Department of Classics

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Esther Eidinow

Assistant Professor in Ancient Greek History, Faculty of Arts



BA (Hons) Literae Humaniores - Oxford. 1992.

DPhil in Ancient History - Oxford. 2003. Thesis title: Oracles, Curses and Risk Among the Ancient Greeks.

In between my degrees, and before becoming a full-time academic, I worked as an editor and writer, specializing in scenarios and strategy for business, governments and international organizations.

I joined the Classics Dept at Nottingham University in 2012.

Expertise Summary

My broad area of expertise is ancient Greek culture, with specific focus on ancient Greek religion and magic. I am interested in how different cultures respond to uncertainty, and take an interdisciplinary approach in my research, using anthropological and cognitive theories.

Teaching Summary

I teach on a range of UG and PG modules, and also lead:

- Level 2/3: Intermediate Greek Language

- Level 3: Special Subject, Ancient Greek Religion and Magic

- Level 4: Myth, Religion and Society

Research Summary

My research explores how ordinary ancient Greek men and women experienced and responded to future uncertainty, from a variety of different angles, but focusing in particular on their encounters with… read more

Selected Publications

Current Research

My research explores how ordinary ancient Greek men and women experienced and responded to future uncertainty, from a variety of different angles, but focusing in particular on their encounters with the supernatural.

Narratives of Risk: Envy, Poison and Death, under contract with OUP, explores a series of trials that took place in fourth-century BCE Athens: the defendants were all women, the charges against them included asebeia ('impiety'), and working with pharmaka ('spells' or 'drugs'). Looking to models from other times and places, while setting these events in their historical context, this project explores how certain social dynamics, including phthonos or 'envy', coupled with gossip, helped to shape (and, in turn, were shaped by) perceptions of the causes of misfortune, focusing concern on the threats posed by other people. An initial version of this project can be found in 'Patterns of Persecution: 'Witchcraft' Trials in Classical Athens', Past and Present 208 (2010).

Network models of Ancient Greek Religion: I am interested in developing a heuristic model of ancient Greek religion, comprising overlapping and interacting social, cultural and especially cognitive networks, facilitating the analysis of how different relations and contexts shaped ritual and other expressions of belief, and vice versa. An initial outline of this approach was published in 'Networks and Narratives: A Model for Ancient Religion', Kernos 24 (2011). This also overlaps with my interest in cognitive approaches to ancient religion (see further 'Future Research').

Oxford Handbook of Greek Religion, under contract with OUP: this collection, aimed at both students and teachers of ancient Greek religions, will highlight crucial developments in the study of ancient Greek religion, with a special focus on problems and debates, drawing attention to the dynamic nature of religious activities and beliefs in response to different contexts and influences. I am joint editor with Julia Kindt, Sydney University.

Theologies of ancient Greek religion: together with Robin Osborne (University of Cambridge) and Julia Kindt (Sydney University), an exploration of the relevance and potential meaning of 'theology' for the study of ancient Greek religion; a colloquium was held in Cambridge in July 2012.

I also continue to work occasionally on questions concerned with modern approaches to uncertainty, and have published in this area as well, most recently, with Professor Rafael Ramirez (Said Business School, Oxford University), '"The Eye of the Soul": Phronesis and the Aesthetics of Organizing', Organizational Aesthetics 1: 1 (2012).

Past Research

Oracles, Curses, and Risk Among the Ancient Greeks (2007, OUP), based on my doctorate, analyses oracle tablets from the NW Greek sanctuary (temple complex) of Dodona, and curse tablets from across the Greek world, in terms of risk. Defining risk as socially constructed (drawing on the work of the anthropologist Mary Douglas) my research examined the areas of life in which fear of the future prompted ritual communication with the gods and explored the reasons why. The book will be released in paperback in November 2012.

Luck, Fate and Fortune Among the Ancient Greeks (I.B. Tauris, 2011), concerns the supernatural powers that were thought to be involved in the organisation of the unknown future. Written for a series that explores the legacies of the past, and intended for a non-specialist audience, this book also looks for parallels between ancient and modern understandings of fate, luck and fortune in our daily lives. Usually these concepts are dismissed as evidence for a superstitious mindset. Instead, my book uses cognitive anthropological theories to explore the ways in which both ancient and modern audiences assemble and deploy shared ideas or cultural models.

Future Research

Religious Belief and Ritual Practice: Ancient and Modern Approaches: a joint project with Professor Tom Harrison, University of Liverpool, to develop a network of scholars engaged both in cognitive studies of religion and in the history and archaeology of ancient belief and ritual practice. It aims both to test and enhance questions raised by different cognitive approaches to religion, while exposing scholarship on ancient religious belief and practice to new cognitive approaches. The project has received funding from the British Academy (July 2012).

Department of Classics

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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