Gavin Blasdel

Gender, Emotions, and Language in the Imperial Greek City

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A striking new development in the Greek civic communities of the Roman Imperial period is the proliferation of emotional language in both public and private inscriptions. Why did the epigraphic display of emotions become so prevalent under the empire, and what can this phenomenon tell us about politics and society in the Imperial Greek city and how the Greeks understood their place in the world of the pax Romana?

This project investigates the gendered emotional language and affective strategies of inscribed monuments in Greece and Asia Minor during Roman Imperial rule (1st cen. BCE-3rd cen. CE). It aims to establish repertoires of emotional language across multiple interlocking variables, such as chronological and geographical spread, private and public spheres, genre, and especially gender. Here, Rosenwein’s model of “emotional communities,” social groups that value and give expression to some emotions but not others, is helpful for sketching and analyzing the range and depth of normative modes of emotional display in the Imperial Greek east. Such emotional communities could be complementary or contrasting, parallel or nested on local, regional, and supra-regional levels. The concept of anchoring plays a key role in unpacking these differences and in understanding the success or failure of new forms of gendered emotional expression from community to community.

My research focuses on the following questions, amongst others: what linguistic strategies do the inscriptions deploy to convey emotion or to elicit an emotional reaction? What anchors provided the basis for innovation in emotional expression over time and space? Were certain emotions more often expressed by or associated with one gender or another, and so came to “define” males and females? Were these emotions anchored in gender roles of the recent or more distant past? How durable were emotional communities and their expression of characteristic emotions? How did genre, monument type, and spatial setting affect manifestations of emotion or serve as anchoring devices?

With such questions in mind, I aim to unpack the powerful role that emotions played in structuring and mediating relationships within and beyond the civic community. For instance, the honorific and gendered use of the versatile philos-compounds (e.g., philosebastos, philopatris, philandros) and the civic award of titles in the form of filial metaphors of affection (e.g., son/daughter of the demos/polis) show that love (philia) became an especially widespread and productive emotional frame in the public life of many, though not all, Imperial Greek cities. At the same time, collective responses to the death of a member of the civic community feature prominently in the so-called “postmortem” honorific decrees that concentrate in southwest Asia Minor and the islands, the language of which can range from offering consolation to relatives to effusive descriptions of the distress and grief the citizenry felt at the loss. In calling attention to the importance of the anchoring process, I will show how such epigraphic expressions of emotion were meaningful and dynamic forms of social communication in the Greek world throughout the Imperial period.