Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Debby Sneed

Affiliation: California State University, Long Beach

Debby Sneed is a Lecturer in the Department of Classics at California State University, Long Beach. She received her B.A. from the University of Wyoming, her M.A. from the University of Colorado, and her Ph.D. from the University of California at Los Angeles. Her research interests are disability in ancient Greece, identity and marginalization in ancient Greece, and the archaeology of ancient Greece.  Her article “The architecture of Access: Ramps at Ancient Greek healing sanctuaries” was published in 2020 (Antiquity vol. 94 No. 376), and forthcoming works are “Disability and infanticide in ancient Greece” (Hesperia, 2021), “Digging While Impaired: Promoting the Accessibility of Archaeology as a Discipline” (under review), and Not Another Other: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Disability and Accommodations in Ancient Greece (monograph in preparation).

Abstracts:


In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 legally mandated accommodations for people with disabilities in public and some private spaces. Though there is still much to be done, the ADA was a significant milestone in the modern disability rights movement. The rhetoric around this legislation encourages us to think that life must have been unbearably difficult for disabled people in the past, especially in the ancient period. After all, how could an ancient society have had the time, resources, creative ability, or even inclination to accommodate people whose bodies did not adhere to the norm? In this talk, I confront assumption of the universal plight of disabled people in the past by looking at how ancient Greek cities and societies made practical decisions to accommodate their disabled members. I argue that the ancient Greeks did not employ an ableist “norm” that dictated whom they thought worthy of inclusion; rather, they provided accommodations when and where they thought it was appropriate or necessary for their successful functioning. And yes, there was also a pension system for some people with disabilities in the ancient world! With this talk, we can begin to understand disability accommodations outside of a modern model of charity or as a legal requirement and, with it, recognize that not all societies or cultures situate disability in the same way.

Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

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

Debby Sneed, “The architecture of access: ramps at ancient Greek healing sanctuaries,” Antiquity 94 (2020).

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

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).

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