The Form, Utility and Professional Technê of Practical Handbooks in the Ancient World

Saturday, November 12
8:30 am - 6:20 pm

Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society
5701 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60637

The literate cultures of the ancient Mediterranean and Near East produced technical handbooks on a wide variety of subjects ranging from what we would call “ritual” (i.e., omens, sacrifices, dream divination, “magic”) to what we might call “science” (i.e., cookbooks, alchemy, land surveying, animal husbandry, agriculture handbooks). More of these survive in the dry climates of Egypt and Mesopotamia because of their media (papyri and clay tablets), and they are the focus of a growing number of individual studies. From the Mediterranean world, by contrast, far fewer have survived in Greek and Latin manuscripts or (from Greco-Roman Egypt) in papyrus rolls or codices, and they have attracted scant attention of scholars as handbooks per se. 

This conference is part of a three-year Neubauer Collegium project at the University of Chicago entitled “The Transmission of Magical Knowledge in Antiquity: The Papyrus Magical Handbooks in Context,” whose main goal is to re-edit and translate the Greek and Demotic magical handbooks with close attention to their form, lectional signs, and text divisions, and to discuss how they are organized as practical handbooks and for whom. To this end we have built into our project conversations with colleagues studying handbooks in other cultures and of other types in hopes of contextualizing our narrow band of handbooks in the wider spectrum of ancient technical literature. 

The aim of this November conference is to facilitate a wide-ranging discussion of how technical knowledge is organized “on the page,” what devices (e.g., rubrics, illustrations, section divisions, indentation) are used to guide the reader or user to the proper place and (more generally) to what degree these handbooks gesture to complete coverage of a discrete area of human knowledge (e.g., some medical handbooks treat the entire human body from head to toe) and to some kind of abstract sense of a recognizable “profession” (in Latin ars and Greek technê).

Conference Schedule:

8:30 - 9:00 am: Coffee and Pastries, Introductory Remarks

9:00 - 11:00 am: Session One: Medicine and Chemistry
Chair: Margaret Mitchell
Paul Keyser, The University of Chicago
“Fossils, Fads and Fancies in Greek Pharmaceutical Handbooks”
John Wee, Oriental Institute
“Knowledge and Inquiry in the Mesopotamian Diagnostic Handbook”
Korshi Dosoo, Paris Sorbonne/Paris IV
“Greek and Coptic Alchemical Handbooks”

11:00 - 11:30 am: Coffee Break

11:30 am - 12:50 pm: Session Two: Magic
Chair: David Martinez
Janet Johnson, The University of Chicago, NELC
“Demotic Magical Handbooks”
Raquel Martin-Hernandez, Madrid, UCM
“Greek Magical Handbooks”

12:50 - 2:30 pm: Lunch

2:30 - 4:30 pm: Session Three: Divination
Chair: Martha Roth
Seth Sanders, UC Davis, NELC
“From Iron Age Ritual Handbook to Persian Period Scripture: The Biblical Priestly Sanctuary of Silence Revisited”
Avi Winitzer, University of Notre Dame
“Akkadian Omen Compilations and Series – Handbooks?”
Kenneth Yu, The University of Chicago, Divinity
“Artemidorus’ Theory of Dreams: Techniques of Interpretation in Ancient Greek Dream Manuals”

4:30 - 5:00 pm: Coffee Break

5:00 - 6:20 pm: Session Four: Agriculture and Amulets
Chair: Peter White
Britta Ager, Vassar
“Greek and Roman Agricultural Handbooks”
Chris Faraone, The University of Chicago, Classics
“Handbooks for Greek Amulets: Different Types for Different Users”

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