Panel: Inside and Outside Ancient Times: A Modern View on Ancient Cultures?

Prof. Dr. Tanja Pommerening und die Kollegiaten Dominik Berrens, Katharina Hillenbrand, Sonja Gerke und Simone Gerhards beteiligen sich mit einem Panel zum Thema „Inside and Outside Ancient Times: A Modern View on Ancient Cultures?“ an der Konferenz „Scales of Knowledge: Zooming In and Zooming Out“ des Exzellenzclusters „Asien und Europa im globalen Kontext“, die vom 7. bis 9. Oktober 2015 an der Universität Heidelberg stattfinden wird.

Donnerstag, 08.10.2015, 16 Uhr
Voßstr. 2, 69115 Heidelberg, KJC Raum 002

Abstract des Panels:

The panel wants to discuss differences in disciplinary approaches against the background of the “inside” and “outside” point of view on ancient cultures by contrasting the examples of Classical Philology (i.e. the Classical/Greco-Roman culture) and Egyptology (i.e. the ancient Egyptian culture).
The panellists are all members of the Research Training Group 1876 (University of Mainz), which has the aim to trace “Early Concepts of Man and Nature”. This means first of all tracing the “inside approach” dealing with ancient thoughts, ideas and worldviews. As this Research Training Group unites many different disciplines (Egyptology, Ancient Near Eastern Studies, Near Eastern Archaeology, Classical Philology, Classical Archaeology, Medieval German Studies, Byzantine Studies, and Medical History), it becomes apparent that the opportunity and possibility of using approaches of “inside” and “outside” ancient cultures are tightly connected to the basic parameters that each discipline is bound to (historical, social and cultural).

Chair: Prof. Dr. Tanja Pommerening


Dominik Berrens: „Das nächste Fremde“ – Chances and Challenges in applying emic and etic perspectives to Classical texts

Emic and etic approaches are rarely applied to texts of the Greco-Roman antiquity. One of the main reasons might be the special relationship between our modern Western culture and the Classical Antiquity. It is obvious that an emic perspective of any ancient civilisation is an ideal that one can approach to a certain extent, but never reach. The great difference between the Greco-Roman culture and other ancient cultures lies in their relation to the modern Western culture. The Classical Antiquity is often seen as one of the main fundaments of our own culture and therefore, applying a strict etic perspective could be difficult. This ambiguity of foreignness on the one hand and familiarity on the other can probably best be described by the expression “das nächste Fremde” (the most familiar foreign culture) which has been coined by the German classicist Uvo Hölscher (1965).
The chances and challenges that arise when applying emic and etic perspectives to Classical texts shall be addressed in this paper. The focus will be on so-called “scientific” texts. Many of our modern technical terms derive directly or indirectly from Greek or Latin words, but the meaning might not be entirely the same. It can easily lead to misconceptions, if we are not aware of these differences. The method of applying emic and etic perspectives on Classical texts can help us in this respect.

Katharina Hillenbrand: Missing concepts and wrong thoughts? Examples for emic and etic perspectives on Classical texts

As presented in Dominik Berrens’ paper, the Greco-Roman antiquity is not only regarded as closer to Western culture than ancient Egypt, but also as the origin of Western thought. Therefore, Western studies often tend to read classical texts from a perspective of deep familiarity, even though this tendency is being reflected within the last years.
Examples of older Classical studies in Germany perfectly show how this perspective could develop into a deeply felt kinship. Thus, some seemed to believe that they were thinking in an ancient way. This “emic” perspective tended to dismiss or correct aspects of foreignness in ancient classical texts in order to fit modern thought. This can be traced in ancient “scientific” texts, whereas foreignness seems to be far more accepted in literary texts.
This paper will present examples of such corrections in translations of “scientific” texts as well as studies in which aspects of foreignness were treated as “missing concepts” rather than deviating. Within this frame, problems regarding scales for emic categories will be shown with a special focus on translations of ancient texts.

Sonja Gerke: Of Barking Gods and Sacred Signs – Challenges in applying emic and etic perspectives on Egyptian sources

In opposition to the Greco-Roman culture, the mental distance to the ancient Egyptian civilisation seems to extend much further. On the one hand, this may be based on the chronological distance, since the Ancient Egyptian culture has its origins far beyond five thousand years ago. On the other hand, the distance may derive from the huge ideological differences, which are expressed e.g. in a lacking understanding for “dog-headed” gods or astonishing rituals and magical practices that can be traced back just until the 20th century. In comparison to the Classics, in some Egyptological studies the emic/etic approach has already been discussed. But detailed and critical considerations of the advantages and disadvantages are also missing in the Egyptological discourse.
After having heard the Classical Philologists’ point of view, this paper in comparison wants to give an overview of the Egyptological discussion of “inside” and “outside” the ancient Egyptian culture. Therefore, it is necessary to take a look at the variety of problems that comes along with the variety of aspects the study of ancient Egypt has brought forth, and how modern Egyptological research has dealt with it in the past and deals with it nowadays. Concerning this topic, it will be shown that “the Egyptologists’” will to take an emic or etic approach, depends primarily on the subject of research, meaning the different approaches on e.g. religious or “scientific” texts.

Simone Gerhards: Becoming an insider? – Examples for emic and etic reconstructions of ancient Egyptian concepts

Based on Sonja Gerke’s theoretical introduction to emic and etic as method in Egyptology, and compared to Katharina Hillenbrand’s examples for emic and etic in Classics, this paper wants to show and analyse selected examples for emic and etic “scales” from ancient Egyptian studies. Most of the examples are taken from my PhD project about “the concepts and phenomena of tiredness, sleep and awakening”. By the use of selected sources and their interpretations the paper will present the different handlings between the so-called “religious”, “scientific” and “medical” texts. Just the terms “religious”, “scientific” and “medical” clarify that this classification scheme is based on an etic perspective – but it should be as well of interest if the ancient Egyptians themselves distinguished between them.
Through a change in the perspective to the insiders’ view (as far as possible), it could generate new and/or different information on the very same topic. So, for instance, the research of ancient medicine should avoid only focusing on the evidence of effectiveness to reconstruct the concepts standing behind certain texts.
Therefore, this paper will stress on the one hand the opportunities as well as the limits of the use of “zooming-in” and “zooming-out” perspectives, and on the other hand the differences between the approaches in Egyptology and Classics.