The Senses in the Ancient Near East

The senses are our window on the world, the lens through which we come to know our environment. Most of us take for granted that we are looking out the same window as everyone else, but the way that each of us interprets and classifies the sensations we experience is mediated by our culture. Even the paradigm of five senses is arbitrary and comes to us not from modern science but from ancient Greek philosophy.

Drawing on evidence from textual and artistic sources, this project considers questions like: How did the people of the ancient Near East understand the way their senses functioned? What types of sensory phenomena are represented in the sources and why? And what are the methodological issues that the modern scholar confronts when investigating the senses in the ancient world?

This research brings the ancient Near East into dialogue with the evolving field of sensory studies, which prioritizes the human experience of sensation and invites scholars to move beyond the physiological study of the senses to an examination of their cultural meanings.

Distant Impressions: The Senses in the Ancient Near East

Edited by Ainsley Hawthorn and Anne-Caroline Rendu Loisel

Coming in 2019!

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Publications and Presentations


Dicks, A.A. 2012. Catching the Eye of the Gods: The Gaze in Mesopotamian Literature. Ph.D. diss. Yale University.


Hawthorn, A. and A.-C. Rendu Loisel. 2015. "Representing the Senses in the Ancient Near East: Between Text and Image." Workshop at the 61e Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Bern, Switzerland. June 25.

Invited Talks

Hawthorn, A. 2017. "The Shifting Gaze: Vision in the Neo-Assyrian Royal Inscriptions." Presented to the Research Training Group “Early Concepts of Man and Nature: Universal, Local, Borrowed,” Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Germany. February 2.

Hawthorn, A. 2014. "Vicious Vision: Anger, Envy, and the Evil Eye in Mesopotamia." Presented at the Institute for Assyriology and Hittitology and Distant Worlds: Graduate School for Ancient Studies, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Germany. July 14.

Hawthorn, A. 2014. "Seeing, Staring, Peering, Glaring: The Vocabulary of Vision in Sumerian and Akkadian." Presented at the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Studies, Institute for Ancient History, Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg, Germany. July 3.

Hawthorn, A. 2014. "The Eye of Death: Malevolent Gaze in Mesopotamia." Presented at the Institute for Near Eastern Studies, University of Vienna, Austria. June 24.

Conference Presentations

Hawthorn, A. 2013. "Divine Visions: Sight and Gaze in Mesopotamian Literature." Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, Baltimore, Maryland. November 23-26.

Hawthorn, A. 2013. "igi du8 vs. igi bar: Semantics, Subject-Specific Usage, and Theological Implications." Presented at the 59e Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Ghent, Belgium. July 15-19.

Campus Talks

Hawthorn, A. 2009. "Look Steadfastly Upon Me: The Gaze of the Gods in Mesopotamian Literature." Presented at the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Roundtable, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. March 26.