I’m giving a brief talk at the Classics faculty meeting in a few weeks

Every year the seniors in Classics are invited to a faculty meeting to give a brief overview of their senior thesis. It’s not evaluative (or so I’m told), but rather just a time where we can come together and chat. It will also be a good time to discuss some of the obstacles I’m coming up against and see if there are any sources I’m overlooking.

My thesis is focusing on Christian and pagan burial practices in the late antique (I’m trying to restrict myself to the 1st-5th centuries). I have three main divisions:

I. Sacred Spaces
Here’s where I’ll talk about architecture of the catacombs, the art, etc. I’m also going to discuss how Christian funerary practices changed in the 4th and following centuries.
II. Rituals
Both immediately after death and the days, months, and years thereafter.
III. Heroes and Martyrs
I’m pretty fascinated by the cult of the saints and how in some ways the martyr (and later holy man) took over the role of hero, but also how old categories were given new meaning (what is ‘honor’ to an early Christian?).

Some issues I’m running into:
1) There’s just not a lot of primary source info on funerary practices. I guess it’s a pretty dark subject that nobody wanted to write about.
2) It’s not always clear which grave is ‘Christian’ and which is ‘Pagan’ – there’s a lot of mixing that went on. Symbols and art that were traditionally pagan were adopted and reinterpreted in light of Christian thought.
3) Texts often give us idealized views – although a Bishop from the 5th century may say that Christians and pagans shouldn’t be buried together, we find exactly that all the time.

If you have any advice or sources, I am all ears.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “I’m giving a brief talk at the Classics faculty meeting in a few weeks

  1. Jorwed

    Sounds exciting, Josh! Have you had a chance to look at Ramsay MacMullen’s recent book ‘The Second Church’? It has quite a bit on funeral practices and their role in ‘popular’ Christianity.

  2. Joshua McManaway

    I had not but it’s on my list now. Thanks!

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