life in the upper- and underworld is an allegory for seasonal change. Little attention has been paid though to the importance of grasping in this context. Robert has focus on the crucial moment when Hades seizes Persephone and how the myth shows a creation of oscillating time, which is based on perceptions of time through haptic objects such as flowers and grain. The second part of the paper looked at the Nachleben of verbs of grasping in Greco-Roman literature after the Hymn. We encounter the haptic control of time through verbs of grasping mainly in two different forms: often epitaphs compare the death of young people to the abduction of Persephone, as death seizes their time of youth. In the second form carpe diem poems reverse the agent and object of the grasping: here humans manage to seize time and take control of it. Possibly the strongest emancipating action is the grasping of Καιρός, the divine personification of the suitable moment: unusually humans abduct a god here instead of being abducted by one.

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