Corporal Obscenity in Antiquity (Conference, Edinburgh, Oct 23-4 2015)

Call for Papers
The Classical Body Split Open: Corporal Obscenity in Antiquity
University of Edinburgh
23-24th October 2015

Alongside the well-known and reassuring image of the classical body as represented by its neoclassical reinterpretation, there stands a well-established classical tradition that portrays that very same body as distorted, disembowelled, obscene. Shoulder to shoulder with dios Odysseus comes deformed Thersites; alongside the sublimity of choral lyric are the bodily fluids of the Iambos; the same years that produce the Athenian ideology of kalokagathia also witness the obscenity of the comic genre. Obscenity looms large in the Latin world as well: not just in literary texts, but in inscriptions and artistic representations. Silver Latin literature famously turns the golden lines of the Aeneid into brutal Civil War and sees Trimalchio concocting a stew out of Pentheus.

In recent years, classical scholarship has focused on the topic from different viewpoints: linguistic obscenity (e.g. Worman 2008, Abusive Mouths in Classical Athens), Attic comedy (e.g. Henderson 1975, The Maculate Muse), humour (e.g. Halliwell 2008, Greek Laughter), visual representations (e.g. Richlin 1992, Pornography and Representation in Greece and Rome), the influence of medical symptoms on the body-soul dualism (e.g. Holmes 2010, The Symptom and the Subject), and scholarly attitudes to obscenity in classical texts (Harrison – Stray 2012,Expurgating the Classics). Nonetheless, there has not been yet an interdisciplinary approach to the topic. The present conference aims at filling this gap by inviting papers on the subject of corporal obscenity in Antiquity (Literature, History, Anthropology, Philosophy, Art and Archaeology, Epigraphy and Ancient Medicine) which may attempt to answer the following and related questions: what happens when the classical body breaks open? What are its connections with popular culture, symbolism and collective rituals? How does ancient obscenity interact with the ethics, aesthetics, common sense and legislation in its own historical context? How are bodies which do not conform to the classical ideal marginalised?

  • Possible topics/approaches include, but are in no way limited to:
  • Symbolic and philosophical approaches to ancient obscenity;
  • Sociological and anthropological implications of corporal obscenity;
  • Obscenity and ideology;
  • Human and animal malformation, secretions and scatology;
  • Ancient medical and legal approaches to obscenity;
  • Sexual obscenity and perversions;
  • Epigraphic and artistic representations of obscenity;
  • Psychoanalytic readings of ancient obscenity;
  • Reception of ancient obscenity.

Abstract submission: Abstracts of ca. 300 words for 20 minute papers are to be sent no later than Friday, 25th September 2015. Acceptance of proposals will be communicated by Wednesday, 30th September 2015. We intend to assess abstracts anonymously. In order to do so, please send the abstracts as PDF files with no identifying information in the file content or file name. Please include name, degree currently under study, institution and the title of the talk in the body of the email. Papers will be considered for publication.

The conference rises from the collaboration between the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews. Thanks to the generosity of the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities, we are able to offer several student bursaries for the conference. In order to be considered for bursary, send an email to stating your contact details (Name, Affiliation, Title/Topic of doctoral thesis) and how the attendance of the conference will be helpful to your research. Informal enquiries can be sent to the same address.

Keynote speakers:

  • Amy Coker – University of Manchester
  • Ian Ruffell – University of Glasgow
  • Mark Bradley – University of Nottingham


  • Sebastiano Bertolini (PhD – University of Edinburgh)
  • Sarah May Wolstencroft (PhD – University of Glasgow)
  • Maria Giulia Franzoni (PhD – University of St Andrews)
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