2024 Symposium Vesuvianum


Call for Papers: Symposium Vesuvianum, Oct. 10-13, 2024. Villa Vergiliana, Bacoli (NA), Italy

Labor Invisus: The World of Work

Organizers: Nicole G. Brown (Williams College), John Oksanish (Wake Forest

The Vergilian Society invites proposals for papers for the 2024 Symposium Vesuvianum
at the Villa Vergiliana in Cuma, Italy.

Please send abstracts to Prof. Nicole G. Brown (ngb2@williams.edu) and Prof. John Oksanish (oksanijm@wfu.edu) by March 1.

Confirmed participants include Bettina Bergmann (Mount Holyoke College), Serafina Cuomo (Durham University), Tom Geue (Australian National University), Joe Howley (Columbia University), Katherine Huemoeller (University of British Columbia,
Vancouver), Nathaniel Jones (Washington University in St. Louis), Barbara Kellum
(Smith College), Sarah Levin-Richardson (University of Washington), Bettina
Reitz-Joosse (University of Groningen), Lauren Petersen (University of Delaware),
Andrew Riggsby (University of Texas, Austin), and Geoffrey Sumi (Mount Holyoke

The Classical literary tradition treated work with ambivalence. Whereas the Augustan poets and their predecessors were keen to valorize their poetic labor as a paradoxical species of otium, other forms of toil and exertion – particularly those mediated by the human body – were regularly elided or treated with contempt. This symposium seeks both to make visible and contextualize all forms of work, whether characterized as labor, officium, or opera, across all discourses and genres. What is the role of work in the Roman literary imagination, and whom does it benefit either in the doing or in its describing (cui bono)? We hope to give special, though hardly exclusive, attention to the ways in which work that was likely to be reviled or rendered invisible by the elite (e.g., the labor of the enslaved) remains perceptible, or even co-opted, in works by the same. We are furthermore interested in the sources (literary or material) upon which writers drew when thinking about work, and what is lost or gained in their translation from one domain to another.

To take but one example, ancient authors within the sphere of so-called ‘technical writing’ were especially likely to deal with work and its products, and their literary projects were cast as worthwhile contributions to, and competitors with, other, more prestigious areas of intellectual inquiry and creative expression. The traffic of influence among writers, whether engaged in literatures of knowledge or epic poetry, hardly ran in one direction. Columella’s decision to write the tenth book of his De Agricultura on gardens in hexameters to remedy Vergil’s omission in the Georgics is a prime example, as is, conversely, the latter’s reliance on Varro’s De Re Rustica (to say nothing of the Carthaginian Mago). Vergil’s contemporary Vitruvius, moreover, saw his literary project and indeed the work of architecture itself as analogous to building the empire. In reappraising the literary sphere around the topic of work–a topic that necessarily demands consideration of the latter’s lived realities–we eagerly invite papers that address, inter alia:

● the conceits and assumptions regarding intellectual work vis-à-vis other forms of
● the literary representation of specific tasks/crafts
● the rhetoric of expertise and constructions of authority within the domain of work
● the gender of work
● labor of enslaved and migrant workers
● the terminology of work
● ‘taskscapes’ versus ‘landscapes’
● affective and affected labor
● confabulation and reparative readings as a means of recovering invisible labor
● verbal and visual vocabularies of ritual practitioners in their contexts
● the social and historical backdrop of sex workers and sexual exploitation on
representations of sex and gender

The symposium will include three and a half days of papers and discussion. Papers will
be 20 minutes long with time for discussion. The schedule will also include visits to
selected sites nearby. Meals and housing will be provided by the Villa Vergiliana. There
will be a modest fee to cover registration, room, and board, dependent on outside
funding. Participants should plan their arrivals for Wednesday, October 9, and
departures on Sunday, October 13, 2024.