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For the Puritan separatists of seventeenth-century New England, "godliness," as manifested by the body, was the sign of election, and the body, with its material demands and metaphorical significance, became the axis upon which all colonial activity and religious meaning turned. Drawing on literature, documents, and critical studies of embodiment as practiced in the New England colonies, Martha L. Finch launches a fascinating investigation into the scientific, theological, and cultural conceptions of corporeality at a pivotal moment in Anglo-Protestant history. Not only were settlers forced to interact bodily with native populations and other "new world" communities, they also fought starvation and illness; were whipped, branded, hanged, and murdered; sang, prayed, and preached; engaged in sexual relations; and were baptized according to their faith. All these activities shaped the colonists' understanding of their existence and the godly principles of their young society. Finch focuses specifically on Plymouth Colony and those who endeavored to make visible what they believed to be God's divine will. Quakers, Indians, and others challenged these beliefs, and the constant struggle to survive, build cohesive communities, and regulate behavior forced further adjustments. Merging theological, medical, and other positions on corporeality with testimonies on colonial life, Finch brilliantly complicates our encounter with early Puritan New England.
Ancient Greek images of disability permeate the Western consciousness: Homer, Teiresias, and Oedipus immediately come to mind. But The Staff of Oedipus looks at disability in the ancient world through the lens of disability studies, and reveals that our interpretations of disability in the ancient world are often skewed. These false assumptions in turn lend weight to modern-day discriminatory attitudes toward disability. Martha Rose considers a range of disabilities and the narratives surrounding them. She examines not only ancient literature, but also papyrus, skeletal material, inscriptions, sculpture, and painting, and draws upon modern work, including autobiographies of people with disabilities, medical research, and theoretical work in disability studies. Her study uncovers the realities of daily life for people with disabilities in ancient Greece, and challenges the translation of the termadunatos(unable) as "disabled," with all its modern associations. Martha Rose is Associate Professor of History, Truman State University.
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