Changing Bodies, Changing Meanings: Studies on the Human Body in Antiquity

By Dominic Montserrat | Go to book overview

how the different ways in which the body altered could be a means of conveying ideologies—of status and control, of gender and ethnicity, of nature and culture. Sometimes in antiquity, body modification constituted a social norm, such as among Herodotus’ tattooed Thracians; when modification was not normative, what was being delineated by opposition? Was body modification the constraint of a natural structure to a societal norm? Do ancient forms of modification have anything to contribute to the debate on whether the most fundamental structures of the group are anchored in the most basic experiences of the body?

Having said that, the work of an obscure doctor writing in England under the Commonwealth might seem a strange point of departure for a collection of essays on the changing body in antiquity. Because of the splendid woodcut illustrations in the 1654 edition of Anthropometamorphosis, Bulwer is most often encountered in popular books on the history of bodily ‘aberration’, implying that his project was the same kind of ethnographic antiquarianism. In such books, Bulwer’s modified bodies mutate once again, into quaint props in an exotic, otherly environment. 2 But Bulwer was doing something very different. Anthropometamorphosis was one of the first early modern works of what might now be termed comparative cultural anthropology, and an early study of the body as social metaphor. As the epigraph to the title page of the 1654 edition shows, Bulwer presents a pluralist world composed of diverse societies, which are in turn composed of living, functioning individual bodies—bodies which change according to societal pressures or geographical conditions. Bulwer was also aware of the links between the fragmented, mutable, social bodies he described and his own time and place: the changing body politic of an England which had executed its King and was experimenting with a new form of government.

Anthropometamorphosis was not the first book by Bulwer to place the changed or divergent human body at its centre. As a physician, Bulwer was a pioneer in audiology, with a special interest in teaching the deaf to lip-read and speak, or to communicate by using sign-language. Previously, he had published Chirologia: or the Naturall Language of the Hand (1644) and Philocophus; or the Deafe and Dumbe Man’s Friend. Exhibiting the Philosophicall Verity of that subtile Art, which may inable one with an observant Eie, to hear what any man speaks by the moving of his Lips…apparently proving that a Man borne Deafe and Dumbe may be taught to Heare the sound of words with his Eie, and thence learn to speake with his

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Changing Bodies, Changing Meanings: Studies on the Human Body in Antiquity
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents vii
  • Plates ix
  • Figures x
  • Acknowledgements xiii
  • Abbreviations xv
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • Notes 9
  • Part I - Perfect Bodies, Imperfect Bodies 11
  • 2 - Disabling Bodies 13
  • 3 - The Dynamics of Beauty in Classical Greece 37
  • Part II - Bodies and Signs in Latin Literature 55
  • 4 - Exuvias Effigiemque 57
  • 5 - Bodies in Flux 80
  • Notes 95
  • Part III - Modifying the Early Christian Body 97
  • 6 - Bodies and Blood 99
  • 7 - Reading the Disjointed Body in Coptic 116
  • Part IV - The Ancient Body's Trajectory Through Time 137
  • 8 - The Irresistible Body and the Seduction of Archaeology 139
  • 9 - Unidentified Human Remains 162
  • 10 - Nacktleben 198
  • Bibliography 213
  • General Index 227
  • Index of Ancient Sources Cited or Discussed 231
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