UC Berkeley News


Time among the Romans
Classics lecture series examines ancient societies' calendar systems and schemes for charting the past

| 04 February 2004

The world of ancient chronography will be explored in six free, weekly lectures by an authority in the field of Roman literature and cultural studies.

Denis Feeney, Giger Professor of Latin at Princeton University, will deliver the series of lectures entitled “Charts of Roman Time.” Feeney, the Visiting Sather Professor of Classical Literature in the Classics Department for spring 2004, is credited with helping revitalize the field of chronography.

‘Charts of Roman Time’ lecture schedule
Wednesday, Feb. 4, 8 p.m. “Synchronizing the Times of Greece and Rome,” 2050 Valley Life Sciences Build-ing (VLSB), with reception following

Wednesday, Feb. 11, 8 p.m.
“ Synchronizing the Times of West and East,” 2040 VLSB

Wednesday, Feb. 18, 8 p.m. “Transitions from Myth into History I: The Foundation of the City,” 2040 VLSB

Wednesday, Feb. 25, 8 p.m. “Transitions from Myth into History II: Ages of Gold and Iron,” 2040 VLSB

Wednesday, March 3, 8 p.m.
“ Eras and Anniversaries,” 2040 VLSB

Wednesday, March 10, 8 p.m.
“ The Grid of the Calendar,” 2040 VLSB.

The topics in this series of lectures, Feeney says, stem from his interest in the calendar poem “Fasti,” by the Roman poet Ovid. “Rather to my surprise,” he says, “as my interest in Ovid’s time schemes grew, I found myself more and more drawn into the apparently off-putting world of ancient chronography.”

Without a universally accepted dating scheme, ancient societies charted past time by a complex system of correlation, lining up significant events in the distinct time columns of different cities, each with their own calendars, dating systems, and eras. The historians of Greece had perfected a Panhellenic framework of cross-reference by the time the Romans came onto the stage of Mediterranean history, Feeney notes.

“I became increasingly interested in how the Romans charted their own past onto these Panhellenic grids of time,” he explains. “This was a technical challenge of a high order for them, and it was a test case of the crisis of Roman Hellenization, as they made sense of the contours of their past through media that had been devised for Greek cities and empires.”

The initial two lectures (the first was scheduled for Wednesday evening, Feb. 4) investigate what is at stake in such “synchronistic patterning,” and how the Romans mapped themselves onto a Mediterranean past. The third lecture will delve into the ancient world’s divisions between the time of myth and history.

The fourth lecture will examine the division between the times of the Gold and Iron Ages, the point at which, for the Romans, organized time comes into being along with the other appurtenances of civilization. The talk will also examine the related longstanding fascination of the Romans with the possibility of a return to the lost Age of Gold.

The final two lectures will turn to the Romans’ distinctive indigenous time grids, the schemes of organization seen in the consular lists and the Roman calendar.

Feeney is the author of The Gods in Epic: Poets and Critics of the Classical Tradition (1991), a sophisticated re-evaluation of the significance of the “divine apparatus” in Greek and Latin epic poetry, and of the short but provocative Literature and Religion at Rome: Cultures, Contexts, and Beliefs (1998).

90 years of classical scholarship
The Sather Professorship, founded by UC President Benjamin Ide Wheeler in 1914 through a bequest by Jane K. Sather, was organized in its current form in 1920 by two professors of Greek, Ivan Linforth and George Calhoun. The invitation to be a Sather Professor is considered a crowning honor for classicists. The Sather Professor delivers public lectures and teaches a course. The lectures normally result in a book published by the University of California Press. So far, 63 volumes of Sather Classical Lectures have been published.

All of Feeney’s lectures will take place in the Valley Life Sciences Building. See the box above for a schedule, and visit the classics department website (ls.berkeley.edu/dept/classics/) for further details.