Research

In January 2016, my book Spiritual Taxonomies and Ritual Authority: Platonists, Priests, and Gnostics in the Third Century C.E. was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, Divinations Series. You can link to the UPenn Press site here: http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/15511.html

Spiritual Taxonomies and Ritual Authority

I am currently working on a paper looking at the similarities between evil demons and embryos in the works of Porphyry of Tyre, one of the Platonist philosophers who figures prominently in my book.  Porphyry held the view that evil demons were good daemons who had become addicted to the blood and smoke of sacrifices, and their indulgence in these substances made their “bodies” (i.e. their pneumatic vessels) heavier and moister.  Porphyry also wrote a medical work entitled To Gaurus on How Embryos are Ensouled in which he argued that the fetus is essentially a plant until the moment of birth at which time it draws down to it an appropriate soul from the supralunary realm.  In both cases, matter plays a vital role in creating new soul-body assemblages.  My paper explores how matter works in each of these two cases, taking into consideration both ancient understandings of matter and recent work in what some scholars call “new materialism” as represented by the work of Jane Bennett, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, and Valerie Allen.

I have also begun research on a new project, a study of a different, but closely related group of late ancient intellectuals, namely doctors.  With the help of some of my graduate students, I have begun developing a database of references to doctors in a wide variety of sources from late antiquity such as literary texts (including historical texts, theological writings, hagiographies, biographies, and medical works), documentary papyri, and inscriptions.  This research was funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Insight Development Grant from 2012-2015.  This year, it will continue to be funded by a University of Manitoba Research Grant.  As part of my research, I am making my inscriptional data available to Sarah Bond at the University of Iowa, who is creating an important database called Collegium, which maps professions in antiquity using GIS applications.  My work on doctors in late antiquity will form part of a larger book project on the topic of medicine in the same period.

I am also working on a book manuscript under contract with Oxford University Press’ Women in Antiquity series (deadline, August, 2018).  It is a biography of the elusive and intriguing fourth-century philosopher and theurgist, Sosipatra of Pergamum.  All we know about her is contained in a brief description of her life and teaching career in Eunapius’ Lives of the Sophists.  My aim will be to contextualize what details we have of her life, including the more fantastic elements of her story, at the same time as I pay attention to the way in which Eunapius uses her gender for his own rhetorical purposes.

Finally, Kristi Upson-Saia (Occidental College) and I are putting together an ancient medicine sourcebook for the University of California Press over the next three years.

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