Landscape, Cosmology and Cosmography

Shifting Landscapes of the Medieval World is underway! The first seminar of the series (on Wednesday 19th January 2022) addressed Landscape as Cosmology, Prof. Renaud Gagné (Faculty of Classics, Cambridge) focussing the discussion with his thought-provoking contribution, ‘Weaving the World: Altars and Cosmography in Greek Sanctuaries’. Reading the late antique world through sacrifical landscapes, he illustrated how new sacred worlds were repeatedly shaped with reference to established patterns, underpinned by a shared cultural understanding. Altars embodied this cosmic topography, facilitating mediation between the various levels of landscape. Close reading of two complimentary case studies illustrated this process visually and verbally, Epidauros, implicitly, on the one hand, and On the Mysteries of the Egyptians by Iamblichus, explicitly, on the other. Concern with the cosmic order which could only be reproduced by unerring sacrifice emerged as a dominant theme, as well as the totality of divinity reflected in local power. In weaving the world anew, contemporary reconfigurations enmeshed the local with the cosmos, presenting a landscape that was correct and complete.

Themes to emerge in discussion included how landscapes could be reconfigured to address audiences in the future, and the significance of stories in this regard. Reading a landscape through orchestration of ritual, as in the examples discussed, underlined its enduring nature, as well as its timeless quality. The link between concrete and metaphorical representation of landscape was also probed. Moving forward, the centrality of the land element of landscape will be explored, as prompted in a comment, encouraging us to ruminate on how the concept of landscape in all its manifestations is in discourse with concepts of place and space. These and other themes will be revisited in next month’s seminar (Wednesday 9th February 2022).

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