Body and Salvation: Transformations of the Uses of the Body
In late antiquity and the Byzantine Middle Ages, we find particular forms of the use of one’s own body. The extreme case, to be sure, was the partial or total annihilation of the body through martyrdom. Less extreme but more common were the ascetics of late antiquity and the Middle Ages, who impaired their physical well-being in a variety of ways, abstaining from food, drink, and sleep for as long as possible, stooping for hours to exhort themselves to humility, bowing up to a thousand times a day, dressing in rags, or walking around entirely naked. These and similar practices and techniques of the use of the body are the focus of interest in the project “Body and Salvation.” Drawing on literary sources as well as archaeological materials, the project will examine two major processes of transformation: that of pagan-ancient uses of the body in pre- and post-Constantinian Christianity, and that of late-ancient practices in the middle Byzantine era. Questions to be considered include the following: Which practices and techniques of the use of the body are there, and according to which typologies can they be classified? How do such forms of behaviour attract or repel potential followers in different ancient social contexts? Which transformations, if any, do pagan practices and techniques undergo? To what extent can the phenomenon under consideration help to illuminate mechanisms of the process of transformation from pagan into Christian antiquity and into the early Middle Ages in general? Our goals include the publication of a corpus of relevant sources in Greek and Latin with German translations, as well as a discussion of the results of our research during an interdisciplinary conference on “Body and Salvation.” These results, finally, will also be published in a monograph.