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CALL. 31.03.2021:The Power of Anonymity in the Material, Historical,and Literary...-Müncher(Germany)




LUGAR/LOCATION/LUOGO: Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (Müncher, Germany)

Depending on the development of the current pandemic situation, the workshop will take place in Munich or will be held online.

ORGANIZADOR/ORGANIZER/ORGANIZZATORE: Marco Besl; Alexandra Holler; Fabio Nolfo; Felix Rauchhaus,; Antonia I. Vanca; Junjie Zhou



In the material, historical, and literary cultures of ancient societies, we frequently find ourselves in front of works of art, historical and religious pieces of evidence, as well as legal and literary texts, whose authorship cannot be ascertained. Anonymous texts were regularly attributed to famous authors to give them greater authority (e.g. the play ‘Octavia’ attributed to Seneca). The notion of the author or creator—the so-called πρῶτος εὑρητής or inuentor in the Graeco-Roman culture—played a fundamental role. At the same time, there are myths, legends and artworks that have no author but still have a strong impact on identity formation as well as on political discourses.

Most artworks and texts of the Egyptian, Chinese, Greek and Roman literary and material cultures are documented without any names associated with them. This holds true for the Parthenon sculptures, which, although often linked to Pheidias alone, were produced by many nameless, unacknowledged and thus unattested artists; it holds true for Roman state art, for which we have very little written evidence (just to mention Trajan’s Column in Rome), for famous collections of poems such as the anonymous ‘carmina’ of the Anthologia Latina, which roughly date from the fifth/sixth century AD, for the Shijing, a Chinese anthology of odes dating from approximately the eleventh to the seventh centuries BC purportedly compiled by Confucius, or for the Panegyrici Latini, a fourth-century collection of twelve speeches praising various emperors, most of which were written by anonymous authors. For other objects, especially those involving the divine, the identity of the creator was deliberately left obscure. Several aniconic divine images were said to have fallen from heaven (e.g. the image of the Taurean Artemis) or to have been washed ashore (e.g. the mask of Dionysos at Methymna). While such claims point to divine intervention and possibly to divine workmanship, the agency and power an object was to unfold depended on human perception. «Ever since a collection of people called Homer blamed the Muse to obfuscate their part in the crime, authors have mystified the very concepts of agency, individuality, responsibility, and personhood that are often taken for granted elsewhere» (see T. Geue, Author Unknown. The Power of Anonymity in Ancient Rome, Harvard 2019, 1 ff.). So it also happens that an anonymous material product or an anonymous text becomes a sacred or fetishized object, precisely because it seems to have no origin. 

The purpose of this workshop is to shed light on the power of anonymity in its multiple manifestations in the ancient world, and to explore the meaningful and complex ways in which unattributed cultural products have been received and interpreted by their contemporaneous recipients as well as by later audiences. Core questions to be pursued in the workshop are:

What does it mean—to the ancients as well as to us—if a work is anonymous or not? Are texts or works of art interpreted differently if the author is known or if the name of the author is fake or a pseudonym? Does the age of the works matter? Does the absence of a poetic context make a text necessarily less understandable? And is it possible to appreciate an artistic monument or a legal, historical, religious or literary text, although we do not know at all the intentions of its creator/author? Does anonymous art possess efficacy and meaning surpassing that of identifiable authorship? Was anonymity a general feature or just an artistic ‘device’ used for special cases? Which role does anonymity play in ancient political discourses? And ultimately: What does it mean to give a “name” to an object or to “unname” an object and/or its author?

The conference is open to postgraduate students and early career researchers. Please submit titles and abstracts (in German or English) of up to 300 words (excluding bibliographical references) and a short academic biography by 31 March 2021 at We welcome submissions from all scholarly fields of Classics as well as Ancient Near East and Oriental Studies, Classical Reception Studies and Comparative Study of Antiquity. The presentation at the workshop should not exceed 20 minutes.

The keynote speakers are Professor Anna Anguissola (University of Pisa) and Dr. Felix K. Mayer (Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg).

There will be no registration fee.

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