Event: Pizza Talk: "Disability and Age in Ancient Greece: A Case Study"

Date & Time

October 4, 2017 -
12:00pm to 1:00pm

Contact Information

Matthew Swanson


Fowler A222

Event Type

Pizza Talk

Event Details

Speaker: Debby Sneed, PhD Candidate, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA

In this talk, Debby will use literary and archaeological evidence to argue that ancient Greeks not
only tolerated the birth of deformed and disabled infants, but also expressed optimism about their futures and actively attempted to accommodate their needs. Modern studies tend to resolve this issue quickly, relying heavily on references by Plutarch, Aristotle, and Plato. These authors’ statements about the fate of deformed infants, however, bear no easy or straightforward relationship with the reality of the ancient world. If we situate these authors and their works within their appropriate contexts, we recognize that their presentations of infant exposure and infanticide are prescriptive, not descriptive. By expanding our analysis to the Hippocratic physicians, as well as to other works within the Aristotelian corpus, we find a wide range of evaluations of infants born with congenital deformities. What is more, the production of feeding bottles from the Late Bronze Age through the Roman period also demonstrates active efforts to accommodate infants (and sometimes children and adults) who were premature, weak, ill, or presented severe orofacial deformities such as cleft palate. Finally, an argument from absence: bioarchaeologists have produced no positive proof for the killing of deformed infants from any population in Greece. Taken together, the evidence demonstrates that the exposure of deformed and disabled infants was far from the rule in ancient Greece