Nemo at the oars : rowing in the ancient Mediterranean, from Homer to Virgil

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2021-05
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en
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Abstract
This thesis looks at rowing in the ancient Mediterranean World, specifically how the emergence of a special class of dedicated rowers in the 5th century intersects with a rise in the personification of boats in the art and literature of the time. While scholarly work has been focused primarily on the men who moved the boats, my research shows that it was instead the boats that were emphasized, and even humanized, in poetry, drama, and iconography. I begin with the Archaic period, specifically with Homeric poetry, and show how the epics portray boats and rowers as vital, even though the battles all take place on land. Then, I move to the Classical period, the core of the thesis, where we see that due to the increased strategic importance of the navy, pottery and plays are packed with images of rowing. However, while scholarship has long emphasized the role of rowers in this period, I will show that interestingly it was the boat which captured the imagination of the poets and artists of the time. The Hellenistic world and Rome round out this thesis, capping off my exploration of rowing and its depictions, offering some conclusions on how boats were seen during these time periods and how authors reached back to when boats captured the cultural imagination.
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