5000 Years of Comments

The Development of Commentary from Ancient Mesopotamia to the Age of Information

August 8-9, 2018

Sponsored and hosted by the Center for Hellenic Studies
Organized by Joel P. Christensen (Brandeis University) and Jacqueline Vayntrub (Yale University)

About the conference

Commentary on the written word is nearly as old as writing itself and has developed alongside scholarship, literature and the writing cultures in critical and influential ways. As an activity, commentary has helped define categories of textuality and literature. As a type of discourse, commentary has been shaped over millennia by emerging technologies, from clay tablets to multi-user digital interfaces.

This two-day conference seeks to bring together specialists and investigators from various fields who are interested in the history of commentary and its study, in its theoretical underpinnings and its effects, and in exploring new forms commentary has taken in the information age. All fields of inquiry are open, but we are particularly interested in assembling papers that draw on the history of philology from the Ancient Near East (Mesopotamia through Biblical philology) through Classical Greece and Rome in antiquity, the middle ages, and reflecting on this history in light of the emergence of modern Digital Humanities.

Thematically, this conference invites reflections on what commentaries do (what or who are they for); how they create authoritative texts and affect future reception; how commentaries have changed (or failed to change) with new technologies; the relationship between philology and commentary; and how a comparative study of commentary traditions can inform us. This workshop’s discussions and papers will help participants develop nuanced ideas about what commentary—and indeed scholarly engagement with primary texts—is for and what are its future possibilities.

The conference will be live-streamed at http://media.video.harvard.edu/core/live/harvard-chs-live.html (best viewed with Safari or Firefox). Share comments and questions via Twitter with the tag, #5000years.


Wednesday, August 8

Session 1 | 10:00 am – 12:15 pm 

“A Struggle over Meaning: Reassessing the Commentary–Source Text Dynamic in Ancient Mesopotamia”
Zackary Wainer, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

“Epistemics, Curriculum, and Scholasticism in Mesopotamian Commentaries on a Handbook of Medical Diagnosis”
John Wee, Univerity of Chicago

Jacqueline Vayntrub, Yale University

Session 2 | 2:00 pm – 4:30 pm 

“The Triumph of Commentary”
Azzan Yadin-Israel, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey 

“Commentary as the Perfection of Meaning: The Paradox of the Qumran Pesharim”
Francis Borchardt, Lutheran Theological Seminary Hong Kong

Andronicus of Rhodes and the origin of philosophical commentaries on Aristotle”
Matthieu Real, Cornell University

Keith DeStone, Harvard University and the Center for Hellenic Studies

Summative Comments
Gregory Nagy, Harvard University and the Center for Hellenic Studies

Thursday, August 9

Session 1 | 10:00 am – 12:15 pm 

“Where to Find a Medieval Theory for the Practice of Commentary? Looking Beyond the Prologue”
Craig Tichelkamp, Harvard University 

“The Late Antique and Medieval Commentaries on Ptolemy’s Almagest and the History of Astronomical Literature”
Maria Americo, New York University – Institute for the Study of the Ancient World

“​What is the purpose of an Iliad commentary in the 21st century?”
Erwin Cook, Trinity University 

“Challenges in the Development of Online Commentaries”
Luke Hollis, Archimedes Digital, and Lenny Muellner, Center for Hellenic Studies

Session 2 | 2:00 pm – 4:30 pm 

“The Latin Philologists of the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE”
Hannah Culik-Baird, Boston University 

“#Commentary: Social Media and the Commentary Tradition”
Suzanne Lye, North Carolina, Chapel Hill

“Carpe DM: Twitter and the Rise of the Social-Media Scholiast”
Patrick Burns, New York University – Institute for the Study of the Ancient World

Joel Christensen, Brandeis University