Thursday, 23 May 2019

Katherin Papadopoulos: Disordered memory: remembering earthquakes in the late antique Eastern Mediterranean

Earthquakes rupture space and time; they destroy topographies and memories of how things were; earthquakes disrupt the natural order. Inasmuch as earthquakes were often viewed in antiquity as signs from the gods, they could also reshape present views of the past and revise past expectations of the future. This in turn could raise greater questions about, and judgments of divine providence and human frailty, thus also challenging the moral order. While ancient earthquakes have been investigated in scholarly literature, little work has been done on how earthquakes are remembered and the dynamic between memory and (dis)order. In this paper, I use insights from disaster and memory studies to examine the content, form and purpose of Christians' earthquake commemorations in the late antique eastern Mediterranean and the factors which shape them. I draw from selected examples of immediate post disaster memorialisation and longer term commemoration in the form of rituals, symbols, narratives and monuments chiefly from Syria, Palestine and Asia Minor, which are among the most seismically active regions in the world. I ask in particular what these memory practices reveal about changed understandings of space and time, of place and past, of the natural and moral order. I conclude with a brief look at earthquake commemorations in contemporary secular Australia—one of the most geologically stable regions in the world—and find some surprising similarities as well as expected differences.

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