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Book by Monmouth College’s Hagen to focus on nature and environment in ancient world

by Barry McNamara

Monmouth, Ill. (07/02/2020) — A Monmouth College professor who is blazing a trail in her teaching will now write a book to help others follow in her path.

Classics professor Adrienne Hagen recently signed a contract with Routledge for a book titled Nature and the Environment in Greek and Roman Thought: A Sourcebook. It is scheduled to be published in 2023.

Hagen, who joined the faculty in 2018, teaches a course on “Nature and the Environment in Antiquity.” She’s had to assemble all of the primary resources for the class, including some developed while writing her doctoral dissertation at the University of Wisconsin.

“More and more people are teaching these classes, and I felt there was a need for a book like this,” she said.

Hagen said many of the available materials tend to focus on physical practices, such as deforestation and mining. She’s sought to explore more about “what people were thinking about nature and the environment and how connected people felt with the natural world.”

“There was more of a sense of interconnectedness with nature with the early literature,” said Hagen, whose book will include sources from roughly 700 B.C. to 500 A.D. “That seems to change over time, with more of an idea that nature is ‘out there’ – that it’s something you go out into.”

‘Many voices’

Hagen said many of the sources that have been preserved are from a specific viewpoint, but she hopes to provide a more well-rounded collection.

“I’m conscious of representing as many voices as I can,” she said. “The material that tends to be available is from ‘elite voices’ – the literature of the aristocrats that’s been preserved – but there are other sources available, including what slaves and people of other classes put on their gravestones, and there are documents on papyrus with a larger range of viewpoints, such as personal letters and court documents.”

Another voice she’s trying to include, which she said is “tricky” because of limited sources, is the viewpoint of women.

“An idea that I’ve not fully explored is that women may see themselves as being more integrated with nature,” she said.

Defining nature

Hagen said the English word “nature” doesn’t have an equivalent in Greek or Latin.

“Their word ‘natura,’ which sometimes appears with a capital ‘n,’ comes from the root ‘nat’ – that which is born – so nature to them meant what is alive out there, what grows,” she said.

An important area that contributed to ancient viewpoints about nature and the environment was religion.

“Environmental concerns weren’t as prevalent a thought as we have now, but there were people who expressed concerns with the way people interacted with nature, primarily with ties between nature and their system of religion,” she said. “Lands had protection of the gods, and to violate that was to bring down divine wrath, such as building a causeway to an island and turning it into a peninsula. There were sacred forests you shouldn’t cut down and sacred animals you shouldn’t kill.”

One of the voices that will be available in the sourcebook is that of first-century Roman author and naturalist Pliny the Elder.

“Pliny the Elder believed certain mining operations were expressions of human greed,” said Hagen. “He likened the earth to a female body, believing that mining was a violation of that body and that the miners were not conscious of the harm they were causing. The earth gives us trees and plants that nourish us and heal us when we’re sick, and we should focus on those things that are given and available and not violate the earth for jewels we can wear on our fingers and in our ears.”

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