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VIRTUAL - Ten fingers and ten toes: disability and infanticide in ancient Greece

October 28, 2021 @ 6:00 pm MST Arizona Time

This is an online event.

Lecturer: Debby Sneed

One of the most shocking “facts” about ancient Greece that people tend to remember is that the ancient Spartans killed infants who were born with any kind of physical impairment or deformity. This story is repeated in textbooks, in newspapers and magazines, online, and in classrooms; it even shows up in popular contexts like memes. What, though, is the evidence for the practice? In this talk, I confront the widespread assumption that disability, in any broad sense, constituted valid grounds for infanticide in ancient Greece. By looking at the literary, archaeological, and bioarchaeological evidence we have of people responding to or interacting with infants who were born with congenital impairments like cleft palate, clubfoot, and underdeveloped limbs, we can see that infanticide was not the typical or expected response to infants born with congenital impairments in ancient Greece–not even in Sparta. With this, we can begin to think about why such stories have been so persistent in the modern imagination.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

Did the Spartans throw babies down mountains?Bad Ancient (31 August 2020)

Disability in Ancient Greece with Dr. Debby Sneed,” Peopling the Past (16 September 2020)

Martha L. Rose, The Staff of Oedipus: Transforming Disability in Ancient Greece (University of Michigan Press, 2003).

Young Lecture

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October 28, 2021
6:00 pm MST
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Nancy Serwint


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