How vividly did ancient Romans understand the overlapping and entangled relationship between humans and the raw materials of civilisation?
By the end of the second century BCE, Rome was experiencing a convergence of political and economic forces that created new intellectual domains for expression in Latin. This paper argues that this intellectual landscape was part of a “vibrant” (Bennett 2010) turn in Roman thinking. By this I mean a turn towards re-appraising the potential for non-sentient environmental agency, alongside a concern to understand existence as an “expressive unity” (Ingold 2011:413) within which natural material and human agenda might coalesce.
Trends in contemporary scholarship support this investigation, and research in the fields of neuroscience, psychology, and cognition, reopen the potential (familiar in antiquity) to understand experienced reality as a product of multiple ongoing transformations or translations affecting all matter at a microscopic or even invisible level. The ancient examples that I will discuss, articulated in literary and material ‘texts’, evidence how we can re-consider and review raw materials as collaborators in the production of civilisation as a human/non-human endeavour.