Sarcophagus of Marcus Claudianus (330–335 CE).
Depicting Jesus raising Lazarus from the tomb, and other biblical scenes.

Coming Back to Life:
Performance, Memory, and Cognition in the Ancient Mediterranean

An International Research Colloquium held at
McGill University and Concordia University
8–11 May 2014

About the Colloquium:

The lines between death and life were neither fixed nor finite to the peoples of the ancient Mediterranean. For most, death was a passageway into a new and uncertain existence. The dead were not so much extinguished as understood to be elsewhere, and many asserted the potential of the deceased’s ongoing agency among the living. Even for those more sceptical of an afterlife, notions of coming back to life provided a framework in which to conceptualise social, cultural, religious, and even political structures.

How might the dead come back to life? In what ways, and through what means, can the dead continue to exercise agency among the living? What does it mean for that which is past—an individual or institution—to linger in the present? This four-day research colloquium sought to develop a greater understanding of how answers to questions like these informed the lives and practices of the peoples of the ancient Mediterranean.

Our research efforts were oriented around the fixed yet interrelated categories of performance, memory, and cognition. Antique ideas of coming back to life correlate with these categories in various ways—through funerary rites and incantations, memorial sites and civic festivals, narratives and afterlife ideals. Accordingly, antique ideas of coming back to life point toward a matrix in which both the living and the dead have certain performative, mnemonic, and/or cognitive abilities that, in various ways, enable revivification. With these categories in view, this colloquium explored how antique communities configured, tested, and actualised the boundaries between mortality and immortality.

Ellen B. Aitken, McGill University
Frederick S. Tappenden, McGill University
Carly Daniel-Hughes, Concordia University

With collaboration from
Amy Buckland, McGill University Library

Colloquium Keynote

Sarah Iles Johnston (Ohio State University)
Many (Un)Happy Returns: Ancient Greek Concepts of a Return from Death and their Later Counterparts