As “breaking news” banners stream across ubiquitous televisions or chirp on our phones throughout each day, no human interaction, accomplishment, or idea seems to remain hidden for very long. Lately these revelations are like a shower of potsherds and tesserae, tempting us not only to imagine these fragments in their original wholeness, but also to contemplate the underlying structures of the society that produced them, now exposed to view as never before. The more we perceive the outlines of these sometimes beautiful, often ugly structures revealed within the soil of our past, the less we may accept as natural the assumptions and values that they support. Positive change requires nothing less.
In this vein, the articles in Issue 1.3 explore the consequences of bringing things hidden to light, archaeologically, methodologically, and practically. For example, Edward Schoolman's article, “Luxury, Vice, and Health: Changing Perspectives on Baths and Bathing in Late Antique Antioch,” uses archaeological and hagiographical evidence to contextualize homilies on the evils of late ancient Antioch's bathing culture. John Chrysostom's sermons, apprehended literally, conjure a debauched and extravagant populace; read across the grain, they present the bishop as a scold. Situating these sermons within the testimony of the material remains and the lives of saints, however, demonstrates how the force of their rhetoric, together with the cultural significance of bathing, worked dynamically to alter the role of the bath within a Christian society.
In “Autohagiobiography: Gregory of Nazianzus among His Biographers,” Bradley Storin deploys a case study to reveal the implicit bias within many accounts of the saint's life—even the most recent. Although even casual readers of Plutarch know that an ancient bios, vita, or Life as a genre holds up its subject as a model, we are less methodologically prepared to engage critically with autobiographical work. Demonstrating how Gregory's autobiographical poem functions as an apologia pro vita sua, Storin cautions that the authors of such works are no less rhetorically motivated than biographers. Ironically, Storin finds, when “saints” pen their own lives, even modern scholars can be swayed to treat their accounts as models to follow.
Mark DelCogliano's article, “The Date of the Council of Serdica: A Reassessment of the Case for 343,” engages most directly with the process of revealing the underlying structure of events by sifting carefully through a torrent of seemingly mismatched sherds. The date is a critical benchmark, as many late ancient Christian authors measured the time elapsed since that turning point. DelCogliano's essay is a careful chronological study of arguments for the date of the Council, and as such it joins the long tradition of such scholarship on Christian affairs beginning with Julius Africanus. In applying data from Stanford's ORBIS project in reckoning the council's date more precisely, however, DelCogliano brings chronological scholarship firmly into the 21st century.
Finally, I am delighted to introduce our first in an occasional series of exhibit reviews, thanks to the capable efforts of Ann Marie Yasin, our exhibits editor. Every day, hundreds of tourists and ordinary Romans walk by Santa Maria Antiqua, the late antique church in the Roman Forum. Just steps away, the frescoed church interior has remained elusively out of view—that is, until the exhibits of 2016 and 2017. Annie Montgomery Labatt's review of this year's exhibit and the catalog, together with her photos of the experience, allows the readers of SLA to gaze upon this remarkable secret interior. Even more significantly, however, Labatt's essay, in reflecting upon how the exhibit's curators understood time and culture, challenges us to acknowledge the layers of time marked by the church's painting.
By definition, peer-edited scholarship brings new ideas to light. At SLA, however, we seek to push further in publishing scholarship that either reveals the underlying contours of late ancient life or highlights our research methodology. Our reasons for this commitment are two-fold: first, such scholarship is more accessible to a broader readership studying the period of late antiquity more globally. Second, such scholarship also exposes and contextualizes the structures that gave rise to values and assumptions that continue to haunt the present.