|Domain||Theory and Methods|
|Date Range||February 2019 - Present|
|Supervisor(s)||Dr. Tazuko van Berkel|
Prof. Ineke Sluiter
A recent issue of the journal Body and Society was devoted to Skin Studies, a subfield within body studies which emphasizes the study of the skin as a social and historical construct, and its cultural significance. Skin studies questions the self-evidence of our largest organ, “[f]ocusing instead on how the body’s surface is made liveable, intelligible and meaningful” (Lafrance 2018). In other words: skin matters.
With my dissertation, I intend to give heed to the Body & Society call by studying the skin and skin marks as anchors of sociocultural meaning in Greek literature up to and including the Hellenistic period. The cultural importance of skin and skin marks in Antiquity can be illustrated, for example, by the famous scar of Odysseus, which serves as an identifying sign, a marker of masculinity, and a memorial of the hunt in which it was sustained. As such, the skin is a promising subject to explore how the body is made culturally significant in Ancient Greek literature, and to aid in deconstructing the body’s natural ‘essence’.
This dissertation will not claim to give an all-inclusive overview of the skin in Greek literature, but it will rather explore samples of the available source material in all its diversity by studying the skin from different sociocultural angles. The texts discussed will deliberately include many different genres of ancient Greek literature, so as to demonstrate the breadth of the cultural importance of the skin. Even though different genres have different conventions and concerns (e.g. medical texts will emphasize other aspects of the skin and skin marks than, say, tragedy), all of them operate within a similar cultural framework, are thus co-constructed, and should therefore be studied together. To this end, the dissertation will consist of five case studies, each of which takes a different approach to the sociocultural significance of the skin: 1) The Identifying Skin, 2) the Mnemonic Skin, 3) The Social Skin, 4) The Gendered Skin, and 5) The Fragile Skin. The research question is: How do skin and skin marks function as anchors of sociocultural meaning-making in ancient Greek literature up to and including the first century BCE?
This focus is also a necessary limitation of the subject matter: as the source material is literary, what will be studied are representations and interpretations of the skin which might thus also represent conflicting views and differing axes of agency. The goal of this project is to uncover a kind of rhetoric of the skin: it focusses on the way the skin is spoken of and ‘read’ in the ancient world, on what it does and/or is made to do. The chronological focus will keep the scope of the material workable, although important trends might be illustrated, where relevant, with examples slightly later than the Hellenistic period.