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The chapters in Brill’s Companion to Classics and Early Anthropology explore key points of interaction between classics and anthropology from the eighteenth to the mid-twentieth century. Ancient Greece and Rome played varying roles in early anthropological thinking, from the observations of colonial officials and missionaries, through the ethnography and evolutionary ethnology of the late nineteenth century, and into the professionalized social sciences of the twentieth century. The chapters illuminate these roles and uncover an intellectual history of fission and fusion, exposing common interests and opposing methodologies, shared theories and conflicting datasets, close collaborations and adversarial estrangements. In augmenting and reevaluating this history, the volume offers a new and nuanced picture of the early formative relationship between the two disciplines.
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Emily Varto

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Lewis Henry Morgan’s Ancient Society related human cultures to one another in a comparative and social evolutionary scheme, synthesizing ethnographic information drawn from several peoples, especially the Greeks, Romans, and Iroquois. The classics, however, informed Morgan’s Ancient Society beyond supplying such ethnographic information; they played key normative and hermeneutic roles throughout the whole work. The classical histories of George Grote and Barthold Georg Niebuhr, in particular, provided Morgan with comparative ethnographic details set in progressive frameworks. In Greek and Roman history, told in this way, he found normative institutions and a developmental hermeneutic of typologies. He employed these to interpret the results of his ethnography of North American aboriginal peoples. Classical norms, particularly, led Morgan to recognize the ethnological value of his observations about the “unique” matrilineal descent system of the Iroquois. Moreover, Morgan employed a developmental hermeneutic, inspired by nineteenth-century progressive classical histories, to situate and connect peoples (and their institutions and customs) in a grand ethnological scheme. This developmental hermeneutic, however, was also consciously shaped by his inquiries among the Iroquois and other aboriginal peoples of North America. Thus, Morgan’s American experience tinted the classical lens through which he observed the progress of all human civilizations.

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Daniel Stewart

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This chapter examines the impact of Pausanias’ Periegesis, and Frazer’s translation of it, on early archaeological investigations of the Greek landscape. For Pausanias, the material ruins of the Greek landscape presented a way of reconciling the past and his contemporary present (Stewart 2013); this model also served as the basis for the modern engagement of the nascent nation of Greece’s place within later European culture. Early nineteenth-century western European travellers to Greece—such as Curtius, Leake, and Dodwell—arrived at the same time as a shift in the reception of Pausanias’ text, facilitated in English due to Sir James Frazer’s translation and commentary (1898). The scholarly emphasis moved away from an overt reliance on selected excerpts to a reading of the text in its broader context, which included first-hand fieldwork experience of relevant archaeological sites mentioned in the ancient text.

The transition from antiquarian to archaeological investigations in Greece in the nineteenth century was facilitated in part by frequent reference to the topographical writings of Pausanias (Wagstaff 2001). At the forefront of these antiquarian approaches was the idea of autopsia, or “seeing for oneself”, and the idea that had deep resonances for both the development of archaeology and anthropology more broadly, as it has close links to anthropological notions of ethnography. Indeed, ethnographic analogy has become one of the foundational toolkits in archaeological interpretation (Wylie 1988, 2002). Inherent to Pausanias’ method, however, is omission: selecting necessitates choosing between, and the recognition of this led to several polarizing debates regarding the author’s reliability. Pausanias is integral to the birth of classical archaeology—the discipline emerged from the notion that there was truth in texts that could be traced materially. These early debates shaped the idea of what constitutes an archaeological resource.

By tracing the impact of autopsy on approaches to landscape history, this chapter illuminates the impact of textually-based analyses of material culture to contemporary understandings of Greece. The tension between Pausanias’ model of selecting what to describe and his aspiration towards comprehensiveness is central to understanding how some of the key aspects of classical archaeology in Greece developed. The chapter interrogates ethnography, analogy and autopsy to assess how they have been used in classical archaeology. Frazer’s impact on the cross-fertilization between classical archaeology and cultural anthropology comes primarily in his opposition to the German view of Pausanias’ uselessness and in his comparative analogical approach to the study of culture. That legacy is still present within contemporary practice of classical archaeology.

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Rebecca Futo Kennedy

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Otis T. Mason organized and maintained the ethnological materials housed and collected by the early Smithsonian Institution and created the system used for their display. This chapter explores the ancient ideas that informed early museum anthropology and World’s Fairs displays under the leadership of Mason and the Smithsonian. Mason’s education and scholarly background shows that the organizational principles for his “progress of the races” displays were rooted in his interpretations of and belief in certain aspects of the classical theory of environmental determinism, especially those expounded in the Hippocratic Airs, Waters, Places. Mason’s work on Native American cultures reveals both his classical education and his early investment in European theories of the evolution of mankind. Mason’s environmental scheme was combined with the then prominent theories of the progress of mankind to create ethnographic exhibits that promoted a “proper interpretation of social and political reality” (Rydell 1984, 3). These exhibits organized the races—Native Americans in particular—on a spectrum from savage to barbarian to enlightened, civilized, and free that reflected his fusion of modern ideas of race progress with ancient environmental determinism. This fusion informed his core theoretical idea of the “culture area”, a theory that linked technological and cultural development to the availability of resources and climate. A people who had not progressed from the stage of dependence on their environment were considered, like Brinton’s “black, brown, and red” peoples, “lower” culture groups (Brinton 1895). Mason’s theories and manifestation of them in museum displays allowed for and encouraged the systematic eradication of these lesser races, something he considered not only inevitable but necessary for the continued progress of the “higher” races.

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Thérèse A. de Vet

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Marcel Mauss (1872–1950) is best known for his essay The Gift, first published in l’Année sociologique deuxième série in 1923–24. Mauss’ impact on anthropology, and indirectly on classics, went well beyond his many reviews in l’Année sociologique and his original essay on gift-giving. His emphasis on the importance of fieldwork influenced many generations of French anthropologists, and, coincidentally, also an American graduate student in classics. Milman Parry happened to be studying in Paris in the 1920s and would go on to play an important role in the study of orality in classics. Mauss’ early life and work are discussed in the first part of this chapter, his essay The Gift forms the topic of the second part, and the last section discusses the influence of the French anthropological fieldwork school on the study of orality and on the formulation of the Oral Theory.

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Irene Salvo

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This chapter presents the work of the Italian ethno-anthropologist Ernesto de Martino (1908–1965) and its relationship with the classical world. De Martino is best known for his trilogy on South Italy: Morte e pianto ritualeDal lamento funebre antico al pianto di Maria (Death and Ritual Lament, 1958); Sud e Magia (South and Magic, 1959); La terra del rimorso (The Land of Regret, 1961). He explored funeral rites, magic, and tarantism in Southern Italy thanks to extensive fieldwork. Classical material permeates his entire scholarly production, and he was in contact with such masters of Altertumswissenschaft as Raffaele Pettazzoni, Károly Kerény, and Angelo Brelich. In the archive of his papers in Rome, there is a dossier titled “The Classical World”. In his works, Graeco-Roman religion was a paradigm useful in understanding the ethnographical data, and vice versa. This aspect of de Martino’s scientific profile has been in part highlighted by other scholars (e.g. Di Donato 1999). In particular, de Martino’s treatment of funerary rituals has received a great deal of attention: ancient and modern evidence has been compared and studied philologically (e.g. Mirto 1990 (2016)). Less attention has been given to his treatment of the idea of fascinum/baskania (evil eye) in Graeco-Roman culture and South Italian contemporary folklore. This chapter presents an up-to-date overview of the relationship between de Martino’s ethnography and the use of classical material, as well as a specific investigation of his analysis of Roman fascinum, Greek baskania, and Italian malocchio.

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Cynthia Eller

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When anthropology was first forming itself as a discipline in Great Britain in the late nineteenth century, the primary haunt of the anthropologist was the library, and his or her central task was to reconstruct the history of the human race by looking to “primitive” peoples: those who had escaped the evolutionary progress of the human race in remote locations on the globe, fossilized in an earlier state of human social, economic, religious, and cognitive development. It was during this iteration of anthropology, practised primarily in Great Britain between 1865 and 1900, that the belief that the earliest human societies reckoned kinship matrilineally took root. I have called this theory “the myth of matriarchal prehistory”: a story told by many narrators, especially over the past century and a half, that argues that early human societies were either woman-centred or woman-ruled until a patriarchal revolution occurred, somewhere between 8000–3000 BCE, that left men and male gods in charge. The British anthropologists were preceded in the matriarchal theory by Swiss philologist Johann Jakob Bachofen, whose 1861 book, Das Mutterrecht, largely ignored “primitive” peoples, preferring evidence for prehistoric matriarchies in classical texts and especially in archaic Mediterranean religion (insofar as it could be reconstructed from classical sources). Religion, and in particular goddess worship, played an important role in Bachofen’s narrative. The British anthropologists occasionally mentioned evidence for prehistoric matriarchy in classical texts, but did not incorporate these sources into their theory, and tended to deemphasize the importance of goddesses to matriarchal societies. It was only as anthropologists began to disassociate themselves from the matriarchal myth that evidence from classical sources began to be reintroduced, mainly by Sir James George Frazer, an anthropologist and mythographer. With Frazer came a renewed emphasis on religion and goddesses as the preeminent symbols of matriarchal society. Classicists such as Jane Ellen Harrison then adopted Frazer’s work and expanded on the significance of surviving matriarchal social customs in classical society and religion.

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Kevin Solez

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Anthropological theories about feasting, particularly the semiotic theories of Roy Rappaport (1999) and the commensal politics and patron-role feast described by Michael Dietler (1996; 2001; 2010), are exceptionally applicable to Homeric society. This chapter queries the nature of the intellectual operation of applying anthropological theory to ancient Greek subjects and argues that Greco-Roman cultures prefigured the concerns of anthropologists throughout the history of that discipline.

Whether we locate the beginnings of anthropology with J.-F. Lafitau in 1724 or with the creation of the first professorships of anthropology, for example that occupied by the Hellenist J. G. Frazer in 1907–8, the concerns of early anthropology are defined with reference to ancient Greece. In a rarely mentioned characteristic of early anthropology, Lafitau modelled his interest in the customs of different peoples on Homer’s. In the Golden Bough, J. G. Frazer analysed ancient societies alongside and not sequestered from modern ones.

What does it mean when a modern anthropological theory applies productively to ancient evidence? This chapter draws on the literary theory of Gérard Gennette (1979 (2004), 1997) which describes the relationship between texts or discourses through hypertextuality, where hypotexts (Greco-Roman texts in this case) have a structuring influence on and prefigure the concerns of hypertexts (the discourses of anthropology). Anthropological theory and ethnography have interpretive power for classical civilization both because they have been constructed with reference to ancient cultures and because observation of living societies can aid our understanding of the lacunose remains of Greco-Roman antiquity.