Kurt Raaflaub: Ancient War As Spectacle
Conaton Board Room
Saturday, December 1
Free and Open to the Public
Does the statement that war is a spectacle really require an argument? Is it not obvious? Or is war in fact the exact opposite: an “anti-spectacle” because, despite all the noise and excitement, it ends with total destruction and annihilation? Although as movies and TV programs show, too many still get their kicks out of violence and war, more thoughtful representatives of our species have long expressed their doubts in no less spectacular ways: we think of Mahatma Gandhi, who made peaceful protest his principal weapon, or the German expressionist painter Otto Dix whose drastic indictment of the war experience in the trenches of Flanders, though officially rejected as “degenerate art,” still succeeds in breaking down the resistance of our senses, blunted though they are by a constant barrage of horror news and images. The question, this lecture pursues, with texts from ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia to Greece and Rome, and with a broad range of illustrations, is simple: without guns, rockets, bombs, lasers, airplanes, tanks, and other agents of special effects that characterize modern war, how and why was war in antiquity a spectaculum, or perhaps better, how and why was war made to look as a spectacle, by whom, and for what purpose? Why did people write about war in inscriptions or books or depict war in sculptures, reliefs, or paintings? Topics covered in our examination of this rich and fascinating topic include an army’s departure to war, the battle experience itself, watching the battle, the aftermath of battle, the battlefield as a spectacle, celebrations of victory, the re-enactment of war, the commemoration of the war dead, and the spectacle of an entire war in one work of literature or art.
Professor Raaflaub studies the social and political history of the Roman republic; the social, political, and intellectual history of archaic and classical Greece; and the comparative history of the ancient world. Recently, his research has focused on the society and politics of Homer's epics, on the origins and workings of Athenian democracy, on war and peace in the ancient world, on the purpose of writing history in Greece and Rome, and on the origin and function of Greek political thinking. Having (co-)edited three volumes (Epic and History; Geography and Ethnography; The Roman Empire in Context) in 2010-11 in his series, The Ancient World, Comparative Histories, he is preparing another, on thinking and writing history in the ancient world. He is also editor of The Landmark Caesar (comprising all of Caesar's works) and working on two major research projects, one a commentary on Julius Caesar’s Civil War, the other a book on early Greek political thinking in its Mediterranean context.