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Claude-Emmanuelle Centlivres Challet (Lausanne): Infant nourishment, breastfeeding, sexual violence: can modern social and natural sciences fill Roman silences?

Associated with the Centre for the Study Knowledge in Culture and the Sexual Knowledge Unit

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Event details

Infant nourishment, breastfeeding, and male-female rape in Roman times are topics of analysis which have in common the fact that sources give general medical and legal information about, and present fictional narratives of, these events, but scarcely, if at all, report domestic, ordinary, real-life experiences of actual individuals. This paper proposes to examine how the use of modern anthropological, sociological, psychological, biological, and medical data can shed light on what the sources do not say, and if hypotheses can be offered to explain the dearth of information concerning actual cases. I will argue that the information gaps and the silences themselves are signs of tensions and ambivalence, symptomatic of a mindset stemming from their highly segregating and hierarchical social and cultural background, and that the lived reality of what we would today consider private, intimate acts can be retrieved with the help of diachronic comparison.”

The session aims to stimulate interdisciplinary discussion about the potential pitfalls and necessary safeguards of such an approach,and the engagement of colleagues with methodological questions such as: what successful attempts have there been to use comparison between past and present to elucidate historical materials? How can one negotiate the traps of anachronism or elision of difference? What kinds of rewards and challenges are there in using comparative modern data, and have strategies been developed for dealing with the challenges?


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