2023-24 UofT Classics Departmental Lecture Series
Locating the Greeks through Diet and Space
Jessica Romney, Associate Professor, MacEwan University
The dynamic world of the Late Bronze Age connected the Mediterranean to West Asia and Egypt, to a world that was open and crossable; that world collapsed c. 1200 BCE, as did the Greek world on the edges of the West Asian kingdoms, closing paths and shrinking inland to the heights. Fast forward to the Iron Age and early Archaic period, and the roads out from the Greek mainland—whether terrestrial or marine—were opening again, east into Ionia and the Black Sea, west into the lands associated with Odysseus’ travels. Jump forward in time again and the Mediterranean systems continued to expand as Greek geographical horizons reached into West Asia, all the way to the heart of the Persian empire as Xerxes set his eyes on Athens, as Agesilaus later set his on Susa. If the Greek world collapsed between c. 1200 and 1050 BCE; from the 9th century on, it reopened, first gradually and then with spectacular rapidity.
The changing conceptual size of the Mediterranean and the oikoumenē in general were accompanied by corresponding shifts in Greek collective identities, in what it meant to be “Greek,” “Athenian”—or “Spartan,” “Milesian,” or any other major and likely minor political community— and even what it meant to be an elite man in a polis. In this talk, I present a review of how changes in spatial perception, that is, how big the world is and where a particular group or community fits within the world, affect Greek collective identities from the early Archaic period up through to Agesilaus’ aborted campaign into the heart of the Persian Empire. In this review, I focus on how diet and the association of food with geographical space function as a form of identity rhetoric that helps to explain Greek and non-Greek places within the oikoumenē. As a means of locating Greek communities relative to one another and others, food and space function both to define Greek collective identities opposite a variety of “others”—women, non-Greeks from settled to pastoral peoples, political factions, tyrants—and as a reflection of changing perceptions of the world and self.
Dr. Romney completed her PhD in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Bristol in 2015, where she examined the strategies for fashioning group identities in the Greek symposium. Before joining MacEwan, she held a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Calgary and taught at the University of Victoria and Dickinson College.
Her primary interests lie in how language and literature interact with the societies that produce and use them, and vice versa. In her current research, she examines how food in Archaic and Classical Greece contributes to the construction of geographical space as ‘near’ and ‘far’ as well as how food and drink consumption create social categories that contribute to constructions of civilised/uncivilised and Us/Them. This latter area derives from her dissertation research, which examined how archaic sympotic poets constructed social and political identities in sympotic lyric. She has secondary interests in the reception of archaic poets by classical and post-classical authors.