Concerning Violence: Professor Marcus Folch (Classics, Columbia University)

Dr. Marcus Folch
Tue March 5th 2024, 12:00 - 1:00pm
Pigott Hall (Bldg. 260), Rm. 260-216

"Why were St. Paul and Demosthenes Imprisoned? Athens, Canon, and the Invention of the Inmate"

Associate Professor of Classics Marcus Folch, Columbia University


This talk focuses on a small but well-known body of prison narratives from the 1st and 2nd centuries CE. Sometimes these accounts narrate relatively recent events; in other cases, the imprisonment upon which they comment occurred centuries earlier. Yet they share a few salient features. They tend to be elaborately and dramatically told, and they often are pivotal, that is, the acts of imprisonment they record have a propensity to occur in moments of political, cultural, or religious transformation, and imprisonment itself plays an essential role in effecting that transformation. Another common characteristic of these narratives is their dubious historical status; many, if not all, of them are apocryphal. Examining only two such narratives—the imprisonment of the Athenian orator Demosthenes and of St. Paul and Silas in Philippi—this talk argues that late prison narratives reveal something important about the conceptual frameworks within which prison was understood in antiquity. Moreover, they challenge the interpretive models within which prison history has been understood since the 19th century. Finally, these accounts also suggest that Athens of the 5th and 4th centuries BCE played an extremely significant role in the history of the prison; it produced a model of incarceration and of the prisoner that outlasted Athenian democracy itself. 

Please RSVP to join us on Tuesday, March 5 here.