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Greece and Mesopotamia

Hello everyone. I think I am next on the list of scheduled posts, though after Mark’s fascinating blog from Malawi I am not sure I can meet the brief. My name is Johannes Haubold, I am spending the Spring Semester as a resident fellow here at the Center. My project is entitled ‘Greece and Mesopotamia – Dialogues in Literature’. In a nutshell, I want to see whether I can do something meaningful with Salvatore Settis’ claim that ‘the essence of the classical emerges from cultural mixture and exchange.’ (Futuro del ‘classico’, p. 113). This is a blog, so I will be blunt: I passionately believe that, if Classics is to remain a meaningful and enabling pursuit in the present, it must transform itself from a discipline that sets ‘the West’ apart from ‘the rest’ into one that pioneers the study of cultural dialogue, hybrid identities and exchange. I also believe, with Spivak, that convictions of this sort count for little unless we translate them into institutional practice. I have been fortunate at my home institution in the UK, where I was able – with the help of many wonderful colleagues – to set up an interdisciplinary ‘Centre for the Study of the Ancient Mediterranean and the Near East’: this is a place where we try to think hard about cross-cultural dialogue in the ancient world. I also try to translate my research interest into teaching: I regularly offer courses on the language and literature of Ancient Babylon alongside modules on Greek language and literature.
Now, though, I am temporarily free from administration and teaching! So I am taking this opportunity to investigate in depth some of the core issues that motivate and inspire my work. My aim is to study Greek and Mesopotamian literature side by side, and thereby try to enhance our understanding of both. Chronologically, I range from the Archaic age to the Hellenistic period, when Mesopotamia was itself settled and ruled by Greeks. There are three main sections to my project, which stems from the Stanford lectures I delivered in Dublin in 2008. Section I focuses on narrative texts of the early first millennium (chiefly Homer, Hesiod, Gilgameš, Enūma eliš); Section II deals primarily with historiography (ca. 550-350BCE: Herodotus, Ctesias, the Nabonidus texts, Achaemenid Royal Inscriptions); Secton III focuses on hybrid texts of the Hellenistic period (Berossos’ Babyloniaca among others). Since arriving at the Center in late December I have mostly been reading up on post-colonial theory and comparative literature: Frantz Fanon, Homi Bhabha, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and others. This is hard and inspiring work for me, and I look forward to reporting on it more in future posts. For now, just one starting point in Bhabha:

What is theoretically innovative, and politically crucial, is the need to think beyond narratives of originary and initial subjectivities and to focus on those moments or processes that are produced in the articulation of cultural differences.

This I take to be an encouragement to look at texts, identities and dialogues (ancient and modern) that connect Greece and Mesopotamia.

One Response to Greece and Mesopotamia

  1. Hello Johannes,
    I am a non-residential fellow at the CHS (from France) and I am especially interested in your work because I am also studying the comparative evidences between Greece and Eastern cultures, but from another view point than you. I am looking for Indo-European inheritance in the field of poetics and philosophy. But, indeed, I think that ancient peoples didn’t wonder whether the cultural elements they picked up from their neighbors or from their ancestors were “genuine” or exotic, but the problem was over all how good or how true these elements were (Socrates speaks about that in the Phaedrus). Indeed, is there any real formal difference between a cross-cultural mixture and an inner-cultural education? I suppose that the real difference in the ancient various culture transmissions consists in happening according some ritual (initiatory?) rules or by mere random, and not in borrowing the content from a certain “culture” and not from another one. The origin of the inheritance doesn’t matter; the point lies in how it is inherited. In my researches I have found some sacred transmission patterns in the Indo-European area, but I suppose the content so transmitted was not necessary Indo-European. For example, some characters of Orphism are not globally Indo-European although the structuralism of this tradition is typically Indo-European. That’s why I would like to ask you if you know some formal (ritual?) transmission rule in the Greco-Mesopotamian cultural dialog, and how you can interpret these rules. Thank you for your answer and sorry for speaking so long about me!

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