School of Historical Studies

Studying Graffiti in an Ancient City: The Case of Aphrodisias

by Angelos Chaniotis 

The New York University excavations, under Kenan Erim (1961–90) and Bert Smith (from 1991 onwards), have made Aphrodisias one of the most important archaeological sites in Asia Minor.

During Augustus’s reign (late first century B.C.E.), the philosopher Athenodoros returned from Rome to his hometown Tarsos, in southwest Turkey. When he found the city dominated by the poet and demagogue Boethos, he used the authority given to him by Augustus to send Boethos and his followers into exile. Thereupon, Boethos’s partisans

wrote against him on the walls: “Deeds are for the young, counsels for the middle-aged, but farts for the old men.”

When Athenodoros took the inscription as a joke, he ordered to add “thunders for old men.” But then someone, who despised all decency and had a loose belly, came in the night to his house and profusely bespattered the door and the wall. When Athenodoros brought accusations in the assembly against that faction, he said: “One may recognize the city’s illness and disaffection in many ways, and in particular from its excrement.”

This incident, narrated by the geographer Strabo,1 is one of the few references of ancient authors to graffiti. Another one is found in the Courtesans’ Dialogues composed by the satirist Lucian in the second half of the second century C.E. Two prostitutes, Drosis (“fresh as dew”) and Chelidonion (“the little sparrow”), discuss possible strategies against the philosopher Aristainetos, who was preventing Drosis’s lover, Kleinias, from visiting her. Chelidonion volunteers to help in a slander campaign: “I think that I will write on the wall in Kerameikos ‘Aristainetos is corrupting Kleinias.’” When Drosis wonders how Chelidonion can do this without being seen, her friend responds: “By night, Drosis, taking charcoal from somewhere.”

Studying Physics in America

by Danian Hu 

C. S. Wang Chang at IAS

Addressing an international audience in 2004, Professor Dong Guangbi, an erudite historian of science, summarized Chinese physics development over the previous century, and he argued that the country from which Chinese physicists and physics benefited most was the United States of America.2 Dong’s argument was supported by the background of the seven “most creative Chinese physicists.”

Five out of these seven received doctorates in America and four of the five— Chou, Wu, Yang, and Lee—were former Members of the Institute for Advanced Study, indicating the dominating American influence and the significant role of IAS in Chinese development. This essay supports Dong’s thesis with additional evidence revealed in my preliminary survey of Chinese physicists schooled in America during the first half of the twentieth century.

The first Chinese physicist to graduate from an American college was most likely Yuanli Hsia (夏元瑮, 1883–1944), one of a few in the first generation of Chinese physicists. Sponsored by the Guangdong Provincial Government, Hsia came to study at Yale University. Upon his graduation in 1907, Hsia went on to the University of Berlin where he studied with Max Planck and Heinrich Rubens before his return to China in 1912. He then served six years at Peking University as dean of the School of Sciences. Remarkably, Hsia did not accept Einstein’s theory of relativity before 1919 when he returned to Berlin and met Einstein through Planck. Hsia’s early resistance to relativity seemed to be partially influenced by his Yale professor Henry Bumstead. After studying with Einstein during 1919–1921, however, Hsia became an active and enthusiastic relativist who delivered numerous speeches and published many articles in China, expounding and advocating Einstein’s theories. He produced in 1921 the first Chinese translation of Einstein’s only popular book, Relativity: The Special and General Theories.

The Necessity of a Historical Approach to Islamic Theology

Hassan Ansari (right) with Sabine Schmidtke

When Sabine Schmidtke and Hassan Ansari, an Iranian national, met more than a decade ago in Tehran, Ansari was a ­student of the traditional religious system in Qum and Tehran (the “Hawza”). Ansari had read Schmidtke’s doctoral thesis The Theology of al-ʿAllāma al-Ḥillī (d. 726/1325), which was translated into Persian and published in Iran in 1999. Schmidtke’s scholarship changed Ansari’s approach to Islamic sources and was one of the reasons why he became ­interested in historical studies on Islamic theology. “The historical approach is not only useful, it is necessary,” says Ansari. “I talk now as a Muslim scholar. We need to have this kind of historical studies to change our approach to our own intellectual and legal tradition and its holy texts.”

What makes Ansari a particularly exceptional scholar is his combination of Western and traditionalist Islamic training. In the “Hawza” in Qum and Tehran, he successfully completed the very highest level of study for the rank of Ayatollah, in the Shi‘i ­clerical system. He also has studied Islamic and Western philosophy and Islamic intellectual history at universities in Tehran, Beirut, and Paris. “Hassan’s command of the sources is extremely wide-­ranging,” says Schmidtke, “and he combines this with the very best ­historical-critical approach to the subjects and texts he is dealing with. He is an intimate connoisseur of manuscripts, Arabic and Persian, and the spectrum he covers is immense.”

How Do You Say "Bastard" in Medieval Latin?

By Sara McDougall 

William of Normandy

The language of illegitimate birth reveals a rich, complex vocabulary.

Early this December, newspaper headlines made the sensational claim that recent DNA evidence had called into question the legitimacy of the British monarchy: scientists had identified what is known as a false-paternity event. Genetic analysis of the remains of King Richard III of England and his modern-day descendants indicated the possibility that Richard’s mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, or great-great-grandmother had a child with someone other than her husband and successfully passed that child off as her husband’s son and heir, thus corrupting the royal patriline with less-than-royal blood. 

If a scholar of medieval law can be permitted to reassure a reigning monarch and her family, I would like to suggest that their dynastic claim to the throne remains safe. Medieval England by the time of Richard III had developed strict rules against allowing illegitimate children to inherit from their fathers, particularly royal or noble titles, but English law also maintained quite a generous presumption of paternity.

As long as it was remotely possible that the mother’s husband could have conceived the child she presented as his, that child’s right as heir could not be challenged.

That does not mean that illegitimacy raised no problems in the Middle Ages. It most certainly did. But the various ideas of illegitimate birth held by people in the Middle Ages were not necessarily the sorts of problems that we think of today. This year, I have the privilege of investigating the history of ideas of illegitimate birth, and the exclusion of bastards from royal succession, in the former institution of the great scholar of kingship Ernst Kantorowicz, and in the company of brilliant friends and colleagues who have repeatedly challenged and inspired me since my arrival in September.

As I am finding, analysis of the language of illegitimate birth reveals a rich, complex vocabulary used to indicate something less than fully legitimate birth. Terminology included both new and old words, plucked from ancient sources or transliterated from medieval vernacular languages. We find this terminology in the widest range of medieval sources, used to describe contemporaries, ancestors, and biblical and even mythological figures. Definitions vary over time and space, but also depending on the context, the kind of source, and, of course, authorial intentions.

Islamic Law and Private International Law: The Case of International Child Abduction

by Anver M. Emon 

A scene from Not Without My Daughter, in which the mother plots to smuggle her daughter out of Iran. Muslim-majority countries, with few exceptions, have consistently refused to ratify the international Abduction Convention of the Hague Conference, which would require them to violate their understanding of Islamic legal requirements on child custody.

How can private international law reconcile differences between not only two parties, but two legal systems?

In the 1991 film Not Without My Daughter, Sally Field plays an American woman who has a daughter with her Iranian-born husband. When the family visits Iran, Field’s character learns that the husband plans to stay in Iran with their daughter. To escape Iran with her daughter, Field’s character must dupe her increasingly abusive husband, and hire a smuggler to help her and her daughter escape to Turkey. In the backdrop of the dramatic escape is an Iranian legal system premised on national laws of citizenship and Islamic legal doctrines on child custody and guard­ianship. That legal background informs a broad research question I am exploring while in residence at the Institute for Advanced Study concerning the relationship between Islamic law and international law. The issue of international child abduction offers a useful case study to put the stakes of this question into stark relief. 

International child abduction is a particular phenomenon that implicitly reflects the complex implications of a globalized economic environment. Generally, this form of ab­duc­­tion occurs in the context of marital breakdown, where one parent has dual nationality. For the sake of illustration, suppose the following example. Joseph and Maria meet in college and fall in love. Joseph is originally from Pakistan, but has dual citizenship. Maria was born and raised in New Hampshire, and now lives there with Joseph and their two children. After a few years, Joseph and Maria’s marriage begins to fall apart and they divorce. A court grants Maria full custody of their two children, while awarding Joseph visitation rights. Joseph is particularly upset about the custodial arrangement. One day, when the children are visiting him, Joseph goes to the airport where he and the children board an airplane to Pakistan, leaving Maria behind. Distraught, Maria contacts a lawyer to find out her legal options and how to get her children back.