Comparative Global Antiquity

  • August 2-4, 2019
  • Yale-NUS, Singapore

Image credit: Xu Bing, “Book from the Sky” (1991)

In this gathering, we’ll be thinking about three conceptual and methodological keywords: “comparative,” “global,” and “antiquity.” The disciplines of comparative literature, linguistics, history, politics, religion (which is different from comparative theology) are long established fields. Almost all written cultures of the world have a period that they designate “antiquity,” along with a canon of received or discovered texts that are called “classics.” (Or do they?)Traditional scholarship largely studies the various national and historical languages within circumscribed disciplinary boundaries. In recent decades, however, particularly in the field of classical reception, scholars have begun to scholars have begun to integrate comparative approaches in the construction of antiquity and the understanding of “classics” or the “classical.”

We are foregrounding comparison as an activity, methodology, mode of thinking, a way of dealing with differences and similarities in the ancient world. Indeed, our terminology of “classics” or “ancient” or “antique” already presupposes a dialectical opposing term, whether it be “medieval,” “modern,” “vernacular,” or even “baroque” or “romantic” (and these are period styles from European literary history. Other fields will have their own). For example, does the use of “classical” in itself denote the kind of value judgement about certain periods of the past that is more overt in the term “ancient”? In what way does global comparisons elide or ignore those traditions that are primary oral or non-textual? What are the promises and perils of a global study of antiquity?

In short, what is the common denominator, or commensurability of comparison? The term commensurable has its historical roots in mathematics. For the ancient Greeks, who had not recognized irrational numbers, the dimensions of certain mathematical objects were found to lack a common unit of measurement. Are there artifacts and concepts and phenomena from antiquity that are simply incommensurable to us, to each other, and therefore irrational, or beyond our categories of cognition? How do we account for diversity or even universals?

This workshop builds on the momentum of several projects: at Princeton, the Postclassicisms Network, headed by Brooke Holmes, and the Comparative Antiquity Initiative, headed by Martin Kern; and the global study of ancient worlds at Yale-NUS (Andrew Hui and Mira Seo). Taken together, we aim to transform the research and study of comparative antiquity, broadly conceived at Yale-NUS and Princeton, in hopes of providing a model for similar changes elsewhere.



Friday, August 2

Jeannette Ickovics, Yale-NUS Dean of Faculty

Introductory Remarks

Gavin Flood (Yale-NUS and Oxford): “Comparative Global Antiquity: A Reflection on Method”
Response: Marina Rustow (Princeton)

Coffee Break

Matt Walker (Yale-NUS): “Why Study Comparative Global Ancient Philosophy?: A Sketch of One View”
Response: Tom Davies (Princeton)


Jinyu Liu (DePauw and Shanghai Normal University): “Translation as a Comparative Project and a Mechanism to Engineer Comparison”
Response: Yao Zhuming (Princeton)

Lara Harb (Princeton): “Comparative Antiquities: The Case of Classical Arabic Literature”
Response: Katie Cruz (Princeton)

Coffee Break

Johannes Haubold (Princeton): “‘A Bastardized and Unserious Inheritance'”
Response: Mira Seo (Yale-NUS)

Saturday, August 3

Dan-el Padilla Peralta (Princeton): “Epistemicide in the Service of Comparative Antiquities: Prospects?”
Response: Andrew Hui (Yale-NUS)

Lisa Raphals (UC Riverside): “Who Gets to Start? Canons and Categories”
Response: Brooke Holmes (Princeton)

Coffee Break

Federico Marcon (Princeton): “To Compare or Not to Compare: Remarks on the Possibility and Meaning of Comparative History Today”
Response: Liu Chen (NUS)


William Franke (Vanderbilt): “On Speculative Philology”
Response: Martin Kern (Princeton)

Plenary Discussion (Martin Kern and Mira Seo, Chairs)

Sunday, August 4

Pedagogy and Practice Roundtable (Mira Seo, Chair)
Sherry Lee (Princeton)
Vincent Lee (Yale-NUS)
Nicholas Lua (Yale-NUS)
Thu Truong (Yale-NUS)

Concluding Discussion (Brooke Holmes and Andrew Hui, Chairs)