After a difficult year for the in-person activities of the Ertegun community, a small group of us got together for an informal discussion of this year’s Ertegun Lecture given by Professor Bert Smith and Dr Ine Jacobs. The scope of the Aphrodisias project, as a site that preserves material from the imperial Roman period through late antiquity into the medieval period, offered significant points for discussion that appealed to a considerable group of scholars. It was particularly rewarding to get this insight into the Aphrodisias excavations and their recent findings as I was actually meant to join the dig for the 2021 summer season - unfortunately the pandemic had other plans, but the lecture allowed me to still feel involved in the progress of the dig from afar. The reports on the Place of Palms, combining epigraphic evidence and archaeobotanical analysis, were particularly fascinating.
In the discussion event for the lecture, topics ranged from the origin of prayer to funerary archaeology, to the finer points of theological study. In particular, the ancient historians, theologians, and archaeologists got particularly stuck into the relation between the material record and the experience of prayer, and how we can map the development of the current Christian conception of ‘prayer’ as distinct from other traditions. The appearance of Christian inscriptions on the top of the heads of various pieces of statue were of particular interest to many of the scholars present. I spent the last section of the evening in an extensive discussion on how to improve access to Classics and the future facing the discipline - covering topics such as language teaching, the privileging of the ‘classical’ Mediterranean over other ancient history, and the class structure of the United Kingdom in comparison to other countries. It was a very good thing that the evening was fuelled by takeaway dinner and dessert, as I’m unsure if the scholars would have been able to uphold such a high level of discussion for so long without the input of dinner, waffles and ice cream.
Like Claire, I enjoyed how the discussion naturally branched off from funerary archaeology and Roman burial practices to those of the rest of the world. Our posse discussed South Asian, Zoroastrian and Buddhist burial practices, along with those of East Asia. There was an excursion into more metaphysical topics such as other cultures’ conceptions of the afterlife, and this was where academic discussion was mixed with our own individual perspectives on these heavy topics. This really let us engage with one another on multiple levels. I enjoyed the deep-dive into theology and patristics, and felt like I could listen to my colleagues speak about them for hours on end. The experience afforded me a brief glimpse of Ertegun life outside pandemic circumstances and was a particularly memorable part of the year.
I quite enjoyed the lecture itself, given my own research interests in early Christianity and Late Antiquity, and wrote down several questions on how the finds at Aphrodisias were reflective of developments in early Christian history, particularly the theological awareness of the laity and the theological developments within the church councils (especially regarding the Virgin Mary). I presented these questions to our cohort, spurring our initial discussions. Finally, I had also cited Professor Jacobs’ scholarship in my own dissertation, so it was particularly gratifying to hear from her.