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Introducing: Rafal Matuszewski

Rafal Matuszewski is an assistant professor at the Institute for History since 1 August 2023. Below he introduces himself.

If I were ever to try my hand at writing égo-histoire (the readers of which would certainly drop dead from boredom), I would likely entitle the chapter about my current life stage, “From the City of Mozart to the City of Rembrandt”. For after six years of living in Salzburg, Austria – not far from the idyllic Alpine peaks – I am thrilled to join Leiden’s Institute for History and start a new life chapter at the zero sea level.

My peregrinatio academica began in Warsaw and then took me to Konstanz, Göttingen, Heidelberg, Fribourg, Paris, Berkeley, Columbus, Bern and Salzburg. Never, however, did I imagine that the Netherlands will be added to this list and that Leiden – with its rich academic heritage and global recognition – will turn out to be the crowning destination of my professional vita. But, as the Greek poet Pindar put it, τὸ δὲ μόρσιμον οὐ παρφυκτόν, “what is fated cannot be escaped” (Pyth.12.30). So here I am.

Admittedly, my research interests and approaches are pretty eclectic. Generally, I am interested in people, as are all historians, but unlike many, I am also equally preoccupied by objects, spaces, and nature. My first book, Eros and sophrosyne (2011), focused on the ideals and reality of classical Greek homosexuality. My second, Räume der Reputation (2019), grew out of my Heidelberg dissertation and explored spaces, norms, and conventions of everyday interactions in fourth-century Athens. Along the way, I have (co-)edited a few volumes, including the most recent on Being Alone in Antiquity (2021). There is one witty Roman epitaph, dated to the 1st c. CE, which I like very much and which, strangely enough, succinctly summarizes the main areas of my recent research: “Laughter, desire, wine, sleep – these are men’s riches. The life of Tantalus is for the gloomy” (SEG 26.1145). Although my work often focuses on the marginalized, lonely, poor and less powerful – those gloomy living in Tantalus-like condition – I have, as a matter of fact, devoted some of my main research to the ‘men’s riches’: to the social role of laughter and the use of comedy as a historical source, to desire and the history of sexuality, to wine consumption and, more recently, to the history of sleep and dreaming. I suppose though, that all these things are actually closely related and one might say that it is simply the spectrum of human experience that interests me generally.

As mentioned, sleep and dreams are high on my current agenda (more in theory, less in practice). I am presently writing a book (Dreams, Deities and Divination. Religion in Artemidorus’ “Oneirocritica”) which addresses the question of whether, and how, oneiric experiences were influenced or driven by religious concerns and what impact they had on the beliefs and cultic practices in the eastern Mediterranean. I am also involved in a collaborative project on the global history of sleep and dreams. For although we spend about a third of our lives asleep, these fundamental aspects of everyone’s life had for so long been neglected by historians and not recognized as an area worthy of historical inquiry. The six-volume Cultural History of Sleep and Dreaming, which I am co-editing together with Brigitte Steger (Cambridge), is an attempt to fill a glaring void in historiography. I also have a number of other ideas and works in progress – a project on ancient Greek woodlands, another on the role, forms and function of ancient nicknames, and yet another on the history of human remains in antiquity.

Time will tell how all these projects develop, but surely it is hard to imagine a better place than Leiden to carry out these endeavors. But first things first: for now, my priority is learning Dutch, ensuring optimal academic support for our students and adapting to life in this country, which is still terra incognita to me. If you have any suggestions on any of the above or/and if you’re interested in literature, wine, brushtail possums and chatting nonsense, please drop me a line.

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