This is a quick reminder that the Call for Papers for the conference “The Body in Ancient Political Discourse”, taking place at Bern University from 17th to 19th November 2022, is due this week, 15th May.

The political systems of Antiquity were based to a large extent on face-to-face interaction. In this constellation, typical of pre-modern cultures, the human body plays a prominent role: not only does communication in personal presence necessarily involve physicality, but the body can also express identities, hierarchies and power relations in a particularly powerful way. Against this background, the conference aims to examine the role of the body in the political process in a perspective spanning Greco-Roman antiquity as a whole, using as an orientation the question of the significance of the body for the development of political discourse. The term of “political discourse” is thereby understood in the sense of the production of knowledge (in various media) about power and the powerful as well as about practices of power distribution. Knowledge about bodies and power is not only created in textual descriptions of bodies, but it also underlies their pictorial representations and, ultimately, shapes bodily appearances themselves. Understanding the term in this broad sense can therefore facilitate an interdisciplinary approach that integrates texts, images and practices.

Methodologically, the conference is based on a twofold observation: On the one hand, the bodies themselves are shaped through culture and discourse; on the other hand, bodies possesses a physical resistiveness that necessarily limits such formations. This double nature makes the body functional in political discourse in a double way: it can be shaped into an ideal or a grotesque, even metaphorically symbolising the political order as a whole, but the participants in political discourse also possess physical bodies that are used performatively in the political arena and whose use is in turn observed and interpreted by others.

The aim of the conference is to trace continuities and changes in political discourse on the body from Archaic and Classical Greece through Hellenism, Republican and Imperial Rome to Late Antiquity. Greco-Roman Antiquity is a particularly interesting case here because the role of corporeality in changing political systems – from autonomous civic community to monarchy – can be traced particularly well for this period. In addition, a change in the framework of discourse also took place throughout Antiquity that manifested itself, for example, in the successive establishment of Christianity as an extraordinarily body-related religion.

The conference will focus on the following aspects:

  1. Politicising the body in text and image: To what extent and why does the body enter the literary discussion of political issues, e.g. in the context of political theory, rhetoric, panegyric or historiography? What is the relationship between the body and politics in visual representations, e.g. on public monuments, on coins, vases, cameos or diptychs? How do written and visual sources relate to each other? Do they give rise to corresponding or diverging discourses?
  2. Bodily Concepts: What conceptions underlie ancient thinking about bodies and power and how does knowledge about the body relate to the exercise of power? How are beautiful and ugly, strong and weak, healthy and sick, immaculate and disfigured, clothed and naked bodies perceived in political contexts? To what extent are the body and its components symbolically or metaphorically charged in political discourse? Inhowfar does the body become the object of demarcation, for example with regard to status and identity? What role do gender and sexuality play?
  3. Practice: How do bodies move in political space? How do persons and groups of persons involved in political events appear physically? Do certain social groups have a specific bodily habitus? In what ways are bodily characteristics and behaviours functionalised in the context of political interactions? What role does the body play in the context of public rituals? To what extent are images of the body integrated into political practice?
  4. Reception and relevance of Antiquity: How is our view of ancient bodies shaped by modern perceptions of antiquity? Why and under what conditions has the modern world engaged with the political bodies of Antiquity and what can be taken away from this for a present-day perspective on bodies and politics in Antiquity? What is the contribution of Classical Studies to the history of the body across epochs? What is historically specific about the ancient relationship between power and the body?

The call for papers is addressed to scholars from all disciplines of classical studies. Confirmed speakers include Véronique Dasen (Fribourg), Thomas Späth (Bern) and Adrian Stähli (Harvard). Presentations of ca. 30 minutes can be given in German, English or French. If you are interested, please send an abstract of no more than 300 words and a short CV to [email protected] by 15th May 2022. Travel and accommodation costs can be covered in full (subject to funding).

Full Call for Papers (German and English):