The project has, as part of a more encompassing interest in how experts create and manage their respective microcosms, investigated the forms of personal and of non-personal constructions of authority in ancient Greek knowledge traditions with a focus on theoretical knowledge. Proceeding from sociological and theoretical work on authority, Markus Asper has channeled his input into three conferences and the ensuing proceedings as well as 15 papers devoted to aspects of the overarching cluster of questions.


The project started out with assumptions that were laid down in a paper on textual authority, co-authored by members of research group (B-5) Personal Authorization of Knowledge (Asper e.a. 2016) that was meant to corroborate the initial haunch about textual attempts striving for a mediated form of personal authority, ranging from mimetic constructions to non-personal constructions of ‚objectivity‘. The paper describes constructions of epistemic authority in texts as located on a spectrum between the personal and the non-personal, in ancient Mediterranean and Chinese traditions, both epistemic and religious.

The conference “Terminologien in antiker Wissenschaft” (May 2014) was devoted to the topic of terminology, its invention and its use. Eleven speakers contributed, fields ranging from ancient Mesopotamian medicine over Chinese scientific vocabulary to modern law and physics. Markus Asper’s contribution concentrated on rhetorical-strategic functions and uses of terminology in ancient and modern sciences, that is, their contribution to constructing an experts’ microcosm. His approach proceeded from the impression that it is, at least in the area of publications and of communication through published writing, mainly terminology that constitutes borders between disciplines. He thus analyzed terminology’s role in the process of intra-disciplinary competition (mainly, by looking at Galen’s On Medical Names). Today, the establishment of new terminology is itself an interesting area of study, because it reveals competition and thus power-struggles in each field. A further area of interest was what Asper called ‘terminology’s hidden agendas’. Examples from mathematics and linguistics led to observations of playful and sometimes even openly ironic terminologies.

The conference “Autorität in antiker Religion und Wissenschaft”, co-organized with Almut Renger, November 2014, attempted to arrive at a unified account of how actors represent authority in the spheres of political power, religion and science. The conference did not manage, however, to reach a consensus regarding those modes of representation; rather, it seemed that representation of real power in ritual or politics worked on a different level than epistemic authority. Even regarding the latter, there remains much groundwork to be done, beyond the two basic ways of mimetic and epistemic ways to project authority.

The  conference “Case history and Anecdote in Ancient Greece and Imperial China” (November 2015) examined experts’ narratives in a cross-cultural perspective. Twelve papers examined experts’ narratives, its forms and functions, ranging from Mesopotamian compendia to contemporary medical case-histories. Story-telling or, more exactly, the construction of narrative emerged as a tool of knowledge management in several ancient and modern cultures and in fields as diverse as mathematics, forensic oratory, and modern medical research. While a comprehensive account of epistemic narrative remains to be written, this conference provided a great starting-point for further discussion.

Unrelated to these conferences, Markus Asper explored the ramifications of knowledge, authority and text in fifteen published or forthcoming papers of which the following can be singled out: Perhaps most basically, the notion of ‘explicit knowledge’ in Greek literature needed some discussion and specification (2016). Markus Asper traced the notion of ‘impersonal authority’ through all of Greek extant mathematics in his contributions to the new Handbuch der griechischen Literatur der Antike, Bd. 2 (2014) and Bd. 3 (2020). While the ways in which scientific writers expose their knowledge depend upon many factors, Markus Asper explored what as ‚systematic‘ exposition actually means, and presented a position between rhetorical and epistemic considerations (Trends in Classics 2016, 2016). Ancient Greek (and Roman) mechanics, that is knowledge concerned with the construction of machines, provides great illustrations of the problems writers face when they aim at imparting knowledge about application (2017). Finally, Markus Asper tried to come to terms with two more abstract problems: first, how authoritative texts work; second, with the ways, knowledeg structures impact and are impacted by institutions.

While the project has not led towards a unified account of epistemic authority, it has certainly enabled the participants to dig for authority in a lot of different and, sometimes, unexpected places. While these results remain to be viewed alongside the projects of Saskia Lingthaler (on diagrams) and Marco Blumhofer (on doxographical literature), Markus Asper contributed to the study of ancient Greek knowledge texts in significant ways.