An Undergraduate Research Experience: Foreign Gods and Ancient Greek Identity

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Humanities Writ Large

Last summer (2011), as a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, I began research on my Classical Studies Senior Honors Thesis. My topic of choice is the incorporation of foreign gods into the Greek Pantheon and what such incorporation reveals about ancient Greek self-identity. My project focused on Egyptian influences on Greek art from the Middle Bronze Age and Early Archaic Period. Most of the artistic influences I found in the art I studied came from a religious context. This really got me wondering if perhaps more than just art, e.g. ideological influences, had crossed over between the cultures. This thought stuck with me as I began drafting proposals for a Senior Honors Thesis.

Naturally art would be one critical sphere to consider when studying if and how foreign gods or some semblance of them found their way into the Greek pantheon. Humanities Writ Large funded a six-day trip for me this past summer to visit the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Brooklyn Museum in New York. At these museums I cataloged the depictions of the ancient gods I am examining closely in my thesis, Aphrodite, Dionysos, and Cybele, and studied them to gauge how, if at all, depictions of these deities changed over time. This included their pictorial evolution both within Greek art and comparatively between Greek culture and other ancient cultures. Thanks to the Humanities Writ Large funding, I was able to examine this art first-hand, which is a crucial component not only of detailed examination but also of being able to think critically about the art. If a picture is worth a thousand words then the real thing is indescribable!

I would like to thank my department and Humanities Writ Large for this amazing opportunity and for helping my Senior Thesis come one step closer to realization.