In and Out: Food, the Body, and Social Hierarchies in Roman Household
Green, F. Mira
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Providing a distinct window into the social and political developments of the early Principate, my dissertation takes up various lived experiences in domestic settings to probe Roman notions of embodiment. It offers a close study of Roman attitudes towards the digesting body and the domestic practices associated with its needs. My research reveals how numerous activities related to basic somatic functions became the markers of a person's place in Roman society. The house is the primary locus of my dissertation because this dynamic environment both enabled the continual (re)enactment of social hierarchies grounded in attitudes about nutritional and excretory needs and permitted temporary threats or resistances to common practices. My work makes two interlinked arguments. First, an underlying acceptance of hierarchical social relationships colored Roman authors' thoughts about the proper functioning of and practices associated with digestion. Second, these assumptions influenced not only the design of domestic technologies and locations assigned to preparing, eating, and excreting food, but also the daily orchestration of human activity within Roman homes. After an introduction that relays the methodologies employed throughout the work, I begin with an exploration of elite imaginings of the alimentary canal and its reflection of various writers' contemporary socio-political values. The next chapter focuses on Latin authors' attempts to categorize status, belonging, and deviance through dietary habits. Following this, I explore the tension between elite writers' demonstrable ignorance of the skills and practices associated with cooking, yet their obvious attempt to appropriate culinary knowledge as an expression of mastery and self-reliance through the inclusion of recipes and remedies in their works. Next, I examine the material evidence for food preparation, consumption, and elimination within domestic spaces through the theoretical lens of actor-network-theory and object/human dependencies. In the last chapter, I take up the kinetic organization of household routines involving somatic function as a daily performance of mastery on the one hand and enslavement on the other. Final thoughts point to future research that explores the power popular tastes and practices had on shaping elite attitudes to the body during the early Principate.
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