Jasmine Rendell

Department: Classics and Ancient History
Discipline: Classics and Ancient History

Project Summary

Standing on the shoulders of Giants: A critical examination of the human perspective of volcanic eruption in Italy from c. 8th century BC to the modern day.


My research aims to critically examine ancient understanding of volcanic activity in Italy from the 8th century BC to the modern day, focusing specifically on evidence relating to Mt. Etna and Mt. Vesuvius. It traces the tradition from early Greek mythological ideas of the imprisoned Giant, wrestling to be freed from the confines of the volcano, imposed upon him by his divine contender. My work seeks to analyse how early sources urge us to perceive the physical monster under the volcano as the cause of its mighty power and yet, simultaneously, to see the action of the volcano as symbolic of the perpetual cosmic struggle of the imprisoned (chaos) and the imprisoner (order). In such a way, early thinking about volcanoes intensifies the tension that exists between man and wild, perfectly embodied in the irascible, unpredictable and terrifying experience that is a volcanic eruption. Following this, the study moves to consider how later, more rational and scientific authors engage with this narrative, specifically focusing on the rising and often overt conflict between the ‘old’ ways and the ‘new’. Finally, my thesis journeys into the post-classical period, in order to evaluate the impact of Greco-Roman thought on later volcanological study. To accomplish this goal, the study incorporates a wide range of evidence-types: literary, historical and archaeological, as well as detailed iconographic analysis. It seeks to adopt a chronological methodology, sketching ideas and themes across time periods, in order to interrogate the ongoing tumultuous relationship between man and his hazardous environment.

Supervisory Team

Professor Daniel Ogden

Dr Sharon Marshall